3 ways to write a how to guide

Technical writers create different types of documentation, for example, user manuals, API documentation, ‘How to’ guides and so on. I wrote an article on how to write a user manual, so today I’ll tell you about creating a ‘How to’ guide.

When you get a task to create a guide your first step should be planning. Here is what you should do:

Understand your target audience

When you start writing your guide, you should clearly understand who your target audience is. What is their age, what is their background and so on. This will define the style of your ‘How to’ guide on the most fundamental level — the complexity of language used, the number of terms and many other characteristics.

Research on the process

I recommend that you read about other people’s experience in writing ‘how-to’ guides. It’ll help you get a clear image of future work, and you can integrate others’ approaches into your working process. For example, I wrote about Amrute Ranade’s technical writing process, you can read the article here: ‘Great Technical Writing Process’. So, you can also use this method to ease your technical writing.

Gather useful materials

Before you start writing, collect material and information that will help you write a ‘how-to’ guide. It can be additional information on a product, other ‘how-to’ guides on similar products or something else.

First of all, create a plan — it will be easier to write a guide if you visualize it. After all these preparations, it’s high time to start writing. While creating a guide, you should keep in mind the following tips:

  • Write in plain English to speak the same language as your readers.
  • Your language should be always concise (e.g., ‘Select the option’ instead of ‘You should select the option’).
  • Create numbered lists to structure steps if a user needs to complete them
  • Add visual content like photos, screenshots, and diagrams.
  • Break content up into headed sections but write them clearly
  • If you want to use jokes, be careful: people may not understand you
  • Add mini-TOCs to make big topics more readable.

The most essential tip is the following — spelling and grammar mistakes are unacceptable in the documentation, so thoroughly check your guide. Here is a list of Top Free Grammar Checkers. Also, you can ask someone else to proofread for you, or read your own steps in reverse to be sure that your writing is clear and simple. Here are a couple of other resources to write great documentation:

Of course, that’s not everything there is to know about writing ‘How to’ guides, but these tips are the most essential, to my mind. I hope they help you.

How to use Typecase (Content Publisher) to describe a step-by-step process or provide technical instructions on the website.

  • Guide
  • View more guides in Digital Marketing & Communications

Create a ‘How to’ Guide:

  • to outline a step-by-step process which the user has to follow in order to complete a task
  • to give the user technical instructions for using a piece of software or technology

Don’t create a ‘How to’ Guide:

  • if you are listing information in no particular order which is better captured by a bulleted list

Before you create a new piece of content, search the website to see if it already exists and talk to other people who could be responsible for it. We do not want to duplicate content on the website as this can be confusing for users.

Other essential guidance you need

For assistance in naming your ‘How to’ Guide, choosing the right Guide type, and writing your Guide summary, see Creating a Guide.

When explaining a detailed process in which your user has to follow step-by-step instructions, it is important the structure and writing are clear and easy to follow.

Write directly to the user

Start each step with a verb where possible. This helps make your instructions clear and concise, and ensures you use an active voice, for example:

  1. Log in to Agresso using your username and password.
  2. Select ‘Enter and Expense Claim (Staff)’ or ‘Enter and Expense Claim (Student)’.
  3. Enter your information into the form.

Use the word ‘select’ rather than ‘click’ for accessibility purposes and for mobile devices users who will not be using a mouse.

Use numbered lists

Identify the logical order in which the user needs to carry out the steps to complete the task, then present this as a numbered list.

Label different stages with headings

If the overall process has different stages, divide them into multiple sections with subheadings. See our formatting guide for how to create headings.

Do not number your subheadings or you might end up with nested numbered lists. If a process is split across various stages restart the number sequence after each subheading.

Using visual media

Use visual media, such as images and videos, to support your written content, not as a substitute for it. Also remember you must include detailed and meaningful titles and alt text with your images and videos, and that all videos should have subtitles available.

