Sample style sheet

Crumpled paperI have previously recommended creating your own style sheet to aid you when you are proofreading. If you aren’t sure where to start, I have produced a sample to help.

The layout is the same as the one I use when compiling a style sheet for the projects I proofread. All my non-publisher clients get a copy of the style sheet for their own reference once I have completed proofreading.

The sample is for a made-up project, but it should give you an idea of the things to consider. I have also included some formatting and layout elements you would need to think about as you get ready to publish (e.g. chapter headings and page numbering).

I would advise recording the decisions you make as early as possible (particularly the basic ones such as is/iz suffixes and single or double quote marks). If you do create a style sheet and later employ an editorial professional, send them a copy. It’s really very helpful!

I have uploaded a blank copy of the style sheet for anyone’s use (although if you share it I would appreciate a link back to my original). The sample is for a novel, but you can make adjustments to the blank copy for any writing project.

You can find the sample and the blank style sheet on my Resources page or download the sample by clicking this link: Sample style sheet.

‘Coo’ and ‘coup’

Coo and coup couldn’t really be more different in meaning. The sentences produced when they are used mistakenly can be distracting if you enjoy the surreal.


  • the soft throaty sound made by birds such as doves and pigeons
  • to speak in a soft, gentle way; a loving murmur
  • (old-fashioned British slang) an exclamation of surprise or amazement


  • (coup d’état) a sudden, violent and illegal overthrow of a government
  • a difficult or brilliant action successfully achieved

I am tickled by the idea of pigeons leading a violent regime change or armies taking part in a gentle murmur. But you probably don’t want that in your dissertation or novel. Unless you do …


Floccinaucinihilipilification is rarely used. I don’t think I need to explain why.

It means ‘the action or habit of believing something to have no value’.

parliamentIts origin is thought to be mid 18th century, and stems from the Latin words flocci, nauci, nihili, pili (all of their meanings have the sense of little value) with the suffix –fication.

The use of floccinaucinihilipilification is so unusual that it made the news in 2012 when a British MP spoke the word in the House of Commons. It became the longest word in Hansard (the official report of proceedings).

You can listen to the British English pronunciation here if you fancy trying it out yourself.

Proofreading advice: use red ink

Studying2Use a pen with red ink to mark corrections and amendments. As a professional, I typically use red and blue ink on proofs. When I don’t have to differentiate between the causes of problems, I always use red. It’s bold and stands out – it is almost impossible to skim over without noticing.

If the idea of using red ink gives you horrible flashbacks to your time at school, choose another strong colour. Make sure it won’t be easily missed or hard to read (no silver glitter pens).

You may find it useful to use a ruler to guide you as you read line by line. It will help you to focus on the text and you won’t lose your place. Read slowly. Mark your corrections clearly to avoid any confusion later.

Previous articles in this series:

‘Plain’ and ‘plane’

This is fairly basic but it is easy to type or write the wrong word when you are in a hurry. I tend to find that plane is used in place of plain. I haven’t yet seen an aircraft referred to as a ‘plain’.


  • without decoration or adornment
  • without pattern or with one colour or with simple weave (when a fabric)
  • having no particular beauty
  • flat or smooth
  • easily understood; clear or simple; unequivocal
  • a lowly person or lowly people (usually in social rank or education)
  • a simple stitch in knitting
  • to mourn, lament or complain


  • Planean aeroplane
  • to glide, skim or soar without moving wings
  • a level surface; level or flat
  • a flat surface on which a straight line joining any two points on it lies entirely on that surface
  • a level of existence, thought or attainment
  • a tool with a block and projecting steel blade for smoothing timber or wooden surfaces; to smooth timber or remove material using a plane
  • a type of tall spreading tree


I have previously covered how to use an en dash (–) and an em dash (—). Now to turn to the thing they are not: a hyphen.

A hyphen (-) shows that the matter it is attached to is not a complete word by itself. It should not be used with a space at both ends, although sometimes it is appropriate for it to have a space at one end.

The use of hyphens is often a matter of style. But they are used to do the following things:

  • join compound words
  • join compound modifiers
  • attach prefixes
  • indicate a piece of a word
  • indicate a word break at the end of a line

You might have heard of soft hyphens and hard hyphens. Soft hyphens are those that indicate word division at the end of a line. Hard hyphens are those that indicate words or parts of words are joined together to form compounds. There’s no difference in size or shape.

Hyphens are also used to indicate stammering or paused speech:

'W-w-what are we to do?'

And they indicate the omission of the second part of a hyphenated expression or solid compound:

three- and five-door cars
over- and underpaid employees

If you would like to find out more about when to use a hyphen, I can recommend the Penguin Guide to Punctuation for a thorough and simple explanation.

‘Mold’ and ‘mould’

The difference between mold and mould is the u. The meanings are the same. If you use American English, the spelling is mold. If you use British English, the spelling is mould.


  • a shaped hollow container into which liquid is poured so it sets in a particular shape
  • Cheesea shape, form, nature, character or type
  • a framework around which something is constructed or shaped
  • something made using a mould (usually a foodstuff)
  • to make something in a mould
  • to shape, form, influence, change or direct
  • a growth of fungi or bacteria that typically develops in a warm, damp atmosphere
  • soft loose soil (often rich in organic matter)


Googleganger is a fairly new word; it has an equally interesting synonym in doppelgoogler.

SearchA googleganger is a person who has the same name as you and is discovered when you search for yourself using an internet search engine.

The origin of both googleganger and doppelgoogler is the originally German word doppelgänger, meaning ‘a double of a living person’.

Googleganger has been named the Macquarie Dictionary word of the year (2010) and was nominated (in the form Googlegänger) for word of the year (2007) by the American Dialect Society.

Em rules

Last week I posted about en rules. An em rule (—) is twice the length of an en rule (–). They are also referred to as en dashes and em dashes.Book

You will often see em rules used closed up (no spaces on either side) as a parenthetical dash; this is usually the preferred style for US publishers (instead of spaced en rules).

A spaced em rule can indicate the omission of a word; a closed-up em rule can indicate the omission of part of a word. It can also be used closed up in written dialogue to indicate a sudden break or interruption:

'You probably shouldn't put your knife in the toast—'

It is unusual but you might see some writers use a single closed-up em rule to set off dialogue instead of using quotation marks:

—Will he make it for dinner tonight?
—Not in this weather!

You may also see a closed-up em rule between an introductory noun (or nouns) and the pronoun introducing the main clause:

Cars, thunder, the neighbour's cat—nothing disturbed the plucky dog.

Em rules are used in indexes to indicate a repeated word, and they are sometimes used to indicate a repeated author’s name in consecutive bibliographic entries.

‘Cue’ and ‘queue’

The first homophones of the year are cue and queue. The order of the vowels in queue is also a source of confusion for some writers.


  • a signal for action
  • a signal for an actor to enter or begin
  • a hint or signal about how to behave
  • a reminder
  • a long, straight, tapering wooden rod used to strike the ball in games such as billiards and snooker; to hit a ball with a cue
  • to act as a prompt or reminder
  • to set audio or visual equipment in readiness to play
  • on cue – at the right moment


  • Queuea line or sequence of people or vehicles awaiting their turn; to form or remain in a line while waiting
  • (in computing) a list of data items, commands, etc.,  stored so they are retrievable in a particular order; to arrange such items in a queue
  • a plait of hair or braid worn at the back
  • to be keen to do or have something (e.g. they were queuing up to hire him)

Cue jokes about British people in a queue.