I learned about style sheets the hard way.

As I was editing one of my very first fiction manuscripts, I discovered that I needed a way to keep track of everything that was going on in the story. Not only was I having a difficult time remembering all the details, but so was the author. With so many intricate details and numerous characters, I needed to come up with a system to record everything. Otherwise, I’d spend my time going back and forth from page five to page two hundred, and flipping open various sections of the Chicago Manual of Style every ten minutes (yes, it happens).

I ended up creating a spreadsheet of every character—including in which chapter they first appeared, their role in the story, the spelling(s) of their names, and discrepancies with character references found throughout the manuscript. I included other details as well, like specific terms the author used, how the author treated references to time, specific places, and more.

A monumental feat considering my general hatred of spreadsheets. Seriously, I almost broke out in hives just typing the word.

Images of style sheet sample and templateAnd then I learned about style sheets (better late than never, right?).

As a writer and editor, I’m here to tell you that style sheets can be life savers when you’re writing or editing. There’s gold in them-thar hills!

But before you think that creating a style sheet is like trudging up a hill, I’d like to help you discover the gold mine that awaits you when you learn the benefits of style sheets and how to use them.

I recently talked about the advantages of using style sheets in my Write Ambitions podcast.

What’s a Style Sheet?

Let’s talk about what a style sheet is. Style sheets are used by editors as a guide for treatment of specific items in a document. Most businesses have a style guide that includes logo usage, taglines and slogans, fonts and colors used with their brand, and other relevant items. A style sheet is similar to a style guide, but is specific to writing. Corporations can use style sheets for communications materials they produce, and writers and editors can use them when working on manuscripts.

What Are the Advantages for Writers and Editors?

So what are the benefits of using style sheets? Here are some nuggets that can be found by using style sheets:

  1. CONSISTENCY – This is a key component of writing, whether it’s a sales brochure or an epic novel. A style sheet helps ensure that you’re consistent with your characters, with spellings of certain terms, with abbreviations and acronyms, and with other items like specific dates.
  2. TIME – Let’s face it. Writing can be time-consuming. By using a style sheet, you’ll save yourself (and your editor and/or proofreader) time because there won’t be a need to keep looking up the same things over and over again.
  3. MONEY – Maybe this benny should have been listed first. Time is money, right? The less time an editor has to spend on correcting all the things that can be listed on a style sheet, the less money you’ll have to pay them. As an editor, maybe I shouldn’t divulge this, but it’s the truth.

How to Create Style Sheets

To create a style sheet, start by listing the references you’re using as a guide. For example, my go-to references are the Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. This helps anyone who views the style sheet to know what the baseline is. Each style guide (like Chicago or AP, for example) treats items in their own particular way, so knowing whether a document is following Chicago style or AP style is a big help.

After that, I’ll include formatting information, like the font and font size, margins, etc. Then I’ll list specific treatment of numbers, abbreviations, symbols, and various names and other terms that appear in the document or manuscript.

A sample style sheet can be downloaded here, which provides examples of what to put in each section.

And a style sheet template can be downloaded here for you to try out with your next writing or editing project.

A style sheet for writers and editors is a living document, and can be added to as needed. And it’s seriously a gold mine. I usually have my style sheet right next to me as I’m editing (usually a split screen because most of my editing is done online). That way, I can access it easily and can add to it when needed.

So give it a try. Hopefully you’ll discover how much easier it makes the writing and editing process. Your writing will be more consistent, you’ll save time, and you’ll save money by using a style sheet.