creating an editorial style guide

How to Create an Editorial Style Guide – Best Practices & Essential Tips

Content helps your business establish authority and trust, demonstrate expertise, and boost your website’s search ranking. The challenge for many organizations is creating consistent, quality content while working with a team of content creators.

Does your brand use Oxford commas? From which point of view is your content written? What tone and voice do you want your content to convey? Without answering these questions upfront, it’s likely each content creator will have a different approach, leading to content that lacks a consistent style.

An editorial style guide is a document that outlines your company’s communication rules and guiding principles. It ensures your content is consistent and on-brand, helping you maximize its performance.

Why Do You Need an Editorial Style Guide?

An editorial style guide creates cohesion among your writers, projecting a clear and consistent brand identity. Unless you have one person writing all of your content, a lack of editorial policy will inevitably lead to inconsistent style and messaging. This undermines part of your purpose in creating content: establishing authority.

An in-depth editorial style guide facilitates a consistent, cohesive brand identity. It coordinates your standards across different creators and establishes clear editorial guidelines.

A style guide also streamlines content briefing. By attaching your editorial style guide to topic-specific briefs you send to a writer, you instantly deliver all of the overarching brand guidelines they require. Editors can follow the guide’s distinct directives, resulting in clear, exceptional copy.

What Should Be Included in an Editorial Style Guide?

Your editorial guide details your brand’s content style, including the following:

  • Grammar and punctuation preferences (style manual)
  • Brand voice and tone
  • Instructions for different types of content (expectations for a blog or article versus a whitepaper or web page, for example)
  • Brand words and phrases
  • Preferred variations of common words
  • Formatting guidelines (such as the use of title case or sentence case for headers; style of numbered or bulleted lists)
  • Image guidelines (for example, how many pictures or graphics to use, what size, how to format, where to source, and how to credit)
  • Acceptable and unacceptable reference sources
  • Citation and linking style

These editorial guidelines help writers understand your expectations, give your editors direction, and help you create content your audience can connect with and enjoy.

How to Create an Editorial Style Guide

An effective editorial guide for blogs and other content will reflect your brand and speak to your target audience. Your guide is a living document that will evolve over time. After you deploy the first version, you can adapt and refine the guide until it is easy to use and consistently produces the quality content you want.

Here are eight steps to create an editorial style guide.

1. Start With Your Company’s Mission and Values

What are your brand’s core values? What is its mission statement? Include these at the top of your editorial guide. When you use your brand’s mission and values as a starting point, you bridge your business’s purpose to how you connect with your readers.

Every component of your editorial guide should align with your company’s purpose and mission. This way, your team’s content will benefit your organization and its customers.

2. Review Your Buyer Personas

Who is the target audience you want this content to reach? Include a brief outline of your buyer personas in your editorial style guide to help writers understand the audience and better encapsulate your voice and tone. A well-defined understanding of your readers allows you to write content that speaks to them.

If you haven’t created buyer personas, they are a tool to help your content writers create content that resonates with your audience. Instead of thinking of your target audience in broad demographic terms, you build a research-based, semi-fictional, “typical” customer with a photo and life details.

For example, if a significant portion of your customers are professional men between 35 and 50, one buyer persona may be “Mike, age 42.” His profile would include his career details (tax accountant), marital status (married with two children between 12 and 15), and the pain points or desires that motivate him to buy from you.

3. Choose Your Style Manual

The AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style, the two most popular style manuals, have already laid out guidelines for grammar and punctuation. Rather than doing the tedious work of itemizing every grammar rule, you may want to start by choosing one and making it available to your writing team.

While style manuals are widely accepted and thorough, you may have a few exceptions. There also may be questions you hear from writers or editors consistently, like, ‘Do you use Oxford commas?” You can highlight these answers and exceptions alongside your designation of which style book is your company’s go-to source for grammar rules.

4. Define Your Brand’s Voice and Tone To Match Your Audience

Both tone and voice relate to how your brand communicates. Voice and tone are often confused, but when you think about people, it’s easier to visualize the difference.


If you think of a serious, introverted person who loves to read and works in a mentally challenging field, their voice is likely erudite. They might use long sentences and words, offering detailed explanations to support their point because they care about getting the facts right. Any sense of humor may be dry, leaning toward witty or ironic.

