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Course planning - Set the style
Course planning - Set the style

How using a style guide can really make a difference for your learners and also save you time as an author.

Caitlin Foran avatar
Written by Caitlin Foran
Updated over a week ago

How does this text look?

Think about what your eyes are doing when they read this page... and your initial 'thoughts' when you first landed on the page.

Do you think it looks REALLY GREAT?!!

OR, perhaps the mish-mash of "styles" really makes you unsure where your focus should be?

This is why style guides are so useful.

What is a style guide?

A style guide is a set of rules for the way your courses should be presented for both visual and text elements.

For this article we're focussing on a text style guide (often callled an editorial style guide). Rules in a text style guide are things like how you should use headings, bullets, what style to use to emphasise particular text, whether you're allowed to use contractions and so on. 

Do I need a style guide?

Most brands and companies have a "style guide" to ensure their look and feel is consistent across imagery and text. Setting a style guide for your courses is one of the simplest things you can do to make sure your courses look professional. Small inconsistencies in spelling, formatting or tone may not seem like a big deal. But you can see from the example above that they can clutter and confuse - detracting from the learning. 

Plus, when you have a style guide, you don't waste time thinking about whether you should capitalise or not. You've got a rule. Added up over hundreds or even thousands of small decisions over a course, it makes a difference. So having a style guide can be a big time saver.

Where can I find one?

We really love mailchimp's style guide. It's clear, easy to navigate and easy to follow. Plus the tone they recommend is friendly and direct - perfect for learning.

The sections that are particularly useful for your designing courses are: 

Making it your own

Mailchimp provides a great base, but your context will be different to mailchimp's. Once you have your base, bring in the style questions that will crop up repeatedly in your courses. 

  • Which decisions have to be made over and over again? 

  • Which terms cause pop up over and over again in the courses? 

  • What tone of voice are you aiming for? 

  • How do you want your learners to feel? 

  • How can this be reflected in your writing choices? 

Gather examples to answer (and illustrate) all these points as part of your style guide.

Making sure it's used

The last step is to make sure people a) know the style guide exists and b) follow it. A good way to do this is to bring people into the process. Ask people for their thoughts and help them get some buy in. Then, have the style guide as part of your review checklist when developing a course.

Style guides = clean, professional courses. Get a style agreed (and recorded) early on to save time throughout development.

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