Creating a Magazine Style Guide
Written by Matt Berringer
November 24, 2021
For any magazine or publication wanting to establish a consistent and memorable brand identity, a magazine style guide is essential. Having your writing and designing preferences outlined in a single document will keep your team on the same page.
The purpose of a digital publishing style guide is to create brand uniformity throughout all of the magazine’s content, no matter who wrote or designed which sections. Style standards save time for writers and editors as they have a clearly defined summary of the publisher’s expectations. With a document to reference during the writing process, contributors will feel more confident about the work they produce. Common features of these guides generally include:
- An audience overview
- An outline of grammar rules and preferences
- Brand voice and tone information
- Preferred formatting
- Editorial standards
- Design standards
When creating a style guide, the amount of information you provide will depend on your unique publication. However, we compiled the most important features to include when creating a content style guide from beginning to end. On this page, you will learn how to create a style guide and why it will benefit everyone involved in your magazine, from editors to readers.
Define Your Audience
The first step in creating a successful style guide is identifying your target audience. Before adding anything to your guide, you have to have a clear understanding of your readers and their perspectives.
Clearly outline who you are speaking to with your content. What is their background like? How knowledgeable are they about the topics you share? Your writers need to know exactly who they are writing for. Sharing an audience profile can help with this.
An audience profile starts with a general description of the ideal magazine reader. Consider the demographics and attitudes of these readers. Explore how educated are they on your subjects. Determine how they like being talked to and where they will access your content. Include this information in your guide.
It is essential to understand your audience because they will dictate the following:
- The topics you will cover
- The amount of information you will share
- The level of technicality you will use when discussing certain subjects
- The way you will address these topics
With a solid understanding of the audience, all writers can produce content that is more consistent across the board. Consistency keeps readers coming back for more and influences brand trust. Your publication will benefit from having a reliable relationship with the audience.
Plus, your writers can keep referencing your publication’s audience profile as they create. This will promote even more uniformity in your magazine’s content.
Define Your Brand Voice & Tone
81% of consumers make their purchases based on how a brand’s values align with their own. Brand voice and tone are important aspects of your magazine’s overall personality because they communicate what your magazine stands for and largely make up your overall brand message. To develop and understand brand voice and brand tone, you must first differentiate between the two.
Voice vs. Tone
Brand voice is the overarching personality of your magazine. It communicates the lens through which your magazine sees the world. Voice is typically described by what your attitude is and refined by what it is not. For example, your publication might but humorous, but not sarcastic, or friendly, but not casual.
Tone is slightly different. It refers to the medium of communication you use, which in itself communicates messages about your brand. How your magazine chooses to deliver its messages is as important as what it is saying.
If you need further clarification, consider public apologies. While the public figure’s attitude may be communicated through the words of the apology, critics will also consider how that person delivered their apology. The apology can either be accepted or seen as insincere, depending on how they decided to share it.
Tone changes depending on the situation and audience. Your magazine might have variations in tone depending on the type of article or section. It will also have different tones depending on various platforms. Try to identify your magazine’s brand voice as clearly as possible and note how your tone might change depending on different content types and platforms. This will keep your team on the same page no matter what communication channel they are using.
Having a dependable brand voice will influence assurance with the audience as well. When they read your content, they want it to feel like your magazine. Consistency will promote trust in your brand.
Identify Best Practice by Format & Content Type
When it comes to formatting, having precise guidelines will save your design and writing teams a lot of time. Content type and format practices may depend on what stylebook your magazine follows. For example, many journalists write according to the Associated Press Stylebook’s rules while academics tend to use the American Psychology Association Style. If your magazine writes following one of these style guides, note which one and share some specifications, such as:
- Headers: Identify when and where to use what kind of headings and subheadings. Decide on what tags to use when. Note your rules for capitalization and punctuation.
- Hyperlinks: Decide how you want your links incorporated into your text. Perhaps your magazine prefers phrases linked as opposed to single words. You may have requirements or limitations regarding the number of links in a text. Determine if you want internal links between the pages of your magazine. Publications using a digital flipbook can have links that take the reader to internal destinations. Specify how you would like hyperlinks to look and work in your writing.
- Emphasis: Each magazine has its own preferences when it comes to the use of bold, underline, or italics. Note what is acceptable or if writers can use all three throughout the text or in headings.
- Photos and captions: Note if photos have certain size specifications or if they need to be positioned a special way. Share how long captions should generally be and what they should or should not include. We will get more in-depth with photo formatting when discussing design.
