Style Guides for an IT Startup

Executive summary: An IT startup needs 3 style guides, one each for Marcomm, Brand identity, and Technical Publications. This article helps non-writers and junior writers to put together the style guides and guidelines to use the style guides effectively in a startup.

Should my IT startup need a style guide at all? You may wonder.

Here are some reasons or indications that tell you that your startup needs to create a style guide.

  • Content that looks or reads inconsistent (online vs. offline, document A vs. document B)
  • When multiple writers or non-writers are in charge of creating and maintaining content.
  • Your customer cares about receiving cogent content, and you want to honor customer expectations.
  • Creating quality content is one of your brand’s characteristics.
  • In the age of the Internet, every customer first searches for products and services online. For a B2B brand, the search platforms are LinkedIn and the business’ website. For a B2C brand, the search may happen on social media as well as the firm’s website. Content that is consistent in how it reads and the message it conveys establishes trust with customers and eases their decision to purchase from your business.

Types of Style Guides

An IT startup may need three style guides for:

  • Marketing communication, aka marcomm.
  • Brand guidelines.
  • Technical publications.

In What Order Should You Create the Style Guides?

You may not need all the style guides at once. But, you may want to start with the marcomm style guide since marcomm is probably the first set of communication artifacts that you want to build.

Marcomm Style Guide

An IT startup needs a marcomm style guide since marketing is one of the earliest activities.

Marcomm in an IT startup flows through presentations, case studies, whitepapers, the company website, blogs, product microsites, and so on. If you want to know how to organize a blog, read our article, How to Organize a Blog.

In many places, this is known by a simpler name, the editorial style guide. The editorial style guide usually follows The Chicago Manual of Style:

  • Business, fine arts, and history writers use The Chicago Manual of Style. It is is the best reference resource in matters of style. Since it is exhaustive, you may want to adopt certain sections.

Note that nothing stops an organization from adopting from more than one style guide.

Template of a Marcomm Style Guide

A marcomm style guide can include:

  • A list of terms that can or cannot be used.
  • Terminology conventions
  • Writing about numbers and dates.
  • Capitalization
  • Spelling convention (British or American) to be followed.
  • Online resources to be used.
  • Links to templates.
  • Image sources, attribution conventions.
  • Other details that are relevant to the firm.

Example

Mailchimp has an awesome style guide called Mailchimp Content Style Guide. As of this writing, the style guide is available both on Mailchimp’s website and on GitHub.

Brand Style Guide

Important

Brand thinking should precede brand creation. It is a prerequisite.

A brand is a set of promises from a business. It is an expectation and memory for a customer. It also includes the story about the brand’s relevance to the customer.

So think profoundly in your decision-making about what promise your business is making, what expectations it is setting, and what memories it is creating for customers.

Why

Brand style guide creates a memorable brand that is recognizable from a mile away.

When

If you are a startup, it may take you sometime before you can identify the best brand positioning for your company. That does not mean you cannot have a brand guide book before finding your niche. Instead, you should adjust your brand book as you progressively discover your position in the market. It is an iterative process for an IT startup.

Template of a Brand Guide

A brand style guide, in its basic form, defines the elements that determine the brand’s online and offline presence:

  • Logo and its variations
  • Color palette with primary and secondary brand colors
  • Typography
  • Stationery
  • Imagery with icons, graphics, and photographs
  • Social Media looks
  • A tone that matches the brand personality

Consider adding the brand story and philosophy to the brand book. They act as lighthouses that guide the evolution of the brand’s look and message.

Example

Many businesses, institutions, and universities have publicly hosted style guides. Please search the Internet for “brand style guide.”

Technical Publications Style Guide

A style guide for technical documentation is a necessity in a startup when publishing software, hardware, API, and other types of user documentation.

The style guide provides guidelines about how to write, format, and present information.

There are at least two style guides that can be used as-is to create technical publications. Or, you can read them before you craft one.

  • Read Me First: A Style Guide for the Computer Industry. It helps in documenting both hardware and software products.
  • Microsoft Writing Style Guide: This guide is aimed at documenting user interfaces. You can download a free PDF copy from Microsoft’s website. (This guide was once known as the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications [MSTP].)

Template of a Technical Publications Style Guide

The template can include:

  • Style guidelines related to headings, capitalization, lists, numbers, acronyms, and so on.
  • Typographic conventions.
  • UI conventions.
  • Graphics conventions.
  • Procedure writing.
  • Template standards.
  • Lists of sources for reference.
  • Standard and non-standard usage of words.

Example

Microsoft Writing Style Guide is a great example of a style guide for technical publications.

Tips for Style Guide Creation and Maintenance

The creation of style guides takes effort and commitment in an IT startup, whereas adherence requires a process. Here are some tips to create and maintain the style guides:

  • Keep them short, very short, if possible. Content creators should be able to implement the guidelines easily.
  • Make them intuitive, not pedantic, to ensure compliance.
  • Make them accessible to all.
  • Update at regular intervals and when needed.
  • The process of updating the style guides should be simple and quick. If you have a complex process to update the style guide, try to make it simple and straight forward. The goal is to be able to make changes in time to roll out the content with style updates.
  • Anticipate the changes. Keep a watch on emerging trends and how they may impact your style needs and the style guides.

More Resources

While style guides focus on the linguistic and visual elements of content, there are two other ways to build quality into your content.

Industry bodies such as ISO and IEEE publish standards that specify how to document engineering, electronics, and software.

Likewise, if your organization follows process frameworks such as CMMI, the framework adds another level of quality and standardization to your information products.

This blog post won’t be complete without mentioning Ms. Tamara Wilhite. She has been a champion in popularizing engineering standards. To know more about standards, you may want to read her articles. Thank you, Ms. Tamara Wilhite, for granting permission to link to your articles:

ASME Standards for the Revision of Engineering Drawings: https://owlcation.com/humanities/ASME-Standards-for-the-Revision-of-Engineering-Drawings

Standards for Drawings and Documentation Symbols: https://hubpages.com/education/Standards-for-Drawings-and-Documentation-Symbols

A Summary of Environmental Standard ISO 14001: https://hubpages.com/technology/Summary-of-Environmental-Standard-ISO-14001

Overview of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code or BPVC: https://hubpages.com/education/Overview-of-the-ASME-Boiler-and-Pressure-Vessel-Code

Important: All brands, proprietary names, registered trademarks, and the content at the location of the links mentioned in this article belong to the respective owners. All opinions expressed here are the author’s personal opinions.