MailChimp has written a company Style Guide to help their employees “write clear and consistent content across teams and channels.” They shared the guide with the world via their website. They even posted it to GitHub and made it available for other companies to adapt under a Creative Commons license.
Rachael Maddox, Kate Kiefer Lee, and Alan Crissey have given both their company and the rest of us a helpful guide for writing online. Thank you.
As I was reading the Style Guide I realized how many audiences and how many types of content a company must master. Businesses today write legal, technical and educational content. They must be able to write for social media, email, and blogs. Their writing must meet accessibility standards and it must be easily translated into other languages.
The MailChimp Style Guide helps today’s business people achieve all these goals. It coaches business writers on the many aspects of grammar and mechanics that people face when they write for online audiences.
The Style Guide explains how to write various types of content. These include everything from something short like a web element or a social media post to longer pieces like technical articles and blog posts.
But the Style Guide goes much further than explain mechanics. It advises writers to adopt a particular style that works well for online writing. It coaches writers to use a combination of both the practical and the classic styles.
Steven Pinker explains in The Sense of Style that people use the practical style when “the writer and reader have defined roles (supervisor and employee, teacher and student, technician and customer), and the writer’s goal is to satisfy the reader’s need.” Writing in the practical style often conforms to a specific template and must be brief because the reader needs the information right now.
You can see the influence of the practical style when the MailChimp Style Guide advises writers to make their writing clear, useful and appropriate. It tells writers to adopt a voice that is straightforward.
The practical style works well for some online documents, but often writers want to engage their readers more fully and more directly than the practical style allows. Consequently, the Style Guide also makes many recommendations that are consistent with the classic style.
According to Pinker the guiding principals for people who write in the classic style are to be conversational and to give the reader a specific point of view.
The writer knows the truth before putting it into words; he is not using the occasion of writing to sort out what he thinks. Nor does the writer of classic prose have to argue for the truth; he just needs to present it. That is because the reader is competent and can recognize the truth when she sees it, as long as she is given an unobstructed view. The writer and the reader are equals, and the process of directing the reader’s gaze takes the form of a conversation.
The MailChimp Style Guide advocates for the classic style. It tells writers to be friendly, human, and familiar. It advises writers to be conversational.
It directs the reader’s gaze to a particular window on the world when it advises writers to “Focus your message, and create a hierarchy of information. Lead with the main point or the most important content.”
The MailChimp Content Style Guide provides useful advice. It goes well beyond explanations of the mechanics of online writing. The Style Guide also shows writers how to adopt the classic style, how to engage readers in a conversation and how to give them an unobstructed view.