Is it colour or color? And do we write 5 or five in a headline? What about okay, ok, OK or o.k.?
Developing an internal editorial style guide is a key part of your inbound marketing strategy. It makes it easier to work with freelancers, keeps your content consistent and most importantly, it prevents your readers from getting confused. Say farewell to disjointed word choices, inconsistent formatting and annoying grammar inconsistencies.
Today at Brand chemistry we’re going to run through some ideas to help you create an editorial style guide to compliment your inbound marketing efforts.
A few quick things before we start: while this document should be comprehensive it must also be ‘find/search’ friendly. What we mean by this is, if you place the information in a document, make sure it’s easy for a user to use the Ctrl+F search function to find a term. This will save a lot of time from scrolling through every single line of text to find the answer they need. Our suggestion is to open a Google document and create headings, and go from there.
Section 1: The basics
Set the tone and style
In this section you want to highlight your tone of voice, which will be easy because you’ll already have your buyer and brand personas down pat, right? Your tone depends on your personas. If you’re writing for an audience of accountant, you probably won’t be writing in a casual tone. Same goes if you’re writing for start-up entrepreneurs, you might have found you do not need an academic tone and your content can take a more conversational approach. The style and tone of which you write in depends on what your persona research uncovered, so make sure you have a copy of your persona in this section for easy referral.
Pick your English
The next thing you want to do is define what type of English you will be writing in. Brand chemistry is Australian so we follow the British version, which means ‘mum’ over ‘mom’, ‘accessorise’ over ‘accessorize’, ‘instil’ over ‘instill’ etc. If you’re outsourcing to overseas content producers make sure they’re aware of this before you hire them.
Section 2: Style guide
A style guide tells the writer what to do in certain grammar and punctuation cases. There are a lot of resources out there that can help you, don’t stress about doing this from scratch. Our suggestion is to look at the below, pick a style you think works, and stick to it.
- Associated Press’ style guide (requires a subscription)
- Monash University’s style guide
- Princeton's style guide
Once you’ve made your choice, only extract the most commonly used examples you want to see in your content and provide content creators a link and login. This way they can look for answers to any questions that may not be in your style guide.
We also recommend adding your own personal preferences here too, which in all cases would override the style guide. For example:
What do you capitalise? Do you ever use all capitals? Define the rules.
- Five Ways To Smash Your Marketing Goals
- 5 ways to smash your marketing goals
- 5 Ways To Smash Your Marketing Goals
- 5 Ways to Smash your Marketing Goals
- 5 WAYS TO SMASH YOUR MARKETING GOALS
Abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms
The style guides all provide ways of dealing with these situations. But it might be the case in your content that you sometimes want to abbreviate words, like technology to tech - just because it makes it flow better. Again, this is all personal preference and should reflect your brand and buyer personas. So make a list of what is acceptable and what writers are likely to use.
Do you use them in headlines but not in text? Do you write one to ten, but 11-1000 is in numerals? And do you use commas when you get to five numbers or more? List common examples here.
Keep it consistent
We’re sure a bunch of ideas are coming to your head right now and you’ll be recalling writers asking your preference on certain style and writing aspects. Whenever you get a question we suggest adding and answering them in your Google Doc style guide and sending the link to the writer with the answer. This will get writers in the habit of checking the style guide doc before coming to you with a question. It’s also a great tip to ask them to bookmark the link for easy access.
Section 3: Referencing and attribution
Research is usually a staple element of producing content. And referencing back to the original source isn’t just a courtesy, it’s the right thing to do. We’re not saying to go out there and follow academic referencing systems like APA 6 or Harvard, unless you’re writing research papers of course. Then you should absolutely do that. But it’s important to work out how you will reference sources for different pieces of content.
Will a simple hyperlink back do? Do you list them at the end of the article?
Do you put it in an index? Write the URL out? Do you display a ‘courtesy of…’ footnote?
Pick what your brand is doing, write it down and stick to it.
Section 4: Images
Images are usually the graphic designer’s domain. And for good reason. But if you use stock images and you ask your writers to source images for your posts you should have some style guidelines around these.
The task of choosing images will be much easier for your writers if your brand persona is crystal clear. Our tip is to give your writers strong examples of what you expect and also show some images you have used in the past, e.g. vector images, only black and white or every image has to have purple in it.
At Brand chemistry we’re enjoying experimenting with vectors that help explain and amplify our content.
Section 5: Formatting
The formatting of your articles is also important. If you’re writing blogs or you’re writing printed flyers, you want your branding to remain consistent.
- What you should consider:
- What font is used?
- What size is your general text?
- What size are your headings?
- What size are your bullet points? Do you use squares, circles or diamonds?
- Do you use bold, italics or underline?
Once you have your formatting written down and in practice for a few weeks it will become second nature to your writers to present their content in this way.
Editorial style guides are an essential tool to keep your inbound marketing content consistent. The way you write, the images you choose and the way you format your content should all work toward making your brand recognisable and your content reader-friendly.
But it’s also important the the editorial style guide itself is user friendly - you don’t want to go to all the effort to make the guide for it to never be used. Make sure you’re constantly updating and referring your writers and content creators to it as a key reference guide to keep it relevant.