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What to include in your style guide

Anyone who works in communications, marketing, sales or HR will undoubtedly be familiar with the term ‘style guide’.

If your company wants to communicate professionally and above all consistently, you cannot do without this important document.

This article sets out exactly what a good style guide should contain and the benefits it offers for your corporate language.

This is why you need a style guide

A style guide lays the foundations for your corporate communication. It is virtually a handbook for anyone looking to communicate collectively in a given brand language.

If your company already has a multilingual  presence, having a style guide becomes even more important. Indeed, when you are coordinating the translation of your content, a style guide acts as a framework for consistency and quality assurance across languages. This allows you to realise language projects not only with a guarantee of consistency, but also with increased efficiency.

It’s not what you say: it’s how you say it!

Good corporate communication must have a recognition factor – at the end of the day, you want to make a lasting impression with your target audience and leave them with a feeling of unity and familiarity. This is simply not possible if you are constantly changing your tone.

Wouldn’t you be a little taken aback if you were a client at a private bank and your advisor suddenly started calling you ‘mate’? What if the Big Mac were no longer called the Big Mac and the Whopper were no longer called the Whopper? Would Nike still be such an iconic brand if its adverts no longer featured the phrase ‘just do it’?

Degree of formality, product names and tone: these and many other factors besides are the signature of corporate language, and they play a huge part in determining how a company is perceived.

A style guide ensures that the language aspects of everything from quotation marks and final characters to gender-inclusive speech are clearly defined and documented. This means that everyone involved will know they can rely on this reference document and communicate in a consistent manner.

Style guide checklist: You need all of this

Now you know the purpose and the benefits of a style guide. It’s time to get down to business! What should your style guide actually include?

Let us show you, using our own SwissGlobal Language Services AG style guide as an example. This will give you some concrete examples and show you what a style guide in a multilingual company might look like.

Bear in mind, however, that not every style guide has to look exactly the same. Ultimately, every company will be pursuing its own individual communication strategy and have its own company-specific language requirements. A good style guide should therefore always be a completely custom document. Below are a selection of potential points to include:  

  1. Company name & product names

    How and where should your company name and your product names be written? Does it always have be followed by ‘Inc.’ or ‘Ltd.’?

  2. Role & position names

    What are your internal and external roles and positions called? This is particularly important to bear in mind when you publish job adverts, and you should use gender-inclusive language (see Section 5 for more details).

  3. Tone & voice

    If your company or brand were a person, how would it come across? What sort of voice would it have, and how would it speak? Would it be elegant and refined? Or witty and playful? We at SwissGlobal use the concepts of ‘love words’ and ‘no-go words’: words with which we happily identify, and words that we consciously avoid, respectively. Tone & voice can be defined in a variety of different ways. Choose yours precisely.

  4. Foreign words & localisation

    These points are especially important for multilingual companies and those with an international presence. Do you like sprinkling a little Wanderlust or Zeitgeist in your English? Or are you an English-language purist whenever you can be?

    Here, you can set out special rules for particular languages, or compile lists of specific words.

  5. Inclusive language

    Gendering is indispensable today. Inclusive language is a must if you want to avoid excluding anyone in your communications. There are a host of different solutions. Think about which solution is right for you, or seek a consultation.

  6. Punctuation

    Punctuation tends to be a little easier to work with, as the rules can be defined clearly and unambiguously. However, attention must be devoted to using the right quotation marks and final characters for each language. 

  7. Numbers & dates

    Here too, the rules differ from one language to another. For example, particular care is required in how dates are written:

    05.10.2022 à In the USA, this date is 10 May 2022.

    05.10.2022 à In many countries, this date is 5 October 2022.

  8. Lists & bullet points

    You do have a certain amount of freedom when it comes to the spelling of lists and bullet points. The important thing, however, is to ensure that you use the same format in every language. 

Order a style guide from SwissGlobal

Admittedly, drawing up and then maintaining a style guide like this can involve a large amount of effort. The good news is that SwissGlobal will be delighted to help you and take some of the work off your hands.

If you’re getting a taste for it and would like to have a clear and professional style guide to hand for the new financial year, SwissGlobal will be glad to help you draw one up.

Still undecided? Perhaps our best-case Interview with the Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad will help you make up your mind. We worked with them to draw up brief style guides in gender-inclusive language for their new website – in four different languages.

Contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.