Things to remember when writing your ‘How to’ Guide

  • write concise phrases (‘Select the option’, not ‘You should select the option’ or ‘The student should select the option’)
  • write in plain English to make your content as understandable as possible
  • structure your steps in the order the user will need to complete them
  • break content up into headed sections, using numbered lists to structure the content
  • make sure your headings follow the same principles as when writing the title
  • make it absolutely clear when an action is required by the user (‘You must contact Student Services’ rather than ‘Contact Student Services’, ‘You must complete a form’ rather than ‘Complete a form’)
  • use visual media such as screenshots or videos without supplying the same information in written form for users with screenreaders
  • use icons (such as the Windows Explorer symbol) unless the context makes is clear for users with screenreaders what they have to select
  • use the greater than symbol > to direct the user to the next step
  • use generic headings (‘Further information’)
  • use needless headings (‘Introduction’ as users don’t want an introduction, they want the most important information)
  • structure your content as FAQs – you won’t need them if your content is concise, well-structured and written in sequential order

Resources to help you write your Guide

The University’s style guide will help you make sure you’re using the same terminology, style and tone as the rest of the website. This is important so that website users can understand us easily through the consistency of our content.

Our formatting guide will help you create appropriate headers, links, lists and other formatting for your page. This is important because it makes the information we provide clearer to website users.

3 ways to write a how to guide

3 ways to write a how to guideAlready investing in content marketing? A really useful how-to guide can help you create brand awareness, generate leads and demonstrate the depth of your expertise.

You don’t have to look far for examples of successful how-to guides: for example, Hubspot’s “How to use Twitter for Business” guide helped generate a 150% increase in sales while also lowering their cost per lead by 46%. This blog will show you how to write, design and promote your guide for best results.

What topic to write about

Choosing the right topic is crucial for ensuring your how-to guide is a success. The best topic for your guide will likely be determined by your:

  1. Primary goal for the guide
  2. Area of expertise
  3. Target audience

Ideally, choose a topic which helps achieve your content marketing goals, is of interest to your target audience and is your main area of expertise. Try not to deviate too far from the areas your business has expertise in, as this will weaken the credibility of the guide.
For example, if you were an accountant specialising in startups, hoping to reach more new businesses, you might write a guide such as “How to manage cash flow for your start up” or “How to raise capital for your start up”.
When you have developed some subject ideas, check to see if they have been covered before. While it’s ok to do a guide on the same or similar subject as your competitors, try to offer something new, whether this is a new angle or a more in-depth look at part of the topic.
Refine your topic by tapping into current trends. Use a tool like Google Trends to find out what terms people are currently searching for and adjust your language and title accordingly.

How to write your how-to guide

Once you’ve decided on your topic, it’s time to start planning, researching and eventually, writing.

Before you start writing

  • Plan what information you want to include in your guide. The more you plan out your content and structure, the faster progress you will make when you actually start writing your guide.
  • Prepare your research — in order to write a convincing guide you will want to back up your points with cited statistics, expert opinion and case studies.
  • Decide on your structure. Try to structure your guide so that it flows well and put the information in a logical order.
  • Make a rough plan for how long your guide will be including word counts. Between 2,000 and 4,000 words will give you a guide that contains enough detail to be useful but can still be easily read in one sitting.

How to write your guide

Now you’ve done your research and planning, it’s time to start writing your guide. Keep in mind when writing:

  • Use language of your readers. Try not to use jargon if possible. Instead use plain English so that your guide will be easily understood – no one wants to wade through technical language.
  • Break up the content as much as possible. Use headings, sub-headings and box-outs to chunk up your guide into easy-to-digest snippets. It’s helpful to include a contents list so that people can skip to the section they’re interested in if needed.
  • Remember that your guide will most likely be read on a computer screen, so write using web copywriting best practice. But also check that your guide prints correctly for those who may want to read a paper copy.

