23 Online Style Guides to Browse Through When You’re Not Busy Writing

Updated on January 17, 2019
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In addition to her short-lived academic career, Lovelli has been appointed for consulting roles within the areas of health and development.

The "Keep It Stupid Simple" (KISS) design principle of the 60s is a popular style still used today.
The "Keep It Stupid Simple" (KISS) design principle of the 60s is a popular style still used today. | Source

In case you’re not familiar with them, a style guide is a set of standards applied to the writing and the design of documents. Many of them are sold as digital products and in print; even more of them are freely available online. They are developed by publications, organizations, and certain fields of study, to provide uniformity within the styling and formatting of documents. These inspiring style guides are useful resources for writing for the web and for your personal branding project.

TL;DR

Links to these style guides can be found in the Further Reading section, at the very bottom.

1. The Data Journalism Handbook

Data journalism may sound like a fairly recent occupational trend, but it is actually nothing new. For as long as there has been data, there has been data journalism. The difference is we now have "open data." Anyone can explore a set of data for any purpose. Therefore, a data journalism handbook is a must-have for newsrooms.

Born out of a 48-hour workshop at Moz Fest 2011 in London, the Data Journalism Handbook 1.0 Beta includes chapters relevant to the newsroom of today, such as how to hire a hacker, how to use hackathons to draw in external expertise, and how to get data from the web.

2. The Envato Tuts+ Style Guide

A quick leafing through the Envato Tuts+ simple style guide for instructors will introduce you to the publication's use of voice and tone, its writing style, and the branding. This style guide accompanies Envato's other guides, the quick get started guide and the instructor guide, all of which are accessible from their website.

3. A List Apart

The design publication A List Apart has a concise little style guide it uses for house style. The guide includes sections on general information, image use, author bios and photos, and the more specific items, such as code blocks, punctuation, and capitalization.

4. The Global Experience Language

Although I do not often read articles published by the BBC, I find their Global Experience Language to be a useful resource to learn more about what can be learned from their user experience and their design experiments. Their guidelines are divided into Foundations, Design Patterns, and How-tos, which explains some of the reasoning behind some of the questionable choices the online publication often makes in its publishing.

5. The Guardian and Observer

An illustrated style guide covering how to write and edit for the Guardian, Observer, and theguardian.com indexed from A to Z and strangely ordered by date.

Writing may well be a way of talking without being interrupted.
Writing may well be a way of talking without being interrupted. | Source

6. The UK Government’s Guide for Digital Publishing and Services

A well laid out guidance with information on how to plan, write and manage online content for public consumption. This set of guidelines are prepared by the Government Digital Service and the Cabinet Office to help government editors and publishers create and edit documents and online pages. It is quite detailed and provides a standard for many aspects of publishing, including how to handle translations, graphs and charts, statistics, and topical pages.

7. Mailchimp's Content Style Guide

This style guide, created for Mailchimp employees, is one of the most comprehensive guides I've ever seen, and it has been made available on GitHub. Mailchimp covers all the basics of writing for the company and writing for different goals and purposes, such as writing legal content, email newsletters, writing for social media, and technical content.

8. The Writer

The Writer has a style guide they call “the famous house style guide” that also provides a standard for their brand. The Writer is a brand consultancy with offices in London and New York. It can even help your company create a style guide of your own, as stated in the short introduction to the style guide. The handbook is an inspiring, illustrated guide packed with useful information.

9. Google Developer Documentation Style Guide

If you are writing developer documentation or are planning to, the Google Developer style guide is a good place to refresh your knowledge. In the guide, you will find editorial information to help make decisions on how to structure and write your documentation. It is sort of a house style for Google-related docs. You will find an explanation of the common terminology used in codes, command-line syntax, UI elements and interaction.

10. USA Gov's Bilingual Style Guide

From the name, you can already get a sense of how important the guide will be. Bilingual content can be a challenge to create and difficult to consume. This inspiring guide covers the fundamentals of English and Spanish writing for the web, SEO, assets, and the delicate job of writing for marketing.

11. Federal Plain Language

The federal plain language guidelines are used for government websites and documents. The March 2011 guidelines are accessible from Plain Language government website, from which you can download the entire thing as PDF or Word doc. You will find useful tips on how to do things like repurposing print materials for web publication, address separate audience separately, how to conduct tests to explore ways your documents can be improved, and even some plain English humor.

