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Style sheets: What are they & why do you want to use them

Style sheets: What are they & why do you want to use them

Wondering what style sheets are? They’re a simple tool that will ensure consistency across your document and help you communicate with your editor/proofreader.

Many—dare I say most?—editors and proofreaders rely on style sheets to help them check that everything is consistent in your document.

Being consistent helps keep your readers focused on your message and boosts the credibility of you and your work. Using style sheets can help you save time and money and raise the quality of your document.

So what goes into a style sheet and what are you supposed to do with it?

What is a style sheet?

A style sheet contains the details that need to be treated consistently in a document. It can be as simple or as detailed as you need it to be.

Sample style sheet. Click to see a bigger image. You can download a free template (Word).

Why use a style sheet?

☘ It makes the document more professional

A style sheet will help everyone handling the document deal with its elements consistently.

That includes not only things like spelling and capitalization, but any design elements (the “macro punctuation” that helps make the meaning of the text clear).

And consistency is important because it keeps your reader focused on your writing.

It keeps them from getting distracted by seemingly minor details like words spelled or capitalized differently, mixed up single vs. double quotation marks and en and em dashes, or lists numbered in different ways.

☘ It helps you communicate effectively with your editor/proofreader/translator, etc.

The style sheet is also a tool to help you communicate with your editor (not to mention your proofreader, translator, designer, etc. etc.). Editors will welcome getting instructions on how to handle certain things—it will be one less thing for them to worry about.

And just think about how much time and effort it would save if you didn’t have to go back and forth and check and fix all the little details after the editor has returned the document to you. (More on that in the sections “Who should make the style sheet?” and “What should I do when I receive a style sheet?“)

Bottom line? Using a style sheet will

  • improve the quality of your document
  • save you time and money

What goes into a style sheet?

Let’s take a look at the kind of things you could include in a style sheet.

This may seem incredibly complex, but you don’t have to include everything listed here—you can make the style sheet as simple or as detailed as you need.

If you’re following a specific style (e.g., Chicago, United Nations, EU, Australian, AP, APA, MLA, etc.), then the style sheet could just state the points that you might deviate from the style. It could also list special words and abbreviations specific to your document that might not be addressed in the general style.

☘ Spellings and capitalization

Capitalization stylesExamples
Headline style (also known as “maximum capitals”)Using Uppercase Letters for All Main Words: An Example
Sentence case (“minimum capitals”); specify whether words after a colon “:” should be uppercased or not, etc.Using uppercase letters for the first word only: An example
  • Preferences for hyphenation, capitalization, other special words/phrases (it’s helpful to list specific words used in the document). For example:
Preferred spellingsforums | fora (for plural of forum)
programme (but program for apps/coding)
Hyphen/no hyphencooperation | co-operation
decision-making (hyphenated, as a noun) | decision making
email (no hyphen) | e-mail (hyphenated)
CapitalizationPrime Minister (always capitalize position) | prime minister (lowercase position unless it’s with a name: Prime Minister Johnson)
Western Europe but western part of Europe (“West” for culture/name of a region; “west” for directions)
Proper nouns, special termsCity of New York
the Great Divergence
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (with hyphen in “Co-operation”)
telemigrants (one word, no hyphen)
Third Culture Kids
Viet Nam

☘ Punctuation

  • Serial comma or not: “A, B, and C” vs. “A, B and C”
  • Quotation marks: single or double, and whether punctuation should go inside/outside the quotation marks
  • Other punctuation (e.g., for dashes, use en dash with spaces around it vs. em dash without spaces)

☘ Italics, bold, etc.

  • Uses of italics and bold, such as for foreign words

☘ Abbreviations

  • Abbreviations to use and phrases to spell out
  • Use of “.” in the abbrevation (e.g., U.K. vs. UK)
Use “.” or notMs. / Mrs. / Mr. / Dr. / Prof.
Ms / Mrs / Mr / Dr / Prof
Spaces and “.” in name initialsAnna Eleanor Roosevelt | Anna E. Roosevelt | A.E. Roosevelt | A. E. Roosevelt | AE Roosevelt | A E Roosevelt | A Eleanor Roosevelt
Words to abbreviate/spell outCross Cultural Kids (no hyphen)CCKs
Disaster Management Minimum Service StandardsDM-MSS
nuclear power plant (spell out)

☘ Numbers

  • Which numbers to express as Arabic numbers and which to write out in words
Arabic numerals vs. written outOne to ninety-nine: write out
100 and above: in numbers

One to ten: write out
11 and above: in numbers
OthersPeople’s ages, heights and weight: in numbers
Centuries: eighteenth century | 18th century

☘ Units and currencies, others

  • How to express units (e.g., % vs. per cent) and currencies (e.g., USD vs. $), etc.
  • URLs: include “https://” or omit, etc.
  • Any other instructions

☘ Heading styles & template

  • Heading styles
Base font: Cambria, 11pt
H3 1.1 Sentence case, bold
H4  	Italics and set off
  • Also for table/figure titles
Figure 1. Example of a figure title: Sentence case (place above figure)

Who should make the style sheet?

You could make a style sheet for your editor to follow; they can update it as they edit your work, adding any points that come up, and return it to you with the completed document.

If you want your editor to make one as part of the project, you should agree on that before they start. Some editors may offer it as an add-on service with a fee, so do check with them first.

The good thing about having a style sheet is that if the editor made an editorial decision (e.g., to uppercase the phrase “Member State”) and you decide you prefer something else (“member state”), you can fairly easily find and replace that.

What should I do when I receive a style sheet?

When your editor turns in the style sheet, look through it to make sure you are ok with what’s on there.

▶ If your editor is still working on the document

If your editor is still working on your document and you want to change something on the style sheet, then let them know as soon as possible.

Remember, however, that the later and more piecemeal you send changes, the more work you’re asking your editor to do. If you are paying them by the hour, they may be open to the extra work (schedules permitting). But if you’re paying by the word, you may need to renegotiate the fee. (Which is why it’s so important to discuss style sheets before the contract is signed.)

▶ If your editor has already submitted the work to you

If it’s after the editor has submitted their final work to you, you can make those changes in the document yourself.

The great thing about having the style sheet is that it’s easy to see how your editor has handled something.

Say they put in the style sheet:

policymaker (one word)

If you decide you’d rather use “policy maker” as two words, you can do a find and replace in Word to quickly replace all instances of “policymaker” with “policy maker.” (Note: Do be careful about making universal changes, as you might end up with unexpected results. It’s safer to check each change.)

The button will take you to an external site ( You can add the item to the cart, set the price to zero, put in your name and email, and hit “Pay.” You’ll get the download link. I’m sharing the file under the Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

If you would like to discuss whether we might be a good fit for your scholarly writing project, please send me details via the contact form or email me at

Image by Monfocus from Pixabay

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