Every great blog has a style guide.
All of your favorite blogs likely are consistent in tone and imagery.
But you’ve never really put pen to paper and articulated your style — it’s just something you make up as you go along, selecting the parts and pieces that seem to fit who you are and how you write.
And while that may have worked to get you started, if you really want to take your blog to the next level, it’s time to make decisions about your style … and stick with them.
Here’s a handy guide to create your blog’s style guidelines once and for all.
Remind Me … What’s a Style Guide?
A style guide is a basic document that shows the writing rules you (and other contributors) agree to follow for the blog. It’s like your blog’s rule book, so everyone is on the same page and can find the answers to common writing questions.
This allows you to articulate the personality of your brand — from colors, to tone, to grammar.
While there are multiple sections you’ll want to hit, you also want to keep your guide digestible. Think four or five pages.
In crafting a style guide, the most important part is knowing your blog inside and out. Know the types of phrases you use, the colors you like, and the audience you’re serving, that way you can articulate them clearly.
Ultimately, a style guide is the key to creating a blog that’s consistent, credible, and impactful.
The Parts and Pieces: What Should Be Included?
An overview. Most guides begin with the mission — a reminder of the audience and the topics covered. This will help to streamline and maintain a focus throughout the rest of your guide. You must know who you’re writing for and why you’re writing it; this is the backbone of your blog and your style guide. By knowing your ideal consumer, you can tailor content to those you hope to reach.
External style manual. This section will clue in your writers to the accepted format or set of standards you want them to follow. Choose which style you’ll follow, whether it’s MLA, AP, Chicago, or something else. This provides a general go-to for basic questions.
Grammar and punctuation. While the external guide will provide the foundation, it’s also usually a good idea to explicitly include the most common need-to-know rules here. This can range from what’s capitalized, what’s abbreviated, whether the Oxford comma is a no-go, and and other special cases.
Style and tone. Here’s where you answer questions about how the content will sound to the reader. Keep it concise. Will you use first person? Industry jargon? Passive or active voice? Be sure to think about your target audience and ideal consumer — what style and tone will resonate with them? It can be helpful to have a list of three to five words defining your voice, as well as a similar “what we aren’t” list, just for clarity.
Personas. Don’t go into extensive detail, just pull some quick descriptions of your target audience and the descriptors you would use to define them. This will help writers stay focused and keep the audience in mind while creating content.
Graphics. Guidelines needn’t all be about copy– any content you produce represents your brand, so you want to keep it consistent with style. While it’s typically a good idea to have a separate brand design style guide that addresses the visual nuances, if you or anyone else contributing content will be creating visuals, include this section. Cover the basics: Where can you get images, and how should they be attributed? What size should images be? Are videos OK? What about podcasts, infographics, or other media? Make it clear what’s allowed and how it should look.
Formatting. Keep it simple, focused, and informative. How should writers format their posts for your blog? Answer some of the following questions: Do images align left, right, or center? Does text wrap around images? How would numbered lists appear? What about bullets and section headers? All should be made clear, so your writers can implement best practices.
Colors. This helps with consistency. What’s your color wheel? Decide on a set palette and keep the exact color codes on hand. Keep it simple — use two to four main colors that reflect your brand.
Examples. Throughout your guide, utilizing real examples really can help clarify what’s good to go and what won’t get published.
Resources: Put It Into Practice
Do a quick Google search and you’ll find some basic outlines to adopt and edit to your liking. These are some of my favorites:
- Hubspot – download its free e-book for tips and tricks as well as a free editorial calendar template.
- Frontify – this costs a little bit, but helps you organize your style guide neatly (and it looks awesome)!
- Every Tuesday – it offers a free template, printables, and examples of what it all looks like filled in.
- Kapost – it offers a customizable Word document template to edit to your needs.
- Dribble – a user on this site created a free style guide template that can be downloaded and used in Adobe Illustrator.
Your style guide is the one-stop shop to articulate your blog’s personality, create effective content, craft consistent messaging, and maintain a brand identity.
Take the time to write out who you want to be, how you want to be perceived, and give yourself the guidelines to get there.