Content Style Guide
This guide was created for those of us that work at Once Upon and for our translators, but if it can inspire or help other marketing, content or UX teams out there then we’re all for it!
The reason we’ve jotted down this guide is to help us all to write clear, helpful and consistent texts and content throughout the whole company, across all teams and in all our channels. This guide includes basic grammar and writing rules, but also handy tips, including tips on when to break said rules. We’ve tried to capture Once Upons voice (spoiler alert: it’s mostly cheerful and warm) and tone in different situations. But, always remember, that these are guidelines and not rules per say, because you’re always free to challenge every single guideline. Honestly, we can’t wait to write and rewrite this document over and over again. It’s a living thing that can grow and adapt, just as we at Once Upon grow and adapt to our surroundings. That being said, the aim of the guide (in all its glory, as it is right now) is to provide you with something to lean on and guide you when writing all things Once Upon!
Writing guide and principles
With everything we write, from content to UX in the app, our aim is to:
Encourage. We want to inspire people to embrace all aspects of life (not just perfect moments) and help them to make the most of their memories by using Once Upon.
Empathize. Put yourself in the shoes of a once uponer. What do you think they’re feeling right now? Always be kind, inclusive and respectful. People want to be talked to, not talked at!
Be helpful. When writing, always ask yourself: Why am I writing this? Who is it for? What do they need to know? And how will this help them? Remember our once uponers don’t know Once Upon as well as you do, you’re here to help them.
Be friendly. Always remember you’re writing for people. It’s okay to break a few rules if it makes it easier to understand or relate to what you’re writing. We care, that’s why all our content is warm, friendly and fun!
Be relevant. What situation are you writing for? Write in a way that feels right for that situation. Adapt your tone, just like you would in any kind conversation with a person. Make sure it’s appropriate for what you’re writing about and who your content is for.
Voice and tone
So what is Once Upons voice and tone? Well, you could say that our voice is always the same, it’s always us speaking. But our tone can vary, depending on the situation. One way of looking at it is that Once Upon has several legs. The book and its design inspire people so that they too want the most of their digital memories and the app's job is to guide them and make it easy to succeed and finally get the job done! Once Upons personality and voice follow the user throughout their journey. The tone however can be turned up or down. Adapted to the user's and where they are on their journey. Sometimes encouraging, sometimes guiding and sometimes, when needed, also a tad pushy. But no matter our tone, our texts and content are always written in Once Upons voice and feel very once upony.
To make it a little easier to understand, we’ve come up with this saying:
Once Upon is an easy-going
problem solver that inspires
you to get (sh)it done!*
This is our voice. Let’s break it down a little to make it even easier to understand and relate to.
Easy-going. Simplicity is part of our DNA! As well as, our easy-going, happy, and uncomplicated way of approaching things. A bit like an old friend who sticks by you no matter what. We understand our once uponers journeys and all the emotions that they may feel along the way.
That’s why we say: “Life happens!”, or “You asked, we delivered!”, “Life according to [...]”.
Problem solver. If you’re looking for someone to make things a little easier - you’ve come to the right place. We always focus on solutions and guiding you forward. We make the complicated easy and fun! And we know that we do it well, and we’re not afraid to brag (although we do it in a very humble and northern Swedish kind of way).
That’s why we say: “The photo book that designs itself!”, “straight from your phone” and
“Now you can finally save all your memories together with your friends and family!”.
Inspire. We want to inspire, encourage and emphasize the value of photos and the meaning of memories. Highlighting the emotions they evoke, and all the joy they bring! No moment in life is too small to be saved in a photo book. All the details are a part of the big picture and it’s worth remembering.
That’s why we say: “It’s your story.“ and “Life can be messy, as well as beautiful, hilarious, breathtaking, heart wrenching and wonderful all at once, with every moment (well most of them) worth remembering.”
Get (sh)it done. Our own version of Nikes "just do it". A little twist to go with all the softness above. Something that gives us a little edge. Something to help us pinpoint the feeling we think a lot of people have when it comes to making photo books - it is a tedious job you have to get through before you're rewarded with your photo book. Photo books are not the highest priority in life, but the feeling when you hold your book in your hand is pretty awesome and well, we want more people to feel just that!
