Style Guide Template: How to Create One Your Team Will Actually Use

This Is How To Create A Style Guide Your Team Will Actually Use (Free Template) 71

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How to Create a Style Guide Your Team Will Actually Use

As a marketer creating great, actionable content that converts readers into customers is key to a successful content strategy.

However, if your team has multiple writers, content can easily come out inconsistent or not up to brand standards.

Indeed, getting writers to create content in one consistent brand voice isn’t easy. 

But, with a strong editorial style guide, it’s possible.

They eliminate guesswork and make it easy for writers to adapt to your organization’s voice, style, and tone.

In addition, they help answer questions in advance around formatting, appropriate usage of branded terms, and more.

Download Your Style Guide Template

You could try building your own guide from scratch.

But, using our template is way faster. It includes everything you need to create an actionable, fluff-free style guide.

Grab it now, and then follow this guide to get it completed.

Mission accomplished.

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What Is A Content Style Guide?

For the purposes of this post, here's the definition we'll work with:

A content style guide is a document that outlines the expectations and brand standards that every piece of content needs to meet. This should describe everything from grammar and spelling to design elements, like proper header use and logo placement.

Why Are Style Guides Important For Marketers?

Style guides aren’t just for designers. They can help all content creators achieve the following:

  • Understanding your standards of performance.
  • Keep content consistent.
  • Learn how to write with your brand's voice.

Your style guide should answer necessary things like, what fonts should I use, and so much more.

Then, instead of rewriting work to make it sound consistent, editors can hand writers a guide, and let them get to work.

Common Questions Your Style Guide Should Answer

15 Style Guide Examples

If you’re looking for even more information on how to build your style guide, check out the following 15 examples.

How To Create A Content Marketing Style Guide

Now that you know what a content style guide is you can move on to creating one yourself. The template that you downloaded at the beginning of this post will provide the space you need while the following sections will cover what you need to do to fill it in!

By the time you’re done reading this post, you should have a filled in style guide.

Choose An External Reference Source

The first step in creating your style guide is deciding what style you’re going to write your content in.

Reference sources are universal citation and writing guides. Common writing styles include:

Once you’ve picked a source, you can pull pieces from it to make your own.

Establish General Writing Best Practices

Why would you need to include best writing practices in a content style guide? Because not everyone is a writer by trade. If you have sales reps, support professionals or anyone else that writes content on behalf of your brand but isn’t a writer by trade, these guidelines can help them out.

Having these best practices outlined can also serve as a reference for writers as they create content.

General best practices should center around three writing elements; voice, tense and point of view.

Three Writing Elements That Help Create Consistent Content

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Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

Voice does not refer to what your brand says. Voice in this sense refers to the writer, and each piece of content you create should contain the same voice structure.

Voice falls into two categories.

Active Voice

An active voice flows smoothly and makes it easier for the reader to understand the intended meaning of a sentence. It’s direct and concise, and often uses fewer words than a passive voice sentence structure.

An example of active voice might be:

CoSchedule creates awesome marketing calendar software.

Passive Voice

Passive voice makes the reader work harder to understand the intended meaning of a sentence. It’s often wordy (additional words change the doer-action-receiver structure) and indirectly suggests that the subject of an action is unknown, unwanted, or unneeded.

An example of passive voice might be:

The awesome marketing calendars are created by CoSchedule.

Tenses

Tenses tell the reader of your content when in time something is, has or will occur. Tenses are broken down into three categories with four sub-categories underneath each one.

Present Tense

Present tense is an unchanging, repeated, or reoccurring action that exists right now.

The subcategories of present tense are:

  • Simple Present: The preferred use of present tense. It uses the least amount of words of all of the other forms, and is best for crafting clear and concise messaging.
  • Present Progressive: Indicates an action is ongoing that happens at the same time someone writes the statement.
  • Present Perfect: An action that happens at an indefinite time in the past or begins in the past and continues to the present.
  • Present Perfect Progressive: An action that begins in the past, continues to the present and may continue into the future.

Past Tense

Past tense expresses an action that starts and ends in the past.

The four subcategories of past tense are:

  • Simple Past:  This is the preferred use of past tense. Like simple present tense, it is the least wordy of all the past tense sub-categories and is preferred because of its ability to be clear and concise.
  • Past Progressive: An ongoing action that happens in the past at the same time as another action.
  • Past Perfect: An action that happens in the past before another past action.
  • Past Perfect Progressive: An action that begins in the past and ends before another action occurs.

Future Tense

Future tense expresses an action that occurs in the future. It is recommended that writers avoid writing in this style when they create content for potential customers.

The four subcategories of future tense are:

  • Simple Future: As with the other two tenses, simple future is the preferred use of the tense as it is the least wordy and can be the most concise.
  • Future Progressive: Indicates an ongoing action that happens in the future.
  • Future Perfect: An action that happens in the future before another future action.
  • Future Perfect Progressive: A future ongoing action that begins in the future before another future action.

Point of View

The last of your general best writing practices should include direction on the point of view that your content should be written in. Point of view refers to the view the writer takes on the subject.

Point of view is divided into three categories; First Person, Second Person, and Third Person.