After you have written your guide

  • Proof read carefully. You are demonstrating the expertise of your company so it’s important to carefully check your advice and ensure there’s no spelling or grammar mistakes.
  • Illustrate your points. Add interest throughout your guide with pictures and diagrams.
  • If you don’t have writing or design resource within your business consider working with a content marketing agency who can write, edit and illustrate the guide for you.
  • Create a plan for promoting your guide to your target audience – think about how to write teaser copy or provide links across multiple channels.

Accessing your guide

When your guide is ready to be published, you need to make a decision about access. You may want to “gate” access to your guide — in return for an email address, contact details or social media promotion.
Your goals for the content will help you decide the best way to provide access to your guide. For example if you are hoping to grow your email marketing list, then you should grant access to your guide in return for an email address.
If you decide to gate your content, then don’t add additional barriers that will stop people downloading your guide. Only ask for the information you need and nothing more. For example, don’t ask for a phone number if you just want to grow your email list.

5 common mistakes to avoid

Ready to get started? Make sure you don’t make any of these common mistakes.

  1. Too much text – break up and illustrate your content to make it more enjoyable to read.
  2. No value – reward those who take the effort to download and read your guide with detailed, quality content. Creating a guide that doesn’t contain any unique information will not win you any new customers.
  3. Too short — a guide needs to go into more depth than, for example, a blog post.
  4. Too salesy — don’t use a guide as a thinly disguised sales document. In order for it to be successful, it needs to provide genuine value to the customer, not just to your business.
  5. No promotion — there’s no point investing in creating a guide if you don’t promote it afterwards. And keep promoting it: think about adding a link for it within relevant future emails, etc.

Conclusion: Solve their problems

The most successful how-to guides solve a specific problem unique to your target audience. Instead of creating a guide focused on growing your business, focus on providing really useful information and you will become a valued source of expertise for your target audience.

To-Do lists have reportedly been around since the early twentieth century, when they were introduced as a way to improve productivity. The vast majority of people would probably admit to using them at least from time to time as a way of managing their workload and flow.

Somehow, though, some people seem to use them much more efficiently than others.

This page provides some advice to help improve your To-Do list writing, and ensure that your efficiency increases.

Why do To-Do Lists Help?

Tricking Your Brain

To-Do lists work for one main reason:

We tend to worry about things that we have left uncompleted

Our brains like things to be finished off and tidy, which means that we worry about things that need doing. That ought to mean that making a list of things to do makes us more worried, but it turns out that it actually tricks the brain into thinking that the task has been done.

In other words, writing things down on a to-do list means that you stop worrying, and actually have time to prioritise and then complete your tasks.

But this handy brain-trick is also the reason why some to-do lists don’t work: they are too long, or too hard, to complete, and we start worrying again. You need to be able to tick items off your to-do list or you will start to worry again.

Fortunately, there are some simple ways in which you can write to-do lists that help you to achieve more.

1. Have more than one list

If you are the kind of person that cannot remember things if they are not written down, then it is worth having two (or more) lists:

  • The ongoing list of ‘things that need doing at some stage, when I have time’, which can get as long as you like or need; and
  • The list of tasks that you need to complete within a defined period (today, or this week, for example), which needs to remain short and manageable.

Both of these are To-Do lists, of a sort, but with different purposes.

The first is a reminder of everything that needs doing at some stage. It is helpful if you can read everything on it at once, so keeping it to one page of a notebook or on screen is good.

The second is a way of prioritising and focusing your attention, so that you do the things that matter most when you have most energy.

The things from the first list—if they are important enough—should eventually make it onto the second list. If they turn out not to be important enough, then you can delete them.

2. Keep your daily or weekly lists manageable

Some people suggest that your daily list should contain no more than three items. Three to five is probably the optimum, because you are likely to be able to achieve that more often than not, but some people say aim for just one, and then anything more is a bonus.

Of course that does not mean that you cannot do more, if you have time. You can just look back at either your weekly list, or your ongoing list, and choose another task. It is, however, helpful to keep your ambitions manageable.

