Editorial Guides
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Maybe you’re a business owner who knows that you really should get around to writing an editorial guide. But you’re not sure how or why you should bother. You’ve probably noticed that a lot of businesses – even small and medium-sized ones – go to the trouble of producing some kind of guiding document. Let me just say that there’s tremendous value in an editorial guide. It will save you money, help you promote your brand, and provide an easy way of dealing with a lot of problems that might pop up.

what are editorial guides, anyway?

You know all of that stuff companies write – email newsletters, website landing pages, blog posts? Oh, and don’t forget all of the internal communications and marketing materials. All of that copy has to be produced according to a plan. Editorial guides are that plan.

Those guides – sometimes short, sometimes not – lay out exactly how a company’s documents should look and read. The guide can be as detailed as the company would like it to be. Most cover style and grammar expectations. But, I have produced editorial guides that also include the company’s vision statement, strategic goals, code of conduct expectations, the specific size and colour of the logo, preferred communication channels (Slack, email, etc), and so much more.

Departments within a company all have their unique characteristics. An editorial guide goes beyond those differences and unifies all documentation under one look and tone.

how to create editorial guidelines

I’ll be the first to admit that editorial guides don’t sound particularly interesting. But they really are. Curious about what a company is like? Read their editorial guide. If you can find it, that is. Some companies see it as a kind of proprietary secret. Nike, for example.

Just like a lot of things in life, creating a good editorial guide starts with a few, but meaningful, questions. The most important of which is, what’s the point?

From an aerial perspective, you might think that everyone who works at a particular company knows what is expected. Zoom in for a closer view, and you’ll see that the landscape changes a bit. You’ll start to notice that not everyone has the same understanding of who the clients, staff, or freelancers are, how they think, or how they speak. The editorial guide will lay out exactly what tone to use for written communications to staff, superiors, and clients via the website blog, email, or any other form of document.

An editorial guide ensures that all written documentation is consistent across the company. Not sure whether anonymous quotes are allowed? Look in the guide. Not sure whether you should use jargon in your blog post? Look in the guide. Not sure if you the C-suite executives prefer text or email? Look in the guide. Developing a complete guide ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to produce an editorial guide is that it reduces the time and cost of editing and proofreading. Anyone writing any sort of document knows immediately what is acceptable and what isn’t. So, who gets to read this extremely useful and information-rich document? Staff and freelancers.

Details are truly king when it comes to explaining what each type of communication should be like. Go ahead and include these:

  • Preferred keywords
  • Precise calls to action
  • Checklist of the most important inclusions
  • Fact checking responsibilities
  • Plagiarism statement
  • Press release format
  • Customer service complaints
  • Graphic content
  • Photography
  • Privacy

editorial style guide examples

When creating your own editorial guide, think first about who your audience is. Be specific. Go ahead and draft some buyer personas, even if the buyers are colleagues. Think about what makes the company unique. Write that down. Consider how the company comes across to readers through words and images. Think about how those who read those words will interpret and understand the company brand. The better you can define the company’s vision and purpose, the more accurate the guide will be.

Take a look at these three very different types of editorial guides. Do you get a good sense of who the companies are through them?

Government of the UK


BuzzFeed News

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