Do you use writers’ guidelines?

Almost half of respondents in our State of Digital Copywriting survey don't have content guidelines in place, or don't use them - and less than a third use copy templates. Does this matter?

 Do you use writers’ guidelines?

Almost half of respondents in our survey don’t have content guidelines in place, or don’t use them – and less than a third use copy templates. Does this matter?

Just under half of respondents use language and style guidelines, according to our survey of 365 content professionals. But copy templates or formats – which we define as ‘best-practice examples with instructions for each type of content we produce’ – are even thinner on the ground.

So while there’s a certain amount of guidance on points of style and details of spelling and grammar, there’s far less help around when it comes to the practical business of writing for the web. We think this is a missed opportunity.

Why copy formats?

We’ve found that strong, usable content templates, including best-practice samples and execution guidelines for contributors to follow, can save a lot of time at the briefing and amending stages. They can also include the elements – link copy, seo, usability – which CMS templates often don’t cover.

Our prediction for 2013-14 is the increasing development of adaptive content templates. These deliver a high return on investment by making it simple to reuse copy across multiple platforms and cut down on localisation costs.

Tone of voice 

When it comes to tone of voice guidance, we found: 

  • most content professionals surveyed aren’t using specific tone of voice guidelines
  • about 2 out of 5 of respondents have a sense of high-level tonal values, but nothing more detailed
  • relatively few respondents are using best-practice examples to set the standard for copywriting across print and digital

This suggests to us that even where brand guidelines are in place, they’re not giving enough attention to the effect words can have on audiences.

Perhaps industry people still tend to think tone of voice is all about ad copy, that it should be memorable and create impact (and not much else). But much online copy actually needs to be functional and support changes in behaviour – something which is just as much part of tone of voice.

Finally, if your guidelines are just a list of tonal values, how easy are these to implement, practically? In our experience, including detailed definitions of values and multiple best-practice examples gives you the best chance of communicating in a consistent and distinctive voice.