If your content marketing machine demands a consistent quality then you definitely need editorial guidelines.
Editorial guidelines are rules that dictate how you write content in a way that’s appropriate for your audience, brand, and sometimes Google.
Editorial guidelines are not the same as a tone of voice document. Editorial guidelines cover a broader range of topics related to writing style, grammar, formatting, legal compliance, etc. for published content. A tone of voice document focuses more specifically on defining the brand personality and establishing guidelines for the style and tone that should be used in communications.
What do editorial guidelines include?
Editorial guidelines should include:
- An explanation of what your brand does.
- An explanation of who your audience is.
- What you want to achieve with your new content (objectives).
- Formatting and style requests (e.g. Verdana 12).
- Preferred words/phrases.
- Words/phrases to avoid.
- Layout tips (imagery, paragraphing, etc).
- Keywords/phrases to use in the content.
- Guidance on referencing/attributions/quotes.
Your editorial guidelines should also get specific with the type of language used, so you might include guidance on:
- Spelling – UK or US English?
- Hyphenation – cybersecurity or cyber-security?
- Sentence structure – active or passive voice?
- Verb choice.
- Adjective choice.
- Words never to use.
Editorial guidelines example
Here’s an example of an editorial guidelines sheet for an automotive company:
Auto Company Editorial Guidelines
Purpose: These guidelines aim to create consistent messaging and tone across all content we produce as a company, both internal and external. Our goal is content that builds trust in our brand and expertise.
Voice: Our voice should be authoritative yet friendly. Avoid overly formal or stiff language, but maintain a professional tone. Write conversationally while inspiring confidence in our knowledge.
Terminology: Use industry-standard terms like sedan, hatchback, mpg, torque, etc. Spell out and define any uncommon abbreviations on first use. Refer to vehicles by formal name (e.g. 2023 Tesla Model 3), rather than informal nicknames.
Formatting: Use AP style for punctuation, grammar, etc. Format documents consistently with hierarchies of headings, spacings, font use, etc. Adhere to brand style guide for visual elements.
Inclusive Language: Represent people of all demographics inclusively. Avoid idioms, stereotypes, or slang that could exclude readers.
Legal: Adhere to all regulations for disclaimers, consents, compliance, etc. Run ads/promotions by legal team before publication. Attribute any quotes properly.
Questions? Contact our editorial team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Feel free to use this format for your own editorial guidelines.
The differences between a tone of voice document and editorial guidelines
- Editorial guidelines are often formal policies that set enforceable standards for any content produced by or for an organisation. A tone of voice document is more flexible and focuses on guiding the overall style.
- Editorial guidelines will outline specific rules and protocols to follow (e.g. proper use of the Oxford comma, avoiding slang or profanity, required disclaimers). A tone of voice document describes ideal voice qualities (e.g. friendly, authoritative, casual) and gives examples.
- Editorial guidelines are maintained by editors, lawyers, and policy makers to govern published material. Tone of voice is established by marketers, brand strategists, and creatives to reflect brand identity.
- The scope of editorial guidelines is broad – covering any written material like articles, reports, web copy, etc. Tone of voice guidance is mainly for outbound communications and marketing content.
Why do you need editorial guidelines?
We can think of four very good reasons:
1. To maintain high editorial standards
To build your brand reputation, you need excellent content.
Whether you’re creating hundreds of pillar articles or just a few blogs a week, editorial guidelines help you set and maintain high standards for all your content.
2. To keep your tone of voice consistent
When you’re assigning briefs to multiple writers, you need to make sure they’re sending the right messages, not mixed signals.
Editorial guidelines will help you maintain a consistent tone of voice so nothing goes astray.
3. To adapt your content to your target audience
There are some words or phrases that might be inappropriate for your target audience.
For example, some phrasal verbs like ‘put off’ might be unsuitable for a B2B brand that’s targeting business leaders, whereas formal verbs like ‘permit’ might sound too rigid for a consumer audience.
4. To avoid misleading your customers
Without editorial guidelines, there’s a risk that your writers might mislead your customers about your products/services.
For example, consider a beauty brand advertising skin cream products.
If someone writes ‘this skin cream will make your skin smoother’, this sets very high expectations for the customer, who will believe that the product ‘will’ make their skin smoother.
However, it would be irresponsible to make a definitive claim like this, as no skin cream is guaranteed to yield the same results for every customer.
Instead, you could write something along the lines of ‘this skin cream can help to promote smoother skin’. This clearly states what the product can do, without giving the customer unrealistic expectations.
Editorial guidelines help assure content quality and consistency.
As a content writing agency, we find them extremely useful which is why we always ask our clients if they have them.
We haven’t covered how to make them in this article, but if you’re interested in doing that, this Hubspot guide can’t be beaten. Good luck!