Content with the Technical: An Obvious Resource for Style . . .Guides

When it comes to style, the first place we should all turn towards is a technical writing blog. This is a given, right? Well, maybe we should start by defining the scope of our style– maybe even dropping the “style” bit and getting down to the business of style guides… nah, tech writers are known for their fashion sense, I tell you!

So, a style guide is the absolute most important thing for a writer to consult when producing their first drafts for any project– from forward facing copy content to the detailed reports on new research material– the guide will clearly outline the means in which you are (as the writer) allowed to communicate this information. It is important to treat style guides as a puzzle of sorts. The guide outlines the rules of the document: PoV, copyright tags, use of pronouns, conversational tone, word count, etc. Utilizing these rules produces the unique “form” that the project demands.

Today, we will look through a posted style guide that Amazon published for their new vendors. This material is designed to help new vendors produce acceptable content for their website.

I’d like to take a quick moment to talk about some of the pitfalls commonly found in marketing teams attempting to produce their own unique style guides. First and foremost, a new style guide NEEDS to stress test what is acceptable content. If the style guide gives an example for five bullet points for a product, the examples MUST be acceptable entries.

Anyhow, we should move on to the meat of this post. Here is one of Amazon’s style guides available through a simple Google search. If you scroll down to page four, you’ll find a cleaner version of the chart below.

DoDo Not
Capitalize the first letter of each word
Keep it short, but include critical
50 characters maximum
Note: Please include only standard text.
Type 1 High ASCII characters (®, ©, ™, etc.) or other special characters are not supported
Do not include price and quantity
Do not use ALL CAPS
Do not capitalize:
Conjunctions (and, or, for)
Articles (the, a, an)
Prepositions with fewer than five letters (in, on, over, with, etc.)
Do not include seller information
Do not include promotional messages such as “sale” or “free ship” (use the Promotion Manager tool to include messaging)
Do not use your seller name for Brand Manufacturer information, unless your product is Private Label
Do not include symbols in your listings (such as ! * $ ?)
Do not include subjective commentary such as Hot Item or Best Seller
(Amazon 4).

This information concerns the “title” section of your product posting. The chart appears pretty self-explanatory, but let’s take a few moments to examine some of the more nuanced sections. The note, “keep it short, but include critical information” showcases the demand for economical writing– remember, with attention spans being what they are today, each letter is expensive. Try to say as much as you can in as few words as possible. It sounds cliche, of course, but this is how/where polished writing is created. A good rule-of-thumb that I use is to always OVERWRITE because it is easier to cut things away than add them later.

If any sculptors are reading, they will surely agree!

Turning to the “Do Not” side of the chart, the note “Do not include promotional messages,” demonstrates an additional note for the “critical information” we looked at before. Empty messages like “sale” and “free shipping” are exactly that… empty. They fail to add any specific product information to the listing. Free shipping can only represent an aspect of supply lines and delivery services, that doesn’t tell me anything salient about the product itself. Sell the product first.

Next week we will crest the hilltop for effectively using style guides to produce copy content and look into some of the technical aspects for creating your own style guides. I will also talk a bit about ‘when and where’ it’s REQUIRED to implement them.

As always, if you are enjoying the content so far, please consider leaving your email address (in the box on the previous page) to automatically receive my weekly posts, share this with your friends, and comment with your questions, concerns, rage, and unfettered love!

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Published by Jeffrey Graessley

Jeffrey Graessley is an R&D technical writer, poet and blogger (right here) @ Content with the Technical! Subscribe for weekly updates every Sunday morning!

3 thoughts on “Content with the Technical: An Obvious Resource for Style . . .Guides

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