question marks on a brown background

Style Guide, Style Sheet—What’s the Difference?

One of the things I was most confused about when I first started editing with Ooligan was the difference between a style guide and a style sheet. There were a lot of times during my first term when I thought they were the same thing. With some hands-on practice—and the help of the editorial department—I soon learned that they are not the same and are actually quite different. For anyone who has been in a similar situation, here’s everything you need to know about style guides and style sheets.

Style Guides

Think of a style guide as a collection of rules and suggestions that editors use to ensure that everything follows a consistent set of guidelines. The style guide that is predominantly used in publishing is The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), although there are others such as the AP Stylebook and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA). According to the Chicago website, “The Chicago Manual of Style is the venerable, time-tested guide to style, usage, and grammar . . . It is the indispensable reference for writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers, informing the editorial canon with sound, definitive advice.” CMOS has rules on everything: capitalization, hyphenation, the treatment of numerals, abbreviations, punctuation, and even formatting. As I like to say, there is a rule for everything, and Chicago lists every rule.

A related document that you will come across is the in-house style guide. Sometimes an individual publishing house or press will deviate from the standard style guide, and these deviations are tracked in the in-house style guide. Think of an in-house style guide as a supplement to the major style guide that is specific to the press or publishing house. For example, if your press has guidelines on hyphenating compound words that differ from the guidelines in CMOS, these will be documented in the in-house style guide. Just like the standard style guide, it is expected that anyone who edits for the press follows these guidelines. I highly recommend browsing this article from Grammar Girl for more information.

Style Sheets

Unlike style guides, style sheets are unique to each manuscript or document. While style guides serve as an overarching umbrella of guidelines for all manuscripts, style sheets outline the specifics of each manuscript, and the overall goal is to create consistency. Think of a style sheet as a reference document that is created so that anyone who works on the project can see exactly how things should be spelled, formatted, and styled. Style sheets can outline everything from the proper spelling of names/characters/places in the manuscript, how to treat numbers and hyphens, and even when to capitalize or italicize certain words or phrases. Check out this website for more information on style sheets.

Style guides and style sheets are both important documents to use when editing. Both style guides (standard and in-house) outline the style, grammar, and layout guidelines that the manuscript should follow. Editors should be familiar with both style guides and consistently apply them to the manuscript. Style sheets are just as important, and as an editor, you should always be sure that you match what is on the style sheet for the manuscript you are working on.

I hope this helps clarify the differences between style guides and style sheets! Happy editing!