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Are style guides finally becoming useful, usable, and universal?

By Melissa

Content style guides can be handy tools for content creators. But which one to use?

There are currently some big content guidelines projects underway. We are watching to see if they result in guides that will help you to create effective content.

Australia’s content style manual gets a makeover

The most used content style guide in Australia is probably the Style manual for authors, editors and printers. Used by the Australian public service, it was first published in 1966 and is a daunting 550 pages of grammar and style.

Cover of Style Manual for Authors
The 6th edition of Style Manual for Authors:

We know that language and technologies are changing continuously to meet the needs of users. It’s been 20 years since the Style manual was revised, which means it does not reflect how we communicate in the noughties. And it predates the important Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) that were endorsed in 2008. To remedy this, a major update of the Style manual is underway. The project includes review of all guidelines, a rethink of the best way to present them and a relaunch in 2020 as the first-ever digital edition.

We watch with interest; will the 7th edition of the Style Manual realise its aims of being a tool that is easy to use to create content that is accessible and easy for readers to understand?

A universal style guide

In 2019 Sarah Richards (of Content Design London) wondered out loud if it would be possible to create one set of content guidelines to be used by English-speaking content creators around the world. She suggested that it could save content creators time arguing about points of style, AND help readers by basing all guidelines on user research and evidence.

Sarah worked with a global team of volunteers to collect and analyse evidence of how to make content easier to read. The result is the Readability Guidelines Handbook 2019 - an easy-to-use resource that guides you through all aspects of content – from grammar to hash tags, images to icons and using emojis to error messages.

Obligatory reading for anyone who ‘owns’, oversees or creates content.

Content style guides – what are they

Style guides or guidelines usually describe how an organisation wants you to write and design content so that it is consistent and in their ‘voice’ and style. A style guide may include grammar rules, brand voice and tone, and arbitrary style decisions. They need to be easy to use for everyone producing content - from novice to expert.

We think that the best kinds of style guides help you to create content that is human friendly, useful and accessible to as many users as possible.