I’m happy to share the MailChimp Style Guide. It’s completely public and available under a Creative Commons license so other organizations can use and adapt it however they like. I wrote about it at the MailChimp blog, but I’d like to go into a little more detail about the process and context.
Content style guides are usually booooring, but they’re important. This is the third style guide I’ve worked on for MailChimp (not counting Voice and Tone). The first one was an overwritten PDF that collected dust on my desktop. Nobody else used it. The second was an internal guide that we wrote to supplement a combination of traditional style guides. Parts were helpful, but our publishing process was broken. Different teams had conflicting standards, and writers didn’t know where to go with questions. This new guide is designed to fix all of that and stand alone as the company’s house style guide.
It covers basic style and grammar points, but since we were writing our own rules, we had the flexibility to add sections and guidelines that made sense for us. We also break a lot of rules (thoughtfully). Some of my favorite parts are the Writing About People section, which helps us write with compassion and respect, and the Word List, which we reference all the time. I also love the Writing Legal Content section, and our legal team is already using it in their day-to-day. The Writing Goals and Principles apply to any kind of web content. And within the Resources, our Copy Patterns are a quick reference for marketing and UX designers when they're working on things like buttons and forms. The TL;DR section was fun to compile, too.
Making a style guide is a team effort. By the time we published ours, I realized I had assembled an informal “style committee” of contributors and reviewers. It included a few writers and editors, a technical writer, a content strategist, an internationalization strategist, an accessibility expert, a lawyer, and of course an amazing designer and developer. Working with a team means there are style guide advocates in different departments around the office. We all have a stake in it.
The best thing about the MailChimp Style Guide is that it’s public and available for other companies to use. This was important to me, because I know how hard it is to create a useful style guide. It takes a lot of time and resources, and there aren’t many flexible style guides out there for web companies. If I had found one that worked perfectly for us, we would have used it. So we created the style guide we needed, and then we opened it up for others to use.
Our style guide won't make sense for every company, but I hope bits and pieces will be useful for many different types of teams. There are two ways I envision other organizations using the MailChimp Style Guide:
1. Reference it as needed. If you’re small enough that you don’t need an official style guide, ours may be helpful when you’re writing and making editorial decisions. You could also use it as a reference and create a supplemental guide (on GitHub or a Google doc, wiki, or web page) that includes exceptions, additions, and guidelines specific to your company.
2. Adapt it! We encourage other companies to fork the guide. Remove sections that don’t apply to you, add new sections and guidelines, and make it your own. This is a solid shortcut to a custom style guide for your organization.
Here’s the MailChimp Style Guide on GitHub. It’s a living document that will adapt and evolve over time. I had fun working on it, and I can’t wait to see how it’s used within our company and out in the wild.