An American Editor

February 16, 2015

Thinking Fiction: The Style Sheets — Part II: Characters

The Style Sheets — Part II: Characters

by Amy J. Schneider

This month I continue my discussion of the style sheets I keep and the details that go into them. Let’s talk about tracking character attributes.

The Devil Is in the Details

When I receive a style sheet for a previous book by the same author, whether a standalone title or one in the same series, it usually includes a character list. And by “a character list,” I mean just that: a tidy alphabetical list of character names, often last name first, first name last. We copyeditors love to make alphabetical lists. But for ensuring continuity both in attributes of individual characters and in the relationships between them, such a list isn’t very useful.

For example, suppose that in Chapter 1, James is described as being a vegetarian, but in Chapter 18 he orders a Big Mac for lunch. Or suppose that Angela is an only child in Chapter 3, but in Chapter 6 she gets a call from her sister. I don’t know that my memory is good enough to recall a detail from so far back. And often such details are mentioned in the barest passing, and so they are easy to overlook. That’s what the style sheet is for. Any detail that could possibly be contradicted later on goes on the style sheet. Examples follow shortly.

In addition, I find it extremely helpful to group characters not alphabetically, but by their relationships to each other. Family members, coworker groups, the neighbors, the guys down at the pub, the bad guys: these are examples of how you might group characters. Sometimes you may not be sure where to put a character. That’s okay; just start them in their own group for now and later it may become clear. The advantage of grouping like this is that it helps you spot name changes (the bartender was Andy, but suddenly he’s become Randy), missing or extra people (there are supposed to be five Murphy brothers, but six are named), and so on.

Remember to track nonhuman characters too. I enclose animal names in quotes (“Max” — Susan’s cat; black fur, left front paw and tip of tail are white). Make note of unnamed animals too; make sure that the neighbors’ black lab doesn’t turn into a border collie. In fantasy and science fiction, you may encounter “characters” that are sentient objects such as weapons and other magical items (think of the elven blade “Sting” from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings), as well as fictional deities, spirits, and so forth. On the style sheet they go.

Details to Track

So, what kinds of details should you track? As I stated earlier, anything that could possibly be contradicted later. (And as you come across such items, later, check against your previous entries on the style sheet to ensure that they are still accurate; if not, you know that you need to flag or query.) The following are only a few examples:

  • Physical descriptions: hair color/length/qualities, eye/skin color, facial descriptions (straight nose, thick eyebrows, high cheekbones), body build (muscle bound, lanky), blood type, clothing size, glasses, disabilities, vocal quality (pitch, accent)
  • Life status: age/birthday (age 27; her birthday was last May; the baby will be born next fall), relationships (her mother died of cancer when she was twelve; he has been divorced twice), employment, schooling, abilities (I once met a character who could speak a foreign language, but had mysteriously lost that ability later on), nicknames, habits (vegetarian, doesn’t drink), accents, pet phrases, personal history (inherited $6 million from his grandmother)
  • Right/left: scars, injuries, tattoos, and so on
  • Phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Twitter handles (query the author to ensure that these are not in use by real people)
  • “Negative” attributes: can’t swim, is afraid of dogs, has never seen the ocean
  • Relative descriptions: Rodrigo towers over Lancelot; Evan is two years older than Shane

Assuming you are editing in Word, it’s easy to copy relevant descriptive phrases out of the manuscript and plop them into the style sheet, for ease of searching later if you need to refer back to earlier text. I condense the copied text to save a little space by changing spelled-out numbers to digits and editing down to the essential key words (e.g., “her auburn hair cascaded down her back, and fluffy bangs accentuated her ocean-blue eyes” would become “auburn hair down her back, bangs, blue eyes”; “died six days before her eighty-fifth birthday” would become “died 6 days before her 85th birthday”). The idea is to take out information that’s non-essential to the style sheet (you might copy a full paragraph just to grab a few informational phrases). Another point to remember: in hard-copy days, we noted the page number for details, but with electronic editing, page layouts can shift, so use the chapter number instead. You can always use search to find the exact text you’re looking for.

I Found a Contradiction; Now What?

Oops. Nancy is blonde in Chapter 4 but brunette in Chapter 27. Michael’s eyes keep changing color from blue to green to blue again. Tonya’s parents died when she was a baby, but also threw her out of the house when she was sixteen. What to do?

