How to build an editorial style guide

How to Build an Editorial Style Guide

The best way to ensure your company’s writing team creates on-brand and consistent content is by having an editorial style guide. This document does more than point out grammar and punctuation requirements. It lays the foundation for consistency, quality, and accuracy across every publishing platform your company uses.

What is an Editorial Style Guide?

An editorial style guide is a roadmap that helps companies communicate their voice and brand requirements accurately and consistently across all publishing platforms (blogs, case studies, webinars, and more). Style guides can include various information, including grammar requirements, words to avoid, formatting requirements, and more.

Ideally, companies use editorial style guides to create a rulebook standardizing how it communicates its message. That means, no matter if the company works with freelance writers or a content marketing agency, they know their style guide ensures they’ll receive high-quality content matching their brand’s voice.

Types of Style Guides

If you’re unsure what you should or should not include in your editorial style guide, we recommend using one of the top three below as a reference:

Why Companies Need an Editorial Style Guide

No matter your organization’s size or how well everyone writes, an editorial style guide ensures consistency. Besides ensuring consistency, editorial style guides also support your brand’s clarity and credibility. The last thing brands want is to create dissonance in their potential customer’s minds. So, if your articles, blog posts, case studies, social media posts, and other marketing collateral don’t have the same voice or tone, that’s what might happen.

What to Include in an Editorial Style Guide

The best way to prevent inaccuracies and inconsistencies is to know what to include in your editorial style guide. For example, if you’re unclear about using capitalization in headers or the Oxford comma, that creates issues with writers and your readers. Here are some examples of what your editorial style guide should contain:

  • Editable elements: That means, above all else, this document should evolve just like your company. As things change, update your guidelines to reflect those updates. We suggest using Google Docs, Microsoft Sharepoint, or other shareable documents so those who need to make edits can do so and share them easily with the rest of the team.
  • Voice and tone: Do you want conversational or high-level and industry-specific pieces? What content types does your audience prefer? How do you want your company’s target audience to perceive your brand? Answering these questions, among others, can help establish your brand’s voice and tone.
  • Words to avoid list: If you want writers to avoid “over-used” words, industry jargon, or cliches, be sure to include that information in your editorial style guide. This section can also include specific word styles, like eCommerce versus e-commerce or cyberattack versus cyber-attack, for example.
  • Competitors to avoid: Citing sources is critical when writing statistical or data-driven material. However, you don’t want writers linking to competitors or unreputable resources. Create a list of “banned websites” and link them to your style guide.
  • Grammar and style requirements: This section outlines your company’s needs for capitalization, punctuation, dates, numbers, abbreviations, and more. You can also include provisions for subheadings, images, linking, images, fonts, and lists.

Things You Shouldn’t Include Editorial Style Guides

It’s tempting to add everything you want your content to say or do in your editorial style guides. However, some elements are better in other parts of your content strategy. For example, these guidelines shouldn’t include anything about the buyer’s journey, personas, or additional inbound marketing information. Instead, create separate marketing strategy documents and link them to your style guidelines. That way, you’re sure that these guidelines specifically outline the content rules for your writers to use as a reference.

Step-by-Step for Creating an Editorial Style Guide

No matter how many writers you have in your arsenal, they should all portray your company’s “voice” the same. That way, no matter when prospects or customers read content, there’s no question it’s coming from your company. Here are some examples for creating your company’s guidelines:

Section I: About Your Company

Use this section to briefly outline your company’s background and how you want writers to convey your brand’s personality. Include your company’s mission statement or brand values to help writers understand the tone of your brand’s voice.

Section II: Writing Rules

Editors find this section particularly useful because it outlines quality assurance elements, including your company’s writing rules. Use this section to outline specific writing rules for:

  • Tone and voice
  • Spelling and grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Word choices (what to avoid, for example)

Section III: Types of Content

Break this section out into specific content types and how you want writers to approach them. Examples of content types include:

  • Articles
  • Blog posts
  • Case studies
  • eBooks
  • Emails
  • Landing pages
  • Social media posts
  • Whitepapers

Section IV: Style, Tone & Voice

We’ve touched on tone and voice and their importance in conveying your brand’s personality. The content’s style ties that into using your company’s voice and tone when applying writing rules. Examples of style rules include:

  • Using sentence case instead of title case
  • How to write headlines
  • When writers should (or should not) use specific headers (for example, avoid using H4)
  • How long you want sentences and paragraphs to be (for example, you might want paragraph blocks no longer than four lines)

Section V: Visuals (Infographics, Graphs, and More)

If your company doesn’t have a separate visual style guide, include notes here regarding what colors, fonts, graphics, images, infographics, logos, and videos content creators should include. That way, writers know whether this is the responsibility or not and how to keep things consistent. Be sure to include details about image sizes, how to source them, and any other specifications.

Final Thoughts

Your company’s editorial style guide serves as the framework and “living document” depicting your company’s expectations for grammar, spelling, and all other style rules. It’s a document that writers and editors refer to often, so it must contain updates as your company continues evolving. Do you need help writing your company’s editorial style guide? Turn to nDash’s pool of elite freelance writers for help creating this document.


What to Include in Editorial Style Guidelines

Your company’s editorial style guide is going to be as unique as your brand. However, there are several elements you should include in these guidelines to ensure consistency and accuracy:

  • Editable elements: Remember, you’re creating a “live” document that must change as your business grows.
  • Voice and tone: Editorial style guidelines should depict your brand’s personality and how to convey that.
  • Words to avoid list: Create an evolving list of words you want writers to avoid adding to the content.
  • Competitors to avoid: Create a list of websites you don’t want writers to reference.
  • Grammar and style guidelines: Use this section to specifically outline how you want writers to handle things like capitalization, punctuation, and more.

Why Are Style Guides Important for Marketers?

Marketers depend on editorial style guides to ensure the brand’s voice, style, and tone are consistent across all publishing platforms.

What A Writing Style Guide Is Not

An editorial style guide is not a place to include marketing information, including personas and the buyer’s journey. Use a separate set of marketing strategy documents to outline this information.

Is There A Free Editorial Style Guide Template?

There are many, some of which are on the following links:

Thanks for reading!