As your content marketing efforts start to take off, you’ll eventually have to start working with other writers. As this happens, your role will start to subtly change. You’ll spend less time with your writing hat on, and more time wearing your editor’s hat.

As a content editor, you can save vast amounts of time by creating an effective style guide for your creators. Even when you’re working with best writers, you’re more likely to get your desired results first time around if you’re clear about what that actually is.

Really then, this is one of those situations where a couple of hours work early in the process will save you a lot more bother down the line. But what kinds of thing should you include?

Well, it depends.

Goal Orientation

Like every other piece of content planning, your style guide should be informed by what you actually want to achieve. It doesn’t matter you want to take the first spot in Google’s rankings for a specific keyword, or you want to flatter a particular influencer. The main thing is to put this at the centre of your planning.

In any case, you should also state this at the beginning of your style guide. Whether you’re working with a guest poster, a freelancer or a staffer, knowing the goal of a piece of content will help the writer immensely. You’ve gone out of your way to work with someone who knows that they’re doing, so give them all the information they need to do their job right.

An understanding of your content goals will shape most of the decisions a writer takes. For example, knowing that the main point of an article is to boost your SEO will mean very different stylistic choices to an article which is going to be used for outbound.

Taking a Stance

One thing you always see stipulated in style guides is whether to use US or UK English. To some extent, I think that this often gets included because whoever made the guide wasn’t sure what else to include. It’s not the most important thing as long as you don’t get somebody who switches back and forth in a single article.

As a rule of thumb, get your regular contributors to stick to whichever standard you prefer. Give guest posters a little bit more flexibility though. You want them to bring their unique voice to the table, and sometimes this isn’t doable if they’re not used to writing in a certain type of English.

Some style guides take a stance on weird grammatical issues, often seemingly at random. The classic example is a strong stipulation either to use the Oxford comma or not. That is, a comma before the word ‘and’.

Some people are hung up on certain grammatical issues. Maybe you had a teacher back in the day who freaked out about split infinitives, or ending sentences with prepositions. If that’s the hill you want to fight and die on, I won’t argue with me.

However, I’d argue that a better approach is not to worry too much about these things as long as the writer is consistent throughout, and the end product sounds natural and convincing.

Instead, you should stipulate a readability level to aim for. This is informed by the demographics of your audience, but ideally you want your content to be readable (and therefore shareable!) by anybody and their grandmother. You may want to get all your contributors using the same readability tool.

It’s How You Say It

Tone of voice is another thing that content managers know they should address in their style guides, but many don’t quite seem to know what to include exactly. As such, you’ll often see something quite vague, along the lines of ‘fun’, ‘casual’, or ‘breezy’.

That might sound informative, but you’re basically saying ‘write the kind of thing you read online’. You can be more specific than that. Try and think what makes your desired tone of voice distinctive. Something that’s actually informative.

And please never write ‘quirky’.

Along with this, you should include information about your audience. Who are you writing for? What age are they? What’s their background? Any contributor worth their salt will be able to make tonal decisions based on this. Indeed, they’ll probably get a better sense of what tone you want than any kind of description alone could give them.

You’ll want to include a friendly reminder to read some of your other content at this point as well. Pick out a couple of articles that you think best represent your company style and include links to these.

voltamax / Pixabay

The Big Picture

Finally, spare a thought for the humble art of formatting. You’ll make your life ten times easier if you remember to include things like desired image dimensions and title formats in your style guide. Really, it’s always better to receive the right size of images first time around than needing to have to go back and resize them yourselves.

You’ll also want to reiterate some structural best practices, including breaking up big chunks of text into subheadings and peppering the article with bucket bridges. These are short phrases on a line of their own which trick people into reading on.

Like this.

Wrapping Up

Creating an effective style guide is a surefire way to save yourself hours of quite boring work. However, you need to know what you’re doing. Fundamentally, this means having a clear understanding of what you actually want to achieve, and communicating this to the person on the other end.

It also means including things which will actually help them to help you reach those goals. To that end, it should be an ongoing process. Your style guide should be a living document, which takes account of any feedback you receive on it.

Similarly, if you find that it isn’t working the way you want, don’t hesitate to revisit and find out what isn’t working, or reach out to your contributors to identify what it is that they don’t understand.