Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

Writing it with style 2 – compiling your own style sheet

In our previous blog post, we outlined the points that a publisher’s house style guide covers. However, if you’re proofreading for a private individual rather than a company, they are very unlikely to provide you with a style guide, and even when there is one, it cannot cover everything. Particularly if you’re working on a large document, it’s a good idea to put together your own style sheet as you go along.

There is, of course, no need to make a note of the points that are hard and fast rules, such as whether ‘tomorrow’ or ‘tommorow’ is the correct spelling, unless it is a frequent error and you are passing the document on for someone else to correct (they can then use Find and Replace to change all instances). However, nor is it just a question of your own personal preferences, such as the fact that you can’t bear the use of ‘they’ to mean ‘he or she’, think ‘coordinate’ looks odd without a hyphen or prefer ‘has proved’ over ‘has proven’. The important thing is to be faithful to the author’s preferences, so, as you go along, make a note of the forms and spellings they use most frequently, grouping them into categories. The following headings are typical:

  • Spelling and hyphenation
    e.g. coordinate vs co-ordinate
  • Capitalisation
    e.g. sentence case for headings
  • Abbreviations
    e.g. technical terms that don’t appear in a standard dictionary, such as an exam board’s use of OWTE to mean ‘or words to that effect’
  • Numbers
    e.g. words for one to nine; figures for 10 and over
  • Punctuation
    e.g. a preference for dashes over colons and semicolons
  • Grammar
    e.g. ‘which’ rather than ‘that’ in relative clauses (‘the book which I have written’)
  • Typeface choices
    e.g. bold for the first mention of a word listed in the glossary

If you’re editing a work of fiction, keep a list of the characters’ names (and make sure the spelling, or even the name – it has been known! – doesn’t change part-way through). It’s also a good idea to make a note of their main characteristics – hair colour, height, the car they drive, etc. In a famous slip of editorial attention, one of the most prominent characters of French literature, Emma Bovary, ended up with brown eyes on one page and blue eyes on another!

The style sheet is also useful as a justification of the changes you’ve made, allowing the author and their future publisher to follow your logic, so don’t hesitate to send it to them with the proofread document.

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Posted in Proofreading/copy-editing