Why Having a Style Guide is Important

Like any good writer, I read a lot – news sites, blog posts and books – some of it is just casual reading, but most of it is for research or ideas. A common thread among posts dealing with starting a blog, or writing blog posts, is identifying your audience. While this is important, especially in guiding your writing style and the topics you will cover, I too frequently see writers who have gone into great detail, perhaps too much detail.

When you first start writing it is difficult to have a clear idea of who your audience will be; you can imagine who you think they will be, but only time, and traffic, will reveal who they really are. Create a rough draft of your target audience – sex, age group, maybe education and a few interests – but don’t spend too much time trying to narrowly define them. Instead you should put a bit of effort into creating something that is equally important, but seldom discussed. A style guide for your website or blog.

What is a Style Guide?

A style guide provides reference points for formatting and overall presentation of your writing, and all large publications and websites either have their own in-house style guide, or use a combination of in-house rules and AP style or Chicago style. The AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style are two of the most popular style guides, both with a distinct approach to certain rules and formatting principles. There is no need for you to recreate either of these two books; you should rather decide which of the two you are going to follow, and then supplement their rules and guides with your own.

Doing this allows for consistency across your website and blog posts. Your own rules can clarify issues such as the dimension of images included in posts, paragraph length and even referencing of sources (image sources or quotes). Establish rules for the following too:

  • Headings – what capitalization rules apply to main and sub headings
  • Lists – capitalization, punctuation and whether they should be numbered or bulleted
  • Numbers – which numbers are written out in full, and which are written only as numerals
  • Abbreviations – what abbreviations are acceptable, and what punctuation is applied to them
  • Forbidden Words – Each person defines offensive language differently, so include a list of words you never want used on your site

This may seem arbitrary, especially when you are first starting out, but it is easy to forget whether you always wrote US or USA, and even to ignore capitalization in your main heading because your website style sheet always converts it to all capitals. It also makes it easier to manage guest posts, not to mention if your site becomes big enough to actually start using multiple writers. Trying to explain to them what should and should not be done is time-consuming, and you will probably leave out quite a few rules that you yourself have forgotten. With a style guide you have a handy document you can easily send to them, answering almost any questions they might have.

Just as knowing who your audience is will guide how you write, and what you write about, so too will a style guide ensure that your writing is presented in a consistent manner. Even if your actual audience changes over time.