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19th December 2018

The Final Proof: The house always wins

What's a house style?

A house style, or style guide, is a document that outlines the standard usage for text, graphic design elements and branding within an organisation. At a publishing house such as Melbourne Books, employing a house style means spelling, grammar and referencing style is consistent, both across a single publication and across all publications within the organisation. It’s a way for everyone in a publishing house or those collaborating on a publication to maintain consistency.

This important document should be as detailed as possible, as multiple people will be referring to it. It can be hard to follow someone else’s creation, so it needs to be as clear and as technically accurate as possible. You may know what is meant by ‘use the long dