How to create a style guide in 6 simple steps

Blog, On editing


Last week I wrote about the need for a style guide in order to maintain editorial consistency across a publication. This week, I’m sharing my tips for creating a simple style guide, especially when the publisher you’re working with doesn’t have an existing one to work from.

1. Pick your program

Choose a program in which to create your guide. You may want to use Microsoft Word, Google Docs, a Trello board or a simple spreadsheet. I like to use Google Docs, simply because it’s collaborative. I can share my style guide with anyone who needs it – the publisher themselves and particularly my proofreader.

2. Add your alphabet

Because I like to work in Google Docs, I create a table with each square representing a letter of the alphabet.  You can do this in Excel or even using Trello cards. The point is to make a repository for each letter so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for at a glance.

3. Start with the basics

I usually begin populating my style guide with the general rules (especially words and punctuation marks that are commonly spelled or used incorrectly). Under ‘D’ I might add ‘dashes’ and write up the conventions for using en dashes and em dashes. Under ‘S’ I might add ‘spelling’ and specify: British. It’s also important to clarify the kind of tone the publication uses.

4. Every word counts

And then I’m ready to crack on. If a word comes up while I’m reading the text that isn’t used in a consistent way, I make a decision on the correct usage and pop it into my style guide under the relevant letter. It’s often a case of whether the word takes upper or lower case or is written as two words, rather than one. And so it continues…

5. Check with the pros

When in doubt it’s always useful to check in with the latest published style guides. I like The Chicago Manual of StyleThe Guardian and Observer Style Guide and for academic texts, APA Style. And let’s not forget the good old dictionary, of course. Make sure to include which dictionary you’ve referenced somewhere in your style guide.

6. Keep going

If a style guide is not up-to-date, it’s no use to anyone. Keep adding as you go and remember to date your document so everyone knows they’re working with the latest version.


Written by Melissa Fagan, freelance content writer and editor

I help traditional and digital publishers deliver engaging and informative content that resonates with their readers. Internationally qualified writer and editor with 13 years’ publishing experience.

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If you liked this post (or even if you didn’t) and you’re passionate about publishing, let me treat you to a coffee so we can discuss the industry. Contact me at or 082 5002612


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