Also from the Plain Language and Information Network, you will find a list of style guides for a number of federal governments, state governments, and international communities. Among them, the following are particularly interesting:

12. The Office of 18F Digital Services Agency's Content Guide

13. The Federal Aviation Administration's Plain Language Initiatives

14. The Securities and Exchange Commission's Handbook

Need inspiration for your social media style guide?
Need inspiration for your social media style guide? | Source

A Few Other Uses and Mentions of Style Guides

  • Submission guidelines - When preparing an article or a guest blog post for an online publication, you will sometimes find a number of handbooks and style guides mentioned. If you’re lucky, these handbooks and guides are free and can easily be found online, but many publications also use their own set of in-house style guides that may or may not be made accessible to you.
  • Open-source projects - Contributing to open-source projects will also require some familiarity with a set of standards. An example is WordPress, where you will find in-depth style guides, handbooks, and manuals. 15 The WordPress Codex is one of several online manuals for information and documentation from WordPress. It includes general information on how to get started, as well as details on using the platform and into the nitty-gritty of how to fight comment spam.
  • Peer review sites - Many online journals have a review system in place, where people evaluate the work of one or more people within their area of expertise. When conducting a review, before you even begin writing anything about anyone’s work, a reviewer is usually required to go through a series of “training” to familiarize themselves with the guidelines. In addition to the common writing styles of APA or MLA writing styles, each journal will have their own guidelines to follow.
  • Government websites - Some governments do their homework and would make their set of standards available to the public. These are very useful references for web developers and bloggers or anyone writing for the web. Some common examples are 16 Usability Gov, managed by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 17 the US Web Design System (USWDS) maintained by the Office of Products and Programs, 18 the digital style guide outline of the USDA, and 19 the Content Style Guide of the Government of Canada.
  • Coding sites - Coders rely on coding style guides to help them write codes. In addition to code implementation, the style guide could also include information related to design and branding. An example of this is 20 GitHub’s extensive CSS toolkit style guide and its 21 short guides for Ruby. 22 Google’s R Style Guide is an example of a community generated style guide.

  • Online encyclopedias - A free online encyclopedia like Wikipedia would have a comprehensive list of community guidelines on various general topics and topics specific to the community. 23 Wikipedia’s Manual of Style is a web of interconnected articles on every possible topic related to writing a Wiki article. If you like reading Wiki articles, you will love this style manual. Linked to the manual are various other articles on things like editing, basic copyediting, citing sources, tutorials, style tips, and many more.

Further Reading

  1. Chambers, L. (2011). Using Data Visualization to Find Insights in Data - The Data Journalism Handbook (J. Grey & L. Bounegru, Eds.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://datajournalismhandbook.org/1.0/en/index.html
  2. The Envato Tuts Style Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://styleguide.tutsplus.com/
  3. ALA Writers. (n.d.). A List Apart Style Guide. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://alistapart.com/about/style-guide
  4. BBC UX&D. (n.d.). BBC GEL Global Experience Language. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/gel
  5. The Guardian and Observer Style Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/info/series/guardian-and-observer-style-guide
  6. Guidance for Government Digital Publishing and Services. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.gov.uk/topic/government-digital-guidance
  7. Mailchimp. (n.d.). Welcome to the Mailchimp Content Style Guide. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://styleguide.mailchimp.com/
  8. The Writer. (n.d.). The Famous House Style Guide. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://www.thewriter.com/what-we-think/style-guide/
  9. Google Developer Documentation Style Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://developers.google.com/style/
  10. USAGov Bilingual Style Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.usa.gov/style-guide/table-of-contents
  11. Federal Plain Language Guidelines. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://plainlanguage.gov/guidelines/
  12. 18F Content Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://content-guide.18f.gov/
  13. FAA Plain Language. (2013, September 03). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/plain_language/
  14. The Office of Investor Education and Assistance. (1998, August). A Plain English Handbook: How to create clear SEC disclosure documents [PDF]. Washington, DC: U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
  15. The WordPress Codex. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://codex.wordpress.org/
  16. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). HHS Web Standards and Usability Guidelines. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://guidelines.usability.gov/
  17. U.S. Web Design System: A Design System for the Federal Government. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://designsystem.digital.gov/
  18. Digital Style Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.usda.gov/media/digital/digital-style-guide
  19. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. (2018, November 19). Canada.ca Content Style Guide. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/services/government-communications/canada-content-style-guide.html
  20. Primer. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://primer.style/
  21. GitHub. (n.d.). Ruby Style Guide. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://github.com/github/rubocop-github/blob/master/STYLEGUIDE.md
  22. Google's R Style Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://google.github.io/styleguide/Rguide.xml
  23. Wikipedia. (2019, January 7). Wikipedia: Manual of Style. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Manual_of_Style

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