Remember that it’s the author’s story, so if any major rewriting or plot adjustment is required, it’s up to the author to do so. However, you can certainly help by making suggestions.

  • If it’s a minor detail that’s not critical to the plot, and only a few instances are different (suppose Nancy’s hair is described as blonde twelve times and brown twice), it’s safe to simply change the brown hair back to blonde and write a query alerting the author to the change.
  • If Michael’s eyes are blue six times and green seven times, then you need to write a query that lets the author know about the discrepancy and ask the author to decide which way to go.
  • Let’s say that the fact that Tonya is an orphan is important to the plot, but so is the fact that she had to fend for herself at a young age. That’s not something that a copyeditor can fix. But you might suggest that the author have Tonya raised by an aunt and uncle, and they are the ones who threw her out.
  • You may find a character-related plot hole that has no obvious solution. The best you can do then is outline the problems and ask the author if he or she can see a way to solve them. After that, it’s in the author’s hands — and the author may decide to just live with it. (I’ve seen that happen.) But you’ve done your due diligence.

Because fiction is by nature made up, there’s no real-world reference for its internal factual information — so keeping a detailed style sheet with as much information as possible about the characters (and other elements) is enormously helpful for catching inconsistencies.  In the next article, I’ll talk about tracking information about locations and buildings, which involves much the same approach as I’ve discussed here.

Amy J. Schneider (, owner of Featherschneider Editorial Services, has been a freelance copyeditor and proofreader of fiction and nonfiction books since 1995. She has shared her insights on copyediting fiction as a speaker at the Communication Central conferences, in writing for the Copyediting newsletter, and in an audioconference for Amy can be reached at LinkedIn, via Twitter, and on Facebook.

Related An American Editor essays:


January 19, 2015

Thinking Fiction: The Style Sheets — Part I: General Style

The Style Sheets — Part I: General Style

by Amy J. Schneider

So you’ve completed the first-pass read-through of the manuscript. Now you’re ready to get into the thick of things and do your main-pass edit. Let’s get to it!

Of course, as for a nonfiction copyedit, you will compile a style sheet. If a style sheet is available from a previous book by that author or a previous book in the series, use that as your starting point. (See my essay, “The First Pass — Just Read It!,” for more on reviewing previous style sheets.) I actually maintain four style sheets (general style, characters, places, and timeline) for each fiction edit for ease of navigation, although if you would like to combine the four sections I use into one document, go right ahead. Or you can keep them separate and combine them into one document when the edit is finished. Over the next four essays I will discuss the style sheets I keep in a little more detail.

General Style Sheet

In fiction as in nonfiction, we need to track the basics, such as treatment of numbers, abbreviations, punctuation, typography (use of italics and other font attributes), usage, and, of course a general word list. The Chicago Manual of Style is one of several standard style guides in book publishing, but the rules in fiction are looser than in nonfiction and thus Chicago — and any other style guide — should be considered more a guide than a collection of hard-and-fast rules. And, as I’ve mentioned earlier, there is much more leeway for style in fiction because the author is creating a mood and telling a story. (Imagine how flavorless The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would be if it had been edited to be one hundred percent grammatically correct!)


Most of the time in fiction, numbers will be spelled out, especially in dialogue, but as always there are exceptions. Phone numbers (particularly 911, the emergency number), years, decimals, vehicle designations (such as aircraft call signs), and weapon names (AK-47) and calibers are usually presented in digits. In general, use digits for numbers that would become unwieldy if spelled out. Common entries on my style sheet include heights (five-foot-one, six four), time (eight thirty, 6:27 a.m.), highway numbers (Route 28, the 101), decades (the seventies), clothing sizes (size eight) and room numbers (room 307). (The examples I’ve given here are just that — examples — rather than rules about how to style these. Again, each book might use a different style, with house style and author preference as factors.) I’ll delve into numbers in more detail in a future article.


Abbreviations used in a novel might be those used in the real world (GPS, FYI) as well as invented ones from the fictional world in the novel (names of organizations, slang terms). I generally include them whether they have been spelled out or not, simply to clarify what they stand for. (Unlike nonfiction, there is no need to spell out every acronym for the edification of the reader. Context is key.)


