Styleguides for content mental health.

Let’s talk about style. More specifically still, let’s talk about styleguides. I love these suckas for a few reasons but chief among them is they help to bring order to chaos; calm and stillness to a cacophony.

You see, many websites suffer from The Little Voices. They start off with a defined purpose but then Roger from Marketing mentions that the company’s premium products aren’t prominent enough for current clients and Dawn from Account Management says they should really have the picture of the company at that fancy awards dinner they won a gong at, to impress potential clients, and the CEO’s husband thinks that they should really mention the upcoming charity ball he is organising and BOOM!

The site is overrun with Little Voices.

The Little Voices that write in their own style, with their own considerations, and pass it along to some poor sock puppet at the bottom of the pile in the I.T department to shovel into the content management system, with little consideration for way or how it will fit in with what’s already there on the site.

Now, as I’m sure you clever people have discerned, there are a whole heap of issues with that methodology (and I use the word in the loosest sense) but the easiest thing to tackle is Little Voice Syndrome and we do that with a styleguide.

A styleguide is essentially a document that states very clearly, for everyone, ‘This is how we write when we are writing for the website.’ It goes from simple rules on punctuation, to discerning on matters of taste (if the boss loathes split infinitives with a passion, it can be noted here) and encouraging writers to ditch the passive voice for positive, demonstrative copy that earns its place on the site with clear examples of good writing and good practice for links, headlines and different article types.

The information starts pretty broadly with good English and then gets more finely detailed, with decisions specific to the company (how do we write our own name in the first instance, second instance, thereafter in an article) or even to a product (we use a trademark with our products but not with our company name, ie, Microsoft Word ™ and Microsoft.). It may include points of visual and typographical consideration that affect the content.

Some of it is very simple, some of it is about coming to a consensus and more still is about learning something new before writing for the website. And the kicker is not one company will have a team that agree on all the points. The styleguide is the decider as to what is a good link description and what is the best way to refer to the process descriptions they use with clients. Everyone will know what fits and what doesn’t – and they can take responsibility for checking their content against the guidelines before passing it to the sock monkey with the CMS login.

As for getting the Little Voices to consider the message of their content and what it brings to the website (if anything), that’s for another day. First we need to know what we are dealing with. Time to audit …

(Also, I’m sorry to pass this particularly beast of burden onto you but, you see, this post needs an earworm. You see we are talking about styleguides and who better to illustrate the point than Groove Armada:

Don’t blame me! The Little Voices made me post it!. Just know that every time I think about writing a styleguide, this song starts playing on a loop in my head.

I know.)

(PS- Do you suffer from Little Voices Invading Your Content Syndrome? Tell me on twitter and let’s commiserate together.