When to submit a style sheet?
March 10, 2007 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Question about style sheets for editors, copy editors, tech editors, proofreaders, and factcheckers...

I've been doing editorial odd jobs for years, mostly NF tech editing / factchecking. Recently -- for the first time -- a client asked me to submit a style sheet along with the finished project. I don't mind doing it, of course, and I've always kept informal notes for myself to keep track of things.

Have I been being unprofessional by not submitting a style sheet each time? Is it the expected thing for one to do? Should I start doing it by default?
posted by The corpse in the library to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if it differs in the US, but I would say no, you've not been unprofessional. In my experience the client tells me which style guide they want to use, and I check according to that. (I don't live in an English-speaking country, which means that I work on projects that were written in UK, US and other varieties of English.)

I suppose what you might call a style sheet in this context *is* something that I submit, but it's usually just a list of two or three things that came up which might otherwise be corrected as mistakes. For example I might write a brief message that says, "Hi editor, all went well, interesting story etc etc. Please note that Petter Smith does spell his first name with two 'ps', and I have taken out the 'the' before 'Ukraine' because according to blah blah guide it's not considered correct any more."

Interested to hear what others say but in my opinion there's no big issue.
posted by different at 8:23 AM on March 10, 2007

Have I been being unprofessional by not submitting a style sheet each time? Is it the expected thing for one to do? Should I start doing it by default?

Book copyeditor in USA for 10+ years here. My gut reaction is to say yes, it is expected, and yes, you should submit them by default, but my secondary reaction is that if your work is more fact-checking than editing text, it's probably ok not to. In my experience a style sheet's function is to assist the proofreader and/or fact-checker at a later stage of production to verify spelling of personal names, capitalization of proper nouns, correct rendering or typemarking of alphanumerics or equations, use or omission of diacritics, etc. But if you're doing mostly technical editing (what is NF, anyway?), this may not be applicable. Also, publishers vary in how rigidly they want you to adhere to style guides. At my last job, we had to follow Chicago religiously, and prove it by providing a very detailed style sheet.

Hope this helps...
posted by scratch at 8:38 AM on March 10, 2007

I've been doing editing for more than 10 years. If the organization doesn't have its own styleguide, I default to a handbook like Canadian Press or whatever makes the most sense. If you're the only editor on a project and you're consistent in using the same guide, it's not a big deal.

In fact, I charge several hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars for creating an official styleguide for a publication/website. So I would not recommend doing one for free.
posted by acoutu at 8:47 AM on March 10, 2007

Like scratch, I am accustomed to creating a style sheet for a project on which I am the copyeditor. Even if the organization has its own style guide, a project style sheet provides a guide for spelling and treatment of words and phrases specific to the project. I'd never get away with trying to charge for creating a style sheet -- it is part of the copyeditor's job, and a client would be surprised not to receive one.

On other kinds of projects, though, I have usually submitted just some notes on whatever style issues came up, usually as part of my memo with the finished project. It's hard to say without knowing specifically what work you're doing, but I don't think you have been unprofessional. If you're worried, going forward, it's worth asking at the outset of the project. If you already have the notes, my feeling is that it's always worth sending them along -- even if they turn out to be unnecessary, it makes you look good.
posted by Siobhan at 9:05 AM on March 10, 2007

Response by poster: NF = nonfiction. I do all sorts of projects -- currently I'm working on a book about how to make stuffed hambones out of felt, next up is pornographic Sudoku -- but rarely have to keep track of character names or fictional planets.

Thank you for the answers. I'll start asking when I begin the project, but it sounds like I haven't been doing anything too awful.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:59 AM on March 10, 2007

I hire copyeditors, and yes, I expect a style sheet. Often the tech editors submit one as well, though theirs will usually only refer to technical styles that we should be aware of. A style sheet is not a style guide: the latter covers many hypothetical instances whereas the style sheet covers instances specific to that text, especially those that are odd, not covered by the style guide, or ambiguous in the style guide. As stated above, this is so the proofreader or other readers know what is going on without having to divine it from the text. It is part of your job. Sometimes it can be low-key, but regardless, I want it as a separate document and not as an email, because it is easier to disseminate that way.
posted by dame at 11:16 AM on March 10, 2007

I work as an editor in a museum publications department. We have our house style book (Chicago), plus our own in-house style sheet (which includes mostly art-related terms not covered in Chicago, or instances where we deviate from Chicago style). Occasionally for individual books, we'll draw up a project style sheet if there are a number of names and terms particular to that book that don't show up in either Chicago or our in-house sheet, or other peculiarities to watch out for (for the Magritte catalogue that I worked on last year, we actually had to conduct rather extensive research to determine if Magritte called his dog Lou-Lou, Lou Lou, or LouLou.).
posted by scody at 11:24 AM on March 10, 2007

I've hired copyeditors and freelanced as such. In both cases, the hiring entity supplied a style sheet. If the project had peculiarities, the freelancer would supply additional style notes. It never hurts to ask when you sign on to a project, and I don't think you've been unprofessional. If you continue to get jobs from the same editors who've hired you before, I wouldn't worry - if they thought you should be submitting a style sheet, they would have told you by now (and/or stopped throwing work your way).
posted by rtha at 12:54 PM on March 10, 2007

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