Most authors will use the serial comma, but some prefer to omit it. Make a note! (And indicate that it’s the author’s preference. I use “(au pref)” after any such item. In my work, the publisher informs me of author preferences for certain terms or style choices, either in the cover note or on a previous style sheet.) The same is true for ellipses (some authors use the 3-dot ellipse only). I’ve had a few authors who said, “No semicolons.” This section is also where I note general forms of punctuation, so I can find them easily, instead of putting a specific term in the alphabetical word list. For example, I put “fifth-grader (n)” here instead of under F in the general word list because I want to show how I’m treating this word form instead this specific word. Other examples of things I track here include color terms (whether and when to hyphenate forms such as black-and-white, silver-gray, reddish orange, and sky blue), whether to set off words such as too, either, and anyway with commas (many authors have a preference), and possessives of names ending in –s. (I recently had an author who specified apostrophe-only for possessives of names ending in –s or –z. So I maintained that style for words such as Chris’ and Buzz’. It went against my grain, but it was the author’s stated preference, approved by the publisher. So on the style sheet it went, with the “(au pref)” tag.)

This is also a good place to note unusual punctuation used in dialogue: ’cause, ag’in, I’mma.


Direct thought, indirect thought, imagined dialogue, mouthed dialogue, remembered speech, telepathic dialogue, words as words or sounds, letters as letters or shapes or academic grades, signs, handwriting, text messages, e-mails, typed text, computer commands, foreign terms: these can be treated in many different ways. Italic? Small caps? Caps and small caps? A special character style in the client’s template? Roman, in quotation marks? All caps? Initial caps? Title case? Note it here.

A common consideration in fiction is how to treat terms of address and epithets. Generally, generic terms used to address someone that are not an established nickname for that person are lowercased: sweetheart, pumpkin, my dear, ma’am, jerkface. Occupational titles used in place of a name are often capped (but not always!): Doctor, Officer, Lieutenant. The same is true for temporary epithets: Mr. Wonderful, Crazy Homeless Guy.


Note any firm usage preferences here: whether to distinguish between that/which, further/farther, each other/one another, and the like. (These would usually apply mainly to omniscient narrative, as first-person narrative and dialogue are frequently left as is rather than conformed to “correct” usage, unless the character would be expected to use it.) An excellent usage reference is Garner’s Modern American Usage.


Ah, “Miscellaneous,” the junk drawer of the style sheet. In fiction I use this primarily for terms that don’t fit in other places: fictional and real items such as organization names, publications, historical events, special terms such as magical commands, and so on.

General Word List

The word list is pretty much the same as for nonfiction, with some additions. Here I note any British spellings and foreign terms, treatment of slang terms (dammit or damn it?) trademarks (real or fictional), sounds and interjections (uh-huh, uh-oh, for gosh sakes), and so on, as well as the usual sorts of terms one might include on a nonfiction word list. I also note any variants from dictionary spellings that the author may prefer (again, with the “(au pref)” label). In invented worlds, such as in fantasy novels, unconventional capping is much more prevalent: the Sight, She (referring to an exalted character), Before (referring to an earlier era). The word list is a good place to note terms such as these.

In Coming Essays…

In coming essays, I’ll delve into each of these areas in more detail. Hopefully, this article has given you a good overview. Next month: tracking character attributes.

Amy J. Schneider (, owner of Featherschneider Editorial Services, has been a freelance copyeditor and proofreader of fiction and nonfiction books since 1995. She has shared her insights on copyediting fiction as a speaker at the Communication Central conferences, in writing for the Copyediting newsletter, and in an audioconference for Amy can be reached at LinkedIn, via Twitter, and on Facebook.

Related An American Editor essays:

November 10, 2014

Thinking Fiction: The First Pass — Just Read It!

The First Pass — Just Read It!

by Amy J. Schneider

After I write this blog post, the next item on my agenda is (surprise!) copyediting a novel (a cozy mystery, if you’re curious). And the first step is one of my favorite parts of fiction editing: simply reading the manuscript. And why wouldn’t it be my favorite? It’s the pleasure reader’s dream: getting paid to read a novel. You might envision being snuggled up on the couch with your laptop and a pillow and blankie, a snoozy dog (or cat, if you swing that way) at your feet, a bowl of bonbons at hand. But the truth is…well, actually that is pretty much how I do the first read. But, as always, other tasks are involved. Let’s take a look.

Receiving the Manuscript

I edit fiction for major New York publishing houses, so of course they have the process well in hand. When a manuscript comes to me, it has already been accepted for publication and undergone substantive and/or line editing, and the publisher has applied its template and the associated styles for front and back matter, chapter openers, space breaks, letters, place and date markers, and so on. So even the unedited manuscript is pretty clean (with some variation, of course). One client helpfully includes a form with information and instructions for the copyeditor, listing items such as genre, setting, audience, and publication date; the level of editing the project editor believes it needs and what levels of changes require a query (generally, lighter edits such as transposing words can be made without a query, whereas queries are requested for heavier edits such as minor rewriting); specific instructions about how to handle things such as punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalization, and any unusual choices the author has deliberately made; how receptive the author is to queries (this is helpful for knowing when to put on an extra pair of kid gloves); and any other notes. If a previous style sheet for the same author or the preceding book in the series is available, I receive that as well. (Quite often it is a PDF of my own style sheet with handwritten annotations that the publisher added after the previous edit: additional words, corrections/changes, and so on. Fortunately I always save my style sheets from previous projects, which is especially handy for maintaining consistency across a series or preserving an author’s preferences across unrelated novels. I just pick up the old Word files and use them as a starting point for the new book.)

But at this point, these associated documents are for review only. I look over the copyeditor instructions and mentally note anything that stands out, as well as anything that’s business as usual. (If you are editing for an individual author, you will want to discuss these points with the author ahead of time and agree on the details.) I review the previous style sheet, if one is supplied, and note anything that I may want to begin addressing during the first pass. For example, does the style of the book call for the serial comma? Most do, but some authors prefer to omit it. I’m a fan of the serial comma myself, and it’s very nearly a knee-jerk action for me to apply it. So for books that do not use the serial comma, I run a quick search and replace to flag all occurrences of “, and” and “, or” so I don’t accidentally leave in a serial comma or neglect to take an errant one out. The previous style sheet will also alert me to any other deliberate or unusual style choices as I do the first pass.

Finally, I apply my version of the publisher’s template, which changes the text to a font that is comfortable for screen reading (my preference is 14-pt. Verdana) and gives me access to my other working macros, and we’re off!

Time to Read!

Blankie, check. Doggie (or kitty), check. Bonbons, check. It’s time to get started.

As I mentioned earlier, this is when you simply read the story to familiarize yourself with the author’s style, the characters, the setting, the plot, and so on. No style sheets are required at this point, except perhaps for quick reference. Don’t get bogged down in making and noting style decisions while you are acquainting yourself with the story. In fact, this pass is the only time (except when I’m traveling) that I use my laptop for paid work, because I can do it on one screen, whereas I do the rest of my work on my mighty desktop, HARV (named for the Harvard Mark I; see “IBM’s ASCC Introduction (a.k.a. the Harvard Mark I)”), and its four screens. (I’d like to point out that this is one more monitor than Rich Adin has, heh heh.) I find the multiple monitors especially useful for fiction, because I keep five documents (plus browser and e-mail) open as I edit: the manuscript plus my four style sheets for characters, places, timeline, and general style. (See Rich’s discussion of the increased efficiency of multiple monitors at “The Commandments: Thou Shall Be Efficient”.)

So, no style sheets, just you and the manuscript. Ready, set, read! Enjoy the story. Make mental notes, but do not make style decisions or write queries at this point. You’ll probably notice things that you want to check in more depth later: wasn’t this character’s name different before? Note to self: pay attention to Melvin/Marvin on second pass. (Flag it with a note to yourself, if you like.) And you may also find that your questions are answered later as you read on. Get an idea of the level of detail, so you know how much to note on the style sheets. I’ve edited books where very little description of characters, objects, places, and time was given; it was all plot, and thus the style sheets were very simple. In other books, the level of character description is enough for a police sketch artist to do a pretty good job, and we learn addresses, brand names, car models, exact times of day, and myriad other details. For these books the style sheets will be more complicated to compile.

But you will also start cleaning things up so you can concentrate on the big stuff during the second pass. Go ahead and fix (using Track Changes) things that are outright errors: wrong word choice (e.g., hoard for horde), punctuation errors (e.g., deleting a hyphen after an adverb ending in -ly: newly returned king), and so on. At this point I don’t correct anything that might need a query, even an “AU: OK?” because I don’t want to derail myself. If anything, I flag it and move on. At this stage, I also correct silently (untracked) typographic glitches that the author does not need to approve, such as deleting extraneous spaces, moving commas and periods inside quotation marks (for American punctuation style) and converting multiple hyphens to en dashes.