That’s why we say: “Insert your memories here” and “Once Upon a time… the rest is up to you”
Here are a few more tips that can help you find Once Upons voice:
We have an active voice – this means that we use active verbs instead of nominalisations. For example: “How would you like to pay?” Instead of “Please select your preferred payment method”. Try and write in the same way that you’d talk to someone in person and use words that link your sentences together.
We use and write positive words and avoid negations when possible. We always try to tell our once uponers what they should do, instead of what they shouldn’t do and try to avoid “error messages” by coming up with “the right way messages” instead.
We write as if we were writing to a friend, in an informal way (meaning not formal).
We try to use our voice for everyone.
We write gender neutral when possible.
We challenge all types of stereotypes.
We avoid talking about and picturing alcohol and other drugs.
Writing for localisation
We want to get as close to our once uponers as possible, and the best way to do so is to speak the same language. Since Once Upon is available all over the world, there are quite a few languages to keep track of (okay, so we haven’t translated everything into every language, but quite a few so far). Luckily we’ve teamed up with a group of talented writers who can write and play around with our texts so that they work flawlessly in the right market.
Besides the fact that it is super important to us that the language and grammar is correct from the very beginning, localization is our number two priority. What is localization you wonder? Isn’t it the same as translating? Well, when you only translate a text, there is a big risk that you will miss the nuances that are so important for the text to convey the right feeling. It can even result in the text completely missing the mark, if we don’t take into account important cultural differences. But there are a few things you can consider to reduce the chances of offending, when all you’re after is spreading some happiness…
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: use active voice. For example: “Anna made a photo book” instead of “a photo book was made by Anna”.
Avoid abbreviations as far as possible and avoid using synonyms in a short text. Both of these risk causing confusion when translated.
Be positive! Except when something is really depressing of course. Sometimes a negation or two can slip into a text, even though they aren’t really needed, making it unnecessarily messy for the localizer to understand the nuances.
Cultural differences are difficult for us to have 100% control over, especially when it comes to details in communication. A rule of thumb is to try to not get too local, use clichés or slang.
Give the translator a clear brief. Explain where the text is to be used and what job it is expected to do. Send with screenshots and indicate if there is any character limit.
We’re always doing our best to make sure our content is inclusive, accessible and usable for the widest possible audience. Our aim is always to engage and involve our audience. A simple way to do that is to address the reader as if we’re talking directly to them.
Writing for accessibility and inclusivity means going beyond making everything on the page available as text. It also affects the way you organize content and guide readers through a page.
Here are a few simple things to bear in mind:
Does the language make sense to someone who doesn’t work here?
Could someone quickly scan this text and understand it?
Avoid disability-related idioms like “lame” or “falling on deaf ears.” There’s no need to refer to a person’s disability unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing about and if that’s the case, make sure to ask them how and what they’d like you to write.
Let’s avoid calling groups of people “guys.” And let’s not call women “girls.”
Don’t use “same-sex” marriage, unless the distinction is relevant to what you’re writing. (Avoid “gay marriage.“) Otherwise, it’s just “marriage.”
When writing about a person, use their communicated pronouns. When in doubt, just ask or use their name.
Don’t use hyphens when referring to someone with dual heritage or nationality. For example, use “Asian American” instead of “Asian-American.”
We capitalize Black as it refers to Americans in the African diaspora while we keep white lowercase since white refers to the color of a person’s skin and not a group of people.
Finding grammar fun? Not really? Well, we feel you. But there are some things that, believe it or not, are very good to know for your writing. First thing that's pretty important to know is that we use American spelling and writing rules unless the country specified. Now, to the nitty gritty stuff:
Abbreviations and acronyms
Some can be really fun, trendy and lighten up your texts (like omg, yolo, fomo), but some are just boring (such as e.g., etc., i.e.) – let’s skip the boring ones. Also, if you see a risk that the intended audience won’t recognize your abbreviation or acronym, spell it out the first time you mention it.
They’re awesome! They give your writing a more friendly tone and make the text easy to read.
