Style sheets help you keep your writing consistent. This post for anyone who has ever re-read a first draft and thought, “Why did I spell t-shirt six different ways?”
What is a Style Sheet?
A style sheet is a document you create to keep track of spellings, hyphenations, and punctuation conventions. The goal is to keep these things consistent throughout the document.
Style sheets are used most often by copyeditors and proofreaders. In fact, if an editor or proofreader doesn’t use them, you may want to consider taking your business elsewhere. Few writers know what a style sheet is, but keeping one while drafting can be beneficial.
Why should writers keep a style sheet?
Gives you more control
If you don’t start a style sheet yourself, your editor will. And maybe they won’t have the same feelings about the Oxford comma as you do.
Cuts back on time needed for editing
Choosing how you’re going to spell “t-shirt” now reduces time spent searching for and changing all the different spellings in the future.
Helps you develop your own writing style
In addition to making style sheets for each separate work, you may also consider making a generic style sheet of the conventions that you as a writer follow. You can edit this document later to fit the needs of individual projects. It also helps develop your style, which makes your writing distinct, confident, and consistent.
May reduce the cost of editing in the future
Creating a style sheet is an investment. A little extra work now translates to less work for your copy editor–which could mean a lower bill.
How do I start a style sheet?
For the amount of good it does for your writing, keeping a style sheet is ridiculously simple. To start, you open the writing software of your choice and create a new document. The file’s name should include the title of the work it’s for, the words “style sheet”, and the date.
At the top of the document, you’ll want to note the work’s title, the date, your name, and the fact that you’re the writer. You may also leave blank spaces for the copyeditor and proofreader to put their names.
Below that, you want a subheading of the resources you used–this includes the style guide you’re using, the dictionary you’re using, and any other sources you used to check grammar, usage, or punctuation.
Next, there are a couple different ways you can arrange your style sheet. The most common is to simply list the letters of the alphabet along the left side of the document or paper, and then listing errors alphabetically. This is not what I do. It doesn’t make sense to my brain, and seems haphazard. If you’re interested in this method, here is a tutorial.
What I do is have subheadings. The basic ones I use for every document are problem words, character names, punctuation, and number conventions. Your style sheet may need additional subheadings; for example, if one character has a peculiar manner of speech, you’ll want to a separate subheading where you will make notes about that.
problem words– this is where you list commonly misspelled words, words that are often incorrectly hyphenated, and words that have more than one possible spelling, such as t-shirt. If you’re not sure whether to include something, include it. You’ll thank yourself later.
character names– List full character names here, including nicknames. This helps keep spelling and surnames consistent. It may also be helpful to note the first page this character appears on.
punctuation– Here is where you list the punctuation conventions you will follow. For example–will you use the oxford comma? Are you using open or closed punctuation? Don’t feel the need to list everything, though. It will make the style sheet easier to use if you only list things that deviate from your style guide … or that you feel you might forget and need to look up quickly.
number conventions– How will you cite time in your story? Which numbers should be written out, and which should be given in numerals? What about hyphens? List all number conventions here.
Keep your style sheet open while you write or edit, and make sure to add to it and reference it as you go along. When you send out your work to an editor, be sure to send them the style sheet. It will keep your style consistent and makes their job easier.