Creating amazing content is a complex, and challenging process. To ensure you deliver the best possible experience to your audience with everything they produce, companies need to hold their writers to a set of specific standards. Editorial standards, or editorial guidelines, are the signposts that help content creators and editors in a company deliver consistent quality.
For any brand investing in content creation, editorial guidelines ensure your team can continue to deliver the same effective results when it comes to everything from tone of voice to accuracy.
While most companies start with historical guidelines, like the Associated Press Stylebook (AP Style) and the American Heritage Dictionary, it’s common for brands to build on their editorial standards with alterations and additions linked to their specific content strategy.
Here’s your guide to editorial standards.
What are Editorial Standards, and Why Are They Important?
On a basic level, editorial standards are simply guidelines given to content creators and editors to make content as clear, accurate, and effective as possible.
The main purpose of producing and publishing content in today’s digital world is to inform, educate and entertain your audience, and subsequently build relationships with your community. Your customers will often associate their feelings about your content’s quality with their overall perception of your business. As such, your editorial standards define your reputation.
Editorial guidelines ensure you’re making the right impact with your content, no matter what you produce. They help to provide insights into what your business stands for, can offer insights into your company’s tone of voice, and even outline style or formatting requirements.
At Today Digital, we have our own set of editorial guidelines we use as a benchmark for high-quality, well-written, and value-filled content. Following these guidelines means our content creators and editors can consistently deliver the kind of value our audience expects from us.
How Do Companies Create Editorial Standards?
Editorial guidelines are helpful for any company creating content because they prevent your team from making mistakes that might be detrimental to the reputation or identity you want to build. Depending on your organisation, you may even decide to create different editorial guidelines for different audiences or to guide different kinds of content creation.
Notably, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for creating editorial guidelines. The Copyblogger team can sum its editorial guidelines up into three points, while the BBC has around 220 pages of information to cover. If you’re going to be creating your own editorial guidelines, there are a few points you’ll need to consider:
Your editorial goals and tactics:
Why are you creating content, and who will this content be for? One of the most important points to address when using your editorial guidelines to evaluate your content is whether each piece you produce is “fit for purpose”. You can only identify the value of your content if you know what you’re trying to accomplish with your content in the first place.
Clarifying your goals upfront, such as to “educate, inform and entertain” will help you to determine how each piece of content you produce fits into your content strategy.
Once you have your “goals”, you can get more granular about how you want your employees to achieve those goals. For instance, if your aim is to “educate” your audience, you might want your team to focus on fact-checking every piece of content they produce.
Ensuring your content creators imbue pieces with the right editorial values is how you make sure anything you produce is effective and unique. Ask yourself what kind of core topics and types of content will your team be producing? What sort of things should your content producers be doing to make your content unique?
For instance, you might ask your editors to ensure anything they produce has a friendly, and accessible tone, as most of your competitors are known for producing jargon-fuelled content. Being specific about what your content should cover, and how your team should address topics is crucial.
Your target audience:
Editorial standards should include an overview of your target audience, to help anyone you employ understand who you’re trying to reach. Providing an insight into the psychographics of your target audience, their pain points, and their desired outcomes will help content creators to step into the shoes of the correct people when they’re writing.
The Content Marketing Institute, for instance, includes a list of guidelines in their editorial standards which highlight “who” content creators should be writing for.
Editorial integrity in your editorial standards advises your employees on which steps they should be taking to ensure the integrity of anything they produce. This could mean you ask your team members to check all of the hyperlinks in their content go to the correct sites before they submit a piece, or that everyone checks names are spent correctly, with the right pronouns given to anyone referenced.
Other areas of editorial integrity your standards may cover include:
- References to days and dates
- Fact-checking (how to ensure a source is legitimate)
- Appropriate sources to use for references
Your content standards
Perhaps more than anything else, your editorial standards will demonstrate precisely what’s expected from your employees when producing any of the kinds of content you create. This will include insights into how content needs to be formatted and published, how team members should review their content before submitting it to publications, and so on.
Your “standards” for content may also include expectations on how you expect your employees to behave when it comes to the legal issues and ethics of sourcing content or the process of making corrections to any pieces which may be found to house mistakes.
Mastering Editorial Standards
Similar to brand guidelines, editorial standards act as an important compass for your team, helping to direct their behaviour and creativity in a way that’s beneficial to your brand. When everything you produce and publish online has a direct impact on your brand reputation, you can’t afford to make any mistakes. Don’t underestimate the importance of the right editorial standards.