Anatomy of a Style Sheet, Part 3

There’s no one right way to organize a style sheet. In this post I’ll use my own organizing scheme as just one example.

(This is Part 3 of a series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.)

No matter how you organize a style sheet, it should be a transparent structure: all the style sheet’s audiences should be able to gain a basic understanding of how to read it and what to expect from it by a fairly quick review. Remember that the audiences of the style sheet include the author, the project manager (if applicable), the proofreader, and the designer.

At the top I list “General Style Notes,” which include the references I consult and some very basic principles, like enforcing the serial comma and number treatment. I use bullet lists to distinguish between items, and at times I use sub-bullets to further divide a category.

Here’s an example related to number treatment:

  • treatment of numbers follows CMS 9
    • specifically, spell out whole numbers from one to a hundred, round hundreds and thousands, and any number beginning a sentence (CMS 9.2, 9.4–5)
    • spell out whole numbers with million, billion, etc. (CMS 9.8) . . .

In a separate section I list editorial decisions related to categories of terms. For example:

  • civil titles standing alone or occurring after names or as appositives are lowercase (CMS 8.21); e.g., Republican governor George Romney, Undersecretary of State Ball, former secretary of state Dean Acheson, Speaker (of the House) (always capped)

If a book includes citations, whether footnotes/endnotes and bibliography or a reference list, I create another section, “Bibliographic Style.” I typically list a few key points, like which chapter of Chicago Manual of Style is guiding the citation system. Then I include examples of bibliographic entries or notes, organized by type of source, such as book, journal article, essay in a multiauthor volume, and blog post.

Another helpful section to include in a style sheet is a list of text elements and the codes used to identify them. This is particularly useful to the book designer in planning the page design. Typically I use letters or simple abbreviations in square brackets to label a text element. In the style sheet I would list each code and the element it stands for; for example:

[A] = first-level subheading
[B] = second-level subheading
[EPI] = epigraph
[EXT] = indented quotation
[CAP] = caption

Finally, I include a word list, usually called “Names and Terms.” For some books I create a separate list of personal names—if it’s a work of fiction, to keep track of the characters; for some works, to ensure a careful tracking of names with more difficult spellings, diacritical marks, and so forth.

In the word list, which is organized alphabetically, I include words that have more than one possible spelling or treatment (hyphenation, capitalization, and so forth); foreign terms; and unusual words that I had to verify through an authoritative source online or elsewhere. Where applicable, I’ll note the source consulted, such as “Webster’s” for Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or “CMS” for Chicago Manual of Style.

Here are some examples:

best seller (n.), best-seller (adj.)
decision making (n.) [CMS 7.85]
toward [Webster’s preferred]
Western (culture)

Again, there are many ways to organize a style sheet, and the above is just one possible scheme. The important thing is to create a style sheet that is helpful to all its intended users.

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