What is a style sheet? For people using editors

14 Jan

DictionariesIf you work with a proofreader or editor on any project, either for a publisher or working independently or as a student, you might receive a Style Sheet from them with your corrected work. This article explains what a style sheet is, the purpose of a style sheet, and what might be included on it. I’ve also written this article to send to my clients so they understand what the document I’ve sent them is – so if you’re one of my clients, hello!

To make this article easier to read, I will refer to the person who has worked on your document as your “editor” – although I might refer to proofreaders in some places, too.

If you’re an editor or proofreader who wants to find out more about style sheets, I’ve written an article just for you, too.

What is a style sheet?

A style sheet is a list setting out the decisions that your editor has made on aspects of the layout and language of your document, in order to keep the document consistent.

It might include notes on what font is used, whether the text is left or fully justified, how particular words are capitalised or hyphenated, how much indent your indented quotations have, what is put in italics, etc. We’ll have a look at an example later on, but that’s a very short summary.

Why use a style sheet?

Especially if you’ve learned English as a second or other language, you will know that the English language is not consistent, and it doesn’t even have proper rules for some things! This can be really frustrating, as two people might do things in two different ways, BOTH of which are correct.

For example, in English …

  • we can use -s- spellings or -z- spellings in words like “organisation”
  • we can capitalise or not capitalise words like Chapter 1 or experiment 2
  • we can use orient or orientate
  • we can hyphenate or not hyphenate pairs of words like policy-maker

And that’s before you get to decisions like …

  • are you going to use 20%, 20 per cent or twenty per cent?
  • are you going to describe America as America, the United States, the US, the USA, the U.S. etc. etc.?
  • are you going to use double inverted commas for quotations and single inverted commas for concepts, or vice versa?
  • are you going to refer to other research as (Brown, 2003; Green and Jones, 2005, p. 23) or (Brown 2003, Green & Jones 2005:23) or any other variant

Now, the important thing with all of these is to keep it consistent.

Some of these rules might be set down in a style guide or referencing guide (see below). But whether you and your editor are working to a style guide or not, it’s useful to have these decisions written down in one place for you both to refer to.

What’s the difference between a style guide, a referencing guide and a style sheet?

A style guide is a specific guide to how to deal with things like the above decisions – famous ones include Oxford Style in the UK, APA Style and Chicago Manual of Style and AP Stylebook in the US.

A referencing guide is a specific way of writing out references to work you are talking about in your dissertation or book – an example is Harvard referencing.

Some universities and many publishers and marketing agencies etc. will have their own guides which documents published under their name or submitted to them will have to have.

In this case, I could do without a style sheet and just refer my client to … well, a massive website or a giant book. Maybe not. In that case, I’ll note which style guide or referencing system I’ve used and still write out any important points which will impact the document in question.

Please note that I (and I imagine most editors) have favourite style decisions – I prefer orientate to orient, for example, and where there is no clear preference in the text, I will go for my preferred option. If, however, the text itself has 33 orients and 2 orientates, I will go with the majority.

This also means that some parts of the following examples might jar with any editors reading this – they are only examples!

What does a style sheet look like?

Here’s an example style sheet with some of the decisions I might make …

style sheet 1

This is a standard style sheet – I tend to go from the general (the whole layout, all quotations, the tenses used) down to the particular …

style sheet 2

What should I do with the style sheet my editor has sent to me?

Good question – now you understand why your editor has sent you a style sheet and what it’s for … well, why does it matter and what should you do with it?

Here are some important uses of the style sheet:

  1. It will help you to understand some of the changes your editor has made.
  2. If your editor has just edited one chapter, they might send you the style sheet with that chapter and ask you to look through it and check you agree with everything on it. They might even send over some queries – if it’s not clear which option my client prefers, I will highlight the choice and ask them to look at it. If you don’t agree, let them know straight away, then they might change it if it’s not a rule of grammar that can’t be flexible.
  3. If your work is going to be edited by more than one person, they will share a style sheet to make sure it is edited consistently.
  4. If you are planning to add to the document, you can make sure that any additional text you write is consistent with the text that your editor has already checked.
  5. If you have been through edits and your document is going to be proofread, send the style sheet to your proofreader, then they will know what choices the editor has made, and will be able to look out for any errors much more easily.


In this article, we’ve learned what a style sheet is, why it’s used, how a style sheet is different from a style guide and referencing guide, but backs them up, and what to do with a style sheet when you’ve been sent one, as well as seeing an example of one. I hope this helps you: do comment and/or share this article using the sharing buttons below if you’ve found it useful!

Other relevant posts on this blog

Style sheets for editors and proofreaders


Posted by on January 14, 2016 in Copyediting, proofreading, Students, Writing


Tags: , , , ,

24 responses to “What is a style sheet? For people using editors

  1. The Story Reading Ape

    January 14, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Guidelines from Author / Editor Liz Dexter πŸ‘


  2. Let's CUT the Crap!

    January 14, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    Fantastic information. Thank you.


  3. Matthew Wright

    January 14, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    One of the things I’ve done professionally is prepare house style sheets. And the best advice I ever received as an author is that authors need to provide one to their publisher, first off, to guide the proof-editor in the first application of house style. It avoids the issue Tolkien (for one) ran into of well-meaning editors ‘correcting’ something intentional.


    • Liz Dexter

      January 16, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Yes, indeed – I don’t know how people manage without them!


  4. doverwhitecliff

    January 14, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Reblogged this on Wild and Woolly Wordsmithing and commented:
    Thank you libroediting, for this totally awesome post. Must share! And you can bet I’ll be creating a sheet for myself!


  5. lovessiamese

    January 14, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    Reblogged this on TheKingsKidChronicles and commented:
    What a great article, not just for those for whom English is a second language, but also for those of us who aren’t sure what the rules are.


  6. Sarah Harris

    January 15, 2016 at 5:08 am

    My favorite style sheet I’ve worked with was full of Tiggerisms. Great info!


  7. patriciaruthsusan

    January 15, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Thaks for this helpful information. πŸ™‚ — Suzanne


  8. ellenbest24

    January 16, 2016 at 12:18 am

    This is extremely helpful. Thank you. πŸ˜‡


  9. ellenbest24

    January 16, 2016 at 12:22 am

    Re blogged on facebook.


  10. dgkaye

    January 19, 2016 at 3:34 am

    This was really helpful info Liz, thanks. πŸ™‚


  11. Dean Christensen

    March 22, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Reblogged this on The Dean's English and commented:
    I’ve been following Liz Dexter’s blog for a while and often appreciate her helpful posts. As a copyeditor who uses style sheets with every project, I’m taking her up on her offer to reblog this informative piece. (Thank you, Liz!)


  12. twinflamemoonbase

    April 24, 2018 at 4:02 am

    Much more helpful than my course content. Thank you



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