Editorial Guidelines For Your Blog

Teli Adlam —  September 14, 2005

This should go without saying, but having a blog puts you in the public eye. Even if your blog has a limited readership or if you password protect it in order to limit your audience, you still have an audience and that can potentially cause you more trouble than you expect.

Let’s digress for a moment. You have a young child playing in the front yard. The child’s ball rolls out into traffic and, because the child does not yet understand how traffic works, goes running after it. If there is a fence in place, that will prevent the child from running into harm’s way.

Editorial guidelines are like that fence, only for your blog. Whether or not it’s a chain link fence or a concrete wall will be up to you (I prefer chain link because they offer a bit more flexibility 🙂 ).

Before you actually get started formulating your guidelines, it’s important to take into account how much you can handle. Do you mind if you ruffle a few feathers along the way? Can you take a lot of criticism (good or bad)? Will the world come to a screeching halt of someone calls you an a–hat?

It’s important to gauge not only your own personality and tolerance, but that of your audience as well. For instance, you may have a really thick skin, but if you want to build a blog that’s nothing less than saintly, the last thing you’d want to do is piss of the clergy.

With that in mind, start plotting the details

  • Overall tone and language
    • We all have our views on snarky attitudes and the use of coarse language. Some think using a bad word at any point in your life means you are condemned to hell with no possibility of parole — others simply don’t care. Who is your audience and which group do they fall into? More importantly, which group do you fall into?
    • What is a curse word and how often will they be used? Remember, some people see female dog, donkey, and cheery as curse words, even when used in their proper context.
  • Naming names
    • It’s important to develop a policy on naming names because mentioning the wrong thing about the wrong name can get you into deep water. If you don’t mind potential flame wars and possible law suits, using a name holder instead of the actual name may be in your better interests. But, again, this depends on the tone of your blog.
    • A compromise is to develop a “never use” name list and place all of the people or companies you will never name publicly unless it’s a press release or other type of publicly available news.
    • If you want to be the news breaker, then by all means, throw caution to the wind and name some names
  • Controversial topics?
    • Hot button topics include politics and religion. These two topics can start a debate that can go on for decades. Think about whether or not you want your views and beliefs to be picked apart and whether or not it adds anything to your blog.
    • If you say you won’t ever discuss those topics on your blog — don’t. Even one entry on politics or religion can permanently alter the mood and flow of a blog for better or for worse. There really is no grey area there.
  • To research or not to research
    • It’s true that most bloggers don’t do their due diligence and just republish what they find online — will you be one of them? Lay down how much fact checking you wish to do and how much supporting evidence you want to establish before posting content.
    • If you’re looking to establish yourself as a credible and reliable source of information, put fact checking way up there on the list. The moment someone finds out you published nothing more than National Enquirer news, your blog will be viewed as a tabloid itself.
    • If the site is meant to be light hearted and not taken seriously, let you tone dictate as much and also post it somewhere, so new visitors know not to take anything there too seriously.
  • What about the comments?
    • As some of you may already know, comments left on your blog can get you in trouble. So, naturally, some of your guidelines should extend to your comments (or you should completely absolve yourself from responsibility)
      • Will you allow cursing in comments?
      • Will you allow name naming?
      • What about flaming and arguments?
    • Will you edit comments or leave them in tact?
      • Will you only edit for grammar or for language as well?
      • Will you delete whole sections of a comment or entire comments
      • Will you make an editor’s note that the comment was edited or deleted?
  • The infamous “grey area”
    • In your blogging escapades, you are bound to run into something that is really pushing your editorial guidelines – that’s called “the grey area”. Whether or not you have a chain link fence or a concrete wall will be the deciding factor. In any event, it’s best to err on the side of common sense.
  • Publish the guidelines?
    • Publishing your guidelines gives your audience a chance to see what they can expect from your blog and what not to expect. Publishing your guidelines also means that making sweeping changes across the board will be a lot more noticeable and will need to be handled in a delicate manner.
    • Publishing your comment guidelines can help people to better interact with you. If they know their comment will be edited if they cross the guidelines, people will either not comment or they will keep it in bounds.

Developing workable guidelines for your blog doesn’t come with any hard and fast rules. The above is simply a template to get you started. Different blogs will face different dilemmas, however, every blog (even personal ones) can benefit from some boundaries, especially community or group blogs.

As a blogger, you’ll want to test your limits. Having guidelines in place will help to keep you in bounds while you find your ideal comfort zone.

Teli Adlam

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One response to Editorial Guidelines For Your Blog

  1. This will help me so much, I am just about to start a blog and its amazing how much I am going to rethink how I blog. Thanks so much for this great article.