March 12, 2014 / Spring 2014 / Staff Management

Ingredients for a hearty yearbook staff manual

Written by Elizabeth Braden, CJE

Vegetable soup means different things to different people. You can enjoy it with the familiar carrots, green beans, peas and corn. Some cooks add squashes and kale. Others want macaroni or rice, or to make it heartier, lentils and beef.

The same is true with your staff manual. The basics are good. But the more items you add, the more it will sustain you. Your manual should be full of content, guidance and information so it will answer almost all of a staff member’s questions.

While staffs at spring-delivery schools have time in the spring to update their manuals, staffs at fall-delivery schools should make time for this job, too. Your current staff should leave the manual in good shape for the next staff, which should make time to update it in the fall.

Your mission

A mission statement may not be the first item you consider putting into your manual, but it’s the item that should come first.  A mission statement reminds the staff of their purpose for the year. Yes, your mission is to create a yearbook. But as each year is different, your mission changes slightly. Have students write one. Make sure it is read aloud every few weeks to keep staff motivated.

Manual sections

The order and organization of the sections of your manual will depend on how your staff uses them. Consider these sections and items:

Course syllabus – There may be more than one, if there is more than one class for yearbook and photography; for clubs, a syllabus or club description with goals and objectives would be helpful.

Grading policies – State the standards for writing, designing, selling and photography, and penalties for missed deadlines, misuse of equipment, excessive absences and poor use of class time.

Job descriptions – These enable students to understand what is expected of them; edit these each year as needed if roles change.

Contacts – These include:

  • Publication staff contacts, with all phone numbers and email addresses
  • List of school faculty and staff names, locations, titles and contact information
  • List of school organizations, sports and activities with sponsors’ names and contact information

Procedures – This includes, for starters:

  • Workflow for yearbook production, including the ladder and all deadlines
  • Staff meetings
  • Work nights
  • Equipment checkout
  • Leaving class for interviews or taking photos
  • School calendar

Forms – Put any contracts and forms in this section, for example:

  • Contracts with professional photographers
  • Ad contracts
  • Equipment usage forms
  • Internet permission/responsibility forms
  • Permission forms
  • Commitment to staff letters and contracts
  • Parent permission forms and contracts, and any correspondence to parents

Writing and design

  • For each year, fonts, sizes, design elements and standing elements, along with editing and design information
  • Photography request sheet to write up types of pictures wanted by editors and designers
  • Staff’s own style guide, created by starting with the AP Stylebook and then adding changes specific to your school
  • A note on the location of AP Style Manual, synonym dictionary, thesaurus and idiom book, or online versions
  • How-to guides on writing good headlines, body copy, captions and design rules
  • Proofreader’s marks
  • List of commonly misspelled words

Computers – Write down what students needs to know about the equipment they use:

  • Hard drives
  • Networking issues
  • Tutorials for Online Design, InDesign, Photoshop and other applications
  • How-to guides for cameras, lenses, flash, tripods, film or memory cards and other photography equipment

Editorial policies – Have policies in place to answer questions and guide decision-making, especially during emotional times. Use the Student Press Law Center 
( as a guide.

  • Policy for handling student and faculty deaths
  • Advertisement policy
  • A code of ethics; consider adopting an existing code, such as the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) Model Code of Ethics
  • The list of information to put in your colophon
  • Disclaimer, such as this one that appears annually in the Neshnabec yearbook of Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill.: Neshnabec is a student publication. Every effort was made to be accurate and exhaustive in student body coverage. As this is the only edition printed, we apologize for any mistakes that were made during this educational process.

Having students put together or update a manual will help them learn and understand more about the yearbook process. This manual will be very large, but as an educational endeavor and a resource, it’s a good exercise.

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Elizabeth Braden, CJE

Elizabeth Braden, CJE, is the former editor of Idea File magazine. Before retiring, she was a copywriter for Walsworth Yearbooks for more than 15 years, writing articles for various marketing materials, and proofreading copy for the Yearbook and Commercial divisions. Her career included reporting and editing for United Press International and editing for Knight-Ridder Financial News. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Media News from the University of Tulsa.