First Person

In the first person, point of view, the writer refers to himself, herself or themselves.

First person POV’s are broken down into two subcategories:

  • First-person plural: which refers to the point of view representing a company (we,us).
  • First-person singular: which uses subjective pronouns I, objective pronouns me, and possessive pronouns me and mine.

Second Person

In the second-person point of view, the writer addresses the reader directly.

Second-person POV can be broken down into second-person singular and plural both of which use the subjective pronoun you, objective pronoun you and possessive pronouns your and yours.

Third Person

In the third-person point of view, the writer refers to a person, place, thing or idea.

Like the other POV options, third-person is broken into two subcategories. First is third-person singular which uses pronouns he, she and it, and possessive pronouns his, hers, and its. Second is third-person plural which uses the subjective pronoun they, the objective pronoun them and possessive pronoun their and theirs.

For each one of the above sections, you need to pick a category and record it in your template. Think about what you want your audience to experience as they read your content.

Once you have picked your basics, ensure your editors are aware and make sure that every single piece of content you sticks to them.

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Explain How To Transfer Internal Jargon to Customer Language

The next section of your style guide should explain to your writers how to transfer internal jargon that you use in your office to language your customers will understand.

Most if not all companies will use some internal jargon. This could be acronyms, shorthand that refers to products, or any number of different term combinations.

The problem is that your customers are not on the inside of your company, so they’re not going to understand your language.

It’s like being on the outside of an inside joke. No one likes that.

Your style guide should list out common internal jargon that you and your co-workers use and corresponding language that they should use when referring to said term in your content.

For example, "USP" is a common acronym used by marketing teams. It stands for Unique Selling Proposition, but a potential customer may not know what that means.

Instead, you could say that when a writer needs to reference a USP, you would instruct them to write something like “what makes our product unique is….” (but more creatively than that, of course).

Use language that is direct and easy for your customer to understand.

In your template is a chart where you can record your internal terms on one side and their customer friendly counterparts on the other.

Identify Brand Terminology That Must Be Used

Another section of your style guide should identify brand names, trademarks etc that must be spelled a specific way every single time it is mentioned.

Think about companies like Honda or Disney World. They have specific language that refers to certain aspects of their business that must be spelled the same way every time it is referenced.

Include ™ tags or other copyright tags that need to be used in the guide.

Understand Your Target Audience

Next, you need to identify who your target audience is in your style guide.

Why is telling your content writers who your target audience important?

Because they need to know who they are writing for. By having an idea in your head of who you are talking to (your audience persona), your writers can anticipate questions they might have and be able to answer them in your content.

Three Reasons to Define Your Target Audience

Finding your target audience doesn’t have to be extremely complicated. You might already know who they are. If not, our guide to finding target audiences might be helpful.

Once you know who your target audience is, use this fill in the blank template to add information to your style guide.

Our target audience is [age range], [gender], and lives in [area of the country/urban, suburban, small town]. They enjoy [hobby] [hobby], [hobby] and work in [job/industry]. The main problem that they are experiencing that would drive them to use our product is [insert problem].

You could also create a marketing persona to help writers know who they're writing for.

Create Audience Personas

To create a persona, you’re going to take the same information that you already have and change its structure, so it looks something like this:

  • Name of Persona
  • Age
  • Job Title
  • Location
  • Hobbies
  • Things they strive to achieve at work.
  • Problem/s they are currently facing
  • How does our organization help them achieve success?

That way your team has an explicit reference (and a name) to picture in their head.

Determine Your Voice, Tone, and Style

The next part of your style guide should explain the voice, tone, and style that your branded content should take.

The Intersection of Voice, Tone, and Style

Voice

At CoSchedule we define a brand voice as:

Brand voice is the purposeful and consistent personification, or characterization of a brand often expressed through words, tone, and culture.

As a marketer, it’s important to bring across this voice at all times, whether that be through content or any other media form.

You may already have your brand voice figure out, but if you don’t try a brainstorming session with the following framework:

We are {insert desired perception}, but we are not {insert antonym of desired perception}.

For example, if we were doing a brand voice session for a major software company, it might look something like:

We are professional but not stuffy.

We are smart but not arrogant.

We are technology savvy but not inaccessible.

Repeat this process as many times as necessary. Then choose four or five pairings and record them in your template.

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Tone

Tone is the inflection of your brand voice. Depending on the situation, your tone may change.

For example, if you’re giving something away you might have a fun, light-hearted tone. However, if you’re addressing the fact that your system is down, you would take a more serious tone.

Use the following prompt to create guidelines around the appropriate tone to strike in different situations:

At [company], our standard tone should be [adjective], [adjective], and [adjective]. However, if a situation arises where it is determined by management that our regular tone is not advisable to use, refer to the following:

If [Situation One] occurs, use a [adjective] tone.

If [Situation Two] occurs, use [adjective] tone.

If [Situation Three] occurs, use [adjective] tone.

Add in situations your writers are likely to encounter.

Style

Finally, define appropriate style and formatting considerations for your content.

Style refers to essential formatting elements like capitalization, how certain words are spelled, vocabulary and grammar choices.

