What is style?
Style is something that you, as a proofreader, will need to know all about. You could say that a proofreader’s responsibilities are 50% content and 50% style. If the content is the words themselves, the style is the way they look, the way they interact, and the way they appear on the page. Pick up a book – any book – and you’ll have in front of you an example of style. Flick through it, pick two pages at random, and you’ll see that the content has changed but the style is the same. The font will be the same; the page numbering will look the same; the running heads will look the same; the figure captions will look the same. I could go on (and say something like “the sub-headings will look the same”) but I won’t.
When you receive proofreading work, you’ll get the manuscript, the galleys and a stylesheet. Some typesetters might even provide you with a set of sample formats that will give examples of the style, but in general you will get a style guide that looks something like this:
|Title: Use and misuse of pens
Author: Agnes Bobbin
… and so on. This specification can go on for pages and pages. (Don’t worry if this all looks mystifying to you; every aspect will be dealt with in due course.) Every single design aspect is detailed so that the typesetter need never call the publisher with a query. Now you’ve seen the level of detail that is demanded for just the body text and the new chapters, you can imagine the specifications that go into extracts, headings, sub-headings, sub-sub-headings, tables, references, footnotes, figures, lists, etc.
Modern typesetting is done on computers. This means that each feature can be given a code and its own specification, and as long as this code is put in at the start and finish of each feature (for example, a code that tells the computer: “This is the start of a sub-heading”; and one that says: “This is the end of the sub-heading”), the specifications for every single occurrence of any feature can be changed simply by changing its specification.
Just how much you will need to get involved with style will be a matter between you and the typesetter. Some setters check all specifications in-house, others will expect the proofreader to notice any errors; most fall somewhere in between, however, as there are certain aspects of style (e.g., Americanisation, spelling specifications, etc.) that can only be checked by a reader, although this aspect should be the domain of the editor. Unless you’ve been specifically asked otherwise, you won’t be expected to measure spread sizes and such like.
The two components of a style sheet
For the purposes of this course, I have divided the components into two sections: Elements and Specifications. If we went around a forest and measured twenty trees, we could present the results on a sheet similar to a style sheet. “Size of tree” would be the element, and “15 metres” would be the specification, or variable. In the same way, “Typeface” is treated as an element, and “Times New Roman” is the specification. The Specifications section is subdivided into two sections: typesetting specs and usage specs. The difference will become clear as you progress.