That feeling when a client provides their writing style guide is pure glee. Sure, I’m the type of person who would be giddy to receive a quality vacuum. But still, is there anything better for a writer?
A writing style guide, even a brief one, also benefits you as the client. At a minimum, there will be fewer editing rounds. It also eliminates guessing games for writers, which often lead to unmet expectations. Is this too punchy? Too academic? Too FUD-dy? Your style guide can direct everything from high-level messaging to the nitty gritty of serial comma use.
Messaging is the heart of your communication strategy, influencing how your audience perceives and connects with your business. By creating a style guide that sets the standard of writing, grammar, and punctuation, regardless of how many content contributors you have, you’ll be able to convey a consistent tone and style.
While composing a writing style guide might be one of the most boring tasks on your to-do list, I promise you, it’s worth it. That’s true for any business and even more so for cybersecurity companies. Let me show you why and help you get started with your own style guide.
Choose Your Own Writing Style Guide Adventure
Before we get started mapping out your style guide, you’re invited to a “choose your own adventure” game.
- If you need a quick and dirty style guide because you are….
- an early-stage company
- a one-person marketing department
- someone who doesn’t have a messaging strategy in place (hint: we can help you with that, too!)
- not in the mood today or for a variety of other reasons
…then please proceed to “Key Sections to Include in Your Writing Style Guide.”
- If you are ready to commit to developing an awe-inspiring style guide, please continue to “The Style Guide Pre-Work” section below.
The Style Guide Pre-Work
Zero Trust, AI-enabled, you can’t secure what you can’t see. The cybersecurity marketing industry has a way of jumping on jargon trends until almost everyone sounds the same. If you want your brand’s content to be memorable in a sea of likeness, try digging deeper before writing your content style guide.
- Have you updated your brand’s mission statement?
Your brand’s mission statement should convey your organization’s current values and ensure content creators are all writing to help readers towards the overarching goal. The problem is that many are written and put on a shelf to die.
Mission statements are a great way to level-set the opening of your style guide and deserve your thoughtful editing. If your company started out as an EDR vendor and now provides identity protection and XDR and is working towards cloud workload security, then the driving forces have surely changed. Be sure your brand mission and values accurately convey your current business model and goals.
2. Do you know WHO you are writing to?
I once questioned a colleague about how she wrote so fast. Her response was, “I imagine I’m talking to the reader.” Creating buyer personas allows writers to get personal with the audience, empathize with their pain points, and provide a path forward. By outlining who and how to speak with your readers, all contributors will be able to engage key audiences at a deeper level.
3. What does your company sound like?
Conveying your company’s voice and tone is foundational to your style guide. Before making grand statements about being “friendly” or “an approachable expert,” ensure everyone agrees. Also, check that it mirrors how your target audience likes to be spoken to (hem, another reason why step two is important).
Now that we have those foundational pieces in place let’s jump in to mapping out your cybersecurity writing style guide.
Key Sections to Include in Your Writing Style Guide
Before we begin, let me calm your nerves – there is no wrong way of creating this guide. My intention is to give you a starting point that will give you the confidence to ideate further. Ready to begin?
- Who We Are
The opening section is your chance to tell the reader about your company values and personality. You can provide your mission statement. Even better, pull important words out and explain them in greater detail.
Using a very basic cybersecurity theme, this could look like:
|From the mission statement the company values…
|We define ourselves as…
|What that means…
|While every cybersecurity company is designed to protect its customers, we internalize our defender role in everything we do. Great defenders show up for the people who count on them by being organized, disciplined, and aware of any and all attacks. We’re unwavering in making sure our customers feel calm in our presence and that we always have their best interests in mind.
No matter how you structure this section, make sure the person reading it understands the human connection that you want to make through values. At the end of the day, CISOs, security analysts, and any of your other buyers are humans. Despite being in B2B, this section is a great area to draw inspiration from B2C messaging.