You probably won’t catch all of the glitches on the first pass, and that’s OK. It’s not meant to be a heavy edit pass. This is one case where you’re actually doing what many laypeople think we editors do: reading the latest potboiler and fixing typos. You and I both know that the heavy lifting comes later. But that’s a topic for upcoming posts.

Amy J. Schneider (, owner of Featherschneider Editorial Services, has been a freelance copyeditor and proofreader of fiction and nonfiction books since 1995. She has shared her insights on copyediting fiction as a speaker at the Communication Central conferences, in writing for the Copyediting newsletter, and in an audioconference for Amy can be reached at LinkedIn, via Twitter, and on Facebook.

April 14, 2014

Getting More from PerfectIt: Style Sheets

Successful editors make use of tools that are designed to make editing faster, easier, more accurate, and more profitable. Three such tools are PerfectIt, EditTools, and Editor’s Toolkit Plus. These tools were discussed previously in the three-part series The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage,  II — The Copyediting Stage, and III — The Proofing Stage. That series was published in August 2010. Since then new versions of PerfectIt and EditTools have been released.

In this guest article, Daniel Heuman, creator of PerfectIt, explains how to create and use custom stylesheets in PerfectIt. For those of you who do not have PerfectIt, you can download a 30-day free trial so you can try PerfectIt and the stylesheet feature discussed here.


Getting More from PerfectIt: Style Sheets

by Daniel Heuman

PerfectIt saves time when you’re copyediting. It finds difficult-to-locate errors like inconsistent hyphenation and words that appear with initial capitals in one location, but in lowercase elsewhere. If you work with large documents, it’s a small investment that increases the quality of your work and gives you assurance that your documents are the best they can be. However, most PerfectIt users don’t take advantage of all of its features. This article is about how you can get more from the product without spending a penny extra.

PerfectIt is designed to be easy to use. You won’t need to read any manuals or make frantic calls to your tech support wizard wondering why it won’t install. The interface is so simple that you’ll be locating potential consistency mistakes in seconds. But because it’s easy, most users don’t realize that PerfectIt is not just a consistency checker. With a little bit of customization, PerfectIt can be used to check any organization’s house style. Even better, PerfectIt can be customized to store multiple house styles, so you can use it to check a different style sheet for each client that you work with.

The best way to start building a style sheet is to make use of one of our existing PerfectIt style sheets. These are free from our website. Available styles are US, UK, and Canadian spelling, as well as European Union, United Nations, and World Health Organization style sheets. A style sheet for Australian preferences is coming soon. The styles are available at this link at Intelligent Editing.

To start using one of the style sheets, save them to your hard disk. Then import the files into PerfectIt (click PerfectIt’s “Customize” menu, choose “Advanced” and then ”Import”). Then select the file that you just downloaded. When PerfectIt starts, you’ll see a dropdown list and you can choose the style sheet that you want from there. Now your version of PerfectIt checks those preferences as well as checking for consistency. For example, if you chose the US spelling sheet, it will automatically locate all instances of the word “colour” and suggest “color.” The US spelling sheet has more than 800 words programmed into it already (as well as all the variations of “IZE” such as “organize” instead of “organise”).

And you don’t have to stop there. Now that you’ve downloaded a style sheet, you can also customize it. For example, if you’re working for a client that prefers US spelling, but also wants the word “Secretary General” to appear in capitals, you can add that preference to the style sheet. There are two ways to do that:

  • You can wait for the inconsistency to come up as you work with PerfectIt. Then click the “Customize” menu and choose “Always prefer Secretary General”
  • You can add it to the current style manually by clicking “Customize,” then choosing “Advanced” then click the “Edit” button next to “Phrases that PerfectIt always finds” and add the item there.

