The moron’s guide to style sheets

I’m writing about this because although I fancy myself as an editor, among other things, I tried to edit my way through my first full book copyediting assignment, Alan Wilson’s Policing Ireland’s Twisted History, without a key tool.

A style sheet.

With my extensive background in writing and PR, I had always edited intuitively.In my own humble opinion, I’d done okay. I’d also taken Editors Association of Canada courses in Toronto on copyediting from Kathryn Dean, who edited Pierre Trudeau’s work and Peter Newman. (I’m unabashedly name-dropping here. In all honesty,   I was but one of 30 or so and I doubt she’d remember me.)

Anyway, I assumed that equipped with those courses, taught by such an august editor, along with a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style at my right hand, I’d ace it.

Wrong. During each run-through of the manuscript, I found fresh inconsistencies in punctuation, or spelling, or word usage. I’d missed stuff and would have to flip back through the text to find the last reference and check to see if I had stayed on track or had veered off into the weeds. Every time. Shortly after this, during a chat with uber-editor Helen Mason she said,”Jane, why didn’t you refer to your style sheet? Preparing a style sheet is the first thing I do when I take on a new assignment.”

There was an awkward silence. Style sheet? Oops. I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t prepare one. And I was even more embarrassed to admit that I didn’t really know what a style sheet was.

Here’s Adrienne Montgomerie, science editor at, with a definition: “A style sheet is a record of style choices made as the editor works on a document. They are usually specific to a project or client.”

Luckily, just recently the  chatboard had a conversation thread running on style sheets. Always a helpful and generous group, several experienced EAC editors jumped in, offering advice, guidance and even examples of their own style sheets to the rest of us.

Dimitra Chronopoulos, Editor and Program Chair, EAC, Toronto branch, referred me to page 47  of The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn, which carries samples of style sheets. I haven’t looked there yet because right on the heels of Dimitra’s helpful input, along came Laura Edlund. (I told you they were a great bunch!)

Laura,, said her copyrighted template for a basic style sheet includes  headings (which you can read below) plus some examples of what would fit.

“It tends to be longer for a series and shorter for a one-of-a-kind book. And it varies for fiction to non-fiction, etc.,” Laura said.

“And if I find I keep stumbling over something, I note it so that I streamline the edit. And if something comes up when the assigning editor is not handy to query but I know that I need to check it, I note it with a question mark in front of it so flag it for consideration soon.

“Last of all, if the client already has a style sheet, I use that religiously and piggy-back on it — make any additions to it using the client’s organization.”

Laura graciously allowed me to reproduce that sheet right here:

[e.g., Can Ox 2e, Chicago 16e, but with exceptions noted below]

[an alphabetical list of words that need their spelling, hyphenations of compounds, or special treatment to be noted especially, that differ from general references above, etc.]
[Here are some examples:
association — refer to full name for first use in each chapter, but the association for each use thereafter
earth [soil], the Earth [planet]
etc. — use rather than and so on
summary — use rather than in sum
Tucker – use one name only in this case, not full name, as with other full names

* words as words — italics for the first use
* foreign words — italics only if not in Can OX 2e

[e.g., series comma]

[spell out one to nine, use numerals for 10 and over in running text, on graphs, use numerals only]

headers, footers
unit number and name — verso — u. & l.c.
chapter number and name —  recto – u. &l.c.

re. figures, lists, maps, photos, captions, etc.
italics for water body labels
roman for land labels
scale on all maps
compass rose on all maps]

re. documentation, quotations, notes, bibliography

[e.g., how to make internal references within parts of the book OR a setting list, a character list, etc. OR something re. terms for clarity with the audience or to avoid bias OR about formatting for regular narrative vs. flashback OR reminder about a shift in point of view, etc.]

So now you know what a style sheet is, and you got it from the best!



About Jane Carthew Davidson

As a former senior public relations specialist with a large publicly traded multi-national chemical company, Jane Carthew Davidson produced the company’s award winning annual report for several years. Later, she was media relations specialist for Ontario’s Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), where she wrote speeches for the executive team, trained spokespersons across the province, and developed talking points and strategies designed to clarify the role played by property assessment within the municipal taxation system. Jane is a former business reporter for the Globe and Mail Report on Business, and the Toronto Star’s Business Today. Her articles have appeared in the Toronto Star, the Medical Post, the Anglican Journal, the Financial Post and most recently, the Globe and Mail’s special supplements on subjects as wide ranging as organic farming and new investment regulations. On several occasions, Jane’s media savvy and quick research skills enabled her to win broad media attention and investment queries from Canada, the Unites States and Europe, for a unique medical device start-up venture. Following Peterborough’s Flood of the Century in 2004, Jane handled media relations for the City of Peterborough, developing and implementing the communications plan for the city’s media outreach to afflicted citizens, concerned insurance companies, city staff and other government stakeholders.
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