Category : Branding

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Five tips to help you compile a company style guide

Whether you’re a sole trader or a multinational organisation that employs thousands of people worldwide, it’s important to ensure your corporate tone of voice remains consistent across all your documents, presentations, promotional print, and social media platforms. However, as you may already have discovered in your own business, this is easier said than done…

Let’s be honest: it’s hard enough to remain consistent in your use of the English language when there’s just one of you generating copy. Multiply that by tens, hundreds or even thousands of texts being written by myriad writers in a larger company, and suddenly the task of remaining consistent in your turn of phrase and terminology escalates to one of gargantuan proportions.

I’ve mentioned before the concept of having a corporate style guide to help address this issue of consistency. So here are five tips to help you start compiling a guide which you can give to anyone writing text for your company:

  1. Decide how formal/informal you wish to sound in your communications with your customers. My previous blog post No ducking out of it: your business needs a consistent tone of voice talked about the different ways you can address your readership (e.g. “you” or “our customers”) or indeed refer to yourselves (“we” or “Messrs Brown & Co.”), as well as examining various other techniques that determine formality or informality of tone.
  2. Compile a list of in-house terminology that has been agreed for use by your company. Every industry has its own jargon and even within individual branches of a business, an in-house vocabulary will evolve.  The interesting thing about jargon is that often those using it are so familiar with this (to them) everyday terminology, they don’t appreciate that someone new to the company might not understand what certain terms mean – far less feel confident about including them in a report or presentation. By providing your writer(s) with  a list of the specialist terms or specific words and phrases that your business uses regularly, you’ll make it easier for new additions to your team to become conversant with your in-house style rather than drown in a sea of unfamiliar vocabulary.
  3. Clearly set out in your style guide any words or turns of phrase that your company does not wish to use (or at least would prefer to avoid using, wherever possible) in its written materials. For example, it may be company policy to refer to people who buy your products as “customers” and never “clients”, or vice versa.  You might wish to ban completely the use of the word “change” in your commercial documents and insist on using “improvement” or “enhancement”, etc. However, you can’t expect a new member of staff to know, without being told, these small – yet significant – details.
  4. Stipulate whether you wish to use UK or US spelling in your corporate communications (e.g. UK spelling “organise” or US spelling “organize”, “favour” or “favor”, “colour” or “color”, “labour” or “labor”…). When you’re proofreading any text that you or your colleagues have written, always run a search for common US or UK variants, depending on which spelling you wish to banish from your prose. And remember to exercise extreme caution when using the search and replace facility – for reasons that I mentioned in a previous post Spellcheckers – the proofreader’s friend or foe
  5. Flag up regular offenders, i.e. words that you’ve noticed staff writing about your company’s products or services sometimes mix up or get wrong. This may vary from company to company or even from department to department, but over a period of time, a content manager or communications manager will begin to identify certain “rogue” spellings or incorrect word choices that pop up again and again. Just to give you an idea of the sort of thing I’m talking about, here are three that seem to dog many people who write corporate copy:
  • Practise vs practice: I’m presuming that most of the people reading this blog will be using UK English in their documentation. If so, “practice” is a noun, e.g. “There is a new veterinary practice opening in town…” or “My music practice starts at 7  p.m. every evening…” The other spelling (with an “s”) is reserved for the verb e.g. “Tomorrow I’m going to practise my golf swing.” NB: American English uses just one spelling for both noun and verb (“practice”).
  • Loose vs lose: In basic terms, if you are referring to the verb that means to mislay something then use “lose”, e.g. “He loses his tie every morning.” If you are describing a new pair of trousers that is too large for you round the waist (I wish!!) then you want the adjective “loose”.
  • 1960s  vs 1960’s: No apostrophe is required if you simply mean the decade of the 1960s, as this is a plural noun, not a possessive, e.g. “I went to every Beatles concert held in the 1960s.”  However, if you are talking about the best-selling record of the specific year 1960 then you would write, “This was 1960’s biggest hit.”

