how to create a style guide
While a style guide is a succinct outline of your brand’s visual, messaging, and writing guidelines, it should also be dynamic—a living document of sorts.
If you want to appear professional, establish internet credibility, and generally seem like you have your ish together—you have to proofread your content. I REPEAT—you HAVE to proofread your content. This may seem like a very basic concept, but y’all—you wouldn’t believe some of the silly mistakes I see. If your goal is to attract clients, advertisers, and collaborators you can’t be mixing up “your” and “you’re.” Typos and errors make you look unprofessional and totally kill your online street cred.
Equally as important is consistency. Strong brands are consistent. So, in addition to thoroughly editing your content for spelling and grammar issues, you must also edit for consistency. And you have to seriously up your attention-to-detail game when you do this type of editing.
Creating a brand style guide is the best way to ensure you are delivering a streamlined and cohesive message, style, and format across all platforms of your business. And while a style guide is a succinct outline of your brand’s visual, messaging, and writing guidelines, it should also be dynamic—a living document of sorts. You are always evolving, always growing, and so too should your brand.
Start with the pretty stuff. The first chapter of your style guide should clearly depict the visual elements of your brand.
- Fonts (I suggest starting with these basics: heading 1, 2, and 3 + a main body copy)
- Color palette
- Inspiration pictures
- Photo filters
Next, add a chapter for your “stock” messaging. These are the ideas and feelings upon which your brand is built. It’s who you are, what you do, how it all came to be. These are also handy when you’re drawing a blank drafting an outreach email.
- Elevator pitch
Lastly—and this is the real meat-and-potatoes—is the writing chapter. This is where that attention to detail I was talking about before kicks in. Taking note as to whether or not you spell “OK” or “okay” may seem trivial, but these little things are actually critical in attaining consistency.
Start with an existing style guide (like Chicago or AP Style) as your baseline and then adapt things to fit your brand, style, and tendencies. It is also important to distinguish the tone and voice of your writing. Our style guide for Enkindle states that our writing aims to be “engaging, conversational, and in an active, first-person voice.” Here are some other sections you should consider including in the writing chapter of your style guide:
- Spelling of tricky or troublesome words. For example, takeout (as in Chinese food) can be correctly spelled as one word or hyphenated. Pick one, and stick to it.
- Oxford (serial) comma or not?
- Words to avoid using
- Formatting of dates and times
- Policy on swearing
- Punctuation and capitalization of things like lol, jk, and aka
Once you have done all this work, then comes the hard part. You have to implement it. And you have to be diligent about keeping it updated. If you find yourself tripped up on the spelling, formatting, or punctuation of a word or phrase, add it to the style guide so you can quickly refer back if it ever comes up again.
Now that I set out all these rules for y’all, I am paralyzed by the anxiety and certainly that I misspelled something in this post.
If this all seems too overwhelming or you need help creating your brand’s style guide—I know a girl. Or three.