You are editing a new rpg sourcebook and you find that the names used for one of the characters are not consistent, what do you do? What if you find that the formatting of the game rules in a board game manual are different in two sections, which one do you use for the rest of the manual? Whether you are a writer, an editor, or a proofreader, you have to know the style guidelines of the publisher to be able to consistently answer these questions.
“A style guide is a set of standards for the writing and design of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication, organization, or field. A style guide establishes and enforces style to improve communication. To do that, it ensures consistency (within a document and across multiple documents) and enforces best practice in usage and in language composition, visual composition, orthography (including spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, and other punctuation), and typography.”
I was reminded on this last week while working on a rpg core book proofreading project. I realized partway into the document that I had not requested a style guide before starting. This made staying consistent within the project challenging. How was the title of the book to be formatted when mentioned within the text? Should it be Bold? Italicized? What was the preferred naming standard? How should other books that are referenced be formatted? I contacted the writer and learned he had not developed an official style guide as of yet. So, after numerous emails back and forth, we determined how he preferred particular words formatted and what some of his standard words and titles were within the book. This discussion is now being used to develop the first draft of an official style guide for this game line. I used these style guidelines that we determined to stay consistent with my proofreading of the entire document and will use the new style guide on future books in the game line.
When working on the Achtung! Cthulhu line for Modiphius, they have a well-written Modiphius Entertainment Style Guide that all writers, editors and proofreaders have to follow. This style guide sets the standards to follow in all of the books in the Achtung! Cthulhu line. As I proofread the books, I know to reference this style guide and follow its requirements throughout the books. For example:
- “When referring to, or referencing, other works, the works referred to, or referenced, should be in italics, such as Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition; Savage Worlds Deluxe; or The Origins of the Second World War. Core lines, such as Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds, when not referring to a particular book, should be in bold italics.”
Beyond specific formatting issues, the Modiphius Entertainment Style Guide also refers to specifics in punctuation to follow.
- “The use of the Oxford Comma is standard to Modiphius titles. It should be used when dealing with lists of three or more items, and when separating clauses within a sentence to reduce potential confusion.”
Many publishers will mention within their style guide official standards they wish to follow such as the Oxford Comma, or they might refer you to official standards they want utilized in all they documents such as the AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, or the New Oxford Style Manual. The Chicago Manual of Style is the most common one referred to, especially by American publishers. British publishers will sometimes request the New Oxford Style Manual.
If you are not offered a style guide at the start of a project, I highly recommend you request one from the publisher before you proceed to work on a project with them. If they do not have a specific style guide, ask them what published standards they prefer, ask about the Oxford Comma, and ask for standard formatting of book titles and names. Your questions might even encourage them to develop a style guide if they do not already have one. Having an official, agreed-upon style guide simplifies your work as a writer, editor and proofreader and increases the satisfaction of the publisher in the final document you submit.
What standards in style guides have you found the most helpful? What would you recommend more style guides include? I would also love to hear from any freelance artists, graphic designers, and/or layout experts about the types of standards and guidelines you follow with publishers.
RANDOM CONTEST: If you can correctly identify the five specific games I used components of to create the STYLE header, I will give you a shout out in my next blog post and on my social networks. If I see you at Gen Con or another game convention soon, I will even buy you a beverage of your choice while we sit and chat about freelancing.