2. How We Sound
We do very important technical work in security, but we shouldn’t ever sound like robots. By nailing the brand voice section, your content and communications will have an obvious and distinct voice.
Not sure how you want to convey your voice? Use this list of examples as inspiration:
- Powerful and uplifting
- Helpful and professional
- Confident and direct
- Inventive and fun
- Friendly and educational
- Neutral and straightforward
- Optimistic and inspiring
Unfortunately, listing these descriptors isn’t enough. We need to show, not tell. Add a few sentences explaining your words so that everyone understands what you mean by direct. Then, provide examples of what content with your voice would be. Finally, think about how your voice could go the wrong way and state what not to do. If you want the voice to be direct but not aggressive, write that down.
Take it from misunderstood New Yorkers, a “direct” bunch often mistaken for rude. They value time and their city and are generally good samaritans. If you need subway directions or your MetroCard isn’t working, they’ll take the time to help. But don’t count on small talk that leaves you with the warm and fuzzies. If we only labeled New Yorkers as direct, you’d lose all that context. Make sure not to do that with your brand’s voice.
3. Grammatical Style
This is the easiest section. Decide if you’re going to follow the rules of the Associated Press style guide. I’ve found that most, if not all, of our clients do.
Depending on what grammatical style you want to use, be sure to call out what is most important to you. Examples might include:
- All proper nouns, including product names.
- The first word in a bullet.
- All letters of an acronym.
- Sentence case for subtitle, subheadlines, and subheadings.
- Sentence case website button CTAs.
- Spell out numbers one through nine, and use digits for numbers 10 and higher.
- Use the entire word “percent” and avoid the % sign.
- Use a single space after a period.
- Always use a serial comma. (This is a really important one. It’s very difficult when style guides tell you to omit the final comma unless it could lead to confusion. If you’re “Team Serial Comma,” you are always going to think it’s necessary. Do me a favor. Please make an executive decision and write it in stone.)
- Periods and commas always go within quotation marks.
- Use single quotations for quotes within quotes.
- Use hyphens to connect words in compound adjectives (e.g., Zero-day threats). Compound verbs also require hyphens.
- Do not use en dashes. Em dashes should be used to break up text to signal an abrupt change, pause, or set off a clause within a sentence. Em dashes should have a space on either side.
- White paper is two words.
4. Product Naming Conventions & Boilerplates
It’s common for security companies to offer technologies as a platform or have a portfolio of security products and services. Because of this, you’ll want to outline exactly how to write brand names, trademarks, and approved product names.
Guidance can include:
- Always include the brand name with the product name in a headline.
- Use the trademark symbol when the product first appears in the body copy.
- Use the full brand name + product or platform in the body copy before shortening it to the platform or product name only.
- Never use a possessive form of the brand name.
If you have a lot of products and varying trademarks, I’d recommend listing out the full name with trademark symbols for everything in your catalog. Pay close attention to capitalization as we in cyber love to DoThisYaKnow.
Last up, list your press release and 25, 50, and 100-word boilerplates for easy copying and pasting.
5. Cybersecurity Industry Terms
For our final section, I present the never-ending cybersecurity industry terms list.
Just kidding. I wish I could write them all out here for you to copy and paste, but depending on what corner of security you’re in, terms will vary.
The best guidance for security industry terms and hacking groups include:
6. Extras to Consider Adding
If I haven’t scared you away yet, here are bonus items to include in your style guide:
- Put a footnote that says “Last Updated: [DATE]” as it is under constant iteration.
- Include examples of headlines for content such as web, white papers, and blogs.
- Give a simplified overview of positioning.
- Outline the business impact, aka the benefits of your products and services.
The Only Rule to a Perfect Style Guide: Make it Digestible
The last advice I’d like to leave you with is to organize your style guide and make it digestible. By including a table of contents with navigation, lots of white space, and examples, your writers and content will be better for it.
Now go forth and create!
Need a hand creating your messaging and style guide? We’re here to help.