A Style Guide Can Help Your Company Build Its Brand

What is a style guide and does your business need one? (SPOILER ALERT: Yes!) A style guide is a document that sets the standard for how your business and brand will be presented in all forms of communication.

The purpose of a style guide is to ensure your brand maintains consistency and clarity in the way it presents itself to its target audiences. A style guide is a written guide to preferences and covers such topics as grammar, punctuation, and preferred spellings, and can also include design specifications for the company logo, color themes, preferred fonts and sizes, etc.

Every business or organization needs a style guide, as you will be communicating to the public in some form. You will almost certainly have a website; you’ll send emails and letters; you’ll print business cards; you may advertise across social media platforms and send out marketing materials. Therefore, your brand needs to be consistent in all areas.

Imagine that eBay, for example, didn’t clarify in their style guide how their name should be styled. Their communications could go out with their name shown as eBay and Ebay or even EBay. That’s no way to build a brand.

Bullseye CommunicationsA style guide that’s created specifically for your business is referred to as an in-house style guide. There are also standard industry style guides that you can choose to have your business conform to in addition to your in-house guide or in place of it. The AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) are two of the most referenced style guides in the business and publishing worlds.

The AP Stylebook is a relatively short, spiral-bound notebook that lists all style and grammar issues alphabetically. It’s lightweight and easy to use. The CMOS would best be described as a tome. At more than 1,000 pages, it covers every imaginable style and grammar issue you could think of, as well as a bunch of stuff you would never think of. You can also purchase a digital subscription to these style guides.

Different types of businesses abide by different guides. The newspaper industry and many other types of businesses use the AP Stylebook. The publishing industry uses CMOS. The two guides do have differing opinions. For example, AP Stylebook does not like the serial or “Oxford” comma, which is the comma that comes before “and” in a series of three or more things; CMOS prefers it. There are other differences between the two, but I won’t bore you with them here. If you have an hour, check out the AP Stylebook yourself; if you have the next month free, check out CMOS!

Here are some basic issues that style guides address:

  • Numerals: Spell them all out? Show them as numerals? Spell out one through nine and use numerals for 10 and above? It’s your style guide—you decide.
  • Percentages: Use the percent symbol (25%) or spell out percent (25 percent)?
  • Time: Should you include :00 when displaying hours or no? (Are you open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.?)
  • Preferred spellings: email or e-mail? advisor or adviser?
  • Headlines: Do You Prefer Your Subject Lines and Headings to Be Capitalized? Or do you prefer the quieter look of sentence case?
  • Dashes: When to use an en dash and how to style an em dash. Do you add a space on either side of an em dash — or no space—it depends on which look you prefer.

Once you’ve created your style guide, it’s imperative to have it proofed before releasing it company-wide. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen typos or contradicting information in a style guide. If you call for the use of the Oxford comma, don’t give this instruction: “Always use the Oxford comma to ensure clarity, consistency and readability” and forget to insert the Oxford comma!

Finally, be sure to share your style guide with all employees, contractors, or vendors who develop communications for your company to ensure consistency. That includes Bullseye Communications!

If you need your in-house style guide proofed, we are here to help make it as perfect as you always knew it could be.

By Sue McGrath. Sue is a writer, editor, and proofreader at Bullseye Communications.