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Editorial guidelines

What Are Editorial Guidelines? Do You Need Them?

If your content marketing machine demands a consistent quality then you definitely need editorial guidelines.

Editorial guidelines are 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.

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. Arial 12)
  • Preferred words/phrases
  • Words/phrases to avoid
  • Layout tips (imagery, paragraphing, etc)
  • Keywords/keyphrases to use in the content
  • Guidance on referencing/attribution/quotes

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 – cybersecurity or cyber-security?
  • 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 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.

Summing up

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!

Further reading 

If you are a content marketer, check out our best content marketing tools list.

If you are an SEO professional, check out our best SEO content writing tools list.


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