Keeping a Style Guide Alive

Whether it’s 200 pages or two pages, most organizations have some kind of style guide. A style guide sets the standards for content—whether presented online or offline—and defines the rules and guidelines for ensuring consistency across all content. It usually includes preferred nomenclature, sample phrasing, best practices, and legal considerations.

In large organizations with a dedicated editing team, a style guide actually gets used.

Often, however, a style guide is created amidst much fanfare, referred to over and over again for one or two tricky scenarios (serial comma or not, anyone?), and then otherwise left to sit, unless a new team starts working on content, or a new team member jumps on board.

As a team that gets brought in to help organizations build out new sites and content, we get to see these style guides with a fresh eye. This allows us to really use them–and be held accountable to then follow them. In an ideal world, a content creator should be looking at a style guide on a daily basis, and adding to it (or recommending additions) on a regular (weekly or monthly) basis.

So what are some ways to keep a style guide up-to-date, and continually useful?

  • Create a small committee of style guide owners and interested parties. This should be a combination of people both using the guide (writers, editors), and management who have the power and influence to enforce the guide.
  • Make it easy for people to provide feedback. Whether it’s a dedicated email box, or just one person who funnels requests, make it easy and obvious for people to submit questions, requests for additions or changes, etc.
  • Set up quarterly review sessions with the committee. Once a quarter, keep a standing meeting where the committee meets to address those changes. Updates shouldn’t be made in a vacuum–having a group of people talk it through can help determine the best course of action.
  • Share the updated style guide widely. This sharing should be done with both internal team members, as well as any external consultants. If you’re finding that you’re not creating any updates in a given quarter, you may want to look harder. It’s rare that something won’t pop up that needs to be added or modified.

This final act of sharing is not just to pass along any changes to the style guide, but to underscore the importance that following the guidelines has—not only to content creation and management, but to the organization’s overall business needs and goals.