Dear Megan, Do We Need a Style Guide for Content? Yes, You Do

Is it log in or login? E-book or ebook? News feed or newsfeed? If you had a style guide, you'd know. Dear Megan explains.

We’re all familiar with the crazy cat lady, right? Well, around the ClearVoice office, I’m the crazy style lady. I don’t think anyone actually calls me that, but it’s well-known that I’m kinda psycho about matters of grammar, punctuation and style. Everybody’s seen me freak out over such things as comma splices, the singular “they” (not on my watch) and compound modifiers (yes, you need a hyphen, geez — you can’t just leave it out BECAUSE THAT’S NOT THE WAY WE DO IT).

Ahem. Sorry.

Style is important, people. If you’re a brand that publishes content regularly or plans to, you need a style guide.

Wait, what’s a style guide?

A style guide is a set of writing standards for your organization. It keeps everybody aligned on the rules of grammar and punctuation.

And I need one?

Style Guide is LifeYes, you do. Style guides enable us to create consistent and professional-looking Web pages, blog posts and the like. They ensure a continuous brand experience for our readers.

Style guides add order to our lives. Style guides are good.

When creating content, have you ever found yourself asking:

  • Should I put this in quotes?
  • What gets capitalized?
  • Is that one word or two? Or is it hyphenated?
  • Does that need an apostrophe?
  • Should I spell this out?
  • Is it OK to say this?

A style guide answers these questions for your company. It’s the authority to turn to when no one’s sure how you write that. They help your brand be consistent — and consistency is a signal to readers that you know what you’re doing and your brand can be trusted.

I’m not convinced…

OK, take Starbucks, for example. The coffee giant ranked among the top 10 most-trusted brands in a survey conducted by Entrepreneur and The Values Institute at DGWB, a California company that focuses on brand relationships. They also recently ranked (along with Dunkin’ Donuts) on Brand Key’s Customer Loyalty Engagement Index in the out-of-home coffee category.

And what’s the deal with Starbucks? Consistency. Customers know what to expect when they walk into a Starbucks, no matter where in the world it is. Indie rock’s on the sound system, the wooden coffee stirrers are behind you and some girl with a lip ring is going to misspell your name. People crave consistency.

You’ll also find this consistency in their printed and electronic communication, on everything from signage and cup sizes to web copy. It’s subtle, but have you ever noticed how they treat beverage sizes? We found this entry in the Starbucks Glossary:


So, people really care about this stuff?

Oh, we care.

Case in point: In a move that rocked writers and editors to the core, AP announced at the 2014 American Copy Editors conference that it was removing the distinction between “over” and “more than.” By all reports a collective gasp went up in the room, and shortly Twitter exploded with such jabs as, “More than my dead body!” and “Where is your God now?”

Wow, who knew

Right? Second case in point: Search “memes about Oxford comma,” and you’ll get more than 75,000 results.

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There’s even an infographic about the Oxford comma and a T-shirt:

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And a song:


There’s even this brilliant blog post about it.

So yes, people care about style. A lot.

OK, I’m convinced. Now what?

Well, now you have to abide by one. There are several established styles out there, each with its own cult following, depending on the discipline. Academic types usually prefer the MLA Handbook, traditional publishing people generally go with the Chicago Manual of Style, and then there’s (cue the dancing girls) the AP Stylebook, arguably the most commonly used style in the world and favored by journalists, online publishers and yours truly.

And if you’re lucky enough to have a crazy style lady on staff, you can create your own in-house style guide. Here at ClearVoice, we follow AP style but maintain our own separate guide to handle certain style nuances. For example, we’ve deemed “omnichannel” one word/no hyphen, because AP hasn’t officially ruled on this yet. And even though AP designates “home page” as two separate words, we respectfully disagree and treat it as one, because we feel modern usage calls for it.

Thanks, Dear Megan

My pleasure. And remember, if you have any questions about style, creating a style guide or anything else related to good grammar and winning writing, post it in the comments below and I’ll answer it in a future column.

Tags: style guide

Category: Writing
Megan Krause

About Megan

Megan Krause is the managing editor at ClearVoice, where she helps brands create great content and manage the content creation process. She also writes a regular writing and grammar column titled Dear Megan – ask her your burning questions @ClearVoice using #DearMegan, and follow her on Twitter.
  • Rob Marsh

    Another great style guide for reference can be found at the writer:

    • Megan Krause

      Hey Rob, Yep, that’s a good one – thanks for sharing!

  • Patrick P-Bone Roland

    Great column from someone who knows what they are talking about!

    • Megan Krause

      Thank you Patrick, glad you liked it!