How is it spelled: “grey” or “gray”? “Patternmaking” or “pattern making”? “Media” or “mediums”? When you’re writing instructions, do you use numerals or do you spell out the numbers? Do you write your newsletter from the first-, second-, or third-person point of view?
Whatever craft your business is built on, you’re bound to run into spelling variations, grammar questions, and style choices when you’re writing content. This is where a style guide comes in handy.
What is a style guide?
A style guide is a tool used by publishers and editors to make sure a piece of writing is consistent. You may have heard of major style guides like the Chicago Manual of Style and the MLA Handbook, but in addition to these behemoths, publishing houses and large companies often have their own house style guides with rules specific to their publications. (If you’ve browsed the New Yorker and noticed the distinctive diaeresis over words with a double vowel, you’ve seen a house style in action.)
But a style guide is useful beyond the world of publishing. For business owners, it’s a tool to help you save time on writing, standardize your written content, and create a consistent voice for your brand.
Why use a style guide?
Who really cares if you write “cardstock” or “card stock”? Your customers probably aren’t comparing your newsletters to nitpick about terminology or writing style. But there are a few ways a style guide can help you as a business owner.
It saves you time. A style guide is a place to record anything you reference often while writing. You can use it to compile templates for product descriptions and patterns, sizing charts or measurements you refer to frequently, words you always forget how to spell, or links to tutorials you’re always sharing. A style guide is a powerful organization tool.
It creates consistency. Though it may seem petty, consistency matters. Just as correct grammar and spelling help your business appear professional, a consistent writing style creates clear expectations and a familiar voice that your customers will come to recognize when they use your products or shop your website. Using the same vocabulary across different sets of instructions, formatting product specs in the same way, and writing your newsletters in the same tone all create consistency that makes your brand feel reliable and understandable to your customers. Your style guide helps you stick to the choices you make about vocabulary and style.
It sets the tone of communications. On a deeper level, a style guide can help ensure that your written content reflects your brand and your beliefs. For instance, if you’ve made a commitment to using inclusive language in your marketing materials, you can use your style guide to keep track of inclusive vocabulary that embraces all of your customers. You can use your style guide to set business policies on discussing politics, personal matters, and other sensitive topics in your written communications. If you have other team members helping you write social media posts or content, a style guide can be invaluable in making sure everyone’s on the same page.
How to set up your style guide
Your style guide doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be easy to access, share, and update. This is a document you’ll reference and add to on a regular basis, so you’ll want it to be accessible from anywhere. If other team members will be using the style guide, a shared digital document like a Google Doc is ideal.
You’ll organize your style guide into sections (see below for specifics) so that information is easy to find. I like to use the headers in a Google Doc or Word document to create an outline so it’s easy to jump between sections when you need to look something up quickly.
What to put in your business style guide
Your style guide is a reflection of your business and its written materials and needs. No two style guides will look alike, but here are some ideas for what to put in your style guide.
Use this section to set the rules about your business’s communication style. Is the tone of your writing formal or casual? In your communications, do you talk about yourself and share your story, or do you prefer to keep the product front and center? Do you use “I” or “we” when you write about the business? Do you make product recommendations on social media or avoid mentioning specific brands?
This is also a good place to make note of your approach to sensitive topics. What’s your business’s take on mentioning politics, specific holidays, gendered language, and so on? Make a note of any vocabulary you try to emphasize or avoid.
The word list is a central part of any style guide. This is simply an alphabetical list of words that you can reference quickly for spelling and style (capitalization, hyphenation, italics, etc.). You can include words with spelling variations (like “grey “and “gray”) that come up frequently in your business, words you always forget how to spell, or words you always capitalize. Whenever you come across a word that makes you think twice, stick it in your word list—it will save you time the next time you need it.
Your word list can also include sublists of words related to a specific topic—for instance, spellings of brand names or designers you refer to frequently, special vocabulary related to a particular craft, or technical terms you need to look up on occasion.
A list of abbreviations is a handy reference if you use them while writing patterns or instructions.
Numbers and measurements often come into play in patterns, instructions, and product specs. In this section of your guide, set down any rules you have about the way numbers are styled. The rules may be different in your newsletter than they are in your website, and different again on a pattern.
Consider questions such as these: When do you spell out fractions and when do you write them with numerals? Do you ever use decimals? If so, how many decimal points do you include? Do you include both imperial and metric measurements? Each time you make a decision about how to style numbers as you’re writing a piece of content, note the decision in your style guide.
If you frequently refer to specific measurements, conversions, or sizing charts in your business, your style guide is also a good place to keep these together for easy reference.
Grammar and Punctuation
Your style guide is a good place to jot down any rules about grammar and punctuation you may wish to refer to. If you pause while writing to look up where the comma goes or how to use “that” vs. “which,” make a note in your style guide for next time.
You can use your style guide to keep templates for any written materials you use over and over: instructions, web descriptions, maker bios, product specs, washing instructions, and so on. Next time you need to write materials like these, you won’t need to look up how you did it before.
Formatting and Visuals
You can also use your style guide to make notes about design—especially design of your written content. Keep track of fonts, heading sizes, and colors you use to format your communications in this section. You can also set down guidelines about photography setups and other visual communication if this is a part of your work.
Finally, it’s good to have a set of references to look things up when you have questions about spelling, style, or grammar. Choose an online dictionary to refer to when you have questions, and link to other favorite resources in this section.
A style guide will help you stay organized, save time, make deliberate choices while writing content for your business, and look more professional while doing it. What’s not to love?
Do you have a style guide for your craft business? How does it help you from day to day? I’d love to hear how you use yours!