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Style sheets: What are they, and do I need one?

Updated: Jan 7

Style sheets are miniaturized versions of style guides, and yes, you need one. That doesn’t mean you need to make one yourself, though. Most professional editors that I know create style sheets for their clients, and I am no exception.


If you’re a first-time author, let’s cover the basics. You may be asking yourself, “What is a style guide?” In high school or college, you probably heard mention of MLA format. It's a style of writing geared more toward academics, not manuscripts. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is the style guide that editors refer to when they work through manuscripts. It is nearly impossible to memorize style guides cover to cover, so my physical copy of CMOS is within reach while I’m working away at my desk.

All books within reach at my desk, including CMOS

All-inclusive rules for punctuation can be found in The Chicago Manual of Style, including pages upon pages of comma usage. Ever wonder what a semicolon (;) is used for? It’s in there, too, along with rules on capitalization and when one should and should not spell out numbers. There’s also an entire section on manuscript preparation, editing, and proofreading.


The formatting of style sheets, on the other hand, varies from editor to editor. Before I began making style sheets for my clients, I searched the interwebs for templates. The style sheet I use is a compilation of a few I found online:

Style Sheet Template
.docx
Download DOCX • 248KB

It is in MS Word format, so feel free to download it and replace my logo with your own if you’re a newbie editor. If you’re an author, you can use it, too. Style sheets are great for keeping all information about your book in one place for easy reference.



At the top of my style sheet's first page is Book Title, Series Title (if applicable), Author, etc.

The first section on my style sheet is Language & Style:


This manuscript has been line edited with the following resources:

  • Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition

  • Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary Online

Any style preferences specified by the author or editor have been outlined in the following guide. The manuscript has been edited following American English guidelines.



Next, I list Punctuation & Grammar:


The following rules have been applied to t