Countdown to the digital Style Manual

The new Australian Government Style Manual is now in public Beta.

Team in an online meeting on a laptop
Caption: The team discuss user research for the new Style Manual. Clockwise from top left: Andrew Arch (Intopia web accessibility expert), Elvia Maschke, Greg Tarry and Helen Portillo-Castro of the Style Manual team.

You can now visit the Beta Style Manual and use the form on every page to send us your feedback.

This is the first edition of Style Manual in 18 years. We've taken a digital-first approach to make it fit for the digital age. It will help make government communication simple, clear and consistent.

Style Manual will go Live later this year, after we’ve thoroughly tested it with users. This is where public Beta comes in.

The journey to public Beta

In the Discovery phase we spoke with users to find out what they needed. They told us the new manual needs to be:

  • contemporary – with information about digital content
  • comprehensive
  • evidence based
  • authoritative
  • easy to use and access.

Users want definitive rules and guidance with lots of examples.

Based on these findings we developed and tested prototypes with users. The prototypes included draft information architecture and content types.

With a framework ready, we worked with our content partner, Ethos CRS, to write the content. Ethos CRS brought the expertise of accredited editors and the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University. DTA brought expertise on content design, user research, agile delivery and service design. We also worked with experts on a range of topics, such as accessibility and inclusive language.

We released a private Beta Style Manual to a small group of users in November 2019. Since then we’ve continued working to make changes, address feedback and write new content. Now we’re sharing the public Beta with everyone.

Why we have a public Beta

Do we feel ready to share it? No way. As writers, we’d much rather spend the next few months crafting and reviewing the content until we think it’s perfect. However, as content designers, we know it’s better to get the Style Manual to users early so we can find out what they think.

Publishing a public Beta gives us feedback from a larger number of users. It also lets us test the changes we made in response to earlier feedback. This helps us improve the Style Manual before we go Live.

Changes from private Beta

As a result of feedback from private Beta we’ve made improvements such as:

  • adding more examples
  • making our explanations clearer
  • including more detail in some topics
  • correcting errors
  • working with subject experts to improve guidance.

An example of how we used feedback to improve the Style Manual is the Forms page. Users in private Beta told us the guidance wasn’t detailed enough and didn’t have enough examples. To make it better we worked with specialists from the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Bureau of Statistics and Services Australia. We also had guidance from Caroline Jarrett, an international forms expert.

The page is now very different to the one we published in private Beta. The user feedback prompted us to review the page and find the expertise we needed to improve it. It has gone from being a ‘problem child’ to our newest favourite.

What we do with your feedback

First, we record your comments. The Style Manual Product Owner reviews and prioritises feedback as part of deciding what we work on next.

Our content team includes a:

  • production editor
  • content designer
  • content strategist
  • service designer.

Our public Trello board shows how we are prioritising and working on improvements.  

What happens next

The Style Manual will be in Beta while we continue to work on meeting user needs.

It will also be reviewed by experts in editing, language and content design during this time.

Once the Style Manual goes Live it will replace both the sixth edition of the Style Manual and the Content Guide.

How to get involved

Visit stylemanual.gov.au and use the form on the bottom of every page to send us your feedback.

You can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter.