An American Editor

December 7, 2011

Working Effectively Online V — Stylesheets

When professional editors work on projects, they create a stylesheet for each one, a central form that details the editing decisions they have made. For example, in the medical world, distension and distention are correct spellings of the same word. An editor would decide which spelling is to be used for a project and note it on the stylesheet. Some may be handwritten, some may be online. I (and those who work for me) use an online version.

The stylesheet serves multiple purposes, the two most prominent ones being a guide to the editor as the editing project moves over days, weeks, even months, and as a guide to the proofreader. In my editing world, our online stylesheet serves additional important purposes. First, it is designed to enable two or more editors to work together on a project, yet use the same stylesheet and see decisions made by other editors in real-time. In my system, there is virtually no limit to the number of editors who can access and use the same online stylesheet.

Second, it lets me make a project’s stylesheet available to my client 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In my system, the client is given access to the online stylesheet to view it and to print it but the client cannot make any changes to the stylesheet. Because this is where all editorial decisions regarding the project are stored, the client can review the decisions and alert us to any of which the client disapproves. That allows us to make changes before the “mistake” becomes very costly to correct. Client access also means that, when the client sends material from the project to the proofreader, the client can also provide the proofreader with a current-to-the-minute stylesheet.

Beyond these vital functions, I can give the book author(s) client-type access (i.e., view and print but not change) so the author can give us guidance. (It should be noted that just as editors need to create a stylesheet, so should authors. The smoothest editing projects I have encountered in 28 years of editing have been those in which the authors created stylesheets and provided them before I began editing.)

I realize that much of what is, in my eyes, wonderful about my online stylesheet is because of the type and size of projects on which I work. The projects are often medical, with thousands of pages of manuscript, and require two to four editors. My system helps reduce inconsistencies that would otherwise occur when multiple editors work on a project. What is wonderful for my work may be inappropriate for most editors who work on much smaller projects by themselves.

Yet every editor needs to use a stylesheet to reduce inconsistencies and to alert, ultimately, the client to the decisions made. Many editors still do stylesheets on paper, which works when stylesheets are kept small, which leads to the question of how large should a stylesheet be?

Editors are in disagreement about this. I believe a stylesheet should be comprehensive. Many of my stylesheets run 40 to 50 pages. Again, my view is colored by the types of projects I do. Most of the books I do will have subsequent editions — a comprehensive stylesheet can clarify decisions made in earlier editions.

Many editors think short and sweet is better. After all, who can remember what is contained in 40 pages of style information? I think that misses the purpose of a stylesheet, which is to answer a question when it arises. No one has to read and remember everything in a stylesheet; an editor needs to concentrate on certain information, such as what form to follow for references, and then use the stylesheet to answer questions as they arise.

Regardless of how you use a stylesheet, I think editors universally agree that one must be created and kept. And this is another instance of when a mastery of your tools, especially macros, can be timesaving. Even if not timesaving, it can make using a stylesheet easier.

In the years before I created my current online stylesheet, which is based on my website, I used a local online stylesheet with macros. The macros let me select text in the main text and then process it. The selected text would be copied, the macro would then shift focus from the main text to the stylesheet and would put the cursor in the correct alphabetical box on the stylesheet. Then the macro would paste the selected text into the box, select all entries in the box, sort the entries alphabetically, save the stylesheet, and return focus to the main text. Looks complicated and difficult, but it was (is) neither, and adding to and using the stylesheet was quick and accurate.

I am an advocate of using multiple monitors when editing. My current setup uses three 24-inch pivoting monitors — usually two in portrait orientation and one in landscape, although occasionally two are in landscape. (I am thinking about adding a fourth.) I think editors should use at least two monitors, keeping the text they are editing on one and the stylesheet open on the second. With this system, macros won’t be needed as it is easy enough to select, copy, and paste and occasionally alphabetize.

The ultimate point is that, to be an effective editor, you must use stylesheets. To be an efficient editor, you should use a readily available electronic stylesheet. A stylesheet is intended to promote consistency; consequently, an editor should not only keep it handy, but should note all editorial decisions on it.

Curious About My Online Stylesheet?

For those who are curious about my online stylesheet, for a limited time you can view it and even make entries to a demonstration project. (If you do try it, I ask that you make no more than a few entries and that you be courteous and careful with your word choice so you don’t offend others who may view it.) Below is how to access the demonstration project. Please be sure to log-out when done.

NOTE: I haven’t previously given numerous people simultaneous access using the same username and password; usually each editor has his or her own username and password, and when I have given a demonstration, access was to one person at a time. Consequently, I hope this will work but do not know if it will.

