Copywriting style guides: What they are and why your business needs one

In the same way that a great chef needs to be able to recreate dishes, a successful business should deliver regular messages that stick to a consistent voice, style, and tone.

Why? Well, because consistency and trust go hand in hand!

Whenever your business puts out an exceptional piece of writing — whether that’s a blog article, a white paper, or an e-book — you establish a certain set of expectations. If you fail to deliver the same standards the second time around, your readers will notice.

A copywriting style guide makes sure this doesn’t happen. It outlines the standards and rules that your business’ writers and copywriters need to say ‘yes’ to — and stick to every time they produce content.

But first, you need to say ‘yes’ to creating one. By the end of this article, we’re confident you will. 

So, let’s get started!

What is a copywriting style guide?

A copywriting style guide establishes the ground rules for using language — and for presenting content — in a way that reinforces your brand’s image. 

It’s a short document that summarizes what your brand should sound and look like in writing. 

What’s more, a good copywriting style guide can really help to guide your writers. They’ll benefit from being able to check their grammar, spelling, tone, and word choices when navigating your brand’s content creation. 

A copywriting style guide doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, most will answer questions that might — at first glance — seem commonplace. For example:

  • Should you use “&” or “and”? 
  • Do you capitalize words that come after a colon? 
  • How about words in bullet lists? 
  • Does your brand have a formal tone, or does it break into slang from time to time?

Failing to have a single source of answers to these common queries will open up your content to second-guessing and assumptions.

And no one wants that!

A good copywriting style guide should also explain the more complex details of your business’ tone of voice. For example, should your content be in the first or third person? Do you want to come across as friendly and lighthearted — or a serious voice of authority in your industry?

Your copywriting style guide should answer all of these questions and more.

Your team will benefit from clear guidelines — and your audience will love the high-quality content you produce as a result.

Why does your business need one?

For audiences to remember your messages, they need to be repeatedly exposed to them.

In the same way, for readers to recognize your brand, they must come into contact with the same style — over and over again.

And that’s where trust comes in.

Consistency majorly influences how much (or how little) your customers trust your business. Maybe you don’t see a misplaced capital letter as a big deal — but your readers will sense a misalignment, and they’ll view it with skepticism. 

Ask yourself this: how can your customers trust you’ll consistently deliver top-quality products or services if you can’t even consistently deliver a high-quality sentence?

To avoid any confusion, you need to establish clear guidelines for your copywriters.  This is especially important as you scale your business, and your team of writers expands.

A good copywriting style guide will make sure that your whole team writes in the same tone and voice, and follows the same formatting rules.

The result? Loyal customers who trust your business!

Person writing in notebook sat beside their laptop

7 easy steps to creating your own copywriting style guide

The goal of a copywriting style guide is to maintain a consistent brand voice and style — no matter how many copywriters are in your team!

To create a guide that truly benefits your business, just follow the 7 steps below:

Set your baseline guide manual

When creating your copywriting style guide, it’s worth having a look at existing style manuals. 

The AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style are both great places to start!

You can use these guides as a baseline for grammar rules, then add your personal brand flavor to make them your own. 

At this point, you’ll also want to identify the types of situations your writers are likely to come across on a regular basis — whether that’s abbreviation issues, capitalizations, or comma use — and give examples that clarify how to handle these.

Define your style and tone of voice

Your brand’s tone of voice can be the difference between someone buying your product, or looking elsewhere.

If your customers are looking for genuine and conversational content, then corporate terminology every two words just won’t cut it. In the same way, if your audience wants authority on a complex subject matter, humor probably isn’t the way to go.

So, use this section of your copywriting style guide to answer the following questions:

  • What feelings do I want my brand to evoke?
  • Will my audience understand industry jargon?
  • Are my writers allowed to reference themselves?
  • If my brand was a person, how would they speak?
  • Am I writing for B2B or B2C?

When answering these questions, always keep your customers in mind. Everything you write — and everything your team of copywriters will write — should resonate with your target audience.

It’s also a good idea to list things that should be avoided —  and stylistic choices that could be ambiguous. And always make sure to include examples.

Elaborate on branded terms and specific terminology

Every industry comes with tons of terminology. And what’s more, every individual business adds in their own branded terms — which can often be confusing for new writers. 

Since most of these terms don’t have a commonly agreed way of spelling or capitalization, you should include a designated section in your copywriting style guide to shed light on this very issue!

To do this, go through all your branded terms and troublesome terminology to create a comprehensive list that your writers can turn to when in doubt. It will save you a lot of time in the long run!

Outline your formatting and graphic rules

While your brand’s visual style should be the subject of a separate guide, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least touch upon some basic layout and graphic rules.

More specifically, you should definitely include rules for copyediting visual assets, or general guidelines for formatting texts. 

Give advice on how and when to use bold, italic or bold-italic. Clarify what typefaces are on brand, explain how lists should be formatted, and identify your preferred visual style for numbers (i.e. “1”, “1)” or “1.”).

If relevant, you might also want to explain how text should wrap around images, and what colors are permitted for specific categories of content.

Choose a citation methodology

There are probably as many citation techniques available as there are writers on your team, so make sure you select one methodology for everyone to follow.

Properly citing resources shows that you take professionalism and consistency seriously — and your readers will notice.

So, make sure to guide your writers on how to write footnotes, format references, insert links to sources, or add bibliographies. Citations can often be tricky — even for writers — so clear instructions definitely help.

Mention approved sources — and ones to avoid

Once you’ve set rules for grammar, tone, terminology, and format, it’s worth tackling — without going into too much detail — how to approach sourcing content.

A consistent style stems from researching from the same sources. So, make sure to guide your writers on where they should be looking.

It helps to have an open list of sources that you can add to over time. It’s also really beneficial to include those sources that copywriters should avoid at all costs.

Inspire through example

Don’t forget to inspire your writers with plenty of gold-standard examples!

Whether you create a separate section specifically for this purpose, or use examples throughout your guide, your writers will benefit from seeing what they should be aiming for.

The best part? By motivating your writers, you’ll make sure they produce the highest quality content, time and time again.

A copywriting style guide is your opportunity to establish a strong brand voice — and build an exceptional team of writers. So what are you waiting for?

If you need help with content consistency, our team at Scribly can help you to develop your brand’s voice and write copy that shows it off. Get in touch today!