We always spell out the day and month (Friday, June 15). Unless there’s a space limitation in the app…then fine, abbreviate the date (Fri., Jun. 15).
Time and time zones
We rarely write time zones or times. If we do write times we use the 24-hour time format with hh:mm, for example 23:59.
Emojis can definitely add that little extra touch, but not to be used too often. And not in every context. They’re great for conversations with coworkers on Slack, in a DM on Instagram with a customer or for a caption on Instagram, but we still use them sparingly and very deliberately.
Names and titles
The first time you mention a person in writing, refer to them by their first and last names. On all other mentions, refer to them by their first name.
Capitalize the names of departments and teams but not the word "team" or "department", for example Marketing team.
Capitalize individual job titles when referencing a specific role, but not when referring to the role in general terms, for example the Finance Manager gives all the managers candy.
Periods go inside quotation marks. They go outside parentheses when the parenthetical is part of a larger sentence, and inside parentheses when the parenthetical stands alone.
Christy said, “I ate a donut.”
I ate a donut (and I ate a bagel, too).
I ate a donut and a bagel. (The donut was Sam’s.)
Leave a single space between sentences.
Dashes and hyphens
Hyphens (-) are used without spaces to link words to single phrases, for example first-time customers.
Here’s a twist! We use en dashes (–) instead of em dashes (—) with space on both sides of the en dash. For example, in a Once Upon book there’s room for all kinds of stories – the big and the small, the old and the new, the goofy and the serious.
We know, this is not the typical nor correct way to use them, but it just looks so much better aesthetically. (And honestly, what non-grammar-loving person actually knows the difference between an em dash and en dash, right?)
We rarely use exclamation points and never (ever) more than one at a time!!!!!!
To make it easy for yourself just stay away from them. Start a new sentence or try a dash instead.
Stay away from ampersands. Unless, of course, if it’s part of a company name.
Now for all the good and juicy bits. Well if you’re a word nerd like us that is …
Book – when we've established either photo book or Once Upon book.
Image – in instructional copy and UX copy, e.g. "Upload images". See photos.
Once Upon book – mainly in communication with existing users in our own channels. When we've established Once Upon book, we write photo book or just book.
Pages – to describe the length of the book, e.g. "Your book is now 30 pages and is ready to be ordered."
Photo book – as two words in both British and American English. Photo books is the preferred term in communication with new customers, since it's easier to understand.
Photos – in emotional contexts. See images.
Spread – to describe two pages opposite each other in our books.
Writing in different contexts
Just as our tone can vary depending on the situation (the whole last chapter is about just that, if you’ve missed it) the way we write also varies depending on different contexts and to who we write. Kinda how you don’t really talk the same way to your sweet ol’ grampy, your up-tight bank lady or your BFF. Right? Well, at least most of us tend to adapt slightly – but it’s still us all the way through, just with a few different touches here and there. That’s what this chapter is about, how to add those little extra touches in different contexts.
And before you dig in, we just want to mention it again: not rules, only guidelines. Or should we even call it lines, seems a bit too straight… Here’s our guidecurves for some common contexts we write in:
Quite frankly, marketing copy is aimed to sell. But there is more than that behind our marketing copy, or at least that’s our goal and our hope. With our marketing copy we want to inspire people and make them feel that they do have time, creativity and skills to do a Once Upon book. We don’t want to push our books on anyone. It’s a fine line (or again, maybe we should say curve) to find the balance between pushing or encouraging, but we always strive for the latter.
With our social media we want to give our once uponers – those who are brand new to Once Upon and those who have collections of books in their bookshelves – inspiration, tips and company news. By showing our easygoing, a bit sassy and quite funny personality we want to build and maintain our relationship with our once uponers and, slowly but surely, become more of a friend than just another company profile.
Things to think about:
Diversity and inclusion. We want all our channels to represent the diverse world we’re living in. It’s important to think about all aspects of diversity here: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities and religious beliefs.
Window to the world. Social media really is the closest we get to our customers, having a real conversation with them, which is amazing. But it also comes with risks to damage our brand, so we think through and we are deliberate when we post on social media.
