Establishing a thorough and easily navigable style guide will help your organisation present itself professionally and cohesively, and get your message across clearly.
While a good dictionary is obviously an important tool, developing any kind of corporate communications with no style guide is akin to sailing without a map – you may know the general rules but you have no overarching guide or direction.
Below we have listed some of the most important reasons for establishing an organisation-wide style guide.
Consistency, consistency, consistency
The most important purpose of a style guide is to ensure consistency across written communications produced by your organisation – from blogs published by your marketing department through to your annual report. Some words can be spelled in more than one way, so it’s important to outline your organisation’s preferences. Likewise, there is no one set of definitive grammatical rules, so providing guidance in your style guide helps ensure consistency while giving your employees a one-stop reference tool to use while they’re writing. For a start, a good style guide will cover issues such as:
- whether your headings should be in title or sentence case
- the format of footnotes and in-text references
- the style and punctuation of your bullet lists
- the correct spelling and usage of technical terms relevant to your industry
- whether particular acronyms or abbreviated terms need to be spelled out in full when first mentioned (for example, NSW, GST, CapEx).
Help your readers understand the message
Inconsistency doesn’t just look unprofessional – it can confuse your readers. For instance, is ‘the accounts group’ just another name for ‘the Accounting and Finance Department’, or is it referring to a team within it, like ‘the Payroll Division’? Neglecting to establish conventions for writing about areas such as business divisions, products or services can make it hard for your readers to understand the message – and worse, frustrate them.
Set the tone of your organisation
Establishing a consistent voice for your brand is important – especially for a large organisation. Are you casual, friendly and direct, or more formal and informative? Or should the tone vary depending on the context of the message? A style guide can help your employees understand the correct tone and how to achieve it, which avoids your company sounding like it has multiple personalities from one department to the next.
While a computer spellchecker may pick up some errors and typos, issues like using it’s when you mean its, or referring to a company in the plural (‘they have’) rather than singular (‘it has’) can be missed. Setting out rules for grammar and spelling in your style guide helps educate your employees on these common writing missteps, which can undermine an otherwise professional piece of communication.
Prevent unwittingly offensive or insulting language
In some instances, an organisation’s communications can unwittingly insult or offend readers. For example, when referring to disability, best practice in Australia is to use language that focuses on the person first, rather than the disability; ‘people with disability’ and ‘person who uses a wheelchair’ are preferred over ‘disabled’ or ‘wheelchair-bound’. Including preferences such as these in your style guide provides your employees with a handy reference, and helps prevent them inadvertently using language that alienates your customers or audience.
Likewise, articulating the need for messages to be clear, and providing guidance on using plain English can help prevent overly bureaucratic and meaningless sentences like: ‘The operationalisation of the strategy will result in a best-of-breed solution that leverages synergies in the market going forward’. (Don’t laugh – we’ve been there!)
Cut down the work for editors and proofreaders
A style guide can save valuable time for the person editing or proofreading a piece of writing before it’s published. As well as helping to eliminate errors and style inconsistencies by the author, the style guide instructs the editor on the organisation’s preferred style from the outset. This means they can edit as they go, rather than having to cross-reference different parts of a webpage or report to establish style rules – like the correct title of a product. This saves your organisation time (and therefore, money).
To chat about developing your corporate style guide, email email@example.com or call 8912 9500.