TAL .003: Standardise Your Copy and Content Output

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Editing The Arete Letter

Your writers keep making the same grammar errors. Here’s how to fix the situation.

In this week’s letter, I’m going to share how you can create consistency across all your copy and content assets – no matter how big your team is.

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1. The Problem

Most marketers understand that branding requires consistency.

To make people trust and believe you, you need to keep saying the same thing in the same way.

In textual formats (your website, social media, etc.), your copywriter is your company’s voice.

But what happens when you scale up and end up with a team of two, four, 10 writers? They’re all still saying the same thing, but in different ways.

That creates a consistency problem.

You’ve probably seen it – different words being capitalised in titles, commas being used in different ways, differences in spelling and syntax and everything else.

“But no buyer actually cares about grammar.”

Except it’s been proven that poor grammar causes readers to view the author as less intelligent, less skilled, and less capable.

Grammar errors also lead to people perceiving the message itself as less well constructed, less comprehendible, less interesting, and less memorable.

That’s not a good marketing outcome for any business.

2. The Solution

To create consistency, you need a source of truth.

After all, plenty of grammar ‘errors’ aren’t actually wrong. They’re matters of style – all that matters is that you maintain the same standard across every touchpoint.

Your source of truth should be a textual style guide.

Note: This isn’t the same as a visual style guide or a brand voice guide (although both are also important).

Start by picking a base style. I like AP Stylebook because it’s clean and modern, but you can also explore other options like the Chicago Manual of Style, Style Manual, and AGLC4.

Then create your house style guide. This is a bridge between your base style and real-world applications. For example, none of the major style guides cover best practices for button text, so your house style guide would address that.

You should also clarify anything your writers find confusing. This might include:

  • pronouns
  • lists
  • numbers
  • units of measurement
  • commas
  • dashes
  • abbreviations
  • quotation marks
  • compound modifiers
  • capitalisation
  • web elements.

I also often recommend including a table of terms (styling and definition of jargon) and a table of proscribed terms (terms to avoid with alternatives).

Your house style guide should be a cloud document available to all stakeholders, but with only one editor (probably your content strategist). It should also be living, not static – update it as your writers encounter new challenges.

You should end up with a document that clarifies any matter of style or grammar, improving consistency, upskilling your writers, and decreasing your review/editing times.

3. Implementation

Tech Needed:

  • Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Coda, or other word processing software
  • A cloud environment like Coda, Notion, SharePoint or Asana

Ease of Uptake: Moderate

  1. Pay a professional editor to develop a house style guide.
  2. Buy cloud access to whatever base style they recommend.
  3. Upload the house style guide to your chosen cloud environment.
  4. Give relevant stakeholders access.
  5. Explain to them how the style guide works, and make sure they understand it is now their source of editorial truth.
  6. Designate someone to maintain the style guide (e.g. your content strategist).
  7. Give them editorial access to the house style guide and access to the base style guide.
  8. Set a maintenance schedule (e.g. once a month) for updating the guide to address any recurring errors that writers make.
  9. If necessary, measure the guide’s effectiveness by seeing whether non-conformance percentages (no. of errors / total number of words * 100) decrease over time.

By Duncan Croker

Duncan is a copywriter with a background in editing and storytelling. He loves collaborating with brands big and small, and thrives on the challenges of hard marketing.