By contrast, if you imagine someone who works in entertainment and loves to tell stories that make people laugh, their voice will be quite different. They will likely use vibrantly descriptive words and employ cadence and pauses to keep their audience engaged.

In terms of business, an accounting firm may choose to be witty but will likely do so in the context of a professional and informative voice. An eCommerce store selling children’s toys will want to be friendly, positive, and helpful.

By starting with your brand’s mission and values, you can craft a voice that is a natural extension of those.


Tone expresses emotional content and mood. It can be the difference between responding to an invitation with “Yes, I would love to!” versus “OK.”

The meaning of both responses is the same; they agree to the request. However, the first response conveys excitement, while the second does not.

The voice of your content needs to remain constant, but the tone may change. Your brand may have a positive and uplifting voice but will appropriately take on a somber tone while expressing sad news. Conversely, you may have a professional, formal tone but still express excitement about an upcoming annual event.

5. List Branded Words and Phrases

If your company uses slogans or branded phrases, include them in their own section of your style guide. Specify spelling and capitalization so it’s easy for writers and editors to use them correctly.

6. Define Your Preferred Variation of Common Words and Phrases

Many words and phrases have more than one acceptable variation. For example:

  • eCommerce or e-commerce
  • Database or data base
  • Website or site
  • WiFi or Wi-Fi
  • ebook or Ebook or eBook

Your industry likely has a few of these phrases, and it’s wise to define the version you want to use upfront. This section is sometimes called “Troublesome Words.”

7. Set Formatting Guidelines

Formatting guidelines keep the details of your content consistent. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Headers (title case, all caps, or sentence case)
  • Bold, italicized, and regular text (how and when to emphasize it)
  • Hyperlinks
  • Numbered or bulleted lists (which symbols and style)

You may have specific formatting guidelines for different types of content. List each type of content and highlight any differences for writers and editors to follow.

8. Third-Party Content Sources

The quality of your outbound links in blogs and other content impacts your SEO. You also don’t want to send readers to one of your competitors, defeating all of the hard work your team did to get their eyes on your content in the first place.

You can list specific sites that can be linked, or you can make a general statement that you only want to use authoritative sites. It’s also worth specifying not to link to competitor sites.

How Do I Create a Blog Style Guide?

A blog style guide is a subset of your editorial style guide. Follow the same steps. Start with your brand’s mission and values, define your blog’s buyer persona, clarify your blog’s voice and tone, detail any branded words or phrases you want to include, and set formatting and linking guidelines. You may also want to consider including additional SEO guidelines, such as any rules your company follows for keyword placement.

Editorial Style Guide Best Practices

Since your editorial guide is a living document, you don’t have to perfect everything before you start using it. You will inevitably find ways over time to make it more accessible and easy to use. Also, your brand may change and evolve, which would need to be reflected in the guide.

Here are a few editorial style guide best practices to help you stay on the right track.

Make It Easy To Follow

Your guide should include a lot of detail, but if it’s not easy to read, it will not fulfill its purpose effectively. Writers and editors are skilled at absorbing and applying information. Even so, you don’t want to hand them a poorly formatted tome.

Format your guide so it’s clear, scannable, and easy to follow. Make it so people can access the information they need without re-reading the whole thing or searching to find a detail.

Give the Guide to Everyone Who Writes for You

Share your style guide with your writing and editing team. Ensure they review and understand it. Invite questions so you know what isn’t clear.

When you hire a new freelancer or take on a new team member, make the guide an automatic part of your onboarding process.

Use Examples To Show What’s Right and Wrong

Feel free to include real-life examples that demonstrate the concept you are explaining. Examples are advantageous when discussing formatting or grammar usage.

You can demonstrate an incorrect example and then show a writer how to fix it to align with your editorial guidelines.

Produce Clear, Consistent Content

A well-crafted editorial style guide helps you produce consistent content regardless of the number of writers on your team or their location. It delivers a cohesive experience to your audience, who can experience your brand as a source of authoritative, quality content.

If you want to scale your content production without building and managing a team, we can help. At ContentWriters, you access professional writers with subject matter expertise overseen by dedicated account managers. Find out more about our services and how we help our clients grow.

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