house style helpers

Developing a house style

posted in: writing | 0

In the publishing world a copy-editor or proofreader is often supplied with a style sheet that sets out the ‘house style’ to be followed when working on a text. This ensures that all documents are consistent in terms of issues such as spelling, comma use, capitalisation or hyphenation. I’ve recently started to put together a default style sheet for Liz Brown Editing, so I thought I would share with you a few issues that I have been considering.

House style tips

Many of my clients are students, academics or from the business world. Some have a clear idea of their style preferences for the text, or are constrained by university or journal publication guidelines, others leave choices of style to me. Unless a client has sent me a style sheet or their brief includes specific instructions then I will generally follow my own ‘house style’.


I have four definitive ‘guidebooks’. I follow the spelling in the Oxford English Dictionary (usually the online version), New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide, the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, and Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Most spelling, grammar, punctuation and style queries can be solved by one or other of these authorities.

house style helpers
Editing guidebooks

Language and references

BritEng or AmEn – the choice is yours. I’m happy to proofread to either British English or Amercian English spelling. Most clients require British English spelling and so this is my default. One issue that often crops up is the question of -ize or -ise spelling, although in certain cases -ize spellings are just as acceptable in Brit Eng spelling as –ise and are preferred by the OED. With academic work I’ll usually ask if a specific reference style has been used. I’ve written several blog posts about academic referencing. If there is no particular preference then I will use Harvard style for in-text citations.


How many spaces after a full stop? In the past, when documents were produced on typewriters (I remember those days of carbon paper and Tippex) the convention was to leave two spaces after a full stop. This is known as English Spacing and dates back to the era of typesetting before computerisation. Nowadays modern fonts are designed for single spacing and this is the convention that virtually everyone now follows.

Other tricky areas are hyphenation. Generally, I will follow the advice in the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. There is also a good simple plain English guide here. The question of the Oxford or serial comma is not unlike marmite – you either love it or hate it. I have to admit being a recent convert as my old-school education trained me to avoid it like the plague.

Writing numbers

As a general rule, in non-scientific texts numbers up to and including ten are written in words and 11 and above are written in numbers. If a number is at the start of a sentence it is written out in full, in words. Interestingly, the representation of the decimal mark or point is different in Europe to the UK and the US. In Europe the decimal mark or point is represented by a comma , whereas in British or American English writing the decimal point is represented by a full stop or point.

Fonts and format

The choice of font is a matter for the author and I only change the font of a manuscript where there is inconsistency. Perhaps a few words have been added to a section in a different font or size, as a writer this is easy to overlook. Another aspect that the proofreader will check is the consistency of layout – indented paragraphs, line spacing and the like. A nicely formatted document looks professional and is easier to read. I do have to keep my OCD at bay here, as I don’t like text that is not justified and the convention in academic writing is to align left and leave the right hand margin ‘ragged’.

The key with imposing a style is consistency, so if I can see that a writer has written ‘organisation’ throughout the majority of the work, but a couple of ‘organizations’ have crept in I will edit accordingly. I’ll be looking at Styles and formatting in a future post. Meanwhile, have a look at the style sheet: LBE style sheet – it’s still a work in progress, so I’d be grateful for any comments or suggestions of things you would like to see added.