Overall, your style guide should include formatting preferences and specific differences depending on content type.
Editorial Style Guide Checklist
An editorial style guide is essential for publications looking for uniformity in their written content. Create a checklist for writers to refer back to as they write or proofread. Everything from grammar to citation practices should be noted in detail. With an explicitly outlined checklist, your magazine’s content will be consistent no matter who is doing the writing.
If you want to establish your magazine as a credible publication, the content should be grammatically correct. What gets tricky is that grammar rules are not set in stone. In fact, writers can write the same sentence in two different ways and both can be grammatically sound. For example:
- Jackson works as Assistant Manager at the Pennsylvania location and has not received his pay raise yet.
- Jackson works as assistant manager at the PA location and hasn’t received his pay raise yet.
These sentences convey the same message and both are correct. To maintain consistency throughout all copy, the style guide should outline preferences on the following:
Flesh out the specifics. Can writers end sentences with prepositions? Can they incorporate serial commas? Will the punctuation land on the inside or outside of quotation marks? Answer these questions or choose a pre-existing style book such as the Associated Press and have writers abide by their rules.
Misspellings make your content look unprofessional. In your content style guide, cover what tools writers should be utilizing for spelling, such as Grammarly or spell check. Note if there are any editorial preferences such as using American English or British English spelling such as:
- Color versus colour
- Realize versus realise
- Theater versus theatre
Decide on a version to use and stick with it. Also, note any preferred spelling for industry terms or names.
Voice & Tone
We previously differentiated between voice and tone. Because these are so important to the overall brand of your magazine, it is important to really inundate your writers with your voice and tone practices.
Your magazine’s voice directly impacts the way writer create content. They should have a clear understanding of exactly how to convey the publication’s perspective.
Different articles and content types will require different tones. Some examples include:
- Quizzes: These tend to be more casual and fun in tone.
- Interviews: An interview should be professional, even if it is conducted playfully or is focused around a light subject.
- Social media: Social media tends to have a more relaxed tone than magazine content, but should not feel sloppy or too informal.
Recognizing jargon goes hand-in-hand with defining your audience. It is important to step into the shoes of the reader. What industry or cultural terms are they familiar with? You do not want to insult them by oversimplifying your content, but you also do not want to use terms that are too technical for the average audience.
In your style guide, outline any industry terms that may need to be interpreted for the reader and what words to use instead. Share any preferred euphemisms or substitutions your magazines should use with your team. Add any synonyms or slang to avoid or use. And share how your writers should reference your magazine or publishing house in text.
Sentence Style and Length
Every publication has its own inclination when it comes to sentence style and length. In your editorial style guide, share the sentence and paragraph lengths that work best with your magazine. If your magazine is totally digital, sentences and paragraphs are likely kept brief and skimmable.
Your magazine’s subject matter will indicate style and length. Some content types may have different requirements depending on the topics. Serious and academic magazines will likely have longer sentences and paragraphs. More trivial topics are likely to be shorter and less in-depth.
One of the greatest benefits of publishing digitalization is the capability of using hyperlinks. But with this power comes responsibility. Your team should have a clear understanding of external linking practices.
Specify the number of links your publication allows or requires in each article. Outline the resources or types of websites that can be linked to in the content. Share lists of reputable sources as well as sites that are absolutely forbidden. Some publications prohibit linking to Wikipedia or personal blogs as they may not meet quality standards.
Internal linking refers to links that take the reader to different parts of your magazine’s content or website.
Citations and Resources
As previously stated, your writers should have an idea of what sources are reputable and permitted within your magazine. To avoid unnecessary confusion and aid in fact-checking, share your practices for citations in your guide.
Some publications prefer in-text links and/or credit while others prefer to keep a list of sources at the end of an article. No matter how you approach citations and resources, make sure your team has a clear understanding. This can avoid plagiarism claims and other problems verifying information.
If your industry has several leading resources, it can be helpful to compile a list for writers and editors to reference.
Design Style Guidelines
The visual aspects of a magazine are just as important as the written content, and you can learn about establishing a digital publishing designer toolkit on our blog.
Design conveys messages just like written content and should make your publication feel professional. If you are unsure how to design a magazine, consider these three main categories:
Typography is the style of text your publication uses. This refers to more than just the fonts your magazine uses. Typography is the art of arranging the text to convey a message and involve the following elements:
- Typeface: When choosing fonts, more goes into it than one might expect. Consider the weight of the typeface, i.e. boldface or regular, and the slope, i.e. italics. It is generally best to limit font styles to three or fewer variations.
