A Little Style

Did you know that there is something that will help an editor before they even start work?

It’s something that can be as small as a mouse or as large as an elephant (figuratively speaking).

It can be really simple or incredibly complicated.

It’s something that you can do for your editor, or you can get an editor to sort one out for you.

Any idea what it is yet?

It’s a Style Guide.  (a what? a voice peeps up from the back of the room)


Whether you are a publisher who regularly puts books together, an individual who wants one article edited, or a business who needs their website proofread, a style guide will make sure that everything sits together nicely. A guide will give your publications a “house style” that can be followed by everyone.

In its very basic form a style guide will lay out how you want your work to look and which language to use. A more comprehensive guide will explain all the small details of how the document should be treated, from how to indent paragraphs to hyphenated words and how to style bibliographical references. It allows every wordsmith that you hire to follow the same style, and makes sure that your publications, articles or websites are nice and standardised.

Sounds like a lot of hassle? Perhaps, but once you realise all the different ways there are of planning out a document, and its language, you may come round to the fact that it can save a lot of time and, as a result, money. This is especially true for businesses who need to get their company’s character out there in their publications as efficiently as possible.

You can hire someone to create a style guide for you, but here are a few basic pointers to help you create a really simple guide that will help you on your way. Go get a pen and some paper (yup… I’m old skool), and jot down the following, it’ll make things clearer in your head.

Pad of Paper and Pen

What type of publications do you produce?

Are they: formal/informal, fiction/non-fiction, general/subject specialist.

The type of publication will guide you through your style sheet. If you want to create a formal document the language will reflect this, fiction can be more chatty and “looser” than non-fiction and a subject specialist document will need to reflect what its audience requires.

How do you want them to look?

If your wordsmith of choice is to also look at the formatting, you need to be clear how you want your documents to look. Do they use chapter headings, sections, indented or block paragraphs? Are references and bibliographies to be included, and if so – where? Are they to be designed by a designer after the edit or is the editor to format for you? Think carefully about the design aspect of your documents and make it clear.

Which language do you want to use?

Are you using American English or British English? The spelling will reflect this and may be decided on your audience, or your author, or your home soil. You need to be sure which one you want to use and stick to it. Consistency is key here. It’s also wise to decide if you are going to follow a specific dictionary when things become unsure…for example will you use the Oxford English dictionary or Merriam-Webster?

Also bear in mind if you are a publisher or company with a number of publications…do you stick to one language faithfully no matter what, or do you allow your authors to use their own familiar language?

How do you want the text to look?

Next think about how you want the text to look:

Is each publication to be different or the same?

Do you want headings to have every word start with a capital letter, or only the first. Do you want your dates in a certain way (7th December 2001, Dec. 7 2001, 7/12/2001 etc.)

Do you want numbers spelled out or left as numbers? And if you want both, where is the cut-off?

Do you want illustrations, and if so how are they to be set out?

style guide

I could go on, but I won’t. As you can see, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Write down everything that comes into your head then, when you are ready, type it up into a coherent style sheet.

So, have a think…do you need a style guide? Even if you are sure you don’t, think about it and jot down some ideas before you approach your friendly editor type. It lets us know exactly what you want and makes things clearer for everyone. If you don’t know what you want, we can advise… or consider hiring someone to create a guide for you, something that will stand the test of time and will be there when you need it.

One Comment on “A Little Style

  1. Pingback: Spelling: Fluidity and Style | Northern Editorial

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