Updated: Dec 17, 2021
Do you ever wonder how editors keep everything consistent when they edit? How do they know which spellings to use and whether an author uses the Oxford comma? Answer: they use style sheets and style guides!
Style sheets and style guides are life savers for editors. They make our lives so much easier and keep the editing process efficient.
Style sheets are documents where editors keep track of all the stylistic decisions they make, and sometimes content points as well, so they know how to work with something when it comes up again later in the manuscript. Style sheets are also useful if there are multiple people working on the project; everyone will use the same style sheet so the edits remain consistent.
What is on a style sheet?
Style sheets are easy to make and can be easily adjusted to suit the editor or the type of project. Generally, style sheets keep track of the following elements:
the dictionary the editor is using
the style guide the editor is using
spelling of words (unusual words, whether or not words are hyphenated, etc.)
spelling of proper nouns
Editors keep a style sheet open while they work so they can reference it often.
I edit fiction, and I use style sheets to keep track of story elements as well so I can keep the manuscript's content consistent. I write down the relationships between characters, the locations of cities and landmarks, character ages, what chapters characters first appear in, etc. This saves me from having to flip back in the manuscript to find important pieces of information if I think something isn't quite right.
Here are some resources for making style sheets:
Along with style sheets, editors refer to style guides on a regular basis. So what is a style guide?
Style guides are like rulebooks editors use along with style sheets to help make stylistic decisions. Style guides set the standards for everything from margin sizes and table formatting to dialogue punctuation and the hyphenation of words. If an editor works in-house, they will follow the standards of their publishing company's style guide. Freelance editors use style guides as well—either the style guide their client follows or the style guide most often used in their area of publishing.
With indie publishing, there is more freedom to choose what standard to use. Even with a style guide, editors and authors can deviate from the "rules" if it works better for their text. As a pirate would say, the rules are more like guidelines. The Chicago Manual of Style is one of the most commonly used style guides.
Although you may choose to deviate from style guides in many of your stylistic decisions, remember that consistency is key and a style sheet will help you stay sane.