As we’ve mentioned before, we’re big fans of style guides. Anything that helps writers deliver concise and precise copy has to be good. The really good style guides, however, aren’t just interesting because of what they say about the act of writing. They also reveal much about the organisations’ brand values.
Take The Economist. Its style guide starts out advising: “Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought.”
The Telegraph bans words that won’t chime with its readership, such as “reveller”, “toff” and “chairperson”. I’m not quite sure how often the paper’s editors had to deal with the phrase “perverted Scout leaders”, but that’s banned too.
Over at The Guardian, they spend considerable time pondering how to describe people whose beliefs are at odds with their own. “If someone really does claim that climate change is not happening—that the world is not warming—then it seems fair enough to call them a denier.”
Even that most secretive of organisations the CIA gives clues about its brand through its style guide. Any author that’s been tempted to include phrases such as “anything can happen” or “it remains to be seen” are given short shrift. Such “fake analysis… betray[s] sloppy thinking and detract[s] from any serious presentation.”
I’ve worked alongside writers that would rather stick pins in their eyes—or worse, rely on Microsoft spellcheck—than read a style guide. They’re missing out. To write effectively, you need to know what sort of language will resonate with the reader. And you need to know what values the content is aiming to convey.
Style matters. It affects how your audience will respond to your content. Are some of your customers based in “emerging markets” or “developing nations”, or perhaps even “the Third World”? If your headquarters is 30 miles from Berlin rather than 50km, will your US customers find you less provincial?
We’ve written plenty of messaging hierarchies and the like, but we’ve never been asked to create a style guide. We’d love to, so get in touch if you’re interested.
Posted by John on 21 February 2019