Why you should use a style sheet (and how to develop your own)
If you produce a lot of written content, you’re going to find yourself making decisions frequently. When you write, you have to decide which variations of spellings you’re going to use (focussed or focused; judgement or judgment). When you make these decisions, unless you have a photographic memory, you’re going to forget them if you don’t write them down. That’s where your style sheet comes in.
@@Haven't got a style sheet yet? Here's how to create one@@
What are the benefits of using a style sheet?
- Consistency: If you’re working with a partner or in a team, this point is particularly relevant to you. Everyone has different preferences, so maintaining a style sheet is crucial if you want your writing to be consistent. Even if you’re working alone, you can’t possibly remember every choice you’ve made. Consistency helps with looking professional, and that’s something that no business or blog can afford to drop the ball on.
- Convenience: As long as you set it up and maintain it properly, a style sheet is an extremely convenient solution to the problem of maintaining consistency.
- Organisation: If you’re writing enough content to need a style sheet, chances are you have a lot going on in your head. Make it easier on yourself by having one place where you can store all the choices you make.
Here’s an extra tip for anyone who writes or edits for others: You should be using a style sheet for every project or client (that is, if you’re not just using your own). If your client has made different style choices than you have, you can keep track of them in a style sheet (otherwise, you might end up getting them confused with your own style choices ... and that just gets messy). I suggest saving a blank version of your style sheet template (ours is here) and then creating new versions for yourself and your clients.
How is a style sheet different from a style guide?
A style guide is a comprehensive overview of your brand, including your voice, style, and visual branding, whereas a style sheet is a quick and easy way to remember specific grammatical choices you’ve made. Your style sheet can be a section in your style guide, and probably should be. But your style sheet is most likely going to get a lot more use—and be updated a lot more frequently—than the rest of your style guide.
Setting up your style sheet
You can download our beautiful, pre-made, fillable PDF style sheet here, or you can simply create your own.
Your style sheet can have whatever you want on it, but I suggest including a space for specific words (you can do this by having a space for each letter in the alphabet), plus a space for numbers, punctuation, and then a space for anything that doesn’t fit into those categories.
Once you’ve designed the layout, it’s time to start filling in your style sheet. Here’s how you can do that:
- Go through your writing (your blog posts, your newsletters, etc.) and look for anything that could be written differently. That is, if you wrote focused somewhere, stick that in your style sheet. The best thing about this approach is that, as you’re going through, you can fix any inconsistencies you find—if you wrote focussed in a later blog post, you can fix it up as you go.
- Find online word lists and choose from there. Here are some good ones to get started with: the MailChimp word list and the Editor Australia spelling guide.
Using your style sheet
Whether you’re using a digital style sheet or a printed one, you’re going to be updating it frequently, so make sure it’s somewhere handy. We save ours as a fillable PDF in our shared Dropbox folder (with all our other style guide stuff), so we can access it at all times.
I suggest having your style sheet open when you’re writing anything, just so it’s easy to quickly pop in there with any updates. In my experience, if it’s difficult for you to update it, it won’t happen.
As you write, you’ll constantly come across more and more decisions that you need to make. If you have your style sheet open (or at least easily accessible), you’ll be able to enter these decisions quickly and easily, as well as find previous decisions.
Our style sheet
This post wouldn’t be complete without us showing you what our style sheet currently looks like, so here it is, our current and ever-evolving style sheet:
We made this style sheet using the fillable PDF style sheet we designed. You can download it here if you’d like to use it. You can fill in your blog/business name up the top, and then enter the rest below. It's incredibly useful.
You can also print it and use it that way.
Do you use a style sheet? Are you thinking of setting one up? Did this blog post help you? Let me know in the comments!
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