Learn what a house style guide is, what it includes, why content marketers need one, and how to create your own house style guide examples.
Quality content creation and copyediting that drives traffic and converts leads requires tight branding and error-free text. However, companies that work with multiple writers may struggle to help content creators format their copy according to their brand's voice.
Copywriters and copyeditors must have access to style and content instructions in order to produce engaging content with zero mistakes. Here's what you should know about creating a content style guide for writers and how your organization can benefit from developing a functional set of standards for your content creators.
What Is a House Style Guide?
A House Style Guide (HSG) is handbook that contains formatting, style, and other writing guidelines used by publishers while preparing material that will be written in the English language. A company's style sheet is unique to its brand, however, style guides are based on the widely-used Chicago Manual of Style, a publishing industry standard in America since 1906.
For example, one publishing firm may employ the Chicago Manual of Style guidelines as mentioned above, whereas a magazine may embrace the Associated Press guidelines. However, both organizations are likely to include guidelines that are unique to the brand or that apply only in certain situations. Combined, these suggestions make up what is known as a style sheet or writing guide.
It's critical that your published material is polished, consistent between pieces, and engaging for readers by developing a thorough brand style guide. Well-thought-out house style guide examples prioritize your target audience and the problems affecting them. It establishes a recognized, compelling brand personality and voice with whom readers can relate to on a closer level.
Why Should Businesses Use a Style Sheet?
Many businesses employ more than one writer or content creator to help with blogging, social media marketing, and other copy creation. Two different articles are being written by two different content authors. However, minor discrepancies or errors often occur when multiple writers create content for the same brand.
Commonly, this includes inconsistencies in writing style and tone, proper nouns, titles, and so on. When more than one correct option exists for a piece of text, a style sheet can be used to decide which is the best choice. Even if a style guide doesn't provide instructions about using terminology unique to the content's context, it can help minimize many of the aforementioned problems.
Businesses that have a distinct content style to which they adhere benefit substantially. Writers can be trained to follow a company's specific style guide for every piece of content they produce, saving editors time and effort making small changes in capitalization, punctuation, etc.
Most Common Types of Content Style Guides
There are as many types of house style guide examples as there are types of content. An organization may use different style sheets for the following types of copy and more:
- Website pages
- Social media posts
- Case studies
- Email marketing
- Product descriptions
- White papers
- Video and podcast scripts and transcription
- News articles
- Press releases
- Instruction guides
For example, a company may want a separate style guide for each social media channel they promote content to in order to inform writers of important brand hashtags or collaborators that can be mentioned in their posts. However, these same rules may not apply to blogging, so a business may want to create a different style sheet for blog posts.
How to Choose a Brand Style Guide
According to the Content Marketing Institute, branding failures often happen in the content creation industry as a result of not having a style sheet on hand or having a style sheet that isn't a good fit for a particular organization's needs.
Look for house style guide examples that initially meet the basic requirements of your company. Ideally, you want to do as little editing as possible to bring the style guide up to speed for your organization's specific content requirements. Then, you can use this set of standards as a foundation to add or subtract guidelines as needed for your business.
How to Use a Brand Style Guide
To use a style sheet, writers can either read over the sheet before starting to write, refer to it throughout the writing process, or both. Ideally, content creators will have gone over the document prior to writing and be able to follow the guidelines from memory relatively well. Then, the style sheet can be used when editing to double check that the copy doesn't have any errors included in the guide.
6 House Style Guide Examples
Mailchimp's style guide is arguably one of the content marketing industry's best. It enables users to create content clear, consistent content across multiple channels and teams. While originally designed for Mailchimp brand writers, the company's style sheet has become a most valuable resource for content creators.
This manual goes beyond the basics of style, tone, formatting, and grammar. In terms of format and substance, it's not what most writers expect. Some grammar rules are eschewed for clarity or practicality, however, these guidelines help to create short, snappy content geared towards conversions.
2. Associated Press Stylebook
The Associated Press Stylebook, or AP Stylebook, is now in its 55th edition and features over 200 entries, either revised or new. It also includes additional chapters on business content, data journalism, religious works, and guidelines for sports writing. Additionally, the AP Stylebook covers media law, social media content, digital security, news values, and polls and survey formatting.
While created to help writers better embody Microsoft's clear, crisp communication style, the Microsoft Writing Style Guide can be used by technology writers across the globe to generate winning copy. Microsoft focuses their style sheet intently on helping content creators learn how to write like they speak and create succinct copy in order to grab a reader's attention.
4. UK Government
UK Government, located at UK.gov, is a style sheet for the United Kingdom's Government Digital Service that governs all content published on the website. The sheet is organized alphabetically by guideline and includes spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, tone, and other style rules for all material posted to GOV.UK.
5. The New York Times Manual of Style & Usage
The New York Times is one of the oldest and most famous newspapers in the United States. Its style sheet, the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, was created in 1895 and emphasizes clear, polished, and uniform language throughout every news story included in the paper.
When it comes to journalistic style, The New York Times' stylebook has pursued a similar path to the Associated Press. This style sheet consists primarily of rules governing grammar, punctuation, and abbreviations. However, it's also considered a living text that is always changing and being updated as it incorporates new style rules every year.
6. Merriam-Webster's Guide to Punctuation & Style
Merriam-Webster’s Guide to Punctuation and Style is a pragmatic content guide that answers some of the most frequently asked questions by writers.
This includes but isn't limited to questions such as how to correctly punctuate a sentence, when words should be capital or lower case, when and how to use bold or italic font, how to properly write compound words and possessives, when abbreviations should be used and when they shouldn't, how different numerical values should be presented in text, and how to format bibliographies and footnotes. If you liked this post, you might be interested in our explainer on if Grammarly can help with APA.
Final Word on House Style Guides
Without a house stylebook, a company's content is unlikely to be consistent between articles. This can make it more challenging for your brand to build its unique voice in your chosen niche. Style sheets can help writers eliminate simple mistakes, reducing the overall workload on copyeditors and creating an overall smoother, more compelling piece of content.
FAQ About House Style Guides
What should be included in a style sheet?
A house style sheet should include the following guidelines:
1. Headline and paragraph formatting
2. Guidelines for abbreviations
3. Suggestions on how to hyphenate words
4. Rules for using formatting like bold, italics, underline, strikethrough, and subscript or superscript text
5. Rules for using apostrophes, acronyms, capital letters, lower case letters, semicolons, quotation marks, proper nouns, typefaces, the Oxford comma, etc.
6. Other stylistic guidelines
How do I format a writing style guide?
Most writing stylebooks are fairly long and aren't easy to read from front to back. Your house style guide examples should use extra spaces, bullets, numbering, short paragraphs, and other formatting tricks to create a guide that is easy to read and navigate through. If possible, link the table of contents in your style guide to their sections below so users can easily click on the chapter they want to go to and be sent directly to that section of copy.
What are the most important features of a writing style guide?
Be sure to address all of the following in your style sheet:
5. File name conventions
6. Grammar rules
7. Word list with keywords and/or appropriate ways to write difficult words (e.g. “healthcare” instead of “health care”)
8. Social media and other content policies
What are embedded style sheets?
Embedded style sheets let organizations specify particular styles for an entire HTML document. Usually, this is kept in a single location on the back end of a company's website and can be set to format content automatically. When you use the <style> element to insert style and formatting into an HTML page, you're utilizing embedded style sheets. This is accomplished by adding the <style> and </style> tags into the blog post, website page, or other content.
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