We talked about page and paragraph styles at length in previous blogs. Those dealt with fonts, font sizes, typeface, indentation, line spacing, and all the other things we can modify or tweak to make our book look just right. Developing a different style for each paragraph type ensures all our chapter titles, headers, footers and text paragraphs are consistent throughout and are easily modified if we wish.
Another ‘style’ we need to concern ourselves with is our grammar, spelling and usage style. For example, is ‘drop-down’ or ‘drop down’ correct? (Depends… if used as a noun or adjective, like ‘drop-down menu’ then the hyphen is correct. If used as a verb, as in “drop down and give me ten”, then no hyphen.) A style guide is a set of standards for the writing of documents that ensures consistency throughout a document, and encourages proper usage of the language.
There are a number of style guides in popular use. There’s the Elements of Style by Strunk and White that was first published in 1919 and revised and reprinted several times over the years, and Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers and Editors for general style guidelines. There are also several specialized style guides like the Associated Press Stylebook for journalism, the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, which as you might guess, is the manual for scholarly papers, and the American Medical Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors.
Good Old Boat Magazine, the magazine Marcie and I do most of our writing for, has its own style guide. This document is aimed primarily at nautical terms, but also defines a number of other style guidelines to ensure word usage and spelling is consistent throughout all editions of their publication. For example, the names of most of the mast stays are one word – forestay, backstay, jibstay except the lower forward mast support which is a ‘baby stay’; it’s ‘bluewater’, not ‘blue water’, as in bluewater cruising; and it’s raceboat, but a race crew on the raceboat. Sometimes, two spellings are commonly used, but to make things consistent, the style guide will define which will be used by the magazine… horsepower, not hp (8-hp); jibe, not gybe; lb (pounds) – no period, no ‘s’, and so on.
We just completed the first pass of Marcie’s new book and sent it to a good friend who had volunteered to do one last edit. George is not only a good friend, but, as we’ve discovered on numerous occasions after he’s pointed out errors in our blogs, is an excellent editor. Even though Marcie and I had gone through every page at least half a dozen times, George still found an embarrassing number of errors that we missed.
Some were out and out typos and misspellings and several punctuation errors. There were also a number of style inconsistencies, and it’s quite obvious that we should have referred to a style guide. For example, is it visitor center, visitors center, visitor’s center, or visitors’ center? Actually, all are acceptable, but it’s nice to be consistent, which, as George pointed out, we weren’t. At least we kept it to two different spellings.
Another bugaboo is the use of double quotation marks (“) versus single quotation marks (‘). There seems to be a lot of different opinions, and pre-George, we were very inconsistent in our usage. We now follow the following style guidelines:
If it’s a direct quote from a person, book, website, article, etc. we surround it in double quotation marks. The museum booklet states that “we house an unrestored collection of over 150 rescued architectural landmarks from some of the city's most celebrated properties”.
If it’s a quote within a quote, the inner quote gets single quotation marks: The docent told us “It’s probably not true that John Dillinger’s last words were ‘You got me’ as he was dying of gunshot wounds.”
We use single quotation marks for specialized terms or words or nicknames. The word ‘bootleg’ stems from the trick of concealing a flask of liquor down the leg of a high boot.
George found a total of 12 misspellings (one of which was the spelling of our email address: firstname.lastname@example.org), 18 punctuation errors, 7 incorrect words, 5 inaccuracies (the Riviera Hotel got demolished a couple years ago – it WAS the Riviera the last time we were there in 2015), and a number of style inconsistencies. Like I said… pretty embarrassing.
So there are two morals to today’s blog: no matter how many times you read and re-read your manuscript, find someone like George who is not only a meticulous editor, but a fresh eye, to go through it again; and give some thought to finding and/or creating and using a style guide.