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Useful Information No.9: I like your (house) style

Style, in the context of writing, is generally taken to mean the intellectual flavour of the way in which a writer engages the reader’s attention. Is her style florid? Does he write with an orthodox attention to matters of detail? (That is to say, is his writing dull?)

A more quotidian albeit important interpretation of the concept of ‘style’ is the house style that publishers choose to work with when they edit material for publication. Was Charlemagne crowned as Holy Roman Emperor on 25 December 800 or on Dec. 25th. 800? Was Bertie Wooster the creation of P.G. Wodehouse or PG Wodehouse? Do publishers recognize the dislike that some people feel when they see words spelled with an ending of ‘-ize’? Or do they recognise that some people prefer endings in ‘-ise’? Does it matter?

Yes, it matters, because inconsistency across an entire publication – a newspaper or magazine or a book or a website – can build up an irritation in the reader’s mind: a feeling that the publisher is too sloppy to care.

Different publications go different ways. When printing numbers, The Economist works to the general rule, “One, two, three...nine, ten, 11, 12…” International Meccanoman works to the rule, “One, two, three...ninety-nine, 100, 101…” Who is right?

No one is right. Each publishing house sets its own house style, and should then stick to it. Individual writers would do well to devise their own house style and stick to it. But, if they want to have their work published, they might have to defer to the preference of their publisher. Life is hard.