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Three Guides on the Path to Publication: Style Manuals, In-House Guides, and Style Sheets

By Zahra Brown

Among the qualities that smooth the path from composition to publication is stylistic consistency—the consistent treatment of words, numbers, names, titles, quotations, and other matters. Consistency of style facilitates communication and builds readers’ confidence in the coherence of a piece of writing. Authors and editors create consistency within and across works by consulting style manuals such as the MLA Handbook, and a publisher’s in-house guide provides editors with further help where the manual of choice is silent or where the individual press has a variant practice. The editor of a work also uses a custom style sheet, frequently with input from the author, to record that work’s unique features. Together, these tools help the editorial team ensure consistency throughout a work, series, or publishing program.

Published Style Manuals

Publishers and educators generally advise professional writers and students to adhere to one of the several style manuals that set standards in an entire field or industry. For example, the MLA Handbook is designed to facilitate international scholarship in the humanities, The Associated Press Stylebook is widely used in journalism, and The Chicago Manual of Style is preferred by major publishing houses as well as several academic fields. Offering advice ranging from best practices in publishing to the treatment of individual terms, the major style manuals regularly produce new editions to keep pace with changes in language and technology, and new print and online style manuals continue to emerge to serve particular needs.

In-House Guides

An in-house guide standardizes style across different types of publications produced by an organization, including books, journals, newsletters, catalogs, and social media posts. For example, an in-house guide might state that when the dictionary of choice gives two versions of a word (e.g., appendixes and appendices), house publications use the first version listed. The in-house guide will also regulate exceptions to its rules specific to certain categories or formats (such as allowing abbreviations not generally used or numerals in place of spelled-out numbers, as concessions to limited space or informal context). Unlike updates to a style sheet, which may be made instantaneously, revisions to an in-house guide may invite an entire editorial department to grapple with questions of meaning and practice. 

Editor’s Style Sheets

The copyeditors at a publishing house will generally create a style sheet for each manuscript. Where usage is not codified by a style manual or in-house guide, they must choose between acceptable options and institute those decisions throughout a series or multiauthored work (and associated marketing materials). For example, if one contributor to a volume refers to “the poetic ‘I’” while another uses “the poetic I,” or one refers to “Wallacian studies” and another to “Wallaceian studies,” the chosen version should be noted on the style sheet during editing and usage regularized throughout the text. House style rules particularly relevant to a text, such as when and where to transliterate titles or text in nonroman alphabets, can also be included on the style sheet as a reminder to the copyeditor or, later, the proofreader.

Author’s Style Sheets

Authors may wish to create a style sheet as they write to record “words or terms to be capitalized, italicized, hyphenated, spelled, or otherwise treated in any way unique to the manuscript” (“Keeping”). The style sheet may track, among other elements, names of persons and titles of works, as well as numbering systems and specialized terms used in the text. For example, it might be noted that “Ancient Greek” is a standard linguistic designation that differs from the descriptor “ancient Greek” that might be used in other contexts. Documenting and updating such decisions on a style sheet make revisions more efficient and ultimately improve the reader’s experience. Sharing the style sheet clarifies the editorial process by informing the editor of an author’s preferences and expertise.

By consulting a published manual for established conventions, checking an in-house guide for characteristic exceptions, and creating a style sheet during composition or editing, authors and editors cooperate to produce a published work that embraces the particular qualities of a text and reflects the standards of a publishing house and a discipline.

Work Cited

“Keeping an Editorial Style Sheet.” The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., sec. 2.55, U of Chicago P, 2017, www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/book/ed17/
part1/ch02/psec055.html.

Published 5 November 2019

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