When we began developing elearning style guide, we realized that we needed to adopt some standards. We knew that we had certain preferences. This was our Endurance Learning way of writing. As we grew as a company and began working with more clients and more writers, we have learned is that this is a great starting point, but not the end.
We decided to take our preferences and both challenge them and formalize them. We used a few easily available resources to base our style guide on.
- Chicago Manual of Style: We have a subscription to the online tool. This is a great resource, but it is overwhelming. We chose to use it as a resource to base our style on and to help us find answers when we weren’t sure how to proceed.
- Merriam-Webster.com: Free resource for spelling of terms that we often use in our courses.
- Google Developer Documentation Style Guide: A surprisingly clear resource. This was probably the most influential because it is meant to be practical. We develop a lot of elearning which requires practical guidance.
With every new project and every new customer we find ourselves adjusting our Endurance style to be appropriate for the audience, content, and client preferences.
Structure of a Style Guide
This is based solely on our experience. There are many other examples out there, but if you need a place to start we suggest the following sections:
- Overview: Explain the why behind the document and how to use it.
- Sources: Where did you get your answers. While many things are preference, when teams are involved, it is wise to site a source. It’ll help you when you can’t remember why you made a decision.
- General Guidance: What are the high level principles that you follow?
- Common Issues: You’re likely starting this style guide because you’ve faced issues. List the most common issues.
- Nitpicky: We’re sure there’s a better name, but we wanted to be clear with ourselves that there was a difference between things that are really important and have a big impact on the final product and the things that are nitpicky.
6 Tips for a Better Elearning Style Guide
The lesson we have learned, especially from big projects with multiple writers, is that we need to keep and update a style guide. Writing large technical manuals, contributing to a performance support system, or really anything with multiple writers needs a set of rules people can follow. Below are a few recommendations I suggest you think about as you create a style guide for any project.
1. Select a voice.
Most instructions are written in active voice that start with an action verb that relates directly to the subject and eliminate passive words like will, should, shall, etc. Active voice typically uses short and direct sentences.
2. Pick a style.
Having a foundational style guide will make decisions easier. If you rely on a Google search, you’ll find that you can get whatever answer you want. A style will help you decide some of the basics like how numerals and dates are formatted and what is bolded, italicized.
3. Clearly state exceptions.
I always use Oxford commas; many styles don’t see the point. They are wrong, so I include them in my style guides.
There can be a lot of thought that must go into a style guide, and you may not cover everything on your first attempt. Style guides are living documents that give your team an opportunity to hone their writing craft in a collaborative manner.
4. Don’t assume the elearning style guide is ever done.
Things will change during the life a project. It is important that everyone know that this document can be updated and should be challenged if the group does not agree on the guidelines within.
5. Recognize that each project may require a unique approach.
Each project is going to have a different look and feel. Priorities change based on client needs and wants, and these documents are likely to get better as you become more experienced using them.
6. Cut your style guide in half!
Your style guide is too long! Trust us. Ours was too. Take another look at it and ask yourself if everything needs to be in the style guide. The more you include, the less people will follow it.
Elearning Style Guide Template
It is much easier if you can start with an elearning style guide template for elearning or instructor-led training. You can download our structure for a style guide. Hopefully it will help you make decisions and move faster.