A matter of style – style guides

Style manuals or guides set out standards for writing, proofreading, and editing documents

They provide guidance on matters such as:

  • use of abbreviations
  • preferred punctuation styles
  • formatting of lists
  • capitalisation of words
  • how numbers are expressed.

    Style guides may be specific to the writer’s audience, such as academic papers, legal documents, business documents, or journalistic articles.

Country variations

There are some variations across Australian, British and American English.

In Australia, editors and writers usually reach for the Australian Government Style Manual 7th ed, managed by the Digital Transformation Agency.

 

This online guide replaces the previous, well-loved handbook, Style Manual: For Authors, Editors and Printers by Snooks & Co,6th ed. 

 

In the US, commonly used style guides include the Associated Press Stylebook (AP) for journalists, or the Chicago Manual of Style, Yahoo (for the web) and APA for academia.

In the UK, there is the Oxford Guide to Style, formerly known as Hart’s Rules and the University of Oxford website provides a less comprehensive on-line style document. Other guides include The Guardian style guide (also done according to an index), Copy-Editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers, and The Times Style and Usage Guide.

Style sheets

Beyond the recognised guides and manuals that inform style, a writer and his or her editor may wish to discuss any particular preferences. These may include punctuation (double/single quotation marks, paragraph breaks, use of the serial comma), writing numbers, spelling (UK, US, Australian English), etc. The editor will record any special characteristics of the writer’s style in a style sheet. As well as capturing editorial decisions, style sheets are handy for monitoring the internal consistency of a work. For example, if you call a character ‘Marian’, then her name will need to be spelled this way (not ‘Marion’ or ‘Marianne’) throughout the manuscript.

Summary

Style manuals and guides set out standards for writing, proofreading, and editing documents.

They are country-specific.

Where an author departs from the usual language conventions or has idiosyncratic rules, a style sheet helps the writer, the editor and finally the proof reader understand and apply what the author wants.

Shifting complex text into a format that everyone can read

One of my other loves is writing easy read documents.

What? I hear you ask.

The easy read format is a way of writing text that is accessible to a wide range of readers. For example, people who do not speak English as their first language may struggle with unravelling complex technical documents. Similarly, people with learning disabilities or cognitive impairment may find it tricky to glean the key messages in text that has colourful flourishes, multiple sub-headings, tiny print, and no supporting images.

Easy read takes plain language one step further in the way we set text out on the page. We also use pictures or photos to support the messaging.

To learn more about how to become an easy read writer, head on over to easyreadtraining.com.

Things to consider before engaging an editor

Every specialised professional field has its own vernacular. This article explains what authors need to understand before seeking the services of a professional editor.

Having your work professionally edited adds great value to your manuscript.

When I present to a group of emerging authors, I am often asked, ‘So how much do you charge for editing?’

It’s true that editing is one of the highest costs in your publishing journey and it can be cost-prohibitive for some people. I get that. So it’s reasonable for authors to want a sense of the likely cost of having their work professionally edited.

What to consider before approaching an editor
1. Define what you mean by ‘editing’

When I’m asked for a price, I usually ask, ‘What type of editing are you looking for?’

I might receive a blank stare, or perhaps an earnest answer, such as, ‘Oh, I want a structural edit’ or ‘I just want you to proofread it.’

Answering a question with another question can appear shifty and evasive, but trust me—there are many misconceptions about what editing actually is, and it is vital for the author and the editor to clarify each other’s expectations before getting down and dirty with quotes.

People throw around various terms: manuscript appraisal, structural edit, copyedit, proofreading, and so on. So, I was pleased to see this article from experienced and respected editor Belinda Pollard, who sets out a framework that will be useful for that preliminary author/editor conversation. Belinda defines and explains five types of editing that are meaningful in her work. She also provides helpful examples.

      • Developmental editing
      • Structural/substantive/content editing
      • Copyediting
      • Proofreading
      • Self editing.
2. Have you reviewed your work?

You will save yourself a lot of money if you invest time and energy in reviewing your writing. You’d be surprised at how many little glitches you find when you reread your work, especially if you have put it away for a couple of weeks.

