How to write an editorial style guide
When you’re knee-deep in the day-to-day work of charity communications, creating an editorial style guide may not be the first thing on your to-do list. But if you want to create a consistent brand voice and increase the professionalism of your content, it’s an essential task. Here are some tips on how to create an editorial house style guide that will make sure all your communications are consistent and on-message.
What is an editorial style guide?
In short, an editorial style guide is a document that sets out the guidelines for creating content in your organisation’s voice. It helps to define elements such as spelling, grammar, and punctuation to create a consistent look and feel across all materials.
The best style guides also include more in-depth information such as tone of voice, brand values, and audience demographics.
Why do you need an editorial house style guide?
A house style guide is essential for any organisation that produces written content, as it will help to:
- ensure consistency across all materials
- improve the readability and accessibility of content
- increase the credibility of your charity
- create a cohesive brand voice with language that reflects your values
- define the tone and messaging that speaks to your audience
- simplify the editorial process for your team, including freelance writers and editors.
How to create an editorial house style guide
Now we’ve established the importance of an editorial style guide, let’s look at the steps to create one.
Step 1: Define your organisation’s identity and values
Before creating the guide, you need to have a good understanding of your charity’s voice. The easiest way to define your brand voice is by defining your values.
Almost all organisations have a mission statement, and many charities also have a list of values that define their ethos and methodology. A short summary of these at the start of the document can be a helpful point of reference, providing reasons for language choices later on. For example, if your charity works with people who are vulnerable, it’s helpful to define the terminology that is appropriate to use when talking about those people, and also to note any language that your organisation and audience would regard as disresectful, inappropriate or unhelpful. This type of clear guidance helps writers and editors reflect the values of compassion and respect held by the organisation and its supporters.
Step 2: Define your audience
It’s useful (some would say essential) to have a clear picture of who your audience is when crafting your communications. Many experts recomend that you create an ‘avatar’ or ‘persona’ – an imagined individual who represents your typical reader. A description of this person is a helpful addition to your style guide. This might include:
- preferred means of communication
- how and why they’re connected with your organisation.
Once you have a clear picture of your audience, you will be able to create a style guide that speaks directly to them.
Step 3: Create a list of guidelines
Now it’s time to create a list of guidelines. To do this, you can refer to an established style guide, such as The New Oxford Style Guide or The Chicago Manual of Style. However, you should also tailor the guidelines to your charity’s voice, specifying the things that make it unique.
The guidelines should cover:
- spelling, capitalisation, and abbreviations
- formatting guidelines (i.e., heading styles, bullet points, etc.)
- number and time formatting
- tone of voice
- message and vocabulary
- citation and referencing guidelines
Step 4: Get feedback
Creating an editorial house style guide is a collaborative process. It’s important to get feedback from all stakeholders, including:
- content creators
- your target audience.
By getting feedback, you can ensure that the guidelines are tailored to your charity and its stakeholders.
Step 5: Publish and share the style guide
Once the style guide is complete, it’s important to share it with all relevant stakeholders. You can publish the guide online and provide everyone with a copy. Additionally, you should hold a training session to ensure that everyone is aware of the guidelines and can implement them in their work.
Step 6: Update your style guide
An editorial style guide is a working document that needs to be kept up to date. It’s helpful to have a designated person responsible for updates to the guide, and for their contact details to be included in the document, so that suggestions can be submitted by team members. An update can be circulated annually, ensuring that the whole team continues to be in sync and on message.
An editorial house style guide is an essential tool for any organisation that produces written content. It sets out the guidelines for creating a consistent look and feel across all materials, helping to improve credibility and create a cohesive brand voice.
To create your style guide, you need to define your values and audience, create a list of guidelines, get feedback, and publish and share the style guide with all stakeholders. Once complete, you’ll have a guide that will simplify the editorial process and ensure that your charity produces high-quality and consistent content.
A well-crafted house style guide can enhance brand consistency and make your content more professional and polished. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed about creating a style guide for your organisation, don’t panic!
If you’d like help creating your editorial style guide, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I love writing and updating style guides! With more than 20 years experience in publishing and charity communications, I can work with you to develop a guide that reflects your brand values and meets your needs. From outlining tone and voice to creating guidelines for punctuation and capitalisation, I’m here to help you make sure your content is consistent and on-message. Contact me today and let’s get started on creating a house style guide that will take your content to the next level.