Creating a style guide for your content contributors

By Kat Liendgens — Thursday, June 25th, 2015 at 9:47am

Style Guide

Your site audience needs a cohesive, comfortable web experience, but that will only happen when all of your content contributors are on the same page with regards to understanding your branding, your goals, and your expectations. That’s why creating and maintaining a style guide is crucial to ensuring your desired degree of consistency throughout all of your content collateral. Decentralized organizations with a lot of contributors in particular will find that a well crafted style guide saves headaches and helps to avoid unnecessary revisions.

Here are some examples of elements that you may want to outline in your guide:

  • Use of your organization’s name: When is it okay to abbreviate the name or use acronyms? If you use acronyms, do you use a period after every letter? Do you always have to use the full name on your first reference, but can use abbreviations on further references? Are there any other terms that can be used instead of the organization’s name?

  • Captions: When should you add captions to images? When should you use a full sentence versus a tagline? How do you give credit to the creator of the photo or graphic?

  • Formats: How should you format dates and times, phone numbers, page numbers on PDFs or Word documents, and other common elements?

  • Styling: When is it okay to use bold or italic font? Is it ever okay to underline? When do bullet points make sense? What’s the proper use of tables? What are best practices with regard to headings, subheadings, and paragraph headings?

  • Names and titles: How do you align navigation title and page title? What are examples of  effective titles and ineffective titles?  

  • Links: What types of internal and external links should you link to? Should the display text be the actual URL, should you say “click here”, or should you simply explain what you’re linking to (“If you have any questions or comments, please contact us.”)

  • Voice and tone: Is your tone formal or conversational? How do you want your audience to feel when they read your content? How long should you strive your sentences and paragraphs to be? What’s the reading level you’re aiming for? Do you want to write from a first person point of view (“We recommend…”)?

It might not be the first thing you think of when drafting your style guide, but keep content freshness in mind.  Since avoiding stale, outdated content is not only crucial for SEO but also for customer experience, make sure that your style guide addresses the importance of updating content frequently.

Go beyond telling contributors what to do by showing them specific examples, both of what’s recommended and what’s not recommended. It’ll help your content contributors understand what you’re looking for and help prevent misunderstandings.

Finally, don’t be worried that providing a set of rules will be a turn off for your contributors. Most of them will appreciate a bit of guidance. Your content contributors aren’t interchangeable so make sure they know that you value the unique, personal voice each individual brings to the table. The goal with a well constructed style guide isn’t to stifle anyone but instead simply be a way to make your audience feel comfortable. Your visitors won’t notice when their experience is consistent, but they’ll certainly notice when it’s not.

Your turn. What are the elements that you would include in your style guide?

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