Okay, so you’ve followed our advice and created a style guide for your visuals. Believe it or not, that was the easy part. Because no matter how slick your magazine looks, content is king. An editorial style guide will bring the same consistency to your content that your visual style guide will bring to your magazine looks.
Luckily, a lot of the work has been done for you. The AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style are the two most widely used standards in American publishing. They cover everything from punctuation, citations, and media law. However, these guides are hundreds of pages long, going in depth into details that may not be relevant to your publication.
Your magazine’s style guide, on the other hand, should be no longer than five pages. Ideally, you should aim for condensing it down to one page. Why? Well, the shorter and more easy it is to use, the more likely it is that your writers and editors will actually use it. Referring to a one page cheat sheet is so much easier than digging through a long document of several pages.
A lot of these can be drawn from the established style guides but you don’t have to follow them to the letter. While neither the AP nor the Chicago guidelines call for using the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma), your publication may choose to use it. After all, they are your rules. This might seem like a minor thing to get hung up on, something as small as improper comma use can make a difference in court.
While this can seem nitpicky, just one sentence of writing can look completely different while still having the same content. Compare these examples:
Sample A: 30% of our CA readers had never been to Disneyland, according to a poll by Miranda Stephens, editor-in-chief of Theme Park Magazine. Stephens’ poll reached out to adults, teens and children.
Sample B: Thirty percent of our California readers had never been to Disneyland, according to a poll by Miranda Stephens, Editor-in-Chief of Theme Park Magazine. Stephens’s poll reached out to adults, teens, and children.
How many differences can you spot? Believe it or not, there are five:
Numbers: 30% vs. thirty percent
Abbreviations: CA vs. California
Capitalization: Editor-in-Chief vs. editor-in-chief
Punctuation: Stephens’ vs. Stephens’s
Punctuation: adults, teens and children vs. adults, teens, and children
Sample A’s style guide features numerals, state abbreviations, keeping titles in lower case, dropping the second s in possessives that end with s, and no serial comma. Sample B, on the other hand, has a style guide that calls for numbers and state names written in full, capitalized titles, keeping the s in possessives that end with s, and using the serial comma. There’s no right or wrong answer. The important thing is that you make your choices and stick to them so that your content is consistent.
Once your little grammatical details are taken care of, it’s time to look at the bigger content picture. What sort of content are you publishing? Longform articles, listicles, photoshoots, or maybe a mix? Whether you have an internal editorial team or are soliciting content from elsewhere, it’s important that they know what you’re looking to publish.
Next, you need to pin down your tone, or how is it that you’re trying to get your information across. Finding your tone is really a question of your audience. If you haven’t noticed by now, our design blog here at Joomag has a casual, friendly tone. We’re here to make you feel more comfortable no matter how experienced you are with design. Compare that to our company blog, which is a bit more formal because it serves as the public face of the whole company.
Finally, are you crediting the people whose work is featured in your publication? If so, you’ll need to determine how author bylines and photography credits will look on the page.
Knowing that we’ve got to keep this short and sweet, what should you include? Here’s a checklist:
Abbreviations: what, how, and when to abbreviate things
Capitalization: what should be capitalized and what should be in lowercase?
Numbers: numerals or written out?
Punctuation: commas, possessives, etc
Citations: how to credit quotes, photography, etc
Format: longform articles, listicles, etc
Tone: casual, formal, or somewhere in between?
If you want to expand beyond a one page style guide, including some examples of what to do and what not to do can be a great reference for your writers and editors. And don’t be afraid to change things if you need to; style guides are meant to me living, working documents Consulting with your content creation team and changing things up to fit their needs will make sure they keep using your style guide instead of letting it gather dust.