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An editorial style guide is a set of rules that help you communicate with your audience in a manner that is consistent and genuine. It defines your voice and tone, outlines standards for sourcing and attribution, and resolves questions about grammar, spelling, language, and other matters of style where there is more than one right answer. It is an ever-evolving reference for writers and editors.
An editorial style guide is a simple set of rules that ensure clear communication.
"Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes a human voice to infuse them with shades of different meaning."
~ Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
The written word can capture what you say, but to communicate effectively, you also need to pay attention to how you say it. How you say something—whether over the phone or in writing—matters even more than the point you are trying to convey because how you say something determines whether your audience even hears it.
To keep your audience focused on the point you are trying to make, you need to align your message with your editorial style. Use the wrong tone of voice, litter your copy with spelling errors or grammar mistakes, or select a word that just doesn’t fit with your brand, and you’ll lose your audience.
As a visionary leader, you want to present yourself as smart, capable, solutions-oriented, and trustworthy. Your business voice and tone, along with word choice, will be quite different from a start-up fashion design company inspired by skateboard style.
Five reasons to adopt an editorial style guide for your business.
An editorial style guide ensures consistency in tone of voice, style, and formatting. It helps you internalize your brand voice and build credibility. More specifically, an editorial style guide:
1. Establishes a consistent voice and tone. Your voice and tone largely determine how your audience perceives you and your business. It infuses your writing with personality.
2. Defines how you use grammar and language. Every writer has a particular style. Your communications must make consistent use of grammar and language.
3. Outlines a consistent format for your written communications. When your formatting is inconsistent, it can distract your audience from your message.
4. Provides a resource to help you resolve questions of style. Questions of style will continue to arise. Research the issue, resolve it, and document it for future reference.
5. Unifies the voices of multiple writers. Each writer will have a slightly different voice. That can be very powerful, provided that it is consistent with your brand’s voice.
The stronger your brand voice, the more influence you have over how your audience perceives your brand. When you show up consistently across channels and platforms, your audience sees you as reliable, dependable, and trustworthy. An editorial style guide helps you build a strong brand voice that amplifies your message.
We use The Associated Press Stylebook to resolve questions of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviations, and numerals because it is used by most newspapers, magazines, and digital publications. Our house stylebook serves as a quick reference for common questions of style, identifies where our style differs from the AP style, and provides guidance for our tone of voice.
In developing our stylebook, we referenced resources published by the Conscious Style Guide. We believe it’s essential to think critically about language. We choose language that is empowering, inclusive, and respectful so our audience can see themselves in our words and know that they are welcome.
If you're looking for a style guide for your organization, please download our house Editorial Style Guide and modify it to suit your needs.