You can check for:

      • Internal consistency – have you changed any character names? Make sure you have made global changes, ie the replacement name. 
      • Logic – for example, if you write about a car trip from Sydney to Melbourne, check a maps app to confirm your character’s route and the time it takes for their trip. Or if you set your story pre-internet, don’t have a mobile phone interrupting a scene.
      • If you’ve numbered your chapters, are they in the correct sequence? Are they all there? As you write and rewrite and move around sections of your manuscript, it’s easy to lose the sequential numbering.
      • Have you paid attention to MS Word’s squiggly lines? Word has some inbuilt functions that alert you to misspellings or missing punctuation – pay respect to the AI.
      • You can use free versions of some of the spelling/grammar/style checkers, such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid.
3. Have you asked someone else to review your manuscript?

Commonly referred to as beta readers, these are people who love to review words. You could join a writers’ group and exchange beta reading favours with another writer. Ask them to be kind and constructive in their feedback. 

4. Read other books in your genre

You’ll gain enormous value from mindfully and critically reading other authors who write in your genre. Look at their use of building characters. Check out the book blurb. Perhaps take note of the ‘mood’ of the cover. 

5. So how much will you pay?

It all depends on the type of editing you want; the quality of the manuscript you hand to the editor; the availability of your preferred editor who may have to jugle their work to meet your deadline.

This is a useful table of hourly payrates from the Australian and New Zealand professional editors’ organisation. Yes, it is a lot of money, but if you’re paying by the hour, you can see the benefit of doing as much work as you can before handing over to a professional. 

6. Do you like the editor?

It’s okay for you to check out the editor, just as you would check out the credentials and experience of any other professional you engage. Ask them questions about their experience. Check they are available when you need them. Ask for a written agreement of the scope of work. Ask them to do a sample edit of a piece of your work. It’s going to be a close relationship and if you or the editor have any doubts about your compatibility, it’s best to seek another person.

Wrapping up

Having your work professionally edited adds great value to your manuscript. By engaging a professional editor, you have an improved chance of publishing your manuscript to current industry standards.

The author-editor relationship is built around clear communication, so please think about what help you are seeking from an editor before seeking editing services for your manuscript.

 

A matter of style: what ever happened to quotation marks?

Quotation marks – double or single?

‘What?’ she asked VS “What?” she asked

I often encounter writers animatedly discussing quotation marks. Those little 6s and 9s that we used to call inverted commas in English classes. The heated debate is usually about when to use single  (‘N’) or double quotation marks (“N”) to signify that people are speaking in a piece of written work.

It’s a matter of style and convention. Please read on.

What do the experts say?

  • The Australian Government Style Manual, used by most Australian editors, acknowledges that North Americans usually use double quote marks while Australia and the UK use both types. The Style Manual  generally favours simplicity in punctuation and recommends single ‘….’ for expressing direct speech.
  • Ann Hogue’s The Essentials of English is an American publication. As you would expect, she advises the use of double quotation marks to report someone’s speech.
  • Pam Peters’ The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage provides a thorough treatment of this subject. Ms Peters corroborates the two references above and acknowledges that quotation marks can present a vexing issue for writers and editors alike. She notes that Australian daily newspapers tend to use double “…” quotes. Pam also tackles how and where writers might place full stops, exclamation marks and question marks – inside or outside the “s!

Wrap-up

In summary, this is a complex subject. While there are conventions in English writing that provide cues to readers that a character is speaking, the conventions vary from country to country, between style manuals and guides, within countries, and from short quotes to longer quotes.

So I return to my advice to the writers – discuss your preferences with your editor – then stick to your agreed rules throughout your piece of work.

 

P.S. I know there are other uses for quotation marks - but I have chosen to stay with their application to indicate the spoken word.

References

Australian Government Style Manual, accessed December 2023.

Hogue, A 2003, The Essentials of English: a Writer’s Handbook, Pearson Education, New York.

Peters, PH 2007, The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press, New York.

 

Afterthought

Have you noticed the shift away from using any punctuation for direct speech? Departing from the convention of using inverted commas is not a new phenomenon. For instance, James Joyce used a dash to indicate the beginning of dialogue.

Done well, this is a slick technique. However, there are some authors who do not provide enough cues to allow you to work out which person is speaking. This becomes frustrating for the reader.

If you join the minimal-punctuation movement, perhaps ask beta readers if they think you have done this successfully.