So complex is the process of maintaining a consistent style across hundreds of documents that these pointers are, admittedly, just the tip of the textual iceberg. However, at least they will give you a good foundation upon which to start building your very own company style guide. Good luck!

 

 

 

No ducking out of it: your business needs a consistent tone of voice

 

Do you sometimes judge people by their looks? A recent article on a BBC website suggests that most of us do.

However, when it comes to making a good impression in business, there are other factors to consider, too. One of these is the corporate identity that your business or organisation creates through its communications, which means you need to choose your words extremely carefully when “speaking” in your corporate guise, e.g. on your website, on Twitter or on Facebook – or indeed in your printed promotional materials.

One aspect to bear in mind when writing about your business – and its products or services – is that it’s important to be consistent in tone and style, which means maintaining a consistent “tone of voice”. You’ve no doubt heard that expression before many times, but what does it really mean in an everyday copywriting situation? It means, quite simply, how you say what you say.

Here are three handy tips to help you establish (and then maintain!) a corporate tone of voice:

1. Decide whether your company is going to “speak” in the:

  • Informal first person plural voice (“We supply first-class widgets…”).
  • Informal first person singular voice (“I am the world’s leading expert in… “).
  • Formal third person plural voice (“Brown Brothers produce….”).
  • Formal third person singular voice (“Our company believes that…” or “Jason Smithers is a master plumber with 30 years’ experience…”).

You should also decide whether you are going to refer to your customer in the third person (e.g. “Our customers know they can rely on us to…”) or whether you prefer to take a more direct, informal approach and address customers directly in the second person (e.g. “When you commission us to design your home, you can count on receiving impeccable customer service from us at every stage of the design process…”).

2. Having decided whether to use the formal third person voice or the less formal first and second person voices, you then have to ensure that all text emanating from your organisation reflects this same “tone”.  For example, if you have opted for the formal register, here are three things to avoid:

  • Contractions (e.g. can’t, won’t, doesn’t) – instead use the full version (e.g. cannot, will not, does not).
  • Starting sentences with “but” or “and”. This used to be tantamount to sacrilege in written English and is still frowned upon in formal English texts. However, these days you’ll often see “and” or “but” at the start of sentences in informal texts, as this reflects more accurately the way we actually speak.
  • Colloquialisms and idioms. Let’s look at this in practice… Colloquial version: “Our customers always rave about our fab work.” Formal version: “Our customers are always extremely impressed by our exemplary workmanship.”

If you’ve decided you’re more comfortable with an informal tone of voice then feel free to use abbreviated words. And to start sentences with conjunctions (as we just did) or to use expressions such as “OK” and “Our company is the cat’s pyjamas” (unless you happen to manufacture feline nightwear, in which case you’d say “Our company supplies cats’ pyjamas…).

3. Ensure that everything you or your colleagues say (on Twitter, on Facebook, on your website, in your printed promotional materials and documents) reflects your brand values. To get you started, it can be helpful to spend some time choosing three or four words or phrases that encapsulate what your organisation is all about. Here are some well-known examples to get you started:

  • Apple: inspiration, dream, innovation.
  • Innocent: humorous, unpretentious, upbeat.
  • Red Bull: daring, adventurous, energetic.
  • Euroword: creative, professional, word gurus (admittedly, this brand isn’t quite as well known as the others… yet!)

Then remind anyone in your organisation who is writing text on behalf of the company to reflect these “distilled down” tenets in everything they write – or, indeed, say (e.g. in public presentations or press interviews). That way, your communications will remain consistent and on message, making the right impression on anyone who encounters your company online or in person for the first time.

If you’re interested in seeing more of the BBC article referred to above, have a look for yourself – it makes fascinating reading. In a subsequent Euroword blog post, we’ll look at why having a style guide for your company or organisation is helpful, and how to go about compiling one. Meanwhile, enjoy developing your company’s individual tone of voice, and once you’ve decided on the three words that characterise your organisation, feel free to post them on our EurowordUK Facebook page.