content style guide example

In our final installment of our style guide series, we showcase a few existing style guides available online. Seeing what other companies have done can be helpful in figuring out what your company would like to do (or what you wouldn’t).

Now, we don’t actually write for any of these companies, so we have no way of knowing what other guide materials their writers receive (if any), but these are, at the very least, publically acknowledged style standards.

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill describes its content personality as “preeminence without pretension.” The school designed its Web Style Guide to be a simple list of “Dos” and “Don’ts.”

As far as style guides go, this is relatively short, but it covers a lot of ground. Voice and tone seem to be the main concern, with a heavy emphasis on avoiding pretension and arrogance. Grammatical preferences, such as active over passive voice, are designated, as well as how to handle acronyms. Even from this short list, we can get a good idea of the brand UNC is trying to put forth.

  • What Works For Us: The “Dos and Don’ts” format. This seems like a quick and to-the-point approach that would work for most companies looking to set some ground rules.
  • What Could Work Better: As much as we like the “Dos and Don’ts,” we wouldn’t mind seeing examples of some of the more abstract instructions, like the difference between pride and arrogance.

Tufts University uses a similar list format, but utilizes more specifics. Since both of these style guides are for universities, it’s not surprising that we see some similar style choices

The examples of “unnecessary adjectives” and “unsubstantiated claims” work to solidify the style standards. In addition to this list, Tufts’ style guide is followed up by some examples similar to the “Like This, Not Like This” chart here.

This “YES/NO” format helps to show not just examples of what exemplifies the university’s style, but also what doesn’t.

  • What Works for Us: The examples integrated within the list and the YES/NO examples.
  • What Could Work Better: Some of the guidelines are still somewhat abstract (particularly the first two bullet points), so there could be more concrete clarity to avoid confusion.

Mail Chimp designs email newsletters, so we weren’t surprised to find its style guide included more of a design element. Using an interactive guide entitled “Voice and Tone,” the guide walks writers through examples of user interactions (“Blog,” “Failure Alert,” “Webinar”) and how they might need to adjust their tone depending on the possible emotions users portray.

Each example of a user interaction is paired with an appropriate MailChimp reaction:

The “Tips” section gives basic style guide standards, while the MailChimp conversation bubble shows how a MailChimp content writer would implement those tips in user interactions.

  • What Works for Us: The interactive guide allows readers to easily jump to the interaction they need to reference, while the tips combined with examples make for fairly comprehensive instruction.
  • What Could Work Better: Honestly, we’re pretty big fans of this format, but we would caution any company with a creative style guide to ensure creativity doesn’t replace the quality of the content.

As we’ve reinforced before, how your format your style guide should be entirely suited to your company’s needs. You might end up passing out a printed and stapled document at orientation. You might create a public online style presence like these examples we’ve shown. Your style guide might be a list, a more formalized series of statements, or an interactive slideshare like MailChimp’s.

There are several other examples of style guides readily available on the Internet and we’d encourage you to check out as many as you can when making your own. You can even check out Wikipedia’s page on Style Guides for more examples.

And that concludes our style guide series! We’d love to hear from you as you work to develop your style guide, so please share your experiences in the comments.

photo credit: seanmcgrath

Read more: Captivate & Compel: The Complete Guide to Content Marketing