Too long a list can cause anxiety and even task paralysis, as you fret about whether you will have time to complete all your tasks, and how many things are left to do.

It is better to have a shorter list, and a feeling of accomplishment when it is complete.

3.Break tasks down into smaller steps, and be as precise as possible

One of the biggest problems with to-do lists is not being able to tick things off, because even when you do something, the task is still not finished. This leads to a sense of frustration, because you keep adding things to your list, but never ticking them off.

Research also shows that vague tasks make us more likely to procrastinate.

It is therefore important to be as precise as possible, and break tasks down into smaller steps, especially in your daily or weekly list.

You should also focus on the things that you need to do, rather than where someone else is currently responsible.

For example, instead of saying “Sort tax return”, break it down further. Start with “Gather together information needed for tax return”, then move on to “Check online access”, “Complete all personal information on tax return form”, and/or “Send information to accountant”. Because these are easier to manage, you are more likely to do them.

Keeping the overall end-point in mind

It is, of course, important to make sure that the overall target, for example, of submitting your tax return, does not get lost.

You can get round that by making sure that you write the next step on your overall list as you tick each previous step off.

4. Keep your list up to date

One of the most important tasks each day or week is to think about what you need to do in the next period. Taking time to plan, and particularly to review your overall list and make sure that you move jobs from there to your daily or weekly list as they become urgent, means that you will not forget to do anything on the overall list.

The time you take to do this need not be more than about five minutes each day, if that.

You should also check your overall list and remove anything that you realise that you have no intention of doing. This might be because you no longer want to do it, or because the time is past.

Make your list work for you

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that your list should work for you, not the other way round.

It is a tool, not your master.

The best way to learn to write a to-do list, in practice, is to try things out, and find out what works for you.

In this article, there are several examples showing various ways to write text to a file. The first two examples use static convenience methods on the System.IO.File class to write each element of any IEnumerable and a string to a text file. The third example shows how to add text to a file when you have to process each line individually as you write to the file. In the first three examples, you overwrite all existing content in the file. The final example shows how to append text to an existing file.

These examples all write string literals to files. If you want to format text written to a file, use the Format method or C# string interpolation feature.

Write a collection of strings to a file

The preceding source code example:

Instantiates a string array with three values.

  • Asynchronously creates a file name WriteLines.txt. If the file already exists, it is overwritten.
  • Writes the given lines to the file.
  • Closes the file, automatically flushing and disposing as needed.

Write one string to a file

The preceding source code example:

Instantiates a string given the assigned string literal.

  • Asynchronously creates a file name WriteText.txt. If the file already exists, it is overwritten.
  • Writes the given text to the file.
  • Closes the file, automatically flushing and disposing as needed.

Write selected strings from an array to a file

The preceding source code example:

  • Instantiates a string array with three values.
  • Instantiates a StreamWriter with a file path of WriteLines2.txt as a using declaration.
  • Iterates through all the lines.
  • Conditionally awaits a call to StreamWriter.WriteLineAsync(String), which writes the line to the file when the line doesn’t contain “Second” .

Append text to an existing file

The preceding source code example:

  • Instantiates a string array with three values.
  • Instantiates a StreamWriter with a file path of WriteLines2.txt as a using declaration, passing in true to append.
  • Awaits a call to StreamWriter.WriteLineAsync(String), which writes the string to the file as an appended line.


The following conditions may cause an exception:

  • InvalidOperationException: The file exists and is read-only.
  • PathTooLongException: The path name may be too long.
  • IOException: The disk may be full.

There are additional conditions that may cause exceptions when working with the file system, it is best to program defensively.

A memo, or memorandum, is a written document businesses use to communicate an announcement or notification. While memos were once the primary form of written internal communication in a business, they are now commonly sent in the form of an email.

In this article, learn more about how to write a memo with tips you can use to ensure your memos are clear, concise and effective.

What is a memo?

A memo is a short message that’s typically used to communicate official business policies and procedures within a company. Memos are usually meant as a mass communication to all members of an organization rather than a one-on-one personal message.