- Point size: Note the sizes of typography in your guide as well. Share the sizes of different kinds of text like headers, paragraphs, captions.
- Line spacing: Decide on the distance between each and stay consistent across all text.
- Letter spacing: Letter spacing should be set to optimize clarity and make it easy for the audience to read. Letters that are too close together can look jumbled and messy.
Photos are a major component of magazine design. There should be set guidelines for visuals that make sense with the rest of the branding. Identify size requirements that will promote photo quality, but also make formatting articles simpler. Add notes about the positioning of images as well.
Perhaps your magazine centers photos or aligns them to the right. This could change depending on the content type or location in the magazine.
Clarify the criteria for the types of images that your publication shares and where they can be sourced from. Make sure contributors know they should credit photographers and/or use royalty-free shots.
Consider photo appearances such as editing and filters. Images should appear cohesive and align with the overall branding of your magazine.
Did you know colors influence 85% of buying decisions made by shoppers? The magazine design process is incomplete without a color palette. Choose your brand colors, specify the HTML values of each one and add them into your style guide so that your team always has the right color at their fingertips.
Color schemes typically include 5 to 10 different colors and shades. Note that your designers do not have to use all colors from the palette on every project.
Design guidelines will help your magazine’s branding stay consistent issue after issue. Remember that design is often what catches the attention of new readers. In the digital space, it is important to keep your content engaging and professional-looking.
Compile Relevant Examples
Before distributing your style guide, make sure to include relevant examples of each element. These could be examples from other publications or old issues of your magazine. Leave no room for interpretation so that your writers and designers feel absolutely confident that they know how to produce quality work for your magazine.
At Nxtbook Media we have worked with some incredible businesses and brands. On our site, you can find awesome style examples from a few different magazines such as:
Not every aspect of your style guide will require examples. However, it is important to provide clarity so your team shares an understanding of how their work should be completed.
Training Your Team and Sharing your Guide
You’ve gathered all the necessary information to create a magazine style guide from design to editorial practices. Now it is time to train your team and distribute your guide!
The style guide should be a digital file that is easily shared. Your team will be able to share your document more easily this way. Plus, freelance contributors can access the document in minutes and get on the same page as the rest of the organization.
Content marketing teams will frequently refer back to the audience profile and brand voice sections within the guide. They may even introduce changes to the style guide that may be more beneficial to marketing efforts for the magazine.
Regularly Update Your Style Guide
When creating a digital publishing style guide, choose a platform that can be regularly updated. Having the capability to revamp your guide will be a great help down the line. You will not have to draft an entirely new document when you want to add or change any details. Do not limit yourself by using a platform that cannot be edited. You should update your guidelines whenever any of the following occurs:
- The magazine adds a new section or series
- Marketing updates
- Your magazine is repositioning
- Any type of redesign
- You need to make changes for mobile viewing
- Market expansion
Before revamping your guide, take into consideration content performance and brand recognition. Anticipate updating your style guide about every six months or so.
Do not make updates too often, however, as this can be confusing for team members. Add timestamps to all edits or updates so that everyone can stay on the same page with which version to use. The best practice is to set an updating schedule and regularly make changes every six months or, at the longest, every year. For this reason, you should find a flexible platform.
Choose a Flexible Platform
When it comes to creating a style guide and publishing a magazine digitally, choose a program that is both flexible and adaptive to mobile viewing. At Nxtbook Media, we have two different publishing platforms, PageRaft and nxtbook.
With PageRaft, users can design, digitize, and market documents and create files that have the responsiveness of a website. With Nxtbook, your magazine style guide will be engaging and easily sharable. Plus, our team will support you every step of the way. And nxtbook, our replica platform, mirrors print design so you can easily digitalize any printed content or issues of your magazine.
Whether you are researching how to create a magazine or you want to convert to digital, Nxtbook can help. With our solutions, you can create a premium digital magazine and style guide from a trusted platform that has supported over 100K projects and earned more than 40 awards.
Schedule a demo with Nxtbook Media and see how we support and assist your magazine’s digital content today!
Learn More About Creating Effective Magazine Experiences:
- How to Create Digital Magazines
- How to Tell a Story with Your Magazine
- Magazine Performance Checklist
- A platform for Digital Magazines
- Promoting a Magazine & Increasing Traffic