It’s important to remember that a PerfectIt style sheet can’t include everything within an organization’s house style. PerfectIt is not a replacement for human editing, and a style sheet is not a replacement for reading the style guide. In fact, a PerfectIt style sheet includes just a small section of any style guide. The settings you can customize it for are:

  • Preferred spelling: for example, is the preference “adviser” or “advisor”, “aesthetic” or “esthetic”?
  • Preferred hyphenation: for example, “co-operation” or “cooperation”?
  • Phrases to consider: a test that can be adapted for any words/phrases that should not be misused, for example, “native”.
  • Abbreviations in two forms: for example, “Nasa” or “NASA”?
  • Phrases in capitals: for example, “euros” or “Euros”.
  • List capitalization (lowercase or uppercase).
  • List punctuation (full stops, semi-colons, or no punctuation).
  • Hyphenation of fractions and numbers: for example, “one-third” or “one third”.
  • Hyphenation of compass directions: for example, “north-east” or “northeast”.
  • Choice of letters or digits for numbers in sentences (split by number range).
  • Use of full stops in titles: for example, “Mr.” or “Mr”.
  • Preference between “ISE” and “IZE”, and “YSE” and “YZE” endings

There’s also an option to accompany each preference with a style note/reminder so that you won’t forget any important exceptions to the rules that you add. For example, if you add a preference for “baby boom” instead of “baby-boom”, you might add the style note, “Unless the use is adjectival.” If you’re working in editorial consultancy and want to prepare a PerfectIt style sheet for a customer, that option is especially important. PerfectIt relies on human judgment, so you should use the style note option to make sure that end-users are aware of all possible exceptions.

All of these options are built into PerfectIt and are free to use. And the learning time involved will quickly pay for itself. If you’re not the kind of person who likes to experiment with advanced settings, you can get detailed help with the entire process, and step by step instructions from our user guides. Alternatively, you can get help and advice from users sharing tips in PerfectIt’s new LinkedIn group.

Daniel Heuman is the Managing Director of Intelligent Editing and the designer of PerfectIt. PerfectIt launched in 2009 and is now used by more than a thousand professional editors around the world, including more than 250 members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. It’s available separately or as part of the Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.


Note: PerfectIt and EditTools are Windows-only programs. Editor’s Toolkit Plus will work on both Windows and Mac OS systems.

Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate is a package of the latest versions of PerfectIt, EditTools, and Editor’s Toolkit Plus at a significant savings.

Do you use PerfectIt and/or EditTools and/or Editor’s Toolkit Plus? If so, please share your experience and suggestions in comments to this article.

May 1, 2013

Business of Editing: The Logistics of Large Projects

As I wrote in my previous post, Business of Editing: Taking On Too Much, I have been hired to help edit a portion of a very large project. My portion runs to 5,000 manuscript pages, which have to be edited within 6 weeks.

After having written about the ethical issues of having undertaken a project that was bigger than the original editors could handle, I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss some of the logistical problems of massive projects. Let’s begin at the beginning: This project, before editing of any chapters, ran approximately 8,000 manuscript pages. (I use approximately deliberately as this was the in-house editor’s estimate; I only know with certainty the page count for the chapters I have actually received.)

Projects of that size are the types of project that I often receive and over the years, I have developed a system for working with such massive amounts of manuscript. In fact, it was because of my receiving projects of that size that I developed EditTools. As you can imagine, with such projects consistency becomes a problem, and the stylesheet seems to grow on its own.

The first logistical problem I address is that of editors: How many editors will be needed to edit the manuscript within the time allotted by the schedule? I built my business, Freelance Editorial Services, around the idea that a team of editors can do better financially than a solo editor. Although this notion has been disputed many times over the years, I still believe it to be true, based on discussions that I have with solo colleagues. It is this team concept that enables me to undertake such large projects with confidence, knowing that I will have a sufficient number of well-qualified editors to do the work.

The second logistical problem I address is the online stylesheet and giving 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 editors to see what decisions have been made, and to conform their decisions with the decisions that have been made by coeditors. Consequently, if an editor makes new editorial decision (i.e., it has not been previously decided by an editor and inserted on the stylesheet) to use distension rather than distention, or to use coworker rather than co-worker, all of the other editors can immediately see that decision — within seconds of its being entered into the stylesheet — and can conform their editing to that decision or dispute it. It also means that errors can be caught and corrected. For example, if an editor enters adriamycin, another editor can correct it to Adriamycin (it is a brand name, not a generic drug) and immediately notify all editors of the original error and correction.

