D.J. McPhee
12 February 2024
Posted inOperational Tasks Post authorD.J. McPhee

English Editing Guidelines

English editing guidelines might seem like something that is obvious. After all, you just need the grammar in a manuscript to be good, right?

The truth is, it’s a bit more complicated than that. This is why English editing guidelines are critical, especially if you’re using freelance English editors. There are quite a few options when it comes to establishing guidelines for your editors. Here, we’ll be talking about three different types of guidelines you can establish:

  1. Style guide;
  2. House rules;
  3. Hybrid English editing guidelines.

You can change which of these you use, but it is always better to make sure you remain consistent in your choice. That’s why it is better to decide which you will use, and stick to set of guidelines. This will help your journal to establish consistency, and also helps your English editors to know what your expectations are. If you change the guidelines every couple of months, it can be stressful for editors and can lead to a decrease in quality.

Style guides

There are many different style guides, but there’s also a lot of confusion about what they are. In particular, if you are hiring freelance editors who do not have a lot of experience, making sure that they know what these are is critical. It’s also important to stress that hiring novice editors can be a very good decision, but one that has important caveats. We’ll discuss this more in the future.

According to Wikipedia, a style guide is “A style guide is a set of standards for the writing, formatting, and design of documents.”

There are countless different guides, but there are also very important prominent ones. These include the Chicago Manual of Style, the American Psychological Association (APA) style guide, and the American Chemical Society (ACS) style guide to name a few. Which you would use largely depends on your journal. In some ways, these can be considered as “recommendations”. There is no specific obligation to follow one style guide or another, but there are “best practices” that the industry in general tends to follow.

Which style guide should you use for your editing guidelines?

As noted above, picking the one that most closely adheres to industry expectations makes sense. That doesn’t mean you need to use them though. There are plenty of journals that use the ACS style guide for humanities, but this often requires there to be flexibility. The more strict your guidelines are, the bigger the potential problems can be. What happens when an author makes an important stylistic decision that conflicts with a style guide?

Having flexibility can make your interactions and your final product better.

House rules

If in doubt, you can do it yourself. Creating your own sets of guidelines is an option that you can turn to. There are good points and bad points though. For example, having your own set of house rules when it comes to your style guide lets you customize your journal to be exactly what you want it to be. One downside though is that it takes a huge investment of time and knowledge.

How will you handle bold? Or italics? What about references? Latin?

There are many different things to keep in mind. One option that also exists is to develop a hybrid option, which we will examine below.

Custom editing guidelines

Having editing guidelines that you develop for your own journal can be very handy. It lets you have a unique style, as well as a clear set of rules to train your staff with. By creating a ruleset for your editors, you empower them to reliably have tools to do a good job. There is a significant set of downsides though. First of all, any set of skills that your editors learn are non-transferrable. This means that anything they learn will not serve them in a meaningful way when getting other jobs.

A freelance editor might not see the benefit of needing to learn a proprietary set of editing guidelines that they can’t use for other work. In particular, if you’re not paying an editor to learn the material, you’re effectively asking them to do it on their own time. These are not conducive to a healthy freelancer/client relationship. Remember, respecting your editors’ time and skills can mean you have a strong relationship for years.

House editing rules cost money

In business, time equals money, and developing a custom English editing manual can take months, if not years, to do. You will need to check the guidelines, refine them, and make sure that they make sense. Have you ensured that there are no contradictions? Here’s an example of a contradiction:

“in vitro, ab initio, ex vivo, and other such terms should be in italics.”
“Latin terms should not be in italics.”

In this case, a simple oversight has led to contradictory guidance. It’s very important to make sure that you are not wasting time and money on basic issues. This is why many publishers prefer the hybrid system.

Hybrid English editing guidelines

A much more common option than house guidelines, hybrid English editing guidelines let you use an established style guide and adjusting minor parts to match your desired style. Perhaps you want to have a few minor, but visible, changes to set your journal apart from the rest? A hybrid system allows you to implement a style guide with a minor set of additional changes.

This, in practice, is much less stressful for freelance English editors, as they only have a small number of edits that they need to know in addition to a style guide. The style guide is a direct benefit to them, and a minor number of stylistic edits can be considered part of the deal.

Reasons for having hybrid guidelines

There’s a number of reasons why you might use a hybrid editing guideline. For example, you might have multiple journals in different spheres of knowledge. What do you do if you have five journals in different areas? Would you use five different style guides? It’s possible. But it’s also not particularly cost effective as you’d need to hire people with different expertise, and they wouldn’t be able to work on other projects you have.

Imagine needing five different editors for five different manuscripts.

It seems to be more logical to just use a modified set of guidelines so that you can keep your editors working on any project that you need done.

How to choose your English editing guidelines

Taking a good look at two major considerations can help to inform your decision. The first is what you feel will work best for you and your team. If you are familiar with and have used Chicago and want to continue using that, that’s a good plan. The second consideration is what the industry expectations are. Remember, you’re not alone in this industry, and if you vary your style too much, people might prefer to publish elsewhere.


There’s a fine line between “being original and having a unique style” and “coming across like you don’t know”. Striking a balance between these impressions can be challenging, and remember, you only have one opportunity to make a first impression. Take your time and do your research.

Remember, pick what makes the most sense for your company.

D.J. McPhee
12 February 2024
Posted inOperational Tasks
Post author D.J. McPhee
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