In large corporations, there are at least two departments which specialize in providing written materials and handling the company branding online and in print. Each has guidelines. Writing departments develop company style guides which define how information is referenced, which assists writers and editors and could apply across the company. Corporate communications or marketing departments handle the branding. They define how to use a logo and requirements for doing so and might also develop a company style guide. This post describes what to include in these items so that you can create some for your company. Essentially, I’ll explain how to establish rules for editing and use of your branding images online. It’s good information that will serve you well in planning for growth and being ready when said growth occurs. Think big! Let’s get started!
Public Style Guides
Before working on your own company style guide, I think it’s helpful to understand how professional writers use two main industry style guides. I’m talking about the AP Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style. They’re different, but both are important and are very helpful. The AP Stylebook includes much information about word choice and correct usage. The Chicago Manual of Style is a comprehensive grammar guidebook. If you have a question of whether or not to capitalize something or you’re wondering about punctuation or any grammatical rule related to written materials, check The Chicago Manual of Style. It’s helpful to have both. Each has an online version with annual subscriptions, so you can easily purchase one and have it readily available.
The AP Stylebook includes much information about word choice and correct usage. Mostly used by journalists, it is also a key reference for many writers. For instance, changes in terminology that the editors determine affect writers everywhere. Sometimes they take longer than I would like, but the decisions are important. For instance, a recent change is to use lower case to refer to the internet. Instead of “Internet” it is now “internet.” For quite some time, “e-mail” remained hyphenated but the editors eventually (finally) decided to officially change it to “email.” I had dropped use of the hyphen before that decision, but it was good to see it finally occur officially given the importance and use of the AP Stylebook.
The AP Stylebook also provides background information so that reporters can better determine information to share and how to correctly refer to a topic. There are new entries each year. This year, one such entry is “cyberattack.” Unfortunately, that has been in the news. The entry defines the term, tells when and how to use it, and describes related terms to use in some situations. That’s the type of information included in all entries. It’s a very helpful reference.
The Chicago Manual of Style
The Chicago Manual of Style is a comprehensive grammar guidebook. That seems like an understatement, actually. This book is highly detailed and deeply extensive. It’s packed full of information, rule explanations, and examples. If you have a question of whether or not to capitalize something or you’re wondering about punctuation or any grammatical rule related to written materials, check The Chicago Manual of Style. During most of my time working as a technical communicator in documentation departments, my main style guide reference was The Chicago Manual of Style (which I generally refer to as “Chicago” but that might just be me). I felt that this style guide was more for use in-house and for help systems, as it wasn’t the same type of information shared in newspapers.
Now that I’ve been publishing websites and writing online content to a wider public audience, I use both references. I think you need both when working online. If you’re unaware of these style guides or not using them and are writing content for the web, I suggest you take a look at them. Each has an online version with annual subscriptions, so you can easily purchase one and have it readily available.
Use the guidelines from the AP Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style when preparing your materials. That’s at a higher level. It’s important to drill down into requirements at your company.
Company Style Guides
Moving on, let’s discuss company-level style guides. Even if you’re a one-person operation, it’s very helpful to establish some guidelines. Plan for growth! I’ve included some reasons and suggestions related to company style guides below. For now, I’ll share an example to help explain the importance of these guides.
Consider email signatures for your company. This is an easy place to start. Here are some style decisions you can make:
- What to include in the signature (logo image, name, job title, website link, phrase, social media links, etc.)
- Whether or not to include images
- For social media links, use text or images?
- For social media links, show the path in the link or have a link with just the wording (such as Twitter.com/2morodocs or Twitter)
- What point size to use for the signature
- Whether or not different parts of the signature will be a different point size
Even for something as seemingly small as an email signature, there are many decisions to be made. That’s exactly the type of information to define in a company style guide. By establishing guidelines (rules) for email signatures, you can ensure that everyone in the company uses the same format and provides the same information. This presents your company in a more professional manner, in my opinion. People will know what to expect and you’ll look more organized. Also, if you hire staff and share with them what to include in their signature from the start, there will be no questions about how to set it up.
Now, with this example in mind, think about everything written that your company produces. Is terminology consistent from one article to the next, or one person to the next? There’s much to consider up front. The more work you do in planning and creating guidelines, the easier it will be in the long-term.
In my tech comm work, it was common to have project style guides. Each project is unique. Each requires its own set of content and style guidelines.
Reasons to Create a Style Guide
- Plan for growth
- Use in a media kit
- Develop a controlled vocabulary to ensure that employees across the company use the same terminology verbally, online, and in written materials
- Ensure consistency in all company written materials
- Facilitate translation and localization
- Make it easier for customers to become familiar with your product or service
- Reduce content development costs
- Be ready so that when you hire a professional writer or editor, they can jump right in and use the correct terminology in the correct manner
What to Include in Your Style Guide
This is what I’ve included and look for in a company style guide. Items such as capitalization and punctuation are very important and are a foundation for everything else.
- Company name: do you use a full name or just the main name? Is it Company, Company Inc., Company LLC, Company PLLC, Company Corporation, or something else? Note that if it is an LLC or PLLC or some sort of LLC, it’s a requirement to always include that suffix.
- Capitalization requirements
- References in other places
- Email signatures
If you ever hire an editor, this may be one of the first items about which to inquire. It’s one of the first questions I ask. If a company style guide exists, it saves much time and guesswork. If there isn’t one, I would then have to spend the time to look into it and find out what the rules are or should be.
Logo Usage Guidelines
One of the major components of branding is of course, your logo and related images and text. In corporations, there are specific rules regarding usage. Why? One reason is because brand usage guidelines = brand protection.
When developing logo and image usage guidelines, consider the following:
- Point size
- Display (e.g., company name always below logo or to the side)
- White space around the logo
Corporations take their branding very seriously. You should as well. This is a very important consideration to address.
Sample Logo Guidelines
To illustrate the types of information to include in logo and image guidelines, I’m including two examples for you to review. One is from WordPress and the other is from Twitter. I’m sure there are many public guides available. Take a look at those I’ve included and scout around on the web to see how companies address brand usage.
To find guidelines for any particular platform, look on the website. To save time, search for “logo” (without quotes) and you should be able to find it.
WordPress has quite a library of logos and materials which you can download and use. Given the popularity of WordPress, it’s very helpful to be able to download the logo and to know how to use it correctly.
WordPress Logos and Graphics guidelines
Path: WordPress.org > About > Logos and Graphics
The Twitter Brand Guidelines provides detailed information about the logo use, spacing around it, color codes, samples of what not to do, and much more. This is a comprehensive reference. Review it to see how to include tweets and use Twitter images. Also take a look so you can see the type of information to include in your own branding guidelines.
Starter Kit and the Twitter Brand Guidelines: Twitter Brand Resources
Path: Twitter > Help Center > Bottom of page: Brand link
For other tips in this series, see this post: Social Media & Blogging Tips: July 2017 (#2mDTips)
If you’d like to create a style guide for your company, I can help! Contact me!