  1. Go to and click on Log-in.
  2. Click FES Staff Log-in, which will bring up the log-in page.
  3. Eenter as the username demo and as the password staff and click Log-in (if someone is already logged in with this username and password, you may see a message stating you are already logged in toward the top of the page; if you see the message, click Go to Staff Service Home and continue with step 4).
  4. In the directory at the left, under All Your Projects, click wordsnSync Max to open the wordsnSync Max home page.
  5. Because you only have access to the demonstration project (A History of Freelance Editorial Services), only the demonstration project appears in the dropdown menu; click Load to bring up the stylesheet for A History of Freelance Editorial Services.

You are now viewing my online stylesheet just as an editor sees it and you can use it just as an editor can (a client sees a different view but does see the same content in the alphabetical “boxes”). Scroll down to see entries that have already been made. Feel free to make a few entries yourself. How it works should be self-explanatory. You type (or copy and paste) entries in the box at the top. If you type an entry such as

bluebird of happiness (BoH)

you can click the Add Entry to Stylesheet button (Reset Form clears out the entry box) and your item will automatically be entered in two places: first under B and in the form you typed it, and then in B acronym but in reverse form, like this: BoH (bluebird of happiness). If you try to add an entry that is already present, it won’t be permitted. Placement choices appear below the entry box.

After clicking Add Entry to Stylesheet, you are taken to a confirmation “page” where you will see other, “similar” entries. You can also change placement here. When satisfied, you can either click Confirm Entry to immediately add the text to the stylesheet or you can do nothing and, after 45 seconds, the text will automatically be added to the stylesheet.

After making an entry, watch the Newest Entries box at the left. Your addition will appear there. Via that box, each editor working on a project can see the newest entries as they are being added to the stylesheet or can check for entries made while that editor was offline.

I look forward to reading your comments on how my online stylesheet works and whether it convinces you to adopt online stylesheets for your editing work.


  1. That worked well. I’m not sure I’d use it, though, as much of my style guide is guidance on usage more so than terms.


    Comment by Rhonda — December 7, 2011 @ 4:24 am | Reply

  2. This is probably more than I need, but it reinforces the importance of style sheets and motivates me to improve my own small process.


    Comment by Linda — December 7, 2011 @ 8:18 am | Reply

  3. I like this very much. Thank you.


    Comment by Marla Grimes — December 7, 2011 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  4. Wow–very cool! Thanks for giving us a peek.


    Comment by Kristen Ebert-Wagner — December 8, 2011 @ 9:21 am | Reply

  5. I like this format for remote project work. What I miss (and you may provide this for your team members) is a comments section or field. Do project editors agree on a messaging service so you can have running conversations or consultations? I could see a situation where one editor enters a decision that doesn’t get full support (maybe in error, maybe a misreading of a reference, lack of adequate stimulants…). Do you ever get dueling entries?
    Also, when a new client provides a style sheet — must it be uploaded manually or is there a nifty import function?
    Anyway, thanks for this food for thought!


    Comment by Paula — December 8, 2011 @ 9:25 pm | Reply

    • The issue of conflicting entries is handled by the lead editor. One person is assigned the task of being the project leader and that editor is the final arbiter of conflicts. At one time we tried using instant messaging and a chat service, but found that they were rarely used. The problem is that editors work on their own schedules.

      Also, which you may not have noticed in the demonstration, on the entry confirmation page, a list of similar entries appears. The editors generally look at that list before confirming. A lot of conflicts are avoided that way.

      As to the client’s provided stylesheet, the answer is: it depends. If the client provides a digital version, such as a Word document, the lead editor can add blocks of entries to the online stylesheet using copy and paste; i.e., all A entries can be added to A in one swoop. It has to be done letter by letter, but doesn’t take all that long. If the client provides a printed stylesheet, then it is often done manually. Sometimes we can scan the provided stylesheet and create a digital version, but because we deal with a lot of symbols, that often does not work well.


      Comment by americaneditor — December 9, 2011 @ 4:32 am | Reply

  6. Thanks for sharing this. Much more than I need, but I like the division of the acronyms. I’ll add that to my own style sheet. Very generous of you.


    Comment by Kilian Metcalf — December 8, 2011 @ 11:57 pm | Reply

  7. Great content article on style sheets, will visit for more solid tips and advice.


    Comment by Jean — January 2, 2012 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

  8. […] a program I still use (but not for my stylesheet). Ultimately, I designed an online stylesheet (see Working Effectively Online V — Stylesheets for a discussion of my stylesheet), which remains open in my web browser and gives me quick and […]


    Pingback by The Business of Editing: Consistency « An American Editor — May 28, 2012 @ 4:02 am | Reply

  9. […] access to it to the editors who will be working on the project. I discussed my online stylesheet in Working Effectively Online V — Stylesheets. When several editors work collaboratively on a project, this online stylesheet enables all of the […]


    Pingback by Business of Editing: The Logistics of Large Projects | An American Editor — May 1, 2013 @ 5:04 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: