Editorial Guidelines Template

This template is meant to guide you in developing your own set of editorial guidelines. Having these in place will make life easier for all your content producers and editors. It might even make things easier for the people who post your content. Having guidelines in place will mean you don’t have to re-consider an issue over and over. And if you want to break a rule, you’ll have the thrill of knowing that’s what you’re doing.

Editorial staff

I highly recommend that one person be the point person or managing editor for your website. That person will have the big picture view and be the point person to go to with questions. The editor can take care of pages like the 404 error page, the privacy notice, etc. that tend to be forgotten during site reviews. Just like a newspaper or magazine, a website is a regularly published medium which needs oversight. Consider if you have enough staff to create the website you need to meet your business goals. Perhaps your business is so small you need to find a way to take on all tasks.

Various models of staffing are possible. Here are just three.

Minimal model Second model More optimal model
Editor Editor Managing editor
Writers Writers Editorial committee
Proofreader Writers
Proofreader


If you don’t have a proofreader, determine who will be doing that task. Writers could do it for each other or the editor could do it. The person posting your content should know if you want him or her to correct typos or alert you to them. You don’t want your credibility questioned because you didn’t ask someone to proofread your document.

  • Do content ideas need to be approved?
  • Once a writing assignment has been given, how much latitude does the writer have with the content?
  • Does the editor and/or proofreader need to sign off on a document before it is posted?
  • Do different types of documents or content require different approvals?

Content/topics

Content needs to promote the goals of your site, whether those are to make a sale or inform or encourage an action. It needs to match the interests and needs of your audience and be written in a manner that your target audience will accept and enjoy.

Business goals

  • List only a handful.

Audiences

  • Be as detailed as you need. If you use personas, refer to them here.

Calendar

  • If you have an editorial calendar, place it here. Consider if one would help motivate your writers or keep them focused.

General content guidelines

  • Be of interest to our audience or have a hook which will entice them to read.
  • Be timely and relevant.
  • Be useful to our audience. (Note: A joke or a chart could each be useful.)
  • Be user friendly. (Easy to scan and to understand.)
  • Present information in an original manner.
  • Have a specific message. Multiple messages should go on separate pages.
  • Content should be able to live on its own as its own page. If you’re separating a long article into multiple pages, consider that a reader might enter on page three. Make it easy for that reader and make it obvious that there are preceding pages.
  • Consider include a value-added element or additional content. This might be a graphic, a video, a set of links, or an opportunity to signup for a newsletter, an inspirational quote.

Content types

  • When will you post a PDF? Only for an article with multiple mathematical equations? Only for white papers your require viewers to register to receive? Do PDFs need to be coded for reading order or other accessibility issues? Do they require tables of content?
  • When do you include a video? Are there requirements for the title or credit slides? Do you also post to YouTube?
  • How should a slide show be formatter? Do you also post to SlideShare?
  • Are forms produced and posted as PDFs, as Word forms, or are they taken care of by your technical staff?

Required page elements

Meta data

Do you have an existing metadata schema or search engine optimization strategy? If so, refer to that here.

  • Title. (This is what shows up in search results and at the top of the web browser.)
    • Is the title always the same as your page heading? Does it always need to include an identified keyword from your search engine optimization campaign? Does it need to include your product name, your business name, a reference to media type, or other information?)
  • Description of the page. (This information assists people in selecting your page in listing of search results. Make the viewer want to click on your link.)
  • Do you have a set of categories or tags you need to identify (typically only for blog entries.)


Example of required elements.

  • Date spelled out so people in the U.S. and in Europe will read it the same. Example: June 7, 2009.
    • What type of content needs a date? Is a month and year sufficient?
  • Author credit with link to author’s contact page or blog.
  • Headings every 2-4 paragraphs.
  • References.
  • Pull quotes for longer articles.
  • A question or concern of your audience. This may be an actual question or simply a good thesis statement.
  • A photo or image.
  • A testimonial.
  • Pricing.
  • A call to action.
    • Do calls to action vary from page to page, or section to section? Who writes the calls to action?

Tone

Consider your brand guidelines as you write this section.

  • Do you want to appear light-hearted, practical, serious, academic, jocular, clever, supportive, challenging or friendly?
  • Are first person references allowed? Only in blogs?
  • What acronyms are acceptable?
  • Are there internal buzzwords you want to list and ask people not to use? Or are there terms that your audience will understand and feel part of a community because you used them?

Length

People will read online but they prefer to skim. Encourage your writers to take the time necessary to write something clearly and concisely.

  • Does your audience expect some types of content—like technical reports, for example—to be long?
  • Should other content—such as a review—be around 300 words?
  • Does longer content require headings or pull quotes or images to keep the reader reading?
  • Is it the writer or editor’s task to determine if a longer document needs to be separated into shorter pages?

Linking

What are your rules for linking to other sites? It is almost always better to write an informative link able to stand on its own rather than a link like “click here” or just providing the URL.

  • Are there sites to which links are always permitted or even encouraged?
  • Are there sites that have tacit approval and need to be formally approved?
  • Are there sites, like commercial or political sites, which can be linked to as long as a disclaimer is provided on the page?
  • How do you link within your site? Are there standard ways to refer to pages? For example, a link to the widget page must always be written as “wonderful widget X .”
  • Are links allowed in the main text or do they need to be listed at the bottom of the page? Are links repeated at the bottom of the page?

Embedding

  • Do you allow embedding of YouTube videos, calendars, slides, etc.?
  • Do you allow the importing of RSS feed from other sites?
  • How do you credit the source?

Endorsements

Testimonials and endorsements can be powerful for sites that use them. They can be about your product or services or you could be providing them within your own content.

  • How should testimonials by your users be formatted or included in a page?
  • If a writer refers to a specific brand or business, is a disclaimer required?
  • Can photos include actual products? How about when a competitor’s product is visible?

Translations

Translations require some finesse to avoid misunderstandings or embarrassment.

  • Who reviews translations?
    • Does the translation match the idiom, social norms and values of the target audience?
    • Does the translation accurately represent your goals?
    • Are examples or testimonials or case studies relevant and meaningful to your geographic audience?
  • Do translations run side-by-side or below your standard language content? Does it live on another page? Does it live on another section of the site? (If they reside in different locations, consider how you will be sure to review them both when needed.)

Content contributed by readers or visitors

  • Do you need a policy for your contributors to follow?
  • Do you need to monitor their uploaded content? Who will do that monitoring and how often?

Content pulled from a feed

  • Who has the responsibility for reviewing feeds to be sure they function and serve your goals?
  • Who need to approve a new or replacement feed?

After publication

Creating a plan for reviewing content will put you ahead of many website publishers.

  • Who sends out requests for links?
  • Who sends out a social media notice that a new page has been added?
  • Who reviews content? (If it is the site’s writers, don’t forget navigational pages, error pages, policy pages, FAQs, etc.
  • When is content reviewed?

Checklist

  • Review for ROT (redundant, outdated, or trivial)
  • Is the information correct?
  • Does it still meet business goals?
  • Does it use current trademarks, nomenclature, titles, etc.
  • Are copyrights still valid?
  • Do links work?
  • Is the content still of value to your readers?
  • Is content ready for archiving? Where do your archives live? Are they printed or online? (If you’re a large company or a university with a library, you might want to contact the librarians about their interest in your archives.)