Are you always looking up “affect and effect” to make sure you’re using the right word? Or are you the type that’s always checking for exceptions to the “i” before “e” rule? Perhaps it’s time to create a style sheet.

Style sheet example

Click on graphic to see a larger version

Publishers of books, newspapers and magazines started using style sheets as a means to document the use of type fonts, spacing and layout essentials to ensure a consistent look to a printed document. Its use spread to electronic media for similar reasons, and both writers and editors use them not just for the “look” of a document, but to help them remember issues they constantly trip over like certain word spellings, punctuation rules, when abbreviations are permitted and any other item that’s hard to remember when you’re writing or editing your own material.

If you type “style sheets for editing” into your browser, you’ll find many suggestions on how to make one, and even some
samples. You’ll also find that everyone has a little different way of doing it. Here are my suggestions on how to start.

The first time you come to an area of doubt, create a new document and call it “Style Sheet.” Start a list of tricky words and other prompts that will keep your story consistent. Use a dictionary, the Chicago Manual of Style or your browser for brief descriptions. Add characters’ birthdates to change their ages as they grow in later chapters. Keep your items in boldface and alphabetical order for easy reference. Keep your list growing as you progress through your document. You might start with something like what I’ve put together in the accompanying graphic.

When you start a new manuscript, you can start with your old style sheet and change it for new characters and situations.