Website Writing Style Guide

Four things we think every site should consider.

Diana Lillicrap 4.22.2013

Creating a writing style guide for your website can be a very useful tool, especially if you have more than one person providing content to your site. It can help you keep a consistent voice, build a common vocabulary, and even save you time over the long run.

So what should you include in your writing style guide? Here are four basic things we think every site should consider.

1. Voice

Picking a voice is about creating a style that is honest and believable. Should you write in a formal third person voice (Company XYZ is…), or an approachable first person voice (I believe…)? Organizations trying to create meaningful connections will often opt for a first person plural (“we”) voice, to sound warmer and friendlier. However, if it doesn't sound authentic—if it sounds forced, fake, or not like the real voice of your organization—then you’ll want to stick with a third person approach. This is a subjective decision that each site owner needs to consider. And, most importantly, the main focus of the voice should be on "you" the reader. What YOU can get at the site.

2. Tone

Setting a tone for your site informs readers about your brand personality. What attributes describe how you want people to feel at your site? Should you come across professional, funny, current, formal, creative, bold, warm…? Take time to determine your tone and then be sure to convey it through your word choices, punctuation style, and even length of copy.

3. Punctuation

One of the easiest ways to create consistency on your site is to set some basic rules around punctuation. Think about common questions that will arise, like style of subheads and sidebars (initial cap, first word cap, sentence structure), use of spaces, contractions, and serial commas, and styles for bullets and lists. If you determine and document your rules, implementing and monitoring consistency will be much easier.

4. Unique Names and Words

Most organizations have some particular language used company-wide. It can be as simple as your company name and how you refer to yourself. It can also cover language related to your customers (or guests, or clients, etc.), your vendors (partners, contractors, etc.), or your employees (associates, team members, etc.). Having consistency of terms helps readers follow your content and helps writers create clarity across your full site.

In the end, keeping consistency site-wide is key. And having a few guidelines will make for a better experience for the writer and the reader of your site.

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