Anatomy of a Style Sheet, Part 1

The style sheet is a unique, customized document created by the copyeditor during the editing process. It is also one of the most underused tools in publishing.

A carefully crafted style sheet provides a unique perspective on the manuscript’s style, themes, and quirks. In addition, it serves as a form of quality assurance during the publishing process: from the author to the editors to the book designer to the indexer, it offers a clear, consistent standard to all those responsible for producing the book.

An excerpt from a style sheet

An excerpt from a style sheet

Many copyeditors compile a list of names and terms compiled to ensure consistent spelling, hyphenation, italicization, and so forth throughout the manuscript. While it is an important part of the copyediting process, what is typically called a “word list” cannot stand on its own as a guide to the manuscript. A word list is not a style sheet.

The process of copyediting a book manuscript involves a range of editorial decisions, some of which may vary from standard style and usage guidelines in order to comport to the author’s preferences or for other reasons. These decisions should be documented in one place, so the author, the editors, and anyone else involved in the publishing process can have a point of reference as they review the edited manuscript, plan and execute the design, and proofread and index the book.

Because a useful style sheet must incorporate a number of different editorial decisions, its organization must be clear and accessible to all of its audiences. The project’s particular characteristics and needs will be a major factor in determining the organization and content, but the copyeditor’s personal preferences and style will play a part as well.

In this blog post series, I will break down a style sheet into its component parts in order to explore what makes it effective in conveying the editorial process to a range of audiences. For illustration I will use examples from actual style sheets I have constructed and used.

I hope these posts can help copyeditors and other publishing professionals, as well as authors, enhance their understanding and deepen their appreciation of style sheets as crucial to ensuring quality in the book publishing process.

Part 2 is here.

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