Anatomy of a Style Sheet, Part 2

Copyediting is guided by principles of grammar, spelling, usage, and style. These principles have been developed over time and documented in major reference works, which I always list at the top of the style sheet.

(This is Part 2 in a series. Part 1 is here.)

For most manuscripts I will consult three major reference works:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition (CMS)
  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition
  • Garner’s Modern American Usage

For certain projects I may add the publisher’s style guide (often called the “house guide”) or another guide used to supplement CMS, such as the Modern Language Association’s style guide. A scholarly work in literature or another humanities field may need to follow MLA’s bibliographic style, but CMS will still drive other editorial decisions, since the MLA style guide is not comprehensive.

While most of the decisions I make about things like spelling and capitalization are guided by Webster’s, sometimes there is a good reason to contradict it. For example, an author may use the unhyphenated term “email.” Because this is a generally accepted spelling, even though Webster’s only official spelling is “e-mail,” I will note it in the list of names and terms as

email [contra Webster’s, per common usage]

Garner’s is a handy reference for all sorts of usage issues, from why “impact” is not a verb to the proper use of “due to.” It is organized alphabetically, and it also has a detailed index.

In the rest of the style sheet, I often cite either CMS or Garner’s as the source for a particular decision. For CMS I cite by chapter and section number (e.g., 7.85 for hyphenation issues), and for Garner’s I cite by page number. For example, in the category of date formats:

October 1950 (no “of” between month and year, per Garner’s, p. 222)

I will cite CMS as the authoritative source behind decisions to treat certain categories of terms, such as titles of works. For example:

movie titles in italics (CMS 8.185)

By citing sources for my decisions, I’m assuring the author that the decisions were not made arbitrarily. This is key to developing a relationship of trust between copyeditor and author: it contributes to a successful copyediting process in which the author knows their work is being handled capably and respectfully.

“Anatomy of a Style Sheet, Part 3” is here.

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