When you should write a memo

For the most part, the purpose of writing a memo is to inform. However, memos can occasionally include a call to action or a persuasive element.

A few examples of when a memo might be useful include:

  • Informing employees about company policy or process changes
  • Providing an update on key projects or goals
  • When making an announcement about the company, such as an employee promotion or new hire
  • To remind employees about a task that needs to be completed
  • To make a request of all employees
  • When you’re communicating a message that employees will refer to more than once, such as a detailed proposal or recommendation

Memos are also an efficient way to communicate brief but important messages to a wide audience within the business. This can include product changes, meeting schedules, procedure changes, policy additions, summaries of agreement terms and reminders. Additionally, you can send a memo when you want your audience to print or save the information contained in the message in some way for later reference.

Types of memos

There are a few main types of memos you can write depending on your needs and the content of your message. Below are some of the most common types of memos.

  • Report memo: Typically sent to give an update or progress report.
  • Request memo: Submitted as a request to a certain person or team. Persuasive language works well in request memos.
  • Confirmation memo: Written to confirm an agreement made between two parties.
  • Suggestive memo: Usually sent by management requesting input from employees on how to solve a certain problem.

How to write a memo

While each memo should be written to address its unique needs, there are a few steps you can follow to create a clear, highly readable document. Like many other professional business documents, memos will include an introduction, body and conclusion.

Start with a header that clearly indicates that the communication is a memorandum, the intended recipients, the sender, the date and the subject.

Write an introduction that uses a declarative sentence to announce the main topic of the memo.

Include a body paragraph with discussion points that elaborate or list the main ideas associated with the memo’s topic. To make your memo easier to read, write in short paragraphs and break the information into smaller, more manageable chunks. Since the recipients will likely be scanning the memo, you should also use subheadings and bulleted lists when possible.

Conclude your memo with any remaining information following the body paragraph. This is a summary of the memo and should clearly inform the reader of any actions required.

Close with your name, email address and phone number in case anyone needs to contact you.

If your intended recipients will need to refer to other information, such as a graph, image or chart, you can include it as an attachment below the end of your memo.

Tips for writing an effective memo

Here are several tips to consider to improve your memo:

Always consider your audience when writing a memo. While an acronym or abbreviation might be commonly used in the marketing department, it could be unknown to the IT department. If you’re writing a memo for the entire company, use clear and concise language accessible to everyone.

Use professional language and tone. When sending a company-wide, you are speaking for the organization. Use business formal language with easy-to-understand words and concepts.

Write a subject that is straightforward and clear. For example, if you need to send out a memo announcing the observance of a holiday, include the name and date of the holiday in your subject line. Send your memo at least a week before the event or due date so people have time to adjust their plans accordingly.

Memo template

The following is a sample memo you can use as a guide for your next document:

To: Names of intended recipients
From: Your Name, Title
Date: Month Day, Year

Subject: Subject of the memo

Begin the memo with a sentence that describes the reason you are writing. It should be very short—about one or two sentences in length. The introduction should clearly state the purpose of the memo so the reader immediately understands what it is about. If the memo is meant to respond or follow up on a certain topic or situation, include that in the first paragraph.

  • Bullet point to list important information.
  • Bullet point to list important information.
  • Bullet point to list important information.

Use the last few sentences to conclude your memo. Make sure you include a request for any action you need people to take after reading your memo.

Thank you,
[ Your name ]
[ Your email address ]
[ Your phone number ]

Attachment: Attachment of image, graph or chart that your intended recipients might need.

Memos are an important form of communication within a company. Now that you understand the memorandum definition and you have some clear tips on how to write a memo, you can create memos that will effectively communicate what you need people to know.

Check out these tips to create a study guide that will give you a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the material on your next exam.

Creating a study guide is one of the best ways to prepare for an exam and improve your test results. In fact, a study by Stanford researchers found that applying a strategic approach to studying helped college students improve their exam scores by an average of one-third of a letter grade.

