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What is a style sheet? And do you need one?

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

As a proofreader or copyeditor, you often have to follow a particular house style. Companies that hire writers, editors or proofreaders request you to follow their writing style to ensure that the client's documents are consistent and that no unnecessary changes are implemented. A style sheet can come in handy for writers too.

A style sheet is the same as a company's or individual's house style. It is a document that explains, to everyone involved, what the client expects you to look out for, what to change and what not to change. Style sheets are brilliant because they take away the guesswork.

As an editor, you don't want to change all the American spelling to British spelling if your client prefers the original spelling from the start. That is why the first question I ask a client is whether they prefer US spelling or UK spelling. And if they prefer UK spelling, do they want "ise" or "ize" endings? (Please note that there are more options, such as Canadian English and Australian English.)

Writers also benefit from keeping a style sheet because it keeps writing and style choices consistent throughout the text or texts. For example, if you publish a monthly newsletter, you want your tone of voice and choice of words to be similar to the previous months. A newsletter is part of one's brand, and readers expect certain things from a brand. An author working on a novel wouldn't want to write "can not" in the first chapter and write "cannot" in the next. Whilst both are correct, mixing different spellings is not recommended. Inconsistencies can be very distracting to your audience.

Example of spelling variations between American-, Canadian-, British- and Australian English.
Example of spelling variations. (Source:

What is commonly found on a style sheet?

  • Headings – how are they capitalised?

  • Abbreviations and contractions – is it St or St. for Saint?

  • Numbers – are they written out in full?

  • Dates and times – is it 25/08/2022, 25 August 2022, or August 25, 2022?

  • Punctuations – do they use punctuations in bullet points or headings?

  • Capitalisation – which words are capitalised?

  • Lower case – which words do you write in lower case?

  • Words and phrases – you can write certain words in more than one way, so choose one and stick to it.

If you write texts and you don't have a style sheet, I recommend creating one. After publishing your texts, you may wish to hold on to the style sheet to ensure brand consistency. Your editing team will also be grateful.

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