Section 2.52 in the Spotlight

2.522.52 Keeping a Style Sheet

As a writer or editor, how many times have you heard “The main thing is to be consistent”? When it comes to hyphenating, capitalizing, italicizing, and other style choices, the best way to monitor consistency is to keep a style sheet.

Figure 2.3 in The Chicago Manual of Style shows a basic style sheet. The entries are in alphabetical order, which allows you to check easily whether antiracist has a hyphen or government is capped. In a separate section called “Mechanical matters” you can note style decisions like how to punctuate a year of publication followed by page numbers and whether newspaper headlines are capped sentence-style or headline-style.

If you are styling your document according to CMOS or another style guide, and if you have a working knowledge of that guide, there’s no need to make a note of anything that’s consistent with the guide. The idea is to note down departures from style. A departure from style is sometimes needed when a writer or editor finds that the recommendation of the style guide isn’t the best solution for the current document. When that happens, it’s important to keep track of the new style.

Other matters to note in a style sheet:

  • Which numbers to spell out (ten and under? one hundred and under?)
  • Odd plurals and possessives (xs or x’s? Moses’ or Moses’s?)
  • Proper names (people, places, organizations)
  • Non-English terms (along with how they should be broken if necessary at the end of a line)
  • Examples of the most frequent types of citation (e.g., a book, a journal article)
  • Unusual acronyms or abbreviations (SfEP, Society for Editors and Proofreaders)

Traditionally, when editors worked on lengthy paper manuscripts and proofs, it was important to note the page numbers where an item occurred, in case it became necessary to change the style. This step is usually omitted now; for work prepared electronically, page numbers are unstable—and unneeded, since a search will turn up the term more quickly.

Editors and proofreaders of other people’s work should always ask if there is a style sheet they can refer to while proofreading. Without one, the editor or proofreader might make unneeded corrections to intentional breaks with style—and end up introducing inconsistency into the document.

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