Copyediting 101: The Style Sheet

The style sheet is one of the most important tools a writer can use. It is a guide that not only defines grammatical style but also the physical style of your project. It serves as a checklist of standards for whoever edits your text – and especially if you are doing your own editing. Using a style sheet insures your writing style remains consistent. You define things like how you’ll present dates – December 25, 2012 or 25 December 2012 or 25 Dec 12 – or which style of citations you’re using, your standards for using capitalization, how you will spell specific words and even the style for things like fonts and margins. These may seem like little things, but they combine to show you are a serious writer.

Even a blogger – especially me – could make good use of a style sheet. Here’s one example. I’m constantly talking about ebooks. In one post I may write “ebook” but in another use “e-book” or even “eBook”. Which one is correct? They’re all correct, but to be taken as a serious writer I should settle on one style  – my style – and use it consistently. By first defining a style sheet for my blog, then using it as a guide for each post, I will present a more professional front to those who read my articles. And, if I’m presenting myself well through my writing style, that should give my subject more gravitas too.

At No. 2 Pen you’ll find both their Style Sheet Template for Copyediting and a sample to help you get started. Another very handy tool is their Editing and Proofreading Checklist. Both are free for you to use and you will immediately see their usefulness.

Once you’ve developed your style standards, take a look at some of your writing tools and see if they can’t be used to support your style. For my ebook dilemma, I’ve settled that I will always use “ebook”. I’ve created snippets in my text replacement app so that if I should type “e-book” or “eBook”, it will automatically be changed to “ebook”. Most word processing apps have some sort of replacement tool in their spell-checking feature. See if you can’t put that to use to do the same thing. Yes, technology can help you, but there are limits and your eyes are still the best way to insure that you’re using the correct instance of words – like to, too and two.

Copyediting is a skill just like writing. It will take time and practice to develop that skill. Getting comfortable with the style sheet is a good first step.