Words at work

– 7 min read

Using style guides to spend 66% less time copy editing: interview with Megan Marrs

Ashley Coolman

Ashley Coolman

Megan MarrsToday, our Q&A features Megan Marrs. Meg is the founder and CEO of K9 of Mine, a dog care website dedicated to helping owners take the very best care of their furry four-legged companions.

Their B2C website is adorable — as expected for a brand centered around dogs! They publish new editorial content every week, with five writers and one editor on staff. I was interested to learn more about how style guides have helped them shape their content and brand, especially with five people regularly contributing to their blog. I know from experience how time-consuming it can be to make sure all that content is high-quality and on brand.

Q&A with Megan Marrs

1. Thanks for taking the time to share how your team works! First, can you introduce yourself, your business, and a different brand whose style you love or feel inspired by?

Happy to discuss style guides! My name is Megan Marrs, and I’m the founder of a dog care resource website called K9 of Mine. We focus on creating training guides, dog gear reviews, breed profiles, and dog food comparisons to help owners make sure they’re doing what’s best for their furbabies!

There are a lot of great brands that I adore, but I really like Lifewire’s style — it’s clean, simple, but with some really fun added elements and bright colors.

2. Why do you feel that having a company style guide is important?

For me, our style guide is all about ensuring our style is consistent while still allowing individual writers to express themselves and add their own voice to their articles.

A style guide is all about ensuring style is consistent while still allowing individual writers to express themselves.Click To Tweet

I’ve focused a lot on making sure that writers properly research and source articles, while maintaining a web-friendly format. Writers who have a background in journalism may be more accustomed to writing offline content. Online content requires a different approach in my opinion.

3. When did you create your first style guide? What drove the need?

I first started developing our style guide about a year ago. I’ll admit our website was up for five years without any true guidelines!

I decided it was time to create a style guide when our team started to grow. With more writers and more team members, I realized I wouldn’t be able to manage as many moving parts as I once did. As the site grew, I realized it wasn’t practical for me to continue to clean up each piece of content we produced. I wouldn’t be able to work on anything else if I tried that! Creating a style guide was absolutely essential for us to grow.

Creating a style guide was absolutely essential for us to grow.Click To Tweet

Having a style guide has saved our editing team a ton of time. Editors don’t have to make as many corrections when our writers craft a piece using our style guide. This means more efficient work processes. A lot of that has to do with the style guide. When I was editing articles myself without a style guide, some pieces would take up to three hours to edit! We’ve gotten that down from an hour and a half to under 30 minutes per piece.

With a style guide, we've gotten editing down from 1.5 hours to under 30 minutes per piece.Click To Tweet

While committing to the style guide can be burdensome initially for writers, in the end it saves them time too, since it means fewer edits to complete on their end and a better understanding of what we want the final product to look like.

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4. How often do you update your style guide?

I try to revisit and update the style guide once a year, but if I get inspired by something I see online I might update it sooner. I try not to go crazy with changes because it can be a hassle for our writers to adjust to a new style, but sometimes change is for the best!

5. What’s included in your style guide today?

Our style guides for writers are quite in-depth. We discuss how many words each section should be, when to link out to other sources, how to format a written article for the web. A lot of our content guide focuses on style — reminding writers to use plenty of white space, keep paragraphs short, use bullet points whenever it makes sense, use bolding to highlight certain phrases, etc.

We aim for a friendly, casual voice, but how writers choose to interpret that can vary. For example, my editor includes plenty of jokes and quips. Another one of my writers uses all kinds of fun canine slang and pet words. Both work fine and I like that they have slightly different tones. When people read content on our site, I’m happy for them to get a sense of the writer’s individual personality!

We also have a design style guide detailing our brand colors, headers, and call-out boxes formatters can use when putting the article together.

On top of that, we also have a style guide specific to content like graphics and pins. These style guides are part template, part instructive.

6. How do you make decisions around what does or doesn’t go into your guidelines?

We generally start with the AP stylebook and adjust as needed. I keep track of websites that are using interesting writing styles or designs that I like. I save them in a single doc and once a quarter or so I go through them to take note of what I’d like to incorporate into our own style guide.

7. Have you changed any decisions you previously made?

Initially I preferred to have numbers as numerals, rather than writing out the number. However, my editor really felt that committing to the AP style for this was important. We ended up negotiating and writing out numbers in the body of our text, but using numerals for bullet points and headers.

I try to really be good about taking into consideration what our team members have to say about style options. It’s important for people to have ownership over their area of expertise for the business.

8. Have you seen usage of your style guide positively change business outcomes?

While I can’t contribute all growth to our style guide, I do think having one makes us appear more polished and professional. I’ve received a lot more emails from brands looking to collaborate since we updated our style guide. People’s perception of your content and your business mean everything!

People’s perception of your content and your business mean everything.Click To Tweet

9. How do you make sure your writers use your guidelines?

When we update our style guide, I send it to writers and ask that they look it over. If someone sends me an article that clearly doesn’t match our guidelines, I won’t edit it at all. Instead, I’ll just send it back and say it doesn’t match our style guide. They have to look it over when they get that email.

Once a quarter I really dig through one or two pieces from each of our writers to ensure they’re using the style guide. I largely leave this job up to our editors, but once in a while I do skim through and make sure everything looks right.

10. Any final words of advice for people who are working to create a style guide for the first time?

Don’t stress about it too much! A style guide doesn’t have to be a huge, complicated document. Even starting with some simple rules in place will add a lot of credibility and authority to your content.