A newsletter, in its true form, is marketing material. It’s meant to paint an accurate picture of your school while also creating unity in your community. Because of this, it's essential that your school has a strong brand voice. Luckily, there are several ways to create this.
One common, but effective tool you can use is a style guide. This article explores:
- What a style guide is
- Why you need a style guide
- How you can create a style guide for your newsletters
What’s a Style Guide?
A style guide (also known as a manual of style or style sheet) is a set of standards for the writing, formatting, and design elements of documents. It establishes standard style requirements, improving communication, consistency, and messaging across multiple platforms.
These guides touch on writing elements such as:
It also outlines best visual practices such as:
- Color palettes
- Page composition
Why Do You Need a Style Guide?
Whether you publish daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly, a style guide can help ensure the success of your newsletter. This task can be tedious, time-consuming, and (let’s face it), boring, but creating this documentation can be rewarding for several reasons.
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1. Prevents inconsistencies
Inconsistent content is one of the hardest things to overcome without a clear style guide. You may be able to avoid this during the early stages of your newsletter if it’s written by one person. But, you will probably have many contributors at some point. Even if your newsletter has one writer, human error is an inevitable reality when it comes to writing.
Editors and proofreaders are supposed to be the safety nets in these situations. But without a style guide they have nothing to reference during their review. This often leads to inconsistencies and mistakes. Make sure both writers and editors are well-versed in your style guidelines. This ensures consistent messaging to your audience.
2. Makes your publication reputable
Reputation is an important factor to consider when tackling a school newsletter. While it’s unlikely that your audience will span outside your school district, it’s still important that your publication has a good reputation in the community.
3. Creates a defined “brand”
Don’t underestimate the power of your newsletter! As valuable marketing content, it can be beneficial to both you and your audience. While it informs your community on school happenings, it also strengthens your brand.
But, with great power comes great responsibility. In her article about creating brand style guides, Sasha LaFerte admits that many “branding fails happen because of a lack of a clear style guide.”
This is why style guides are often referred to as "north stars" in branding. You need direction and guidance if you want a strong brand voice in your community.
How to Create a Style Guide for Your Newsletter
Now that you know why a style guide is important for your school newsletter, how do you go about creating one? Here are a few important steps you can follow.
1. Find a baseline guide
Although your style guide should be unique to your publication, it’s crucial to have a well-established reference point. Some of the more commonly used guides are:
- Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)
- Associated Press (AP) stylebook
- Modern Language Association (MLA) handbook
But which one is the best option for you? Find publications that embody the type of writing you’re looking for in your newsletter. For example, some schools prefer the AP style guide since it's generally used by reporters. If that’s the style of writing you want in your newsletter, this might be the baseline for you!
2. Create formatting rules
Once you have your baseline, examine the guide’s rules. Much of their guidance is rooted in things like punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. But these guides have several gaps in their formatting recommendations.
Many schools only follow their baseline guides (which seems to be AP almost across the board), but this leaves too much room for similarities. Think about possible formatting rules to avoid this.
For example, Wylie ISD (a school district in Dallas, Texas) follows the AP stylebook. However, they are extremely successful in creating a unified brand because they expanded their style guide. They define rules around things like white space, logo placement, and even the use of ampersands.
Think about possible formatting rule add-ons you can implement in your own style guide!
3. Identify the tone and voice
There is no denying that grammar, punctuation, and formatting rules are crucial to your style guide. But the most essential element, especially when it comes to brand protection, is identifying the voice.
Are you a purely informative publication? Do you want your newsletter to feel friendly and inviting to your readers? These questions should be answered in your style guide to ensure your audience knows what to expect when your newsletter pops up in their inbox.
4. Define things to include, as well as avoid
Making these distinctions are crucial to the uniformity of your newsletters. Try to identify words, phrases, and even sentences that you encourage writers to include in your content. This is often done during the early stages of the style guide process, but should be evaluated and documented throughout the life of your newsletter.
It’s just as important to note things that writers should avoid while creating your content too. It may be difficult to define these objections at the beginning, but over time you'll notice language or phrases that don’t align with your school or style of messaging. For example, Aurora Public Schools’ style guide dissuades writers from using acronyms and jargon to ensure more inclusive content.
5. Include visual element guidelines as well
Even though a style guide typically focuses on editorial rules, it should also offer guidance on the visual elements in your newsletter. Your school logo and color palettes are a great jumping off point when defining your newsletter’s “look.” Other things like typography are also crucial in creating a unified brand.
In a recent interview the senior VP of Marketing and Communications at Purdue University, Ethan Braden, talked about the university’s successful strategy shift around their visual content. To create a more unified brand look, the department decided to use one color palette, only using varying tones of the school colors black, white, gold, and silver. “Purdue needed to own the strength of black and gold, and so we did.”
Take Your School Newsletter Seriously
Newsletters are a vital source of information to your school community. Approach them with the same diligence as any publication. The best way to do this is with your style guide.
The work isn't done though! Make sure that this is an easily accessible document and constantly encourage feedback from your writers and editors. Over time your style guide will change (much like your school) so try to stay informed with both school and current news to make sure it stays up-to-date.
While your school evolves, so should your content, and more importantly, your style guide! Don’t let negligence of these small, but impactful tools sabotage your success.
If you’re interested in learning more about how a style guide can strengthen your newsletter, or how to create an inbound marketing plan for your school, request a free consultation to see how you can achieve your goals.