Make your voice heard

Why your style is so important for your writing strategy and how to develop it

What’s your style?

The next time you’re reflecting on your writing strategy, print some samples of your own writing and compare the style and presentation.

Are they consistent? How do they differ?

  • What’s the level of formality?
  • Are some conversational, and others a little more abrupt?
  • Is the language – the words you’ve used – similar across different modes of communication?

Ideally it will have a familiar feel.

That’s because consistency across all of your communication – written and otherwise – is essential for a coherent and credible brand.

Colourful water paints with text overlay – Developing your writing voice. Why style is crucial + 5 essentials for your style guide

Stylish purse, notebook, phone with text overlay – Does your writing have style? Why style is so important for your writing strategy + how to develop it

What’s your brand?

Whether you’re a solopreneur, one of many people who write for your organisation or the only one who writes (emails, web content, newsletters, blogs, social media), you’re writing for a brand.

Your brand is what distinguishes you or your organisation from others. Essentially, it’s a reflection of your (or your organisation’s) personality. Brand elements include the name, visuals (logo, colours, design – think the Nike ‘swoosh’), voice (written communication) and reputation.

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And all of these need to feel the same across different media, over time.

So how do you keep your writing consistent across all of your communications channels?

Your style guide

A style guide ensures the same voice is conveyed each time something is written – whether you’re the only one or one of many on the team.

If you don’t have one yet, here’s a guide on how to develop your own writing style and a style guide.

Getting started

A style guide need only be a Word document or PDF to be used as a reference by anyone who writes for the brand.

Once you’ve established a style, you can go to the next level and develop a system of templates to ensure every piece of communication maintains similar structure and presentation.

But let’s start with the style guide.

5 essential ingredients that will shape your style

1. Your voice

Tone

Your tone should be determined by your reader.

Not only does each reader or group of readers have different needs, they also communicate differently.

You want to appeal to your target reader.

So consider whether your audience is young and hip, if they’d prefer something more formal, humorous or fast-paced. Maybe they need a persuasive edge.

A conversational tone can help put your reader at ease. It makes it easier to forge a relationship and keep them engaged. This doesn’t mean you need to write like you speak. But you do need to sound like you (or your brand).

Language

Your reader also determines the language or words you use. Will they understand your terminology, abbreviations, jargon? And which words should you avoid – or use more of?

Engaging your reader

How else can you engage your reader?

Do all of this consistently, and it builds your voice. Your style.

2. Spelling, punctuation, numbers

Spelling

Select a dictionary of choice for your brand, for example, the Australian Macquarie Dictionary. This avoids confusion for words that us Aussies spell differently to other parts of the world:

  • Adviser and advisor
  • Email and e-mail
  • Enquiry and inquiry
  • Focused and focussed
  • Organise and organize
  • Programme and program
  • Travelled and traveled
  • Verandah and veranda

Punctuation

Of course, you need to get punctuation marks in the right place, but the frequency of commas, semicolons, full stops can be a matter of preference.

Remember, though, simplicity – short sentences and short paragraphs – is one way to make your message powerful and compelling.

Once you’ve determined how long you like your sentences and when you prefer to pause, include this in your style guide. Here’s some help with some of the most misused punctuation marks.

Numbers

Commonly, written style is to write one to nine in words and 10 and beyond in numerals. Are your writers aware of this?

3. Presentation & readability

Most readers have only the time to scan or your email, blog post, report, website. Give your reader big chunks of text, and they’ll probably turn to something else competing for their time.

So keep the presentation of your writing reader-friendly.

Do you prefer bullet points to break up text on a page? If so, which style of bullet looks best? Use the same ones each time.

Will you use UPPERCASE or Title Case for your headings? And what about your sub-headings? Simply bold? Which font do you prefer, and what size? Use the same ones each time.

4. Structure

Do – or should – your documents follow a certain structure? For example, does more than one person within your organisation write proposals for the same client?

No matter the level of communication, it should always have a similar presentation – one that is familiar and a true representation of your brand (visual and written).

5. Formatting

Generally, underline is rarely used, italics are used for names such as books or boats, and bold is for emphasis. However, you may have noticed, I like italics for emphasis. What ‘rules’ suit your business communication? Let me know in the comments section below.

Once you’ve established your preferred formatting style, document it in your style guide so everyone else who writes for your brand can adopt the same presentation.

Extras

  • Reader background may be useful if you have reader sub-groups. Refamiliarise yourself with the audience’s preferences each time you write.
  • If writing succinctly isn’t a strength, you may like to include some tips in your style guide to reduce wordiness.
  • Proofreading is essential before sending out any piece of communication, no matter how long it is, so include some tips on making this process effective, too.

What will you include in your style guide? Let us know, below!

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