Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a style guide and style sheet? (They’re not the same!) Or perhaps you haven’t given them a second thought because you believed they were only used by editors?
While both style guides and style sheets are essential to the editing process, they’re also incredibly useful tools for writers as well! Although they serve different purposes, they are related and both will directly impact the final state of your manuscript.
Below you will find an explanation of style guides and style sheets, their relationship to each other, and how each tool can better your writing!
What is a style guide?
A style guide is a published handbook describing industry standard expectations for grammar, punctuation, and formatting of your manuscript. This ensures consistency across all related written works.
Your applicable style guide will vary in accordance with what you write. Books/literature, magazines, newspapers, journals, scientific papers, and academic works are each written under different guidelines.
While your editor (freelance and traditional) will know your applicable style guide inside and out, learning even the basics of your guide is beneficial for both self-publishing authors as well as those seeking the traditional route. Knowing these details will help you:
- improve the clarity of your work (so you don’t confuse or frustrate your reader!);
- understand the marks and revisions suggested by your editor;
- know what deliberate style variations to add to your style sheet.
For more information on style guides, their benefits, and which you should use, check out Style Guides 101!
What is a style sheet?
A style sheet (or specification sheet) is a living document that you develop over the course of your writing process. Here you will record details and decisions you make regarding both your manuscript’s content and writing style.
This archive can include things such as your characters and their traits/history; the proper names of places within your fictitious world; and whether you use British or American spellings.
Creating a robust record of this information will help both you and your editor/proofreader ensure factual and style consistency throughout your manuscript.
While writing, you will be able to easily look up character and world details to avoid randomly changing your secondary character’s eye color or the spelling of a particular healing plant.
Later on, you can provide this same document to your editors and proofreaders. They will:
- make note of and ensure that the information you included stays consistent throughout your manuscript, and
- add additional factual and editorial details during their work before returning your manuscript and style sheet to you.
You are then able to use this powerful archive of combined information during your own edits.
Thus in a nutshell, a style sheet acts as both a reference tool for as well as a communication tool between you and your editors.
For a complete rundown on style sheet benefits, usage, and a free template, see The ABCs of Style Sheets!
How do style guides and style sheets relate?
While your style guide’s industry standards are generally set in stone, your style sheet is where you will record any deliberate variations from said standards that you have made within your manuscript.
For example, if you decide potato will be spelt “potatoe” or that all proper nouns in your world shall be lowercased, this information would be detailed on your style sheet.
When your editor then begins combing through your work with their published style guide in mind, your style sheet will inform them of these deliberate changes from the industry norm.
Of course, your editor will bring up any deviations that may negatively affect your reader’s ability to understand your work. However, if it is essential to your voice and style, an editor will defer to your decision.
Whether self-publishing or pursuing a traditional path, understanding the information detailed in your style guide will help you become a better and more effective writer. Once you understand the rules, you can then choose to follow or break them – and record such variations in your style sheet.
In this manner, both styles guides and style sheets will affect the final state of your manuscript. Learn and use these tools to your benefit!
Do you use a style guide? Still unsure which style guide applies to you? Let me know in the comments below and let’s see if we can narrow it down!