Your study guide is more than just a collection of your notes from class. It’s a personal study tool, customized to fit your unique learning style and studying routine.

Check out these tips to create a study guide that will give you a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the material on your next exam.

1. Start by organizing your notes

You’ll want to organize the information in your study guide in a way that makes sense to you. The most common type of study guide is called a “summary sheet.” To create a summary sheet, you will organize your notes conceptually.

  • Step 1: Divide your paper into two columns, with the right column having significantly more space than the left column.
  • Step 2: On the right side of your paper, list the most important concepts or terms from each chapter or lesson that will be covered on the test. Underneath each item, provide a summary or description. You can also include examples from the text that will help you remember the material.
  • Step 3: On the left side of your paper, write cue questions that correspond to the information on the right. Then, cover up the right side of the paper and see if you can answer the questions on the left.

3 ways to write a how to guide

The summary sheet method forces you to review your notes as you transcribe them into your study guide, making it more likely that you’ll remember the information later. By quizzing yourself on the questions in the left column, you can determine which concepts and terms you need to review further.

There are several other ways to organize a study guide and the best method will depend on the content you’re studying. For example, if you’re creating a study guide for an upcoming history exam, ordering your notes chronologically and creating a timeline of events will help you understand the historical context behind the information.

These study guides look similar to notes taken using the Cornell method.

2. Practice essay questions

You can prepare yourself for possible essay questions by practicing answers to them beforehand. That way, in case a similar question comes up on the exam, you’ll have a well thought-out answer ready to go. You can try to anticipate what these questions might be using past exams or quizzes, or you can copy the review questions from the textbook, which are often at the end of every chapter. While memorizing the material is one benefit of using a study guide, practicing essay questions will help you make sure you can apply your knowledge in a written response.

3. Make a vocabulary section

If there is a vocabulary section on the exam, dedicate a portion of your study guide to key terms and definitions. Even if there’s not a vocabulary section on the exam, it’s still important to know key terms for when they appear in the context of a question. Knowing your vocabulary will help you feel more comfortable using important terms in your essay responses, which shows your instructor that you have a strong grasp on the exam material.

Concept maps are a great way to study vocabulary, especially if you are a visual learner. To create a concept map, draw a shape around key terms and then draw lines to establish its relationship with other words or concepts.

3 ways to write a how to guide

Visual example would be good here Visually mapping out the relationships between different vocabulary words not only helps you remember definitions, it also helps you establish important connections between key terms and concepts.

4. Handwrite it – don’t type it

It may not seem like a big deal, but it’s critical that you handwrite your study guide as opposed to creating it on a computer. While it’s often easier and faster to type something up, writing by hand requires you to slow down and think about the information you are transcribing. This gives you the added benefit of actually absorbing the information you need to study while you are in the process of creating your guide. If you do need to type out your study guide for whatever reason, it’s recommended that you print it out after you are finished. Reading a document on your computer screen won’t help you retain information and you’ll be prone to more distractions from the internet, such as social media notifications or emails.

5. Make it personal

One of the biggest benefits of creating your own study guide is that you can tailor it to fit your learning style. Most people fall within five different types of leaning styles: visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic. As a result, two students studying for the same test might have very different study guides.

As an example, reading/writing learners may benefit from creating a more traditional study guide, such as the summary sheet, and repeatedly rewriting the material. Visual learners will benefit more from color-coding and creating concept maps in order to create meaningful connections between key concepts.

Studying for exams can seem intimidating, but with the right approach, you can increase your chances of success. Creating a personalized study guide will help you review the information in a way that is most helpful to you and can help you improve your test scores as a result.

These quick, one-time-only exercises can teach us about ourselves and what we want—and how we can tell our story. The bonus? You might just end up with a book.

