Analysing 4 university content style guides

Analysing 4 university content style guides

5 minute read

Analysing 4 university content style guides

5 minute read

Analysing 4 university content style guides

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

Brand consistency is key to gaining a competitive edge, loyalty and credibility in higher ed. But this is often difficult to achieve with content, particularly across multiple channels and formats with lots of contributors.

That’s why having an in-house style guide for your university can help. But what goes into the perfect content style guide? What should you avoid? How do you make sure your style guide gets used?

When searching online, I came across plenty of style guides that were lengthy, dry documents with walls of text, big A-Zs and nothing else, or 120-page bullet-point lists that seem to never end.

Style guides have a lot of elements to them - you have to think about writing style, tone of voice, design, logos etc. But people are not going to read the type of style guide I mentioned above, let alone stick to it!

In this article, I'll briefly deconstruct some examples of useful, useable style guides in higher education. You can use these for inspiration to create or improve an existing style guide.

1. University of Leeds

A screenshot showing some pages from the University of Leeds content style guide. Page one has the heading 'Write: tone of voice guidelines'. Page two says in a large font, 'Writing is thinking on paper.' Page three shows the table of contents for the style guide.

The University of Leeds have an identity, tone of voice and style guidelines section on their website, which is split into key areas including:

There’s such a strong sense of branding and personality, even from a first glance. They are all very visual, bold, eye-catching guidelines of no more than 20 pages that read almost like a presentation slide deck.

Many style guides may have their 'big idea' buried somewhere in the document. But this is quite striking. What's nice is they really go into detail about the background of the brand, to give context to writing style and design. If you give people a reason to get excited about your brand in your style guide, they are more likely to follow it.

An image showing a page from the University of Leeds content style guide. This page uses text to share their big idea. Their big idea is: we provoke a collaborative approach to knowledge to make a positive impact on individuals and on society. The page shares the big idea and then breaks it down into separate elements by discussing indiviudal words such as 'we', 'provoke' and 'society'.

It's clear a lot of effort has gone into making these visually appealing, and it pays off. There’s a great use of bold headings to break the text up, lots of colour, quotes from famous writers to motivate people, examples, icons and active verbs. The design makes them easy to digest and helps people skim through initially, then get to the part they need.

2. University of Georgia

The University of Georgia has a brand style guide that knows what it wants to say, and how it wants to say it. It has a great front page that is simple, and easy to navigate for different teams.


A screenshot of part of the content style guide from the University of Georgia. This page has the heading: 'Our brand is how we tell our story.' and includes a table of content.

They use tables, layout and structure to show information clearly.

In their writing style guide, for example, they’ve got a general guidelines summary which is easy-to-read with pithy statements to help writers. A good style guide finds and sticks to a common language, and knows its audience in order to help writers know their audience.

This image shows a section of the brand style guide for the University of Georgia. It lists some general guidelines such as know your audience, make it personal, focus on one thing, avoid jargon, and give the reader something to do.


3. University of Oxford

Next up, the University of Oxford. This is a really nice one. Alongside their full style guide they’ve also included a quick one-page A-Z style guide for those just needing an overview.

There can be a lot to include in a style guide, so it's easy for information to get lost and disordered. Not for Oxford. This contents page is one-page, wide, with links to each section, and there’s an introduction talking about values and objectives. This is an excellent example of easing people into a potentially dense and difficult document.

A screenshot from the style guide for the University of Oxford. This image shows the content page which includes sections such as capitalisation, punctuation, names and titles, word usage and spelling, and abbreviations, contractions and acronyms.

What I like about this style guide is they’ve included green and red icons for “do’s and don’ts”. This is great because often with house style, there’s a fine line between what is on-brand and what isn’t, and it’s sometimes difficult to know where this line is without specific examples.


Another page of the style guide for the University of Oxford. This page is about abbreviations, contractions and acronyms. The page shows different correct examples for each of these elements. They have written the examples out next to a green check mark. An example of a correct abbreviation included is Medical Sciences being abbreviated to Med Sci.

4. University of Dundee

A screenshot of the University of Dundee content style guide. This is an online guide and the image is the main page with content style guide as the main heading and navigation items such as content principles, voice and tone, writing guidelines and reference manual.

What’s great about this style guide is it’s online. Having your style guide on your website or in an active document means that can be edited, contributed to and updated easily to reflect your brand as it grows.

A sign of a well-written style guide is that you’ve communicated all the key points succinctly, with minimal fuss. The University of Dundee understands this. Their style guide is responsive, simple and has a clean design.  And, most of their style guide sections are kept to less-than-a-page long:

At first you begin to wonder how they’ve crammed everything in. But, what is unique and genuinely useful about Dundee’s style guide is their Searchable Reference Manual. This search bar allows writers to find things such as ‘date format’ or ‘abbreviations.’ Meaning the nitty-gritty bits of a style guide that are usually buried halfway down a huge document are now easy to access.

An image showing the reference manual section of the online content style guide for the University of Dundee. It simply shows the search bar for the guide.

GatherContent has also written an article in our Anatomy of a Content Style Guide series on the University of Dundee, which looks at their style guide in-depth, and how they created it.

How GatherContent can help you implement your style guide

GatherContent is a content operations platform that helps universities and colleges plan, create and manage content at scale. You can embed your style guide and content templates into the editing environment. This means people can stick to your style easily, and you’ll have consistent, high-quality content that is on-brand and meets audience needs.  

If you need help creating your content style guide, we have a great article on the process to develop it and our ultimate guide to tone of voice so you can plan guidelines in your team. To find out how GatherContent can help your university, head to our Higher Education page.

