On Monday, we shared five points you can use to rally your office colleagues around the idea of creating a content style guide. They’re completely on board with the idea. Now what?
The work begins.
But don’t worry. Creating a style guide sounds harder than it actually is. Although you don’t need to be an astrophysicist to create this document, it will take you a bit of time. Follow these seven steps and you’ll be well on your way to a content rule book that your coworkers won’t hesitate to reference when they’re in a jam:
Collect hard copies of edits.
Whether you and your colleagues edit using the “Track Changes” function in Microsoft Word, or you print hard copies and break out your red pen, keep a file full of these edited documents for three weeks to three months—depending on how much content your office generates.
Spot preferences and style decisions.
Once you have a good stack of edits representative of the content you produce, sift through these edits individually. Look for areas where style decisions have been made. Perhaps you see preferences for certain types of punctuation or product/program names. Make a note of all these preferences either by hand in a notebook or in a separate document on your computer.
Get department/other company writers involved.
Once you have a list of all the style preferences, ask others in your department or throughout the company for their input. Do they agree that an em dash should be preceded and followed by a space? Do your colleagues have problems with comma and which/that usage that should be spelled out in your company guide?
Surf the net for other style guides.
After talking with others in your office, you should have a good list of items to develop the content guide. But to find for more items that should be on your radar, check the Internet for sample style guides. Magazines and other online publications are usually good about publishing their style guides for contributors. Take a look at a few of these for ideas.
Decide how this document should be written and where it should live to help ensure its use.
When you begin to produce the content style guide, you want to make sure it’s so easy to use that your colleagues have no choice but to consult it first before asking anyone else—or guessing—about a style issue. Should you design it to mimic the Associated Press Stylebook? Maybe it should exist as a clickable .pdf or .html file. Also, this guide should live in a place that makes it easy for everyone in the office to find. If no one in your office uses the company intranet, this may not be the best place for the guide to reside.
Treat your content style guide as a working document.
Although creating your company’s content style guide is a victory, don’t wipe your hands and consider the project completely over. Style issues will continue to arise. Make note of them, get your colleagues to make final decisions on preferences and add these items to the guide.