Knowledge Bite

Why should I use a style guide?

Although you may not realise it, everything you write for yourself adheres to your own style guide that you most likely just keep in your head. If you decide to use –ise endings to words instead of –ize, that’s a style choice. If you decide you want to write out all numbers fully, such as twenty and thirty-seven, then that’s a style choice. Even deciding whether or not to hyphenate that number is a style choice.

Every newspaper in the world will have its own style guide that all reporters and sub-editors must adhere to. Why? Because consistency is key when you have a large number of people all writing for the same publication. It would take the sub-editors a lot of extra time if every reporter wrote numbers in their own way, and therefore it’s easier to provide staff with a style guide dictating the way certain things should be written.

Yes, yes, but why is that important to me?

It’s important because you need to ensure consistency in your own work and ensure that people you employ to edit or proofread your work are working to the same style guide as you. If you’ve made a conscious choice to use –ize endings, then you need to let the editor or proofreader know so they don’t go through your manuscript and change every single one.

The easiest way to do this is by creating a style sheet, where you note down style choices you have made. You can then give a copy of this to anyone working on your copy so that everyone is singing off the same style sheet.

I don’t know what style I want, help!

The two main style guides used in book publishing today are New Hart’s Rules for British publishing and the Chicago Manual of Style for clients in the US and many other countries. You don’t have to follow their every suggestion, but in most cases their solutions are elegant and regarded as industry-standard. If you do deviate from them for a specific reason, it’s important you let your editor or proofreader know so they can mark it on their own style sheet.

But is it really that important? Will anyone notice?

You’d be surprised. Even if people don’t consciously note inconsistencies or remark on them, they may be left with a feeling that something doesn’t feel right about the text and you might end up with vague comments about poor editing. Consistency is one of the hallmarks of a well-edited text, and using a style guide and noting your decisions helps to ensure that your text is polished.