Create the perfect editorial style guide and ‘tone of voice’ doc…somebody – please!


Nine times out 10, client style guides for editorial provide obvious top level advice on how to write. There, I’ve said it.

A ‘style guide’ should provide guidance on in-house formatting conventions (e.g. whether to use an upper or lowercase ‘g’ in government). But where these docs often fail is when they get on to the more conceptual / wooly ‘tone of voice and language’ section.

Sure, there’s the odd paragraph on how tone and language should ’embody our brand values’ (no matter how vague they are – ‘Our approach can be described as burnt ocre – not just brown’). Rarely do you see practical guidance on how to pitch the tone of copy.

Good tone of voice docs provide ‘before and after’ examples of copy. Or they build up a picture of someone tangible. One teen advice magazine I wrote for said to pitch copy as if it’s being explained by a friendly and trusted older sibling.

But what other elements make a good editorial style guide / tone of voice doc?

Has a style guidelines doc ever taken your breath away? No – I’m serious. Like, when you open the guidelines, you start reading, and you start hearing the music from Scanners and start choking. Like some lost / deleted scene from the original Evil Dead, which they edited out because despite being ‘one for the copywriters,’ it was a bit unbelievable…like THAT impressive.

2 thoughts on “Create the perfect editorial style guide and ‘tone of voice’ doc…somebody – please!

  1. sidneystencil

    Not entirely sure what your point is here, but I’d argue that style guide and tone of voice are two separate documents because they cover different topics and address different audiences.

    So in a style guide you might say, for instance:

    “Use initial capitals as little as possible. In general, a particular reference (the Government) merits an initial cap, a general reference (all British governments) does not.”

    Whereas your tone of voice document might say:

    “Our company is all about change, innovation and breaking with convention. That’s why we’ll never capitalize such words as government and parliament.”

    The latter is about branding, the big picture, the why and what; the former is about technical details (write this way, as Aerosmith might say), i.e. the how.

    Sorry, that’s a long comment already, so I’ll stop here.

  2. kenobi

    Sorry – but haven’t you just repeated my original post? A style guide is guidance on spelling / uppper case conventions, while a tone of voice doc sets out the language / ‘voice’ used etc.

    So – you and I both know the difference, but why doesn’t anyone else?

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