By Leigh Newman

1. Your 3-Sentence Life Story

What to write: Try to summarize your life in two or three sentences. Take your time. Think about your past. “But mostly think about who you are today and how you got that way,” says Roberta Temes, PhD, psychologist and author of How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days. “Maybe you want to focus on a certain relationship, maybe a certain theme. or maybe a feeling that has persisted for years.”

Consider these examples before putting pen to paper:

Loving mom who worked all the time, no dad. Never really got over lonely childhood.

Love my life, love my dog, love my kids. No room for a guy.

Finally sober. Exhausting journey. Many regrets.

Beautiful, close family. And then the accident.

Fears and phobias finally overcome, thanks to husband. Still not sure if I deserve him.

Why it helps: First off, if you want to write a memoir, this three-sentence description will form the structure of your book. In effect, it’s a supershort story of your life—a beginning, a middle and the now, if you will. Even if you have zero impulse to write another word, however, the exercise can show you how you view yourself, your past and your present, all of which can inform your future. Unless, of course, you change the narrative—a privilege granted to any writer.

2. Your Crucial Incident (or Incidents)

What to write: Choose one or more of the sentences below and write a page or two that begins with that particular sentence. Don’t worry about bringing up material that you are afraid might be too painful to explore, says Temes. “Please don’t bother with grammar or spelling or punctuation issues. “Just write for yourself and for your clarity of mind.”

Sentence 1: I was just a kid, but.

Sentence 2: I tried my best and.

Sentence 3: In that moment everything changed.

Sentence 4: It was shocking to find out that.

Sentence 5: It was the proudest day of my life. I couldn’t stop smiling when.

Why it helps: Sometimes we avoid the most obvious—and complicated—events that have happened to us, events that inform our whole life story. Let’s say your three-sentence exercise was Loving mom who worked all the time, no dad. Never really got over lonely childhood. Maybe you could try, “I was just a kid but. ” or “I tried my best but. ” Was there something else that happened that prevented you from getting over your lonely childhood? Did it happen when you were a child—or later? Did it involve parents? You don’t have to know the answers to these questions. Let the pre-written prompts guide you. “Don’t think and write,” says Temes. “Just write.”

3) Your Secret Why

What to write: Take a minute to think about the previous two exercises. Then, please finish this sentence; I’d like to really understand everything that led me to _______________.

Here are some examples (it’s okay to add an additional sentence or two):

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to marry Blake. He was so wrong for me and I don’t want to make another mistake.

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to choose architecture as my life’s work. Did it have to do with the way we lived when I was growing up?

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to become such a good mom, considering I had no role model.

I’d like to really understand everything that led me to never get along with my step-mother. Now that she’s gone I realize what a good person she was and how she tried to have a relationship with me.

Why it helps: There’s no need to do the actual examination and investigation now. Instead, just focus on identifying what it is you might delve into someday—in a memoir or in the pages of a journal or just in your mind. What truth is important for you to get at? You have a structure (your three sentences), you have a crucial event (that may have caused or contributed to that life story) and now you have a purpose—a reason for writing that will let you learn, enjoy and even be surprised by the story you’ve been waiting to tell yourself and—maybe, just maybe, the world, as well.

Roberta Temes, PhD, is the author of
How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days, which includes other exercises like these.

In publishing and media companies, use of a style guide is the norm. However, style guides can also be useful for any organization that prepares documents for clients and the public. This article is for organizations outside of the publishing industry who can benefit from the introduction of a style guide.

A style guide is a reference point that sets standards for writing documents within your organization. The focus of the style guide is not usually a matter of ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ grammar or style but, rather, it provides guidance for instances when many possibilities exist.

Style guides offer you the chance to present your brand in a consistent way. They help to ensure that multiple authors use one tone. And they help save time and resources by providing an instant answer when questions arise about preferred style.

Build and Maintain Your Style Guide Automatically Right From Microsoft Word

We recommend PerfectIt for Word, which can help to ensure that text is consistent and style guides are codified within MS Word automatically. It has a free 14 trial you can download here. There are free user guides which show how you can customize these tools and share style sheets among colleagues so that all documents in your organization are checked the same way.

