Online or on-line? Ten or 10? AM, a.m., or am? January 26, Jan. 26, or 1/26? Chicago, Illinois or Chicago, IL? U.N. or United Nations? Use a serial comma, or not? (That’s the last comma before and in a series of three or more. For example: Dick, Jane, and Harry went to the movies.)
Small decisions like these can slow you down when you write or edit what you’ve written. In longer pieces, you may lose track of decisions that you’ve made previously.
A style sheet can help you write and edit faster and more consistently. As you make your decisions, record them on a piece of paper or in a word processing file. Some decisions can be listed under categories such as punctuation, numbers, etc. Words can be simply be listed alphabetically. Include words that you have difficulty spelling. It’s faster to check the style sheet for troublesome words than to look them up repeatedly or to have your spell checker check them over and over.
By using the same style sheet for everything you write, you’ll soon become familiar with your personal style and will only need to refer to your style sheet from time to time. Book manuscripts and other long documents may need their own style sheets to include specialized terms specific to their subjects.
However, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. You can choose from many published style guides for assistance. Your choice will depend in part on your subject and type of writing. Frequently used style guides include The Chicago Manual of Style, Associated Press 2009 Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, AMA Manual of Style, and Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Organizations and publishers often have a house style based on one of these, so take that into consideration if you are working for an organization or with a publisher. Choose a style guide and then supplement it with your personal style sheet.