Not All Styles Are the Same

by Beth McAuley

Published at 2011-12-16

At The Editing Company, each time we begin a new editing project, we make sure we have a style sheet to guide our work. What is important to know, and what isn’t always understood, is just how style can vary from project to project.

Not all styles are the same!  There are many different kinds of styles and it’s our responsibility to apply the style that is required for each manuscript. Style is applied to the text of the document as well as to the back matter: appendices, footnotes/endnotes, and bibliographies.
What Is Style?
The Chicago Manual of Style defines style as a collection of guidelines that shapes each individual piece of writing. These guidelines are rules that sharpen the individuality of the work and that help the editor improve consistency and catch ambiguities. Such guidelines are flexible and are to be applied respectfully.
One of the greatest challenges in copy editing is consistency in usage. Here is where a style sheet can be worth its weight in gold. If you have recorded the usage the first time, you’ll know how it is to be used the next time you see it in the text. For instance, using the abbreviation instead of spelling out “for example.” If the author has used “e.g.” in the first instance, this is what is noted as the “style.” You want to pay attention to this in case you see “ex.” a few pages later. It may seem inconsequential, but apply this guideline to spellings, punctuation, and capitalization and you’ll soon see how confusing it can be to work without tracking these points on your style sheet.
The Styles of Our Clients
At TEC, we have a diverse collection of style sheets, each with its own characteristics. These have been created based on the preferences of our clients.
When we edit or proofread a manuscript for one of our academic or trade publishing clients, we are provided with the publisher’s in-house style guide. This guide identifies the style rules we need to follow. These rules include whether to use British, Canadian, or American spelling, which dictionary to use (Canadian Oxford/The Concise Oxford/Merriam-Webster’s), punctuation preferences, use of numbers and measurements, and so on. It also provides examples of how to style the footnotes and bibliography.
If our client does not have a style sheet, we will create one for the project. We have done this for many of our business clients. The client might provide us with some basic guidelines — spell out numbers from zero to nine, use the Canadian Oxford Dictionary — and we take it from there. As we begin editing the document, we note the styles being used and record them on the style sheet. We build the style sheet throughout the editing process and refer to it constantly to ensure that the style is applied consistently. When we finish the project, we send the style sheet to the client along with the final edit.
We also work with clients in scientific- and health-related fields. These style sheets require careful attention to measurements, medical and scientific terminology, and formulaic expressions.
All the style sheets we create are kept on file, and we refer to them when we receive another project from the same client.
What We Record on Our Style Sheets
Here are some examples of style choices that we set up at the outset of a project:
·         Canadian or British spelling (or a bit of both)
·         American spelling
·         The dictionary being used
·         The style guide being used: Chicago Manual, APA, or MLA
·         Serial comma or no serial comma
o   Editors, writers, and publishers have one thing in common.
o   OR Editors, writers and publishers have one thing in common.
·         Capitalization of words
o             Proper names
o             Names of companies, associations, countries
·         Metric or imperial measurement
·         He/she, he or she
·         Application of titles: Prime Minister Stephen Harper
o   but note: the prime minister of Canada
o   but note: President of the United States is always the President
·         Numbers: spell out from zero to nine or spell out from zero to ninety-nine
·         Time: use a.m./p.m. or A.M./ P.M.
·         Use italics for
o   Titles of movies, books, magazines, TV series (not episodes), DVDs, CDs
·         Use quotation marks for
o   Titles of poems, titles of episodes in a TV series, individual songs on a CD
In future blogs, we’ll touch on the selection of styles for endnotes and bibliographies and review a selection of style guides. In the meantime, here are two sources you might want to take a look at, if you haven’t already.
The Editors Association of Canada
The Chicago Manual of Style Online