Part One was about Identity. Part Two covered Editorial. Part Three concerns the writers, contributors, correspondents, whatever you want to call them. This isn’t just about the practicalities of what, when and how to post content.
Regular contributors to any blog represent themselves using their unique voices, but also represent that blog. Unless you intend to court and cultivate controversy, you have to set out the rights and responsibilities and set the boundaries for what is acceptable and what isn’t.
A separate set of Writer’s Guidelines will include:
- Review process: how are submissions reviewed before publication.
- Target Audience: the demographic, as far as it is known for a web audience, to help the writers set the tone for whom they are writing.
- Posting format: titles, capitalisation, sentence structure, word counts, image placement.
- Bylines: Use of full name, real name, or nickname permitted.
- Spelling: regional standard (English, American), trademark and brand spellings
- Typesetting: use of standard ‘house’ fonts, bold, italic, colour and font changes within the post.
- Web-links: when and how to link, from where and formatting styles (minimum/maximum words to link, external or internal linking styles, link classes.
- Article Series: structure and breakdown for serialised articles
- Code standards: for those technical articles that include instructions and code, how to structure and mark-up code within posts.
- Tags and Categories: explains clearly how to categorise and tag content for searching published posts
- Accessibility Standards: public websites now have to meet web standards for accessibility. Given the blog platform itself dictates much of the layout and content order, whih you would hope will meet standards, the best you can do after that is to
- The profane list: where profanity is permitted, which words or expressions are blacklisted or white listed.
- Fact Checking: what is the expectation of fact checking and verification; does the post adhere to principles of accurate journalism or are liberties taken in the name of entertainment. Is this clear within each post?
- Use of Images: how to use graphics and photography including citations, credits, file sizes, display sizes, file formats.
- Blockquotes: how use, poisiton, display and cite quotes, references and other resources. This should also cover who, how and when to get permission for usage.
- Comments: what is the requirement of authors to comment? Many sites now require authors to comment on other contributors blog posts in the name of encouraging others to engage the author. If this is required, how, when and where to comment must be laid out for consistency.
- Copyrights: a clear definition of what is acceptable for authors to claim copyright, including what is reprinted in the article and what is may be reprinted off-site.
The Blog Style Guide
Looping back up the the top-level management of any multi-authored site, your writers wil also need the Style Guide.
This can be difficult to pin down and apply consistently, particularly since you want to retain the disitinctive voices of your contributors. Above and beyond the Writers Guidelines, every blog has a house style; think of any big name site and you will have an idea of the look, the writing style, the scope of content and in particular the ‘voice’, even if it distills down to formal, informal, casual, comic, sarcastic, idealistic, optimistic, smart, sassy or any number of adjectives that sum up the site.
It is something that evolves over time as the contributors mature and the voice becomes more distinct from or more alike it’s competitors or peers. Style guides for regular publications change and are updated under version control, according to a recognisable plan. And evolve it must, albeit in the right way. The worst thing you can do is try to force it into some style to which the content and the contributors are unsuited. Jumping on fads or trends or band-wagons is a poor, short-term effort. So-called ‘organic’ development is usually anything but, it usually means the heavy-weight personalities in the team push everyone else in their preferred direction without consensus, or, worse, the whole thing drifts with no one taking responsibility.
We are on the road toward a unified, house style; whatever that may look like. As in the best traditional publishing, on-line should continuously evolve and change, else it becomes moribund. Think of all the big consumer brands. To stand still is to die, moreover, to walk at a leisurely pace, when the rest of the Internet runs full-pelt may mean the same. Our style guide may (should?) only be a snap-shot in time. The Editors