How to Make a Style Sheet

Bonnie Trenga Mills explains why a style sheet is different from a style guide.

Bonnie Mills, Writing for
4-minute read
Episode #388

A style sheet should not be an enormous document that tries to rival tomes like Chicago Manual of Style (1,026 pages) and Garner’s Modern American Usage (942 pages). A style sheet should not, for example, explain the difference between “affect” with an “a” and “effect” with an “e”; if you need to refresh your memory about spelling or grammar rules, you’ll find the information in a dictionary or in a Grammar Girl book. 

As the Handbook for Proofreading states, “The right kind of style sheet is intended to save time and trouble” (1). If the company style sheet is 50 pages long, it likely contains many more rules than employees need to know to complete their work, and they will therefore hesitate to use such a forbidding hunk of paper. And if they do use it, they will probably waste a lot of time looking through it. Therefore, the style sheet should be an easy-to-follow and quick-to-reference document that has all of the important stuff in one place.

How to Streamline Your Style Sheet

A style sheet is not comprehensive. It should include for only the most important items.

Consider streamlining your existing company style sheet by electing a style king or queen, one person who becomes responsible for creating and distributing the style sheet. In addition, your style monarch will need to update the style sheet when names and titles change, or when management changes its mind about issues like bullet points or serial commas. 

This person—perhaps you, the listener?—should ensure that the style sheet contains only absolutely vital items. Arrange the important stuff so that workers can find answers quickly—alphabetically or with clear headings. If your company creates many different kinds of documents or works with various clients and all of these documents and clients require different treatment, create a style sheet for each kind of document. Think “ease of use” here. Creating your style documents may be a lot of work in the beginning, but in the end, workers will save time and frustration. 

If you feel that a brief style sheet cannot possibly convey all of the requirements, create that overly long style sheet, but pull out the highlights and repeat them in an easy-to-read page or two that go in the front. 

What if your company doesn’t have any kind of style sheet? Gasp! Consider volunteering to be the style wizard and to create one. If your boss seems hesitant, say that Grammar Girl sent you! Explain that consistent formatting, spelling, and terminology project professionalism and give workers and the business credibility; it looks sloppy if, for example, the term “Associate” is haphazardly capitalized and if some bullets are indented half an inch while others are indented a quarter. In addition, following a style sheet aids accuracy. Managers undoubtedly want to build credibility and to reduce errors.


About the Author

Bonnie Mills, Writing for Grammar Girl

Bonnie Mills has been a copyeditor since 1996.