Creating a Writer-Friendly Style Guide
First question: what’s a style guide?
If your company creates documentation, you have many good reasons to use a style guide. A style guide helps you produce consistent, predictable content that is easy to use and facilitates effective searching. Consistent style lets you seamlessly combine and reuse your content over time. It presents a unified image that strengthens your company identity. It improves the quality of your documentation and reduces calls to Customer Service.
But even the best style guide won’t help your content if writers don’t use it. So, how can you create a style guide that your busy, deadline-driven writers will want to use? The answer, as Judith Tarutz points out in Technical Editing: The Practical Guide for Editors and Writers, is obvious: writers will use your style guide if it saves them time and work. With that in mind, here are some tips for creating a writer-friendly style guide:
Stick to the essentials.
Focus on subjective style matters and on information that writers use regularly and that’s difficult to find. Don’t clutter your style guide with rarely used style points or with grammar and spelling information that writers can look up elsewhere.
Organize the content for ease of use.
Keep related information together. For example, place all the information on bullet lists in the same section—don’t make writers go to the list section, the capitalization section, and the end-punctuation section to find everything they need to format a bullet list.
Use plain language and lots of examples.
Write content that is easy to understand. For example, writers may be confused if you tell them to avoid expletives, but they’ll understand if you tell them to avoid beginning a sentence with It is or There is and provide some relevant examples.
Keep it current.
Writers will stop using the style guide if they suspect it’s out of date. Update the style guide regularly and indicate when and where you’ve made changes. For example, you can use a Recent Changes table, or you can use red text to identify content that is new.
Remember, writers will use your style guide if they can find what they’re looking for easily and the information is clear. Put another way, your style guide will be a success if it meets the same quality standards that you aim for in all your company’s content.