Different things on different channels:
Instagram/Facebook. Focused on inspiration, creativity, cool stuff we do and tips and tricks. We want to show followers why and how our books are perfect for all parts of life – the good, the not so good and everything in between. And make them laugh a little in between.
LinkedIn. Focused on product news, recruiting content and PR.
Pinterest. Focused on inspiration, creativity and tips. Acts as a gateway into our blog, Once Upon Stories.
When our once openers have subscribed to our newsletter, they’re officially our friends, but it’s our job to keep the relationship alive. The last thing we want is to be that clingy person in a relationship who doesn’t let the other person breathe. So, remember that we only send newsletters when we do have something to say. It may be three times in one week, once a week or every other week – it all depends on when we have something to say.
Things to think about:
Who’s writing? When you’re writing a newsletter, remember that it’s not going to be sent from you, personally, but from Once Upon. So, we use the third person “we” when writing newsletters.
Say it short and sweet. It’s easy to want to squeeze in a lot of text in an email, especially since we have so many awesome things to write about, but we try to keep it pretty straight to the point. Some well-chosen words, a little sass, and a lot of heart goes a long way.
Subject line & preheader:
Keep’em fun and descriptive. The point is to make them interesting enough for once uponers to open our newsletter, but without catfishing anyone. So, when you read the subject line you should be intrigued, but also get what you expect when you open the email!
Call to action. We always want to give our once uponers a clear direction on what to do next, whether it is going straight to the app to start their book, read more or respond to something.
This is a place where we can truly be ourselves and let Once Upon’s personality shine through. We can elaborate our thoughts about everything from market trends, relevant topics, ideas for photo books, app features and more, to educate and inspire our once uponers.
Things to think about:
Subtitles and short sentences. A lot of our readers will skim through the blog posts, make sure they get the gist of it by having shorter sentences and clear subtitles.
Post content regularly. This informs Google and other search engines that our website is actively updated and therefore should be checked frequently to see what new content has surfaced.
SEO perspective. We try to optimize each post around a keyword or longtail keyword to boost our organic reach.
UX writing, unlike sales copywriting, is a way of guiding with words. Texts that help a user go forward, rather than text that stands in the way. Words that help to make the right choices.
For us, it is important to meet users where they are emotionally (happy, sad, frustrated) and adjust our tone accordingly. Just like we mentioned before, our voice is always the same, but our tone can change along the way, depending on where someone is on their journey and in different situations. We always try to keep in mind that we’re writing for people, not machines. And we like to think in terms of yay messages instead of nay messages (meaning that when it comes to error messages we’re always yay sayers, never naysayers). The small nuances make all the difference and are a big part of people's journey into the Once Upon world.
Our goal is to transform a task that once felt daunting and overwhelming into an easy, fun and memorable experience. It goes without saying that this should also be reflected in the very first interactions users have with the app. In this short section, you'll hopefully get an insight into how once uponers convey our spirit in the tiny slice of time when a user is about to download or update the app.
Things to think about:
App title. The title in the app stores consists of the name of our app (what are the odds, huh?) with a few characters allotted to popular search words. The latter are chosen for every language in the app store.
App description. The A/B tests we've done in the App store so far suggest that not a lot of people actually read the app description. Bummer right?! Don’t worry though, it’s not because our writing sucks, we think it’s probably due to the fact that most people who download our app don't really need any more information about it – they’ve already decided they want it when visiting us in the App store. That being said, and at the risk of stating the obvious, the app description should, (you guessed it!), describe the app. A great habit to have is checking on it once in a while to make sure it's up to speed. Try to keep the description to the point and short, but oh so sweet. We list features as bullet points. That way it's easy to add a bullet when a new feature is released, instead of having to send the whole text for translation every time we update the app.
Release notes. And since the apps on many devices have automatic updates, odds are there aren’t a lot of people who read them either. But don’t let that get you down, because the folks at Apple and Google who chose which apps to feature most certainly do read them. And if the latest app version peaks their interest, our app might very well be chosen to be featured. And we love it when that happens! Also, really good release notes can still be appreciated by a user or two and – who knows – they might even get some buzz on social media.