In addition, my client also has access to the stylesheet. The client can view and print it, but not modify it. This serves two purposes: (a) the client can provide proofreaders with up-to-the-minute copies of the stylesheet and (b) the client can look at our editorial decisions and decide that he would prefer, for example, distention rather than distension, notify an editor of the preference, and the editor can then make the change and notify all of the coeditors, who can then make any necessary corrections in chapters not already submitted to the client.

The third logistical problem I address is the creation of a starter NSW (Never Spell Word) file for the project. The Never Spell Word module of EditTools is where known client preferences are stored. For example, if I know that the client prefers distention to distension, I enter into the NSW file the information to change instances of distension to distention. Also into this file goes editorial decisions, such as marking DNA as an acronym that does not ever need to be spelled out but that the acronym US (for ultrasound) should always be spelled out as ultrasound. The NSW file also serves to remind editors of other editorial-decision–related information. I provide each editor with a starter NSW file and each editor will add to their NSW file as they edit.

The NSW macro is run before beginning editing a chapter. Its purpose is to promote consistency across chapters and to make it easier for an editor to visually see editorial decisions that have been made. The NSW macro includes several components. For example, my basic NSW for medical editing also includes a dataset for drugs and organisms. Its use helps speed editing by providing visual clues, such as an indication that a drug name is correct even though the spell checker is flagging it as erroneous — it becomes one less thing that I need to verify.

The fourth logistical problem I tackle is references. These projects often have lots of references. One chapter of the project that I just received, for example, runs 305 manuscript pages, of which there are 61 pages of references — a total of 652 references (most of the chapters have more than 300 references). Dealing with references can be time-consuming. My approach is to separate the references from the main chapter, putting them in their own file. This serves four purposes: (a) Microsoft, in its wisdom, has determined that if spell check determines there are more than some number of errors in a document, it will display a message that there are too many errors for Word to display and turns off spell check. Although spell check is not perfect, it is a tool that I do use when editing. I would prefer it to flag a correctly spelled word as misspelled, giving me an alert, than my possibly missing something. Spell check is a tool, not a solution. (However, it does help that EditTools helps me create custom dictionaries so that correct words that are currently flagged as errors by spell check can easily be added to a custom dictionary and not flagged in the future.) By moving the references to their own file, I eliminate this problem of Word turning off spell check for too many errors.

(b) It provides me with an opportunity to run my Journals macro. Every time I come across a new variation of a spelling of a journal name, I add it to one of my journal datasets. My PubMed (medical) journals dataset currently has more 14,675 entries. With the references in a separate file, I can run that dataset against the reference list and have my macro correct those journal names that are incorrect (assuming the information is in my dataset) and mark as correct those that are correct. What this means is that rather than having to check journal names for 652 references in a chapter, I have to do so for at most a handful. It also means that I can concentrate on the other reference errors, if any, such as missing author names. Instead of spending several hours on the references alone, I can edit the references in a much shorter amount of time. (It took 26 minutes for the Journals macro to check the 652 references against the 14,675 entries in the dataset.)

(c) The third purpose is that separating the references from the main text lets me run the Page Number Format macro. In less than a minute, I had changed the page numbers in the 652 references from 1607-10 to 1607-1610 format. How long would it take to do this manually? Having the references in their own file means I do not have to worry about the macro making unwanted changes in the main text, especially as this macro runs without tracking.

(d) The fourth purpose separating the references from the main body of the chapter serves is that it lets me run my Wildcard Find & Replace macro just on the references. There is no chance that I will use the macro and make unwanted changes to the main text. WFR is efficient because it lets me create a macro that works, such as one to closeup the year-volume-pages cite, and save it for future reuse. WFR even lets me combine several of the macros into a single script (that also can be saved for repeat use) so that the macros run sequentially in my designated order. As an example: I have created macros to change author names from the format Author, F. H., to Author FH,. If you have to do this manually for several thousand author names, you begin to appreciate the power and usefulness of WFR and how much time it can save. (I also will use WFR on the main text when appropriate. What I avoid by separating out the references is the possibility of something happening to either the main text or the references that shouldn’t.)

The above steps are among those I take that make handling of large projects easier and more profitable. There are additional things that I do for each chapter, but the point is that by dealing with manuscript in a logical way, projects become manageable. In addition, by using the right tools, editing is more accurate, consistent, and faster, which leads to a happy client, more work, and increased profitability.

Do you have any thoughts on how to handle large amounts of manuscript? Do you take any special steps for preparing a manuscript for editing or while editing?

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.

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