Editorial Grid

Having an editorial grid simplifies the content development process, because it is clear what types of content should be included and what doesn’t fit in the grid and should be rejected. An editorial grid is developed based on a clear understanding of organizational vision and strategy, and the purpose of content within the organization. Adherence to an editorial grid is important for magazines, e-newsletters, websites, social media, books and any type of content. That doesn’t mean that every content platform within an organization will have exactly the same editorial grid, but differences in content tone, type and subject matter on various platforms should be based on strategic decisions about audience and purpose, not editorial whim.

Development of an Editorial Grid

The starting point for an effective editorial grid is a clear understanding of the needs of the target audience and the organizational purpose of content (such as to inform, instruct, inspire, motivate or other purpose).

Understanding the audience is an ongoing process, but includes conversations, focus groups, statistical data, anthropological research, continuous observation and listening. If an organization has several audience segments, then clearly understanding the nuances of each segment is important for making sure the segment perceives a strong affinity with the organization. Audiences change over time, so this process is not a one-time effort.  Editors and content writers should always be asking what the audience wants and expects from the organization, and how the content can meet and exceed audience expectations.

Clarity in the organizational purpose of content focuses the efforts of content creators and editors. Rather than a smattering of different topics, unrelated to each other or the organizational purpose, editors can seek the highest quality of content that specifically fits into the strategy of the organization. Such editorial discipline also means that readers know what to expect in terms of content topics, which builds audience loyalty.

Content Confusion

A magazine that I read from time to time has recently changed their editorial focus. They still emphasize home and garden topics, but they have added a few pages of fashion and makeup. These are not topics that I expect in the magazine and it is perplexing to me as a reader to have a few pages that don’t seem to fit the editorial grid. I don’t buy fashion magazines because those are not topics that interest me, but even if I was interested in fashion, I wouldn’t expect to find it in a magazine that has “homes” and “gardens” as the defining words on the cover. And if I was looking for fashion as a key component of content, I would want more than just a few pages.

Clear editorial guidelines based on both organizational strategy and audience understanding are essential for maintaining a consistent brand in all platforms of content.

Word Count Matters

The most frequently repeated advice that editors give at writing conferences is, “Follow the guidelines.” Potential writers who want to get published in a magazine, blog, e-newsletter or website can maximize their opportunity to get published by following the guidelines for the organization. It is amazing how many people ignore this simple advice. Word count is one area that is frequently violated in submissions.

As an editor, the reason I establish a word count for a particular type of article or feature is that I know what length of article will fit best in a particular slot. On an e-newsletter, I use an established template, and if an article is too long or too short, it doesn’t look good in the template. In a magazine, I know how much space my graphic designer needs to grab the reader’s attention with design, and I know how many words I want on a particular page. On a website, I know how many words, on average, are above the fold, so that readers don’t need to scroll to read. Word count matters as part of the overall editorial decision-making process.

Obviously quality of content is more important than length of content, but given two submissions of equal quality, the submission that follows the word count specifications has a better chance of getting published. Not because editors are lazy, but because we are busy and it takes time to do an excellent job of cutting down a submission that is too long. Sometimes I enjoy the challenging of revising a piece to fit the necessary word count, but it definitely takes time and effort.

For the writer, word count can make the difference between getting published and getting put in the “maybe” file. For the editor, adherence to word count builds a smooth relationship with designers, who need space on the page or e-mail template to make the content package effective. Word count is one aspect of excellence in the writing and editorial process.

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