As mentioned in last week’s post, a content style guide is what creates and defines the standards for your company’s internal and external written communications. Creating a content style guide that serves as a centralized resource and training tool for everyone on your team helps ensure that your brand is communicating consistently and meeting editorial standards. Once you’ve created it, this tool will become a key part of your content marketing strategy.
While style guides can be anything from a detailed comprehensive editorial style guide to a simple reference sheet, all good style guides should include these key topics:
- Brand voice (if you missed it, check out last week’s post on this topic)
- Style preferences
- Industry terminology
- SEO terms
- Reading level and linguistic preferences
This month, we are covering each of these subjects in a weekly blog post. Today’s topic is about choosing the style preference to use.
Different Styles to Follow
There are four established writing and formatting styles that are widely recognized and followed. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), and the Associated Press (AP).
Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)
This style was developed by and for the publishing industry. It is also the preferred choice for writers and editors in many academic fields, such as humanities and social sciences. CMOS covers everything from style and usage to source citations and the mechanics of editing and proofreading.
Modern Language Association (MLA)
MLA style is a system for documenting sources, primarily in the realm of academia. Scholars, researchers and journal publishers throughout the world use the MLA. It’s also been widely adopted for classroom instruction and use.
American Psychological Association (APA)
Based on the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, APA style provides guidelines for both writing style and source citations, with an emphasis on writing about data. This is your source if you’re presenting quantitative and qualitative results in tables and figures. APA style is primarily used by students and professionals in the social and behavioral sciences.
Associated Press (AP Style)
The go-to resource for those in journalism, The Associated Press Stylebook contains a series of glossaries that cover preferred spellings and abbreviations and how to choose the right term (and avoid the wrong one) for a given context. Because reporters and many other people who work with the news and other current events depend on it, the guide is updated annually and contains the most up-to-date guidance on new terminology and accepted formatting practices.
My Personal Style Choice
While I am familiar with and utilize many different styles, my preference is to follow AP Style. It provides consistent guidelines for the grammar, spelling, punctuation and language I use most often in my writing projects.
The Associated Press identifies the following guiding principles behind AP style:
One of the biggest benefits of following AP Style is that the stylebook is updated annually. Terms and formatting styles that have lost relevance are dropped, and additions are made based on the evolution of culture, language and technology. For example, the folks at the AP provide definitive guidance about e-mail vs. Email vs. email, and so on.
How To Determine The Right Style for You
So how do you go about selecting a style to use? As part of defining your content marketing strategy, ask these four questions to help determine which style is the right fit for your brand:
- What is your industry? Companies in education and science tend to follow a different style than those in hospitality or fashion.
- Who is your target audience? The demographics of your readers and audience provides insight into which style is best to adopt. If academic readers are your audience, you’d likely use the MLA.
- What is the tone of your brand voice? Is it authoritative and scholarly? Or personable and conversational? Make sure the style you use is aligned with your voice and tone.
- What type of written communications does your company use most? The style you choose will also depend on whether you publish academic studies, produce informational white papers, printed articles and advertisements, or engage in a high volume of social media and blog posts. If you’re connecting with your audience on Facebook and Instagram, the formality of the MLA will turn people away.
Having an established brand voice and style guide make it easy for everyone in your company to communicate consistently across all media, ensuring that your brand uses the same style and speaks with one voice. And, it will ensure you’re getting the most traction out of the content marketing strategy you worked so hard to create.
Stay tuned next week for topic #3: Industry vernacular