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Writing Style Guide: The Insider’s Secret to Consistent Writing

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Think you don’t need a writing style guide for your business writing? Think again.

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably curated a sense of style about something in your life.

Think about how you dress, decorate your home, drive your car, or even buy groceries. Even if you didn’t intentionally create rules for these things, you probably have a few unconscious guidelines on what you will and won’t buy or use.

Maybe you never buy black clothes—or always buy black clothes.

Maybe you would never be caught dead driving a certain model of car or wearing shoes with Velcro straps.

And for the people who pride themselves on being unstylish or not caring? They probably go out of their way to avoid overly flashy, curated, or “put-together” products.

It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of style, but writing is also defined by rules and preferences.

And just as you want your wardrobe to be consistent, you want your writing to have a consistent style. This is especially true for business writing, where consistency is key to appearing professional and knowledgeable.

But how do you develop this consistency?

The best way is to follow a writing style guide or style manual.

What Is a Writing Style Guide?

Put simply, a writing style guide is a document that details how written communication should look for a specific organization. This can apply to anything from an email signature to a companywide report. It includes things like:

… and sometimes other aspects of writing, depending on the guide. Essentially, it’s a manual that makes sure everything you write matches in style, tone, and grammar.

Two of the most well-known and popular writing style guides include the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style. Many publishers use one of these books as a guide for language use, and then they’ll add their own style preferences that are particular to their organization.

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Photo of the cover of The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition.

Why Writing Style Guides Are Important

Although people who aren’t very familiar with writing may think writing style guides aren’t worth the time, they actually have a huge impact on the overall look and feel of your writing and branding.

Here are the main reasons it’s important to use a writing style guide in business writing.

Consistency

Do you use the first person in some articles and third person in others?

Do you spell out state names sometimes and other times abbreviate them?

Does the Oxford comma (a comma before “and” or “or” in a series) appear sporadically throughout a piece depending on whether you felt like putting it in?

Although these minor inconsistencies are barely perceptible when they happen once or twice, they can add up to make your writing look unprofessional and unorganized. This is especially important for business writing, where you need to appear knowledgeable and reputable.

Writing style guides help you maintain consistency in your writing by defining rules for things like punctuation, capitalization, or spelling. When you use a style guide, you ensure that everything stays consistent so small details don’t take away from the overall quality of your work.

Keeping Everyone on the Same Page

If keeping your own writing consistent is challenging, it gets much harder when you’re working with a team. Everyone has their own ideas about how writing rules should work, and if you don’t establish unifying guidelines, team members will default to whatever they think is right.

This can quickly lead to a situation where every document across your organization has completely different writing styles, confusing readers and making your company look disorganized.

A writing style guide helps avoid this problem by giving everyone a set of rules to follow so there’s no confusion about what is and isn’t allowed. This way, no matter who is writing what, you can be confident that it’ll all fit together nicely in the end.

Avoiding Unnecessary Revisions

When you’re writing for a business, chances are you’ll need to go through a few rounds of revisions before something is ready to be published.

While it’s always a good idea to have two or three rounds of revisions for quality control, it wastes everyone’s time when fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-round revisions occur, especially if they could’ve been avoided by establishing some ground rules to prevent confusion and mixed messages.

Without a writing style guide, one editor may think Oxford commas are necessary, while another may disagree. So they may go back and forth deleting and adding commas back in because no one agrees on what’s right.

With a writing style guide, editors can be confident about what should and shouldn’t be revised, and writers can avoid making needless mistakes. This greatly reduces the number of revisions required and time wasted on asking people what to do.

And if you don’t have any designated editors on your team, using professionals will always expedite the process. Super Copy Editors can help. Learn more about our business editing and proofreading services.

Adhering to Branding

Style isn’t just about grammar and technical rules. One of the biggest reasons to use a writing style guide is so more subjective things like voice and tone can be streamlined and agreed upon.

When brands create brand guidelines, the document often includes information about word choice, tone, voice, and sometimes even capitalization or grammar. This can all be easily added into a writing style guide so everyone understands the overall feeling and theme their business writing should evoke.

This can significantly reduce time spent on edits regarding phrasing or flow. It can also help team members better understand the company’s tone and mission.

Quote that says, "To be an effective business writer, you need to have a consistent style. So choose your favorite style guide and stick to it."

How to Start Using Writing Style Guides

Although it may seem daunting to introduce dozens of rules about every little grammar and spelling question, it’s actually a lot easier than it looks. Here are the steps to start implementing style guidelines into your business writing.

1. Get an Official Writing Style Guide

Many companies base their style guidelines on one of the popular style guides since they have detailed instructions on how to handle all the most common writing questions and areas of confusion. You can buy a physical copy or pay a modest fee for a digital annual subscription.

Here are two options:

  • A print copy of the AP Stylebook is available for around $22 on Amazon, while a digital subscription runs $29 per year.
  • The 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style costs around $55 on Amazon and $43 for an annual digital subscription.

Making these guidelines readily available to your team members usually means sharing login information to access a digital subscription.

2. Make Unique Changes Based on Your Brand

While it’s always an option to follow the exact rules set out in established writing style guides, most companies make some customizations that reflect the voice and tone of their brand. These could be anything from small grammar issues to capitalization and word choice.

Some examples of guidelines you can make or modify include:

  • Use of Oxford commas: I brought a pen, a pad, and my laptop vs. I brought a pen, a pad and my laptop.
  • Use of gender-neutral pronouns: his or her vs. the singular their. (The latter is now widely preferred.)
  • Use of certain terms: e-book, eBook, or ebook.
  • Use of digits or words for numbers: 12 or twelve?

3. Update Your Writing Style Guide

Your style guide is a living, breathing document, so keep adding updates or new rules as your needs and preferences change over time.

Get Help Sticking to Your Guidelines With Super Copy Editors

If you’re worried about getting everyone on your team to follow the new writing style guide or you just don’t have the time to keep track of it yourself, don’t be afraid to outsource your editing to make sure everything’s on track.

Super Copy Editors provides quality copy editing services that can adhere to your unique guidelines and spot even the smallest errors and inconsistencies. Get a free quote from us today to get started.

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Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I’m Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than 25 years of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes. At Super Copy Editors, we’re passionate about helping agencies, marketing teams, and education companies refine and polish their text to give them confidence and ensure success. Learn more here.

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