Content Guidelines: Why Your Brand Needs a Style Guide via @annaleacrowe

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Die on that hill. And the guide will back you up for the rest of time (or until you change it).

Even if you choose to follow the rules from a popular style guide, it’s a good idea to outline common usage practices and provide examples.

See how Canada Post eliminates confusion around commonly used terms:


5. Address Specific Types of Content

Different types of content may require you to switch up your tone or voice.

This is also a chance to outline best practices for the types of content that you create.

For example, your subject matter experts may not realize that blogs need to be scannable for people to actually read them. That’s how you end up with a four-page word wall that you’re expected to upload on the site as-is.


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You may know the importance of headers and short paragraphs, but they don’t.

Document those details in the style guide.

Take a look at how Mailchimp gives guidance on the kinds of blogs it creates:

mailchimp-blog-style-exampleAnd then they offer guidelines for the writing style to use in their blogs:


6. Document Your Rules for Graphics

While your visual style guide goes in-depth on how to use logos, images, and visual design elements, your content style guide should include some guidance on images, too.


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Your design team may not touch every blog or content piece you produce.

Should images be left, right, or center-aligned? Are there certain types of images to avoid?

Put those rules in the guide to protect brand consistency.

See how Search Engine Journal does it in our editorial guidelines:


5 Examples of Content Style Guides

Now that you know all of the steps you need to take to develop your guide, I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions about how to structure it.

Fortunately, there are plenty of existing examples to pull from.

So, in the spirit of swiping, take some inspiration from these guides as you develop yours.

Mozilla’s Guide for Firefox

mozilla-style-guide-exampleKey Takeaway


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By being as prescriptive as possible, Mozilla leaves no room for confusion.

The quick parenthetical explanations make sure everyone (remember, everyone’s creating content) is clear on the subjective stuff.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

uncch-style-guide-exampleKey Takeaway

These easy questions force everyone writing content for UNC Chapel Hill to check their content against the brand’s content mission.


mailchimp-style-guide-exampleKey Takeaway

Mailchimp avoids offensive faux-pas by outlining how to talk about gender, disabilities, sexuality, and ethnicity.


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Even well-meaning content creators can step on a banana peel in these areas.

Their guide keeps everyone aware and on the right track.


Spotify-partner-messaging-guide-exampleKey Takeaway

This excerpt from Spotify’s Partner Messaging Guide shows how a style guide can anticipate users’ needs.

The alternative example here gives Spotify’s partners a little flexibility and keeps them from going off the ranch when talking about their catalog.


atlassian-style-guide-exampleKey Takeaway


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Atlassian’s easy-to-navigate table of contents makes the style guide super easy for users.

Even if you don’t have the tools to build a sophisticated site for your style guide, a clickable table of contents can go a long way.

A Final Final Style Guide Tips

Now you know what a content style guide is, why you need one, and how to do it.

Now it’s time for you to start building your guide.

And remember, the guide is only as good as your ability to enforce it.

Here are some tips to help you in that process:

  • Make it easily accessible to your content creators. Whether it’s on the web or a shared folder, this isn’t something to keep tucked away.
  • Refer to it when giving feedback. Adopting your style standards can take time. Keep nudging your creators to look at it so the guidelines can really sink in.
  • Make it easy to read. A style guide can be a monster of a document. Take a cue from the Atlassian example above and break it into chunks that users can easily understand.

When done well, a content style guide can be a key step towards producing content that makes a lasting impression with your audience.

So go forth and conquer!

Draw your lines in the sand, put your foot down, document it all, and don’t forget to swipe from existing guides.


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Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
All screenshots taken by author

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