What is a style guide?

When you’re writing for work, it’s vital that your style is polished, correct and clear. It’s also important that an organisation’s communications style is consistent – and that’s where a style guide can help. An off-the-shelf style guide can be useful – but a customised one for your organisation is much more effective. Our 'Build your own style guide' will help you develop your own personalised communications style.

If your customers receive letters that are over-formal or full of complex terms and gobbledygook, they can feel confused and alienated. Or if customers receive emails that are over-friendly or colloquial – and contain errors of grammar or punctuation – they might feel you’re unprofessional.

A style guide sets a standard for how to write. It’s like a personal dictionary for your organisation.

An in-house style guide can help to ensure that everyone who writes for the public communicates in a similar way, using a consistent tone, style and layout. It can also allow you to create different styles for different communications channels.

You can use an off-the-shelf style guide but you may not agree with all its decisions. An in-house guide reflects your own style and allows you to make you own decisions.

Let us help you build your own style guide

We’re going to help you develop your own in-house style guide. Every month, we’ll post an article that covers key topics. We’ll list the possible styles – with examples – so you can choose what fits you best.

Why use a style guide?

The way we write is influenced by a combination of rules and style preferences. The challenge for writers is to decide what rules and styles to adopt. An in-house style guide can save time because it makes those tricky decisions for you. It can also:

  • Create consistency in all communications
  • Help you to differentiate your organisation from competitors
  • Increase customer satisfaction and improve your corporate image
  • Reinforce your organisation’s voice – and support your brand identity
  • Empower staff to write clearly, concisely and professionally
  • Help new staff to understand best practice within your organisation

What goes into a typical in-house style guide?

1.    Introduction

  • What is a style guide? Why do we have one? How do you use it?
  • What are our writing principles and priorities?

2.    Basic rules for all writing, including:

  • Dates, times, numbers
  • Common terms (for products and services)
  • Grammar (e.g. common errors) and layout rules (fonts, headings etc) and graphics guidelines

3.    Style basics, including:

  • Use clear professional English
  • Be concise and correct
  • Ensure language used is appropriate for the intended readers

4.    Rules for specific documents (letters, emails, benefit guides, schedules, forms etc.)

5.    A-Z including:

  • Punctuation (from the apostrophe to the semi-colon)
  • Commonly confused words
  • Jargon and phrases to avoid

How should you use Build your own style guide?

1.    Each section will focus on a different issue and give you the rules and the most commonly used styles.

2.    You read and decide what you would prefer for your organisation.

3.    Build your choices into your own tailored in-house style guide.