The importance of having a Copy Style Guide

By Renata Mathewson, Maple Marketing

Does your business have a copy style guide? Do you know the in-house guidelines when it comes to abbreviating the company name, referring to directors by name or title, or using industry jargon? Or is it a phraseology free-for-all where anything goes?

Many organisations have brand guidelines. These deal with things like how their logo must appear, what font to use, and what corporate colours should be used in communications.

More and more businesses are now also using a copy style guide. So much of what we write, report and comment on ends up getting published online and being read by a wider audience than just internal stakeholders. So it is important to manage your company’s image in all of your communications. This applies to the language used, and not just the visual branding.

What is a copy style guide?

It is a customised style guide created for your business by an experienced copy writer skilled in writing for a variety of different media. Consider it the ops manual for anyone putting together company communications. Whether they are pieces written for external audiences or internal stakeholders, they can include press releases, website content, brochures, magazine articles and ads. They most certainly include the often forgotten, less formal communications like emails, blogs and social networking posts.

Who is it for?

A copy style guide is essential for any company where more than one person is writing for any of the above mentioned materials. These might include:

  • members of a sales team who create their own sales and presentation materials and information packs
  • employees who are allowed to manage and publish their own website copy
  • real estate agents who write their own listings or advertising copy
  • university employees who contribute to publications, newsletters or websites
  • franchisees who produce their own sales and marketing materials
  • anyone who maintains their company’s social networking profiles

Creating consistency in the language and copy style that your business uses upholds a more professional image and eliminates confusion among readers or potential customers.

For example, if your business is the New Zealand Institute of Copywriters, do you use NZIC, NZICW, NZ Institute of Copywriters, or simply The Institute?

If your company name begins with a lowercase letter do you capitalise it when you write about the business, particularly at the beginning of a sentence?

If you do business internationally, should you use American English or British English (recognize vs. recognise, analyze vs. analyse)?

How does your business spell common terms like email (or e-mail) and internet (or Internet)? Is it your company’s style to include www in front of a web address – or

Do you have a preference for date format that everyone in the organisation should adhere to? Again, if you do business internationally, do you need to make things clear for an audience that might be used to a different format? (i.e. will your American colleagues know that 3/9/10 is the 3rd of September and not the 9th of March?)

When it comes to commonly misspelled or misused words, do you and your employees know the difference between: effect vs affect, that vs which, it’s vs its, few vs less, practice vs practise, advice vs advise?

If your business hasn’t established copy guidelines, your company image could be compromised. It pays to bring in a professional to review some of your documents and web copy and help create a style guide. You can then keep it on hand for quick reference any time you’re in doubt about what you write.