3 Reasons to Create an Internal Style Guide

Jul 13, 2020 | Agency Blog, Branding, Copywriting

When it comes to personal style, most of us want to be free to do our own thing.

But that won’t fly when it comes to writing for a company or organization.

If an organization has more than one person writing – proposals, presentations, reports for clients – it needs a list of style rules.

I’m not talking about grammar rules, although good grammar always matters. Grammar rules are mostly black or white, with little room for discussion.

Style guides, on the other hand, are for the gray areas. Do you use that last comma before “and” in a series of words, or not? Do you capitalize the title after someone’s name, or not? Do you use “LLC” or “Inc” after every mention of your company’s name, or only the first one on a page?

An internal style guide is a resource to answer those questions and more. It can guide everything from the tone of written materials to pesky comma usage. While creating such guides can take many hours, I promise that they are time savers in the long run.

Internal style guides can make collaboration easier.

1. Internal style guides can make collaboration easier.

When multiple people are contributing to a project, you can expect inconsistencies. A style guide can help eliminate many of them. It should set the tone for a range of documents, including proposals, blog articles and press releases. Documents can even have different “assigned” tones, depending on the culture of your company. If everyone follows the tone designated in a style guide, multiple people can contribute to a document or project and the final project will be clear, coherent and cohesive.

Style guides can also put a stop to arguments, like whether to use the Oxford comma or capitalize job titles after names. If everyone is following the same internal style guide, the guide becomes the ultimate arbiter of such arguments.

2. Internal style guides can help improve efficiency.

Having an internal style guide can help you save time in so many ways. If everyone follows the guide, you’ll spend fewer hours revising and proofreading documents to ensure the final product is ready to be produced, shared with a client, or delivered as a new business pitch.

Before I arrived at Vela, I spent hours and hours on a project for a client that involved combining documents from multiple brands into a single, company-wide manual. After working my way through several big files, it became obvious that each brand had its own guidelines for writing style and tone. One used legal-sounding language in the third person (Employees are prohibited from …”) and another used a friendlier tone in the first person (Our company does not allow ….). My job was to identify and remove inconsistencies in the manuals of the five different brands and recommend style changes that should be used consistently in a new manual.

That took a very long time. Imagine the time that would have been saved if each organization and brand had been following the same internal rules and style guidelines.

Internal style guides can help improve efficiency.

Internal style guides can help you avoid embarrassment.

3. Internal style guides can help you avoid embarrassment.

When you spend hours putting together a pitch or a project, you don’t want it to appear sloppy. That can happen if you don’t have an internal style guide. After working on a project for days, for example, you might find that you’ve changed the treatment of bulleted lists halfway through – maybe some items on the list are complete sentences and others aren’t. Or when you review it you realize that some of your subheads have only the first letter of each word capitalized, and others have every single word capitalized.

Maybe your client won’t notice. Or maybe he or she is the kind of person notices every tiny mistake. Even worse, maybe the person who is looking over your document is just itching for a reason to choose someone else for the million-dollar project you’re trying to win.

Having and following an internal style guide can help you put your best foot forward, every time.

Internal style guides can make collaboration easier.

1. Internal style guides can make collaboration easier.

When multiple people are contributing to a project, you can expect inconsistencies. A style guide can help eliminate many of them. It should set the tone for a range of documents, including proposals, blog articles and press releases. Documents can even have different “assigned” tones, depending on the culture of your company. If everyone follows the tone designated in a style guide, multiple people can contribute to a document or project and the final project will be clear, coherent and cohesive.

Style guides can also put a stop to arguments, like whether to use the Oxford comma or capitalize job titles after names. If everyone is following the same internal style guide, the guide becomes the ultimate arbiter of such arguments.

Internal style guides can help improve efficiency.

2. Internal style guides can help improve efficiency.

Having an internal style guide can help you save time in so many ways. If everyone follows the guide, you’ll spend fewer hours revising and proofreading documents to ensure the final product is ready to be produced, shared with a client, or delivered as a new business pitch.

Before I arrived at Vela, I spent hours and hours on a project for a client that involved combining documents from multiple brands into a single, company-wide manual. After working my way through several big files, it became obvious that each brand had its own guidelines for writing style and tone. One used legal-sounding language in the third person (Employees are prohibited from …”) and another used a friendlier tone in the first person (Our company does not allow ….). My job was to identify and remove inconsistencies in the manuals of the five different brands and recommend style changes that should be used consistently in a new manual.

That took a very long time. Imagine the time that would have been saved if each organization and brand had been following the same internal rules and style guidelines.

3. Internal style guides can help you avoid embarrassment.

3. Internal style guides can help you avoid embarrassment.

When you spend hours putting together a pitch or a project, you don’t want it to appear sloppy. That can happen if you don’t have an internal style guide. After working on a project for days, for example, you might find that you’ve changed the treatment of bulleted lists halfway through – maybe some items on the list are complete sentences and others aren’t. Or when you review it you realize that some of your subheads have only the first letter of each word capitalized, and others have every single word capitalized.

Maybe your client won’t notice. Or maybe he or she is the kind of person notices every tiny mistake. Even worse, maybe the person who is looking over your document is just itching for a reason to choose someone else for the million-dollar project you’re trying to win.

Having and following an internal style guide can help you put your best foot forward, every time.

If at this point you’re thinking that yes, your organization does need an internal style guide,

don’t stress over how to get started. There are good writing style books that already exist, and one is likely right for your needs.

If you organization routinely deals with the media, the AP Stylebook would be a good choice because it is was created by journalists who worked for the Associated Press. The Associated Press is a cooperative service that media organizations use to exchange articles, so consistency in word use is important. If your work is going to be published in a book or journal, the Chicago Manual of Style is probably the best place to start when developing an internal style guide.

Either of these resources can be the backbone of your guide. Anything that your organization does that differs from one of those reference books is what you should put in your internal style guide.

And that distinction is important. If your organization is product-driven and produces catalogs regularly, you may want to settle on your own style for how you treat dimensions and weight in product descriptions. The Chicago Manual and AP Stylebook weren’t written for your industry and their rules on number usage probably won’t apply to your needs.

If you use an informal name for your company, like Vela instead of Vela Agency or Vela Strategic Marketing and Public Relations, then when and where it’s OK to use the informal name should be included in your internal style guide.

And of course, include your organization’s rule for whether to use a comma before the last word in a series. Whether you like it or not doesn’t matter. Just be consistent in your use.

Because you never know, the person who’s reviewing your work may be a former English teacher.

Of course, if you absolutely don’t have time to put together an internal style guide, you can always contact Vela Agency. Our team can help create internal style guides, brand standards guidelines and more.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RELATED READING