The Rest of This Article is Structured as Follows:

How Your Guide Will Be Read (aka ‘The Facts of Life’)

To write an effective style guide, it is important to keep in mind that most people in your company will barely read it. A keen new recruit may read all the way through. But for most people, the style guide is there as a resource. It is there to answer questions and settle arguments. So it’s important that the structure be clear, and a table of contents is the first thing that readers find.

“Remember that style guides are references, consulted when a question or problem arises, rather than books to be read as a training tool.” — Jean Hollis Weber, Developing a Departmental Style Guide

Making Use of Existing Style Guides

How do you decide what belongs in your style guide? Good industry-wide style guides are often hundreds of pages long. So the easiest way to write your style guide is to select one that covers your sector and then do not repeat anything that is in that guide. Instead, just note any additions or changes that apply to your organization.

How can you find out which style guide is right for your organization?

By using an external guide as the point of reference, you can focus your reader on the key things to remember in your organization.

The Most Important Things for Your Reader to Remember

In many cases, the purpose of the style guide is to ensure that documents conform to corporate style and branding. For example, does your organization abbreviate its name? If so, when and how is the abbreviated term used? Getting corporate style right is not just important for your own organization; key industry terms that can be presented in more than one way should also be included in the style guide. If your clients have a preferred style for their name, then these should be included too.

After corporate style and branding, often the next most important use of the style guide is to answer internal questions about presentation. Your style guide should make clear how authors present:

  • Headings (and how they are capitalized)
  • Lists (whether they are capitalized and how they are punctuated)
  • Numbers (when they should be spelled in full)
  • Rules for chapter, figure and table headings (including numbering)

Tools like PerfectIt for Word can help to ensure that such stylistic elements are consistent. What’s more, there are free user guides which show how you can customize PerfectIt and share its style sheets among colleagues so that all documents in your organization are checked the same way.

The key to determining what goes in the style guide is to find out how usage differs in your company. The best way to do that is to bring more people into the process of building the style guide. That process is reviewed below, but first this article looks at common mistakes in the preparation of style guides.

Things Not to Do

Almost everyone who writes has a pet peeve that he/she hates to see in print. Maybe you don’t like unnecessary use of quotation marks? Perhaps you can’t understand why grown-ups still don’t know the difference between ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? You’re right. But this is not the place for that. Whatever your bugbear is, you need to put it to one side and focus on the key message.

A good style guide is no more than four pages. Of course, some organizations may need it to be longer. However, outside of publishing, bear in mind that the goal is just to focus on points of style where there is no right answer but where one usage is preferred by the organization. A style guide is not the place to teach your colleagues things that they should already know.

A style guide is also not a design guide. You should have in place templates that automate indentation, typefaces and styles within Word (if you do not have these already, email us for a recommendation at [email protected]). Graphics formats, logo presentation and other issues that relate to appearance also belong elsewhere.

If there are rules in your company about signing off on documents or procedures for checking and releasing then leave these out. Equally, instructions on using Word do not belong here. Reminding authors to use a spell check before passing on their document is not consistent with how a style guide will be read and is a sure-fire way to deter people from using it.

The Evolution of a Good Style Guide

The best way to make sure that nobody uses your style guide is to write it and then tell everyone else to obey it. The purpose of a style guide is to make sure that multiple authors write in a clear and unified way that reflects the corporate style. So it’s best to bring other authors into the process as soon as possible. Run the draft past a select group of people and ask for comments. When the final version goes out, ask for feedback. If you have a company portal, set up a forum for users to discuss the guide. Plan on making revisions in light of feedback and the style guide will become something in which all interested parties can participate.


The key to a good style guide is brevity. Authors use a style guide as a resource, so it should be written as one. A style guide also does not sit on its own. It should be accompanied by a guide that is specific to your industry, separate guides for design and process issues, and tools like PerfectIt to ensure that corporate style is actually adopted.