How to Create an Editorial Style Guide [Step-by-Step Guide]

An editorial style guide is a set of editorial rules that ensure brand consistency. Learn how to create comprehensive editorial guidelines for your content creation team that will ensure the quality of your company’s work.

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How-to-Create-an-Editorial-Style-Guide-[Step-by-Step-Guide]

An editorial style guide is a set of editorial rules that ensure brand consistency.

For copywriters, content creators, editors, and digital marketers, an editorial style guide is an invaluable reference for optimizing content and polishing copy.

We have outlined the exact step-by-step process that I took to revamp and refine our internal editorial guidelines. Doing so has increased our content production team’s ability to produce consistent, exceptional copy.

These guidelines serve as a roadmap to the editing process and outline practices that ensure the quality of your company’s work.

What you will not find is a template where you can plug in basic information. The most valuable editorial guidelines are tailored to a brand and cover any and all typical styling situations your content writers encounter on a regular basis.

Why Your Marketing Department Needs an Editorial Style Guide

We understand you may have a concise document that serves as your current writing style guide. From our experience, there’s a very good chance that document isn’t nearly detailed enough to shepherd your content writers through the writing and editing process.

After all, you’re reading this blog for a better solution, aren’t you?

Whether you’re producing blogs, ebooks, social posts, or videos, it’s extremely important that the voice, tone, and style of your content is consistent across all mediums and channels. An editorial style guide guarantees that no matter how many team members are contributing content, it all looks, sounds, and feels like the company’s voice.

It’s also essential that your content writers have a guide as they are writing pieces for your brand. By producing consistent work, writers will make your editor’s job easier and significantly cut down average production time.

Types of Style Guides

You may have heard different terms being used when referring to a company’s style guide.

  • Editorial, content, and writing style guides are essentially the same thing—each outlines the style, tone, and language used for a brand’s copy.
  • Web content style guides are also used to frame the rules and guidelines for copy, but specifically for a brand’s digital content.
  • Visual style guides are typically created by/for designers and define the fonts, colors, logos, and overall aesthetic used for your brand’s website and content offers.
  • Brand style guides showcase both content and visual guidelines to provide a comprehensive roadmap to a brand’s overall personality.

Visual, brand, web content, editorial, content, writing—these are all different words to describe what kind of style guide is being used. “Guide” is also interchangeable with the word “manual.” At the end of the day, the terminology you use doesn’t matter, as long as it effectively describes the guide that you’re providing for your brand.

Which Style Guidelines to Use for Your Style Guide

Many grammar tips and tricks are ingrained into our brains at a young age—if you’ve recited ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ to yourself while trying to spell receipt or hummed Schoolhouse Rock’s Conjunction Junction while connecting clauses in a sentence, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But even people with the highest English degrees have to look up rules as they write and edit because—let’s face it—the English language is complicated!

It’s okay to feel lost when putting together a comprehensive style guide for your own personal use. But not to fear—we’re here to help! Luckily, there are four main style guidelines that you can choose from when establishing the foundation for your editorial style guide. We’ve outlined the three most relevant to you and your company: AP style, MLA style, and The Chicago Manual of Style. The fourth, APA style, is most commonly used by social and behavioral scientists when writing research papers. You can read more about its usage here.

AP Style

Associated Press style issues distinct guidelines for journalists to follow. Considered to be “the bible of communications writing,” the AP Stylebook contains thousands of rules for spelling, punctuation, and grammar and is published and updated annually. Newspapers, magazines, public relations firms, and other media companies use AP style as the foundation for their style guides, changing rules as they see fit for their brand.

Why We Use AP Style for Uhuru’s Editorial Style Guide

We believe in the guiding principles of AP style: consistency, clarity, accuracy, and brevity. While you might not realize it, the majority of major publications—both print and digital—use AP style for their content. We use AP style to present our information in an authoritative, professional way.

MLA

Modern Language Association style is most commonly used for literary research and academic papers within the humanities field. Considered the standardized reference format at colleges and universities, there’s a good chance that essay you wrote for your English, history, or philosophy class was formatted to MLA standards. If your brand is frequently citing books, anthologies, literary works, audio-visual material, and multimedia to support its content pieces, you may want to consider MLA as the foundation for your editorial style guide.

The Chicago Manual of Style

The oldest of established style guides, The Chicago Manual of Style published its first style sheet in 1903. Designed to provide consistency in print, it is still used today by authors, editors, proofreaders, copywriters, publishers, etc. for printed books and manuscripts. Unlike its news writing and research paper focused counterparts, CMOS is respected as the go-to guide for non-journalism print media. If your brand is producing a lot of tangible content offers (print or digital), perhaps The Chicago Manual of Style is right for you.

What to Include in Your Editorial Style Guide

There are six main sections that you should include in your editorial style guide: editing process, writing rules, types of content, style, strategy, and visuals. Learn exactly what to include in each of these sections so you can create a complete, comprehensive guide for your marketing team.

Editorial Style Guide Section I. Editing Process

Each company’s editing process will be unique, but certain fundamental elements remain the same. This section should include:

  • Naming conventions and document filing systems to keep your content files organized (because all know the anxiety that comes with losing or mixing up documents on our computers)
  • The step-by-step editing process that a piece of content goes through
  • An outline of which position is responsible for each writing, editing, and review task

Don’t be discouraged if your first editorial style guide requires serious additions or rewrites. It’s likely that you are going to put your editorial process into play and realize there are gaps that need to be filled in and fleshed out.

