The Writer’s Toolbox – Self Editing in Style, Part II

You’re ready to edit your book or paper, and You’re convinced you need a style sheet to ensure everything’s treated consistently throughout the manuscript. You’ve got your Word document?or notebook?all set, and You’re ready to go. But what exactly should you be tracking in your style sheet, and how do you apply it in your manuscript? This week we’ll look at the surprisingly broad category of spelling and capitalization. You’ll be amazed at the mistakes you didn’t know you were making.

What’s in a word?
One of the most obvious uses of a style sheet is to ensure you treat words the same way on page 343 as you do on page 11?so you’ll want to start off by listing the words your manuscript spells uniquely, or at least that are open to possible inconsistent spelling.
Won’t Spell Check take care of that? Not necessarily; you might have unique spelling preferences (Canadian spelling, anyone?), or there might be industry-specific terms you want to use. You might also have a situation where two alternate spellings are correct, but you have a preference that you want applied consistently?either generally (“doughnut” instead of “donut”) or in a particular context (“further” vs. “farther” comes to mind). Spell Check may not mark them as misspelled, but the inconsistency will make your manuscript look poorly edited.

Capitalization factors in here too, since Spell Check rarely points out capitalization preferences. What capitalization rules are you following?or not following? Are there any special rules unique to your book? What about abbreviations? “OK” and “okay” are both, well, okay, but you’ll want to choose one and spell it the same way every time it comes up.

Compounds and hyphenation should also be covered?believe me, It’s easy to apply hyphenation inconsistently. When in doubt, check your dictionary for your preferred spelling, and get these compounds into your style sheet to keep yourself on track. A caveat, though: hyphenation can be tricky because some compounds are hyphenated before a noun but not after it, at least if you follow US style. don’t apply global changes to anything, and make your individual decisions carefully. When in doubt, ask an editor.

Have you made up words? you’d be surprised how easy it is to slip up and misspell words of your own creation. Foreign words are another must-have in the style sheet. Characters and places we’ll cover in more depth in a future installment, but their names should appear on the style sheet’s word list too.

While you don’t normally think of numbers as a spelling issue, they fall under the general umbrella here. Are you writing out all numerals under twelve, like The Voice does? What about street numbers? How will you style phone numbers?parentheses or periods? Consistency imparts professionalism, and inconsistent numbering tends to create an amateur vibe.

Now What?
You’ve gotten down your preferred spellings of strange, unique, or easily confused words; the next step is to check that you applied them throughout the book. Word’s Find & Replace function is a good way to check alternate spellings against your preferred one. Another program is PerfectIt, a staple for many copyeditors (I couldn’t live without it myself). PerfectIt searches your manuscript for words spelled multiple ways and flags each instance, allowing you to easily navigate to check, approve, or change the spelling. While It’s not a free program, its Consistency Checker is downloadable on a free trial basis, so if you’ve got just one manuscript to go through, It’s a must-have. If you’ll be doing multiple edits or several manuscripts, splurge and buy it?the customizability alone makes it worth its cost.

Next week we’ll look at how grammar and punctuation preferences might get worked into a style sheet, and why you’d want something so specific and technical in there. In the meantime, get your manuscript’s style sheet started with not-so-basic spelling and capitalization.

Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. For more tips and techniques for your toolbox, follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.

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