One of the things we proofreaders constantly seek to achieve is consistency. And one of the ways we achieve this is through using a house style. Publishing companies, magazines, journals and newspapers, among others, frequently have their own. So, in case you don’t know what a house style is, it seemed like a good idea to explain…
A house style begins by consideration of the inconsistencies which could be introduced into our printed output.
For example, let’s look at spellings. Some words can be spelt in more than one way, with little or no difference between the meanings. Among these are toward/towards, amongst/among and judgment/judgement. In each case, both words mean the same and they are both correctly spelt. And what about hyphenation? Some words are correctly spelt whether with or without a hyphen, and they also mean the same. Examples would be co-operate/cooperate, or co-ordinate/coordinate.
And the same applies to punctuation. Again, there are cases where two different ways of punctuating are both correct. Speech marks may be single quotation marks (‘ ’) or double quotation marks (“ ”). Units of measurement could be preceded by a space, or not: a 100m race can just as easily be a 100 m race. And 23g of flour weighs just the same as 23 g of flour, and is correctly written either way. Similarly with punctuation of people’s initials: W H Auden, W. H. Auden, W.H. Auden and WH Auden are all fine.
As consistency is always important for presenting a professional image, to ensure this, many publishers, magazines, journals, newspapers, etc. have a house style. Companies setting up their website for the first time may also want to create their own. So may individuals embarking on writing a novel, or even a lengthy thesis.
So, the house style is a set of rules for certain ways of spelling words and certain uses of punctuation in order to ensure consistency in written publications and material. If you have ever considered setting up your own house style, here is a list of points you could consider – by no means an exhaustive list, but it may at least give you a start…
- Use of double or single quotation marks for reported speech
- Particular ways of spelling words (towards/toward, whilst/while, etc.)
- UK English or US English
- Use of ‘z’ or ‘s’ in words such as organize/organise, realize/realise, etc.
- For hyphenated terms in headings, whether to capitalise only the initial letter or the whole term; for example, Long-term Implications / Long-Term Implications
- Format for decades, e.g. 1960’s or 60’s or 1960s
- Initials representing a person’s name with full stops and spaces or not, e.g. D.H. Lawrence / D H Lawrence / D. H. Lawrence / DH Lawrence
- One or two spaces after a full stop
- Space between a digit and a unit of measurement, or not (e.g. 100m or 100 m)
- Abbreviations of page numbers with a space, or not (e.g. p.20 or p. 20)
- Centuries written as words or numbers (e.g. 20th century or twentieth century)
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