A copyediting style sheet records all decisions regarding spelling, punctuation, styling/formatting, abbreviations, capitalisation and references governing these decisions. Editors and writers create them to ensure that these elements are applied consistently throughout the text, thus improving the text’s overall quality and readability.
In this post, I take a close look at the importance and function of a copyediting style sheet in non-fiction writing. At the bottom, you will find free, downloadable templates (one with example content and a blank one) for your next writing project. I promise it will help regardless of the type of text you write. An academic article, professional book, lifestyle blog or marketing content will benefit from the help that it offers. After all, it matters what we communicate but also how.
What is a style sheet?
At a basic level, a style sheet records all decisions made regarding writing rules applying to a text, especially those with more than one option (think: organize vs. organise). It should include everything — the preferred language localisation (for instance, UK English), spelling, capitalisation, abbreviations, punctuation and grammar that govern your text and ensure the style is consistent.
It is, in fact, a component of the editing process, recording preferences about the language and styling. Every text goes through several editorial processes before it is publication-ready. The same goes for manuscripts commissioned by publishing houses and self-published works. In essence, the editorial intervention should have the same powerful effect as diamond processing which changes a rough stone into a faceted gem. The editorial processes involved in finalising a text are developmental editing, line editing, copyediting and proofreading.
Why should writers create a style sheet?
Suppose you have no idea about editing, you only want to write and leave the rest to editors and proofreaders. In that case, there is one thing you can do, even in the early phases of your project: consider creating a style sheet. Regardless if you are already started or only planning to write an article, a book, a blog post, an essay or any text(s) destined for readers, it can help you prepare the text for editing and proofreading.
More specifically, there are several reasons why authors, particularly self-publishing ones, should create one:
- If you decide to seek the help of a professional editor, setting up a style sheet (and following it through) will drastically cut the editor’s time spent establishing consistency and correctness across the manuscript.
- It will standardise the text, keep track of your preferences and, ultimately, make the text easier to read, edit and proofread.
- It will help maintain a consistent style across all your publications, from book series to blog posts.
- Since you will only make the style decisions once, a style sheet removes the focus from grammar and language and brings it back to what is really important here — writing.
- The style sheet will aid you in maintaining consistency if you take a break from your project and need a reminder of your style choices. In other words, keeping it will make the editor and proofreader’s work more straightforward, and you will spend less money on their services.
How can a style sheet help your editor and proofreader?
My self-publishing clients who seek editing and proofreading help usually do not have a pre-existing style sheet. However, if they did, it would save my time spent making the decisions that guide their text.
First, a style sheet will explain my intervention in their text: what have I done and why. Secondly, it supports my decisions by citing references such as New Heart’s Rules or Chicago Style Manual. Thirdly, it will increase the clarity and reduce the number of the author’s potential queries since a good style sheet should convey the answers. Finally, it will also cut down the time spent on the last stage of preparing the manuscript for publishing — proofreading.
I hope I have convinced you to start using a copyediting style sheet. You can download a free style sheet template I have created (and routinely use for my work) and fill it with your own language decisions. Please feel free to have a look also at the example style sheet with predefined content for inspiration. For more editing tips for writers, follow me on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn, sign up to my newsletter or contact me for a free sample edit (and remember to use my early bird discount!).