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Editorial Guidelines for Content

One of the things I heard about from experts early on was the need for editorial guidelines. The basic piece is having a guide for spelling and grammar. It also includes the way you sound as an organization by how everyone on your team writes . Are you a bit stuffy and aloof or sassy but approachable? What makes the most sense for each interaction across your site or other digital messaging? It helps to have answers to these kinds of questions.

In our organization, we use the Associated Press Stylebook as our editorial guide and augment it with a few tools. The names of all the departments, divisions and other groups can get complicated, so we have rules on how to spell them out consistently. We also have a short, 1-page checklist of common mistakes to help authors avoid them. It’s a lot easier to distribute than making sure everyone has a copy of the stylebook. These kinds of tools are useful for larger teams of authors who have direct access to the website.

It can be difficult to make sure everyone follows the stylebook and other guidelines. We have only recently looked at adding an editorial team that approves content before it goes live. However, we provide quality reviews for any new group seeking a site presence. That gets most people started on the right path. We also bring to site owners’ attention any problems we find when helping them with technical issues they report. When we finish adding the editorial approval process, it will be even more consistent.

A voice and tone guide that I heard a lot about in the beginning was Mail Chimp’s Voice and Tone guidelines – http://voiceandtone.com/. It has a lot of interesting features that helps put messages into context, so it’s a lot easier to understand why you have to write in a particular way. It’s worth perusing to see how much detail you can provide to authors about how to write.

In our division dedicated to website support, we wrote up voice and tone guidelines. We gave our own team the voice of the trusted advisor. The voice we chose includes some descriptors, like “professional but informal” and “expert but helpful”. We wrote out specific examples of phrases and how they should sound as well as phrases that made more clear how we should not write. We also have it clear that these should guide documentation that does not include authors’ names, such as our support documentation. Our internal blog has more freedom, since each post names specific authors and allows each author to have their own professional voice.

Spelling, grammar, voice and tone are all things you should have crafted for every interaction that requires written messaging. It’s important to make sure you sound like the same organization when the messages are credited to the overall organization. You may also want some guidelines for individuals as well, but these should only help them be a strong voice that still represents your company just like when they meet people in person.

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