Way back when…. before the painting challenge started, I wrote a post on Style Sheet for Fiction. I intended to write the non-fiction companion post right away, but once I started painting cats, they took over the month. So… it’s February 1st and the challenge is behind me, so let’s pick up where we left off. If you want to review the piece on using a style sheet when writing fiction, you’ll find it here.
As with the style sheet for fiction, a non-fiction style sheet is very helpful throughout the writing, editing, and revising processes. The best way to go about it is to formulate a generic one with categories suitable to all types of non-fiction writing and then add items specific to the topic of that particular book.
Generic topics are:
Punctuation: Here you would note rules specific to your preferences. For example, although there are certainly some hard and fast rules regarding punctuation, there is always some leeway. Many writers have a personal style to using commas for instance. If you’re one of them, write that rule here to remind yourself to check for that when you are proofing.
Capitalization: There are strict rules for capitalization and very few people, outside of professional editors, get them right. However, even if you do capitalize everything correctly, you may want to use exceptions in your writing. To ensure consistency, write those exceptions here. Also, to ensure consistency, write the rules here that give you the most problem, so you can check that you have applied them correctly.
Spelling: If you are writing a non-fiction book with many names in it or specialized vocabulary, it is good to make a list on your style sheet of the most troublesome. I know many people think they can rely on spell-check… please don’t. It’s often wrong.
Footnotes and citations: If your book will have footnotes and citations in it, set out the format for those types of annotations here, so you can refer back and make them all consistent.
Acknowledgements: Usually when we write a non-fiction book, we find help here and there. Be sure to keep a list of all the people who help you along the way. You won’t want to leave someone out.
Beyond these general things, it is important to make a list of items you want to check while you are editing, revising and proofing. Put these on your style sheet as well. It will help you keep everything straight during the writing process and beyond. It will also help your editor know what it important to you. Be sure to give a copy to anyone editing your manuscript so you can maintain some consistency during the review process.