Creating Your House Style

One page would do, five pages would be pushing it.

Foundation

Serial comma or no serial comma? CMOS says yes, while AP says to avoid it if possible. For your newsletter, website, trade journal, or Instagram post – you can choose. Whatever your choice, the key is consistency.

Consistency

Putting some thought into how your organization or manuscript sounds, signifies intent. Consistency results in credibility and confidence in your brand. Although your audience may not consciously pick up on the overuse of commas or a capitalized brand name in one paragraph and not the next, subconsciously, messy prose creates messy reading.  

Inconsistencies are like an Uber driver tapping the brakes on an otherwise smooth drive down a beautiful country road with no traffic. There you are in the back seat relaxed, taking in the beauty, and then…tap, tap, tap…the journey becomes less attractive, increasingly jarring, and carsickness ensues. A bit dramatic perhaps, but not entirely untrue. The less your reader experiences inconsistency, the more connected with your information they become.

If your blog post says “wanna” in one paragraph and “want to” in the next, or “do not” in one sentence and “don’t” in the next, the switch between a formal and casual tone is confusing. Consistency is authentic. It gives the reader the ability to relate to your brand and one less reason to move on to something else due to sudden, unexplained dizziness.

Brand Voice and Brand Tone

Be it a large organization, a small business, or a sole proprietorship, your brand voice is your identity. Your brand tone, is the invitation to participate in that identity. What do you want the world to know and feel about your brand, your vision, and your mission? Be thoughtful as to who your customer is, what is important to them, and what you want your business to portray. What is important to you and how do you want to message it? Building a brand voice and tone does not happen overnight, and it may change as the world changes.

Perhaps five years ago, using plastic to package your homemade soaps didn’t bother you, but now it does. Literally and figuratively, it is your business, and you can change the message as you see fit. Highlight your company’s direction to include reusable packaging with bold or underlined font. Link the brand of packaging for additional transparency while increasing the flow of business to a fellow entrepreneur. Adding this note to your House Style will make clear your brand voice and tone regardless of who works on your content. 

(An example of what this can look like is noted on the sample House Style Sheet below).

Flexibility

If your employee handbook needs to be more formal than your company’s blog posts, your House Style can be amended to include flexible direction. A more conversational tone for social media works well. I.e., “Hey! In case your #fomo is stressing you out, check out our….” Whereas your less casual internal documents will use words like… “whereas.”

Based on your audience, your legal department, or the laws of the land in general, your House Style can have a part 2, or part 3 – “For Blogs,” “For Social Media Posts,” “For the CEO,” etc.  

The foundation of consistency and grammar rules will rarely change but adjustments for social media could include acceptance around hashtag usage – i.e., some hashtags will make the “never use” list, and some will make the “always use” list. As algorithms are key to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), a usable hashtag list is a copywriter’s best friend and should be reviewed and updated frequently.

As social media or the world at large offers feedback, and if most of the feedback received is in contention with your current message, it is important to be flexible and review your House Style. Revising style sheets based on feedback is not a requirement, but rather a call to analyze a shifting dynamic. You can assess for yourself if your brand message requires a shift, and how big that shift should be.

It’s your house, you get to choose its style…

Below is a one-page sample of a House Style Sheet I recently created and used while editing a company’s website. Feel free to use it as a general reference to build your own.  Good luck!

Note: Company-specific information has been replaced on the below House Style Sheet for confidentiality.

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