If you want your content to be consistent, it’s vital that each of these elements is the same across every piece.

For example, let’s say that you wanted to set your headers a certain way to make your content easier to read.

Some basic guidelines might look like this:

  • Only H2 and H3 sub-header levels may be used.
  • Sub-heads should always be in title case.
  • Names of products should always be capitalized.
  • Always include the trademark symbol after our brandname.
  • Use bulleted and numbered lists to break up long strings of information.

Once each section is defined, add them to your style guide.

Choose Your Content Types

The next piece of your style guide revolves around choosing and outlining expectations for the types of content your marketing team will create.

There are many different types of content that you can choose to create. Some common options are:

The content types you choose to create should be decided based on what your audience interacts with or how they prefer to receive information. In addition to identifying what content types you will create, you can also list types of content you won’t create.

You may have writers avoid certain content types because your audience doesn’t interact with them well or they don’t prefer to receive information that way.

Once you have identified what content types you’ll create, you need to define your standards of performance for each one.

Standards of performance are guidelines that each piece of content must meet for it to be published.

For example, at CoSchedule we have five standards of performance that any writer must meet before their content is published on our blog. They are:

  • Comprehensive
  • Keyword Targeted
  • Actionable
  • Relevant
  • Well-Researched

Every blog post we write must meet these standards or it won’t be published. You don’t have to have five standards of performance for each piece of content. You can choose as many as you like based on the standards you want to set for the team.

Establish Formatting Guidelines

The next part of your style guide is focused on the formatting of your content. This section of your style guide should explain to readers when to use things like H2 and H3 headers, when to use bold or italicized text and hyperlink text guidelines.

Determining Appropriate Header Tag Usage

Headers and subheaders help break up your content, so it’s easy to read (or for some, skim). Identify for your writers what types of headers they should be using and when.

For example, H2 headers would be used whenever a new section of content is introduced. If you have sub-points that you need to break down for your reader that fall underneath that same section, you will use an H3 header.

When to Use Bold/Italicized/Regular Text

According to Practical Typography, there are two rules to keep in mind when using bold or italicized text.

  1. They are both mutually exclusive. Bold and italicized text is one in the same.
  2. Don’t use them often. Bold and italicized text are meant to emphasize a point you want to make.

Hyperlinking Text

How you hyperlink text can affect what your reader clicks on and in some cases how your page ranks for SEO factors.

In general, best practices for hyperlinking are:

  • Any text you choose to highlight should tell the reader (and search engines) what the destination page is about.
  • Don’t hyperlink full sentences (unless they're extremely short). It looks excessive.
  • Strive to use conversational anchor text (meaning, snippets of text that would make sense on their own).

Defining Imagery Guidelines

The last part of your style guide should outline how, where, and what type of images should be used when you’re creating your content.

Three Image Guidelines to Define For Content Writers

Decide Which Types of Visuals Are Acceptable

First, decide what type of images are going to be part of your content.

There are options like stock photography which you can purchase from sites like iStock. You could also lay out guidelines for using your own photography (although photography specifics would probably be in your brand guidelines), or have your designers create your own images.

Or, you may have a mix of both.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure image expectations are clear to your team.

Outline Guidelines for Image Captions

The second thing you need to decide is whether or not you’re going to include captions on your photos. If you decide to include them, how long should they be, and where are you going to place them?

Captions can also allow you to give credit to third-party photos you use in your content. This should be done anytime you use an image from an external source.

Establish Image Size Requirements

The last thing that should be defined in your imagery section is what size should images be, for different types of content?

Consistent sizing creates a more uniform piece of content, so depending on the content types you create, your standard size may vary.

For example, on the CoSchedule blog, every graphic that is inserted into our posts is set at 770px wide (the exact column width of our blog).

What Design Elements Should Be In Your Style Guide?

The last part of your style guide should include some of the basic design elements that every marketer or writer on your marketing team should know.

You don’t have to go as in-depth into these sections. Just include any information that your marketers need to know.

Colors

The colors you use in your content can affect your reader. It’s called color psychology, and as a writer, it’s essential to match the message you want to send with a color scheme that invokes the right emotions.

In your style guide include directions on how your writers can work with designers together to match messaging they’ve created to designed images the designer has built.

Typography

The next design element that should be included in your style guide is typography. You should lay out for your writers the different fonts that are acceptable.

Why?

Because it helps establish consistency and eliminates the temptation to use fancy (yet difficult-to-read) fonts. It'll also help designers understand how to create consistent text for designed images.

Logo Usage

The last design element that should be in your style guide is where to place your logos in content and what logo is in current use.

This should be a relatively simple section and outline what logo is in use and where it should be placed on your content (if at all).

Now You Have A Completed Style Guide

Now that you have read this entire post you should be able to build an entire style guide for your team.

Double check it for spelling, grammar and accuracy and ship it out to your team. Let the style guide take care of the rest.

Think we missed something? Let us know in the comments below.

Once your marketing team starts cranking out the right content, see how CoSchedule can help you manage in all with our all in one marketing calendar.

Sign up for a trial or request a demo today.

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