Four Web Writing Style Guides from which to Borrow

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a website in possession of a shiny new design, must be in want of good content. Unfortunately, the process of auditing, revising, migrating, and creating quality content can be daunting. This is why it often gets left to the end of a project and then frantically hashed out in last minute skirmishes over what’s “good enough for now.”

The value gained from quality content—to say nothing of an effective content strategy—is well worth the price of engaging seasoned content professionals early on and heeding their advice. Nonetheless, there are a few DIY steps that even small or resource strapped teams can take to ensure that content effectively meets the needs and proclivities of users and business alike. One of these steps is to create a web writing style guide.

Meet the Web Writing Style Guide

A web writing style guide helps content creators and revisers write effectively for the web and in a style that is consistent with an organization’s brand and image. We all know “how to write,” of course, but writing content for the web is different than writing reports, presentations, or email. Writing content for broad consumption in the “voice” of an organization or brand is also not something that most folks tasked with “helping out with the content updates” have much experience with.

A style guide reduces the effort needed to create quality content by bridging these knowledge and experience gaps. Style guides are sometimes framed as “enforcement tools,” but I like to think of them more as a cheat sheets. Once a style guide is created, content creators don’t have to make decisions about case, or voice, or sentence length, or target vocabularies. They can instead focus on creating good content that creates value for their readers by effectively conveying information.

Creating a Style Guide of Your Very Own

Style guides can range in scope from a few printed pages, to scores of sections on a dedicated sub-site. If you’re just starting out in creating a web writing style guide for your organization or project, don’t let the expansiveness of guides on dedicated sites discourage you. Rather, use these as resources from which to borrow parts to create a starting point for the guide your content creators need. From that foundation you can build and fine tune over time—none of the comprehensive guides you see online sprung into existence all at once.

Here are four guides to help you get started:

Bringing It All Together (And One More Example)

How you bring your guide together will depend on the needs and goals of your project and organization. A recent client of mine, for example, wanted a style guide they could easily print out so they didn’t need yet another thing on screen as they were revising content. I created a document informed by our research—and helped out by some of the sources above—that was easily scannable and fit on two double-sided pages. For this project, I also included guidance on the use of targeted keywords, since this was an important element of our redesign process. I’ve posted a lightly scrubbed version of this guide in Google Docs for your perusal (and, of course, borrowing).

Once you have the basics down, you now have a foundation upon which to build. Sarah Richards’s Content Design is an excellent resource for moving your content design process to the next level. Still feeling a bit overwhelmed? Please do drop me a note below; I’d love to hear more about your project and chat about how I can help.