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Textbook writing strategies: Create your own editorial style guide


Starting with the first edition, physical geography textbook author Robert Christopherson developed an editorial style guide specific to his books. Although The Chicago Manual of Style, now in its 16/e, and the AP Stylebook, for more than 60 years, are essential guides, he discovered that a custom style guide, specific to his work, assisted editors and production.

Here is a sample of some the items he includes in his style guide:

  • How numbers, dates, and symbols are to be handled.
  • Abbreviations used.
  • Proper acronyms used for scientific groups, studies, and agencies.
  • Punctuation and italics, e.g., AO standards for bird species names beginning with a cap, or italics for names of satellites and ships.
  • Proper diacritical marks and accents, e.g., in Hawaiian spellings, if these are missing the word is misspelled.
  • A list of geographical name spellings and treatments, e.g., “ice age” as a noun is two words and as an adjective is hyphenated.

A section, arranged alphabetically, of specific usage, including capitalization, hyphenation, spelling, diacritical marks, and both noun and adjective usage.

“You’ll generally find that your editor has never received a style guide from an author so you’ll be entering new territory,” said Christopherson, who has written over 30 books, including the best-selling Geosystems franchise. “Having a dedicated style guide for your book—mine is only 15 pages long—helps when it comes to copy editing and production editing and page proofing, everybody is at the same wavelength, and unnecessary or unwanted changes are minimized—back-and-forth copy wastes so much time.” Different disciplines possess different style needs and specifics, custom to each field. Let your editing and production team know that you welcome additions to your guide and corrections, and that your intent is for an open process.”

His style guide is still evolving after many books. Christopherson said that while working on his first edition, the style guide process helped teach him correct usage, develop uniformity and consistency in his manuscripts, and form a strong partnership with editorial and production staff. “A style guide makes for authentic detail when the adopter is looking through and sees uniform usage, correct spellings, and proper diacritical marks. The more conscious our process becomes, the better the end result!” said Christopherson.