Your branding is on point and you’ve got a great theme going on with fonts and colours, but what about your writing? That’s where you need an editorial style guide and in this post I’m going to step you through how to make your own including a free template to get you started.
What’s a style guide?
The term ‘style guide’ is pretty industry-specific. For journalists, a publication’s style guide means everything and should quickly become second nature.
The style guide is a consistent set of rules around language use, especially where elements differ or spellings change across countries. Basically, the style guide is your bible and trumps any other language rules (however much I disagree when it comes to Oxford Commas).
I remember getting handed a small style guide, a few pages stapled together, during my first journalism lecture at university and thinking “how the hell am I ever going to remember this?!”.
For my first few stories, I was constantly referring back to these pages to figure out how I should close my quotes or whether it was %, per cent, or percent.
Now, I don’t even think about these things as I edit people’s stories. It’s like when I first learnt to drive and would tentatively pause and check everything versus now, when I just instinctively know how to use a roundabout or whatever.
Why your blog needs a style guide
If you’re just blogging for fun, then you probably don’t need to worry about a style guide.
But if you want to create a professional, credible, and authoritative blog (or any writing really), then creating a personal style guide is a must.
Don’t worry! I’m not telling you to go out and study the 900-page New Oxford Style Manual. I’m going to walk you through creating a small style guide you can gradually build on to help shape your image as a professional and expert writer.
This editorial style guide is also different to your brand style guide, with all your colour, fonts, and the like. It’s just as important though, because it all comes back to consistency across all your platforms.
You don’t ever have to show anyone else, but simply putting a document together and filing it away with your other blogging info can help clarify some issues. It doesn’t have to be something you look at every second sentence (like me in uni) but you can refer to it when you get stuck.
Obviously I’m writing this post with bloggers in mind but if you’re writing longform work, creating a style guide for your manuscript is a key part of the editing process.
Creating your own style guide
I’ve created a free style sheet template you can customise for your blog. Once you’ve saved a copy, work through some of the prompts below to create your own guide.
An easy way to start is to have a scroll through the guides of some popular publications.
If you’re using my template you’ll notice a ‘punctuation’ prompt. That’s where you could nominate a professional guide to fall back on for punctuation points, like whether to use an Oxford Comma or how to separate large numbers.
Anything you want to do differently on your blog, note down in your style guide (in the word list section if you’re using the template).
You can also nominate a dictionary of choice on the template. This can be as simple as your computer’s default dictionary, but as spellings can differ between dictionaries (English is fun, right?) it’s handy to have consistency.
Now, here are some things to kickstart your style guide:
- Spelling: Do you want to use American or British spelling?
- Headings and capitalisation: Will you use all caps, every word capped, or first word capped? How frequently will you cap words in text? This is something which bugs me because I’ve had minimal capitalisation drilled into me at work - so I would write Example University, but ‘at the university’ (not ‘at the University’).
- Lists: Will you use bullet points or numbers? Will you use full stops or punctuation at the end of each line?
- Numbers: How will you write numbers? General conventions are to spell one to nine, 10 and upwards in numerals.
- Titles: Will you italicise titles of books or films? (Fun fact: when my newspaper was bought out by a big international company and our style guide changed, learning to italicise titles was one of the biggest changes I had to make).
- Tense: Will you write blog posts in past, present, or future tense? Try and nail that consistency again.
- Jargon and abbreviations: This will vary depending on your niche. Think of industry or niche-specific things you might use and whether you need to simplify the terms or if your audience will understand. For example, most bloggers understand SEO but the general public might not. Likewise, I wouldn’t expect most bloggers to be familiar with YA or #LoveOzYA, but I use them here because most people reading my reviews will understand.
- Preferred spellings or words: Your preferred spellings for words which differ frequently (add these to the alphabetical sections of the template). An example is eBook, which could also be written as e-book or ebook.
Your blog style guide doesn’t have to be more than a page and no one ever has to see it, but the very act of setting it up can really help. Include only the most important and frequently used words or elements on your blog. The guide is there to save you time and create a professional, consistent voice across all your platforms.
Get started: Save a copy of this template and start jotting down your key words to make your own blog style guide. Then let me know in the comments or on social how you get on!
Enjoyed this post? It's part of my new series on writing and editing. Check out my five strategies for becoming a better writer here.