Editorial guidelines are a set of rules that dictate how you write your content in a way that’s appropriate for your audience.
Editorial guidelines are not the same as a tone of voice document.
The difference between editorial guidelines and tone of voice is quite simple: tone of voice dictates how your brand personality should come across in written communication, while editorial guidelines say how that verbal communication should be written.
What do editorial guidelines include?
Editorial guidelines should cover:
- An explanation of what your brand does
- An explanation of who your audience is
- Your content strategy
- What you want to achieve with your new content (objectives)
- Formatting and style tips
- Preferred words/phrases
- Words/phrases to avoid
- Layout tips (imagery, paragraphing, etc)
- Keywords/key phrases to use in the content
- Word count for each piece of content
- Guidance on referencing/attribution
You might also want to get specific with the type of language used, so you might include guidance on:
- Spelling – UK or US English?
- Hyphenation – trouble free or trouble-free?
- Sentence structure – active or passive voice?
- Verb choice
- Adjective choice
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 engaging a team of writers to create dozens of landing pages or several blogs a week, editorial guidelines help you set 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.