For example, you may have copywriters write a blog post in a Google Doc and then pass their first draft to the editor. Instead of simply writing “editor conducts first edit,” explain exactly how edits should be implemented. Is he/she going to use the Suggesting Mode, make direct edits, or leave comments with directions for the writer’s next draft? How many rounds of editing will a piece of content go through? How are editors and content writers going to communicate their questions, comments, and concerns to each other? These are all questions that should be answered in this section.

Editorial Style Guide Section II. Writing Rules

To cut down on work for your editor and reduce the average time the quality assurance phase takes, it’s important to outline the common writing rules that apply to your company’s content. This section should include everything from tone and voice to industry-specific language and spelling. Use the widely recognized style guide (AP, MLA, CMOS) that you chose earlier in the process to usher you through your many grammar choices and help you decide what’s best for your company—or rather, your targeted audience.

Tone and Voice

Although tone and voice are often used together, they are not at all the same thing. Voice is the overall personality of your brand and can be described in adjectives like helpful, witty, or friendly. Although you will be writing for different types of content across different mediums, your brand’s voice will not change. However, tone, or tone of voice, is the attitude of your writing for a particular content piece. Different situations call for different tones of voice. For example, you might want to use an excited tone with lots of exclamation marks in an email that’s welcoming a customer to an online program while a customer service response to a faulty downloadable link calls for an apologetic, helpful tone.

To see this practice in action, HubSpot provides a very comprehensible explanation of the voice and tone used in their content. When creating a guide to voice and tone for your content writers, be sure to provide plenty of examples. Over time, they will become more and more comfortable writing for your brand’s voice and tone.

Spelling

Beyond American and British differences, spelling is one aspect of the English language that doesn’t have many variations. This section should instead be used to list exactly how to spell and capitalize the words and phrases commonly used within your company and industry.

For example, the word ebook can be spelled a few different ways: ebook, Ebook, e-book. If your company is regularly offering ebooks and promoting them through email series, your content writers should be aware of which spelling to use.

This section will likely grow over time as you use certain words with spelling variations more frequently. If you are writing for multiple clients, you can create a client-specific section or document to include their company and industry spelling variations as well.

Punctuation

You may be surprised to learn that the way you’ve been using hyphens, semicolons, or ellipses for all these years is technically incorrect. Punctuation marks are misused all the time. Many people don’t realize that some punctuation marks actually have two, or even three, different correct usages, depending on which style guide is referenced. Use this section to outline the correct and/or chosen way to use punctuation.

Editorial Style Guide Section III. Types of Content

A successful inbound marketing strategy includes a wide variety of content pieces. Blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers, landing pages, emails, and social media posts require completely different standards for their copy. In this section, you should outline all of your company’s frequently used content offers and their specifications—such as word count, tone, and structure. Think of these descriptions as the blueprints for your content writers.

Editorial Style Guide Section IV. Style

While tone and voice are the attitude and personality of a writing piece, style is a set of rules.

Here, you can provide the style directions that content writers should defer to if they have any questions that aren’t covered in your company’s chosen styling. These can include using title case versus sentence case, tips for writing headlines, and the overall structure of a content piece—such as when and how to use H1, H2, H3, and H4 subheadings.

Editorial Style Guide Section V. Strategy

SEO

If you’re doing any sort of online writing—and you absolutely should be—then you need to outline easy-to-follow practices for writers to implement SEO.

Writing digital content is different than writing print or display copy. Although they may not require a deep knowledge of SEO, content writers still need a general understanding of how to create content that will rank. This will streamline your optimization process and cut down on your strategists’ workload.

Include any and all SEO rules that writers should be following in digital content pieces. Provide a checklist of sorts and be specific with your action items. You may want to consider implementing online training tools, such as HubSpot Academy or other online training program, during your content writers’ onboarding process so that they are educated well before they jump into content production.

Inbound Marketing

Content production is a very important part of a brand’s inbound marketing strategy. Without the copy in blog posts, content offers, email series, and social media posts, inbound marketing would not have any legs to stand on. It’s crucial for content writers to understand your company’s inbound marketing strategy so they can properly support the marketing and sales teams’ efforts to generate leads.

In this section, you should outline your brand’s:

If you already have strategy documents detailing these aspects of your inbound strategy, consider linking them in your editorial style guide for easy reference.

Editorial Style Guide Section VI. Visuals

As mentioned earlier, there are many different types of style guides. If your company has a separate visual or brand style guide, you do not need this section. However, if you are creating a style guide for your brand for the first time, you will need to include this section for designers and writers alike.

Explain what kinds of images, graphics, infographics, videos, logos, fonts, and colors will be used to create visual consistency across mediums. Outline any specifications that may exist—jpg file sizes or preferred imagery, for example. If content writers are responsible for finding or creating images, include their duties here.

Things You Shouldn’t Include in Your Editorial Style Guide

With a recognized styling as your foundation, it isn’t necessary to include every single style decision in your editorial style guide. Instead, outline the rules you know content writers will refer to most frequently with a brief explanation on why your brand follows that particular guideline.

Buyer personas, buyer’s journey, and other inbound marketing strategy information should not live in your editorial style guide. Include pertinent instructions and link strategy documents so that copywriters can easily access them.

How to Create Your Editorial Style Guide

Once you’ve selected the framework for your editorial guidelines, use that stylebook or manual as the foundation to create your brand’s editorial style guide document. Address any grammar and spelling rules that will be frequently referenced while writing for your company in the six sections that we’ve outlined in this article.

Understand that your style guide is a living document that will evolve as your editing process adapts over time—even widely recognized style guides publish new editions, sometimes annually!

Know that you’re putting yourself a step ahead of the competition by streamlining your editorial processes with a comprehensive style guide.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Ready to get serious about your brand style? Learn how we can help you reach your goals—and to see if we’re the right fit for you. Schedule a strategy session today.

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