13 Reasons Why We Need A Style Guide… Pronto!
Why? In the Name of a strong, consistent brand voice, first and foremost.
Let’s look at a few scenarios.
Karuna, one of the brightest developers at Acme, is pulled into a prestigious project — to build and release APIs for their ambitious AI service — by her CTO. She toils day and night, builds APIs that she is super proud of, and amid fanfare, publishes them ahead of schedule.
However, 2 months down the line Karuna finds that despite several queries the actual usage hasn’t picked up at all.
What went wrong?
Let’s look at another instance — a snapshot from a promotional brochure for a fashion branding startup.
What do you notice?
At a glance, a nicely presented, concise offering page.
Look closely now. Notice anything a bit off?
Here’s what it is in the promotional brochure— they have used a combination of UK and US English. Conceptualisation (UK) + Color (US).
Most of us have learned UK English at school and adapted to US English as professionals. So, it is not surprising for the error to go undetected by our untrained eyes. However, to a native English speaker or a seasoned copyeditor, this is a glaring error indeed.
In Karuna’s case, while she focussed on the technology, in the hurry to hit the market early, she didn’t focus on accurate professional documentation and branding. Customers who were excited by the prospect were either not able to access or were unable comprehend the documentation easily. They received hastily put together, ad hoc content, which wasn’t professionally edited and/or had incomplete information, such as missing procedures.
Both cases, at a scale, can be enormously frustrating for customers, and thus, result in dwindling existing or potential customer-base. In reality, both are actually easy to fix using a Style Guide.
What is a Style Guide?
Let’s think of documentation as a roadmap and written branding that makes other branding tools, such as company colors, logos, patents, images, more effective. This is agnostic of the age, size of the company, or the user.
Style guides are a collection of in-house standards for writing, formatting, and designing documents. Thereby, it helps improve all manners of communication. It commonly includes:
- Company terminology
- Preferred document types
- Mode of communication/publishing
- Content layout, grammar, and syntax
- Preferred language for communication
- Voice and tone
Style guides apply to everyone associated with the organization — be it a seasoned senior leader, a freelance consultant, or an intern — when they have the need to communicate on behalf of the company.
Why Style Guides?
“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
- Jodi Picoult
Remember, it is important to start writing first and then learn to hone it.
Here’s summarizing 13 reasons why it is about time we adopt a style guide, in no particular order, and how it can help repair our “bad pages”:
- Brand identity — a unique voice for brand recognition
- Consistency — across various channels such as technical documentation, customization, customer communication
- Bias-free documentation — completeness in processes and context
- Quick consumption
- Ease of implementation
- Ease of collaboration
- Feedback to test and design — documentation changes are easier (and cheaper) than code/product changes
- Sense of style
- Documentation type identification for authors
- Distribution and dissemination of topics
- Cohesive experience
In both the cases that we began this article with, the fixes are quite simple with a style guide.
If the promotional brochure is for a British/European/Australian audience, you use the Queen’s English — Conceptualisation + Colour. If you are targeting any other continent, US English is acceptable — Conceptualization + Color. In South Asia, either versions are understood and accepted when not intermixed.
In Karuna’s case, if she had access to a company style guide and template, she could address the customer needs accurately while ensuring that the published content reflected the same quality as the APIs she wrote.
Our Solution: D4Z
Design → Develop → Document → Delight @Zeta
With D4Z, our upcoming “Technical Writing for Everyone” workshops, we will take the first few steps towards learning to write as “one voice”, so adopting a uniform style is going to be just a few clicks away.
Here’s your first D4Z test:
- Which English was used in this article — US or UK?
- What are the syntax errors? How can they be rephrased better?
Look out for more articles on our experiences with D4Z, coming soon.
Author: Monami Bhattacharya
You may also want to read about:
- The Chicago Manual of Style (Journalism)
- Microsoft Manual of Style
- The Apple Style Guide (Technical Writing)
- IBM Style Guides (Technical Writing)