Make your voice heard
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Do several people within your organisation write proposals? Or is one person tasked with updating the web content and blog articles, and another with writing client emails?

Print some samples and compare the differences in written style and presentation.

A style guide is integral to keeping communication and branding consistent across your media channels – websites, emails, sales letters, social media, blogs, newsletters, publications.

It ensures the same credible voice is conveyed each time a different person writes a piece of communication – no matter how many are in the team.

But a style guide isn’t just about the words. If you don’t have one yet, here’s a guide on how to develop your own style.

Getting started
A style guide need only be a Word document or PDF to share among staff or anyone who writes for your business.

Once you’ve established your business’ writing style, you could develop a system of templates to ensure every piece of communication maintains similar structure and presentation.

Your style of language – or level of formality – comes back to knowing your audience.

Not only does each set of readers have a different set of needs, they also communicate differently. Is your audience young and constantly using social media, or do they prefer something more formal?

Your audience will also determine your style of language. Will your readers understand your terminology? Will they expect a formal, informal or persuasive edge to your material? And which words should you avoid – or use more of?

Select a dictionary of choice for your business, for example, the Australian Macquarie Dictionary. This avoids confusion for words such as:

  • Adviser and advisor
  • Email and e-mail
  • Enquiry and inquiry
  • Focused and focussed
  • Organise and organize
  • Program and programme
  • Travelled and traveled
  • Verandah and veranda

Words to avoid
Traditionally, it was frowned upon to use the word ‘over’ before a number. Many professional communicators still insist on the use of ‘more than’ instead. ‘Over’ is a reference to space, not size or quantity.

  • The cow jumped over the moon.
  • The CEO had more than six meetings in a day.

A grammatical rule doesn’t exist in this instance, but one will often sound better – and more professional – than the other. Many official style guides encourage writers to choose the option that sounds best, then add it as a ‘rule’ to their style guide.

Once you’ve made your style rules, chances are you’ll cringe each time you see one used ‘incorrectly’:

  • Among, not amongst
  • Choose, not pick
  • Entire, not whole
  • More than, not over
  • Such as, not like

The frequency of commas, semi-colons and other punctuation can be a matter of preference. Once you’ve determined how long you like your sentences and when you prefer to pause, include this in your style guide.

Remember, simplicity is one way to make your message powerful and compelling.

Numbers & dates
Commonly, written style is to write one to nine in words and 10 and beyond in numerals. Are your writers aware of this?

And which date format does your business use?

  • 16 March 2012
  • March 16, 2012
  • 16.03.2012
  • 16/03/2012

Use the same one each time.

Do – or should – your documents follow a certain structure? For example, does more than one person within your organisation write proposals – for the same client?

No matter the level of communication, it should always have a similar presentation – one that is familiar and a true representation of your brand (visual and written).

Do you prefer bullet points to break up text on a page and to make it easier to read? If so, which type of bullets look best? Use the same ones each time.

Sub-headings are also useful to present information in a more reader-friendly manner. Which font do you prefer, and what size? Use the same ones each time.

Underline is rarely used, italics are used for names such as books or boats, and bold for emphasis. What ‘rules’ suit your business communication?

Will you use UPPERCASE or Title Case for your headings? And what about your sub-headings? Simply bold?

Once you’ve established your preferred formatting style, document it in a style guide so everyone else can adopt the same presentation.

Some background to your readers may be useful if you have several audience sub-groups. It doesn’t hurt for whoever is writing at the time to remind themselves of the audience’s likely preferences.

If writing succinctly isn’t a strength of you or your writer, you may like to include some tips to reduce wordiness.

Of course, proofreading is essential before sending out any piece of communication, no matter its size, so include some tips on making this process effective, too.

What will you include in your style guide?

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