As technical writers, we do tend to love a good style guide. It’s important to bring consistency to the presentation of help content. We don’t want customers to feel they’re reading content from different writers; we want them to feel like a friend is talking to them. For this to work well, we need style guides and we need teams to adopt them and use them appropriately.
In large organisations, videos appear chaotic
What I’ve seen happen in my organisation is whilst generally written content is written with some respect for company style (at the bare minimum an understanding of our corporate tone of voice), less rigour applies when creating video content.
Video content is produced from marketing and sales teams, as well as Support, and our in-product technical authors.
If we want our video content to feel like it’s originated from the same organisation, it would help if video style guide existed that could be readily adopted by these different groups.
Note: for the purposes of this article, I’m primarily referring to screen recording videos, but some of these principles apply to other video content as well.
What do you put in a video style guide?
It’s tempting to just jump into a video recording and ‘wing it’. If we’re aiming for a high production level and a consistent feel, that won’t cut it. I’ve seen that in areas like marketing and support, there’s a tendency for creators to record themselves ad hoc: basically, making it up as they go along. And this is tempting, especially for support teams who are threatened with failing to meet KPIs to just get some new content out there to solve the problem.
Don’t wing it. Ever.
In your pre-recording section, outline the following:
- Planning – Understanding what the objectives of this particular video is and who the audience is.
- Script – Outline why scripts are important and if there are any preferred script templates to use. You might also want to set up a shared location which the rest of your organisation can search through. Scripts can save you time as you can get them reviewed before wasting time recording video, and will help when producing captions or translations.
- Prepare example data – If you’re using customer data, it’s got to be anonymized, and any backups you have of the original must only be kept under GDPR guidance. Keeping a backup of example data will help you if you need to rerecord any sections.
- Test runs – Running through the script before recording can help you check you’ve not missed anything and will highlight any pain points you’ll need to address later (like if new windows open in unexpected places or processes take uncomfortably long to complete).
- Computer settings – Decide what your resolutions should be. If your computer desktop is ever going to be seen, decide whether this needs to be the bare bones corporate look or something else. Do you want your customers to be distracted with your desktop icons or installed programs appearing on your taskbar?
The audio experience is also part of your brand. What might sound good enough to you over your PC speakers, might sound terrible when listening back over high quality headphones.
In our style guide, I outline:
- The recording equipment I use (a Yeti blue and a pop stand)
- The settings I use in Audacity (we record audio and video separately and join them together later)
- The techniques I use to clean up the audio. This is the main reason I record audio separately in Audacity as the tools available to do this are great. If you use mess with the compressor settings and bass and treble, identify what settings you use. Tip: cleaning up the breath noises between utterances is great, but avoid using the ‘silent’ tool. Listening to a track on headphones where the silent tool has been used is more jarring than it should be.
There are plenty of tips for how to improve audio but you don’t want to get too technical for fear of putting people off using your guide.
If you’re using a specific recording tool, it will help to outline the various settings you use. If possible, consider creating a project template that other creators can use.
Things to consider when discussing your recording tool:
- The screen resolution used for recording and for editing and producing. You should be aiming to be consistent across these three to avoid your tool having to scale. It’s worth considering how your audience is going to consume your video, so whilst a massive resolution might look good on a full sized computer monitor, it might make it impossible to make out the necessary detail on a mobile phone. It’s worth testing different resolutions and target devices and include your recommendations here.
- Editing – With tools like Camtasia, it can be very tempting to include ALL THE THINGS. There are so many pretty transitions and callouts. Not to mention the pan and zoom! Including more than a handful in a video is going to look messy. It would be better to choose a handful of simple transitions and callouts and use those. You’ll need to mention the settings for these in your style guide lest everyone ends up using different colours, speeds etc.
How to get buy in
Depending on your authority as a content creator and the size of your organisation this is going to vary considerably. My take on this has been to incrementally share the video style guide with wider and wider groups. You need to demonstrate the value in having a guide and there’s no better way to do this than to share examples of the finished product. You’ll want multiple videos, using the very same style guide behind it to demonstrate consistency.
Once others see how good you can make your videos, they’ll start coming to you for advice on how to do it.