Brand consistency is key to gaining a competitive edge, loyalty and credibility in higher ed. But this is often difficult to achieve with content, particularly across multiple channels and formats with lots of contributors.

That’s why having an in-house style guide for your university can help. But what goes into the perfect content style guide? What should you avoid? How do you make sure your style guide gets used?

When searching online, I came across plenty of style guides that were lengthy, dry documents with walls of text, big A-Zs and nothing else, or 120-page bullet-point lists that seem to never end.

Style guides have a lot of elements to them - you have to think about writing style, tone of voice, design, logos etc. But people are not going to read the type of style guide I mentioned above, let alone stick to it!

In this article, I'll briefly deconstruct some examples of useful, useable style guides in higher education. You can use these for inspiration to create or improve an existing style guide.

1. University of Leeds

A screenshot showing some pages from the University of Leeds content style guide. Page one has the heading 'Write: tone of voice guidelines'. Page two says in a large font, 'Writing is thinking on paper.' Page three shows the table of contents for the style guide.

The University of Leeds have an identity, tone of voice and style guidelines section on their website, which is split into key areas including:

There’s such a strong sense of branding and personality, even from a first glance. They are all very visual, bold, eye-catching guidelines of no more than 20 pages that read almost like a presentation slide deck.

Many style guides may have their 'big idea' buried somewhere in the document. But this is quite striking. What's nice is they really go into detail about the background of the brand, to give context to writing style and design. If you give people a reason to get excited about your brand in your style guide, they are more likely to follow it.

An image showing a page from the University of Leeds content style guide. This page uses text to share their big idea. Their big idea is: we provoke a collaborative approach to knowledge to make a positive impact on individuals and on society. The page shares the big idea and then breaks it down into separate elements by discussing indiviudal words such as 'we', 'provoke' and 'society'.

It's clear a lot of effort has gone into making these visually appealing, and it pays off. There’s a great use of bold headings to break the text up, lots of colour, quotes from famous writers to motivate people, examples, icons and active verbs. The design makes them easy to digest and helps people skim through initially, then get to the part they need.

2. University of Georgia

The University of Georgia has a brand style guide that knows what it wants to say, and how it wants to say it. It has a great front page that is simple, and easy to navigate for different teams.


A screenshot of part of the content style guide from the University of Georgia. This page has the heading: 'Our brand is how we tell our story.' and includes a table of content.

They use tables, layout and structure to show information clearly.

In their writing style guide, for example, they’ve got a general guidelines summary which is easy-to-read with pithy statements to help writers. A good style guide finds and sticks to a common language, and knows its audience in order to help writers know their audience.

This image shows a section of the brand style guide for the University of Georgia. It lists some general guidelines such as know your audience, make it personal, focus on one thing, avoid jargon, and give the reader something to do.


3. University of Oxford

Next up, the University of Oxford. This is a really nice one. Alongside their full style guide they’ve also included a quick one-page A-Z style guide for those just needing an overview.

There can be a lot to include in a style guide, so it's easy for information to get lost and disordered. Not for Oxford. This contents page is one-page, wide, with links to each section, and there’s an introduction talking about values and objectives. This is an excellent example of easing people into a potentially dense and difficult document.

A screenshot from the style guide for the University of Oxford. This image shows the content page which includes sections such as capitalisation, punctuation, names and titles, word usage and spelling, and abbreviations, contractions and acronyms.

What I like about this style guide is they’ve included green and red icons for “do’s and don’ts”. This is great because often with house style, there’s a fine line between what is on-brand and what isn’t, and it’s sometimes difficult to know where this line is without specific examples.


Another page of the style guide for the University of Oxford. This page is about abbreviations, contractions and acronyms. The page shows different correct examples for each of these elements. They have written the examples out next to a green check mark. An example of a correct abbreviation included is Medical Sciences being abbreviated to Med Sci.

4. University of Dundee

A screenshot of the University of Dundee content style guide. This is an online guide and the image is the main page with content style guide as the main heading and navigation items such as content principles, voice and tone, writing guidelines and reference manual.

What’s great about this style guide is it’s online. Having your style guide on your website or in an active document means that can be edited, contributed to and updated easily to reflect your brand as it grows.

A sign of a well-written style guide is that you’ve communicated all the key points succinctly, with minimal fuss. The University of Dundee understands this. Their style guide is responsive, simple and has a clean design.  And, most of their style guide sections are kept to less-than-a-page long:

At first you begin to wonder how they’ve crammed everything in. But, what is unique and genuinely useful about Dundee’s style guide is their Searchable Reference Manual. This search bar allows writers to find things such as ‘date format’ or ‘abbreviations.’ Meaning the nitty-gritty bits of a style guide that are usually buried halfway down a huge document are now easy to access.

An image showing the reference manual section of the online content style guide for the University of Dundee. It simply shows the search bar for the guide.

GatherContent has also written an article in our Anatomy of a Content Style Guide series on the University of Dundee, which looks at their style guide in-depth, and how they created it.

How GatherContent can help you implement your style guide

GatherContent is a content operations platform that helps universities and colleges plan, create and manage content at scale. You can embed your style guide and content templates into the editing environment. This means people can stick to your style easily, and you’ll have consistent, high-quality content that is on-brand and meets audience needs.  

If you need help creating your content style guide, we have a great article on the process to develop it and our ultimate guide to tone of voice so you can plan guidelines in your team. To find out how GatherContent can help your university, head to our Higher Education page.

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About the author

Paige Toomes

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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