In a world where several writers contribute to a text, but the brand and usability should remain consistent, how does a writer know which heading format to use? Yes, the writer can always check what has been written previously or ask a colleague (or several of them), but is the answer always the same? Probably not, if each writer has had to spend their valuable time in re-inventing the basic wheel of technical writing over and over again.
An easy solution to all the daily questions a writer has, is to come up with a style guide, a short reference document to address all the burning issues: to write, type in, key in, or enter? To push a button, tap a key, shortpress, or press in briefly? To a layman, this may seem very trivial, but once you start reading the user guide of an equipment you’ve spent money on, it suddenly starts making sense. If the user guide asks you to press X and then tap Y, and in the next sentence tap X and press Y, how do you know if you should look for a hardware button or a virtual button for the X on the equipment? You probably have better things to do than trying to make sense of a user guide.
Usability is the driving force behind any user guide and therefore behind any style guide. We writers want our readers to be able to read the user guide without any effort and to get their new equipment up and running quickly. Therefore, even the smallest thing is important, such as which items you bold in a text. Do you bold each occurrence of a term: With the Camera, you can take superb photos. If you want to take close-ups with the Camera, select…. Or do you use bold sparingly, just to focus the reader’s eyes on what’s really important for the task at hand: To take close-ups with the camera, tap Camera > Settings > Close up.
Writing style is one contributor to a brand, and the value of a brand is… well… invaluable. Once you lose it, it is hard to get back. Being a document consumer laws require, it is easy to dismiss the effect of a user guide to a brand, but the best of brands realise the value of each item they offer to the consumer. If the user guide is incomprehensible, and thus getting the equipment up and running fails, it harms the brand. If the equipment is for the everyday household consumer, but the user guide talks about magnetometer instead of compass, your readers may consider the brand techy and unfriendly.
Being writers, we want to be consistent to a t, but don’t take your style guide to the nit-picking level. Think of the reader: what is important from the usability point of view. Common phrases to start a bulleted list may be an overkill. No reader (unless they’re tech writers) confuse over whether a bulleted list starts with The available options are: or You have these options: . Also think of the fellow writers: how much time you want writers to spend on learning writing rules that have no effect on usability. However, do not underestimate commas. I know that in this text I’ve used far too many commas to be grammatically correct, but boy, do they help in understanding which parts of the text are separate entities!
The Adina style guide introduces the writer to writing for a global audience with to-the-point style. As most of our content is published online, our style guide provides instructions on how to make the topic pop up in search results, how to write the short description that is shown with the search result, and how to write the text so that it makes sense even when read without any further context. And yes, we do go down to tiny details, such as capitalisation, file formats, and prepositions, but our 20-page style guide mostly contains examples, so there isn’t too much for writers to memorise.
Got convinced that a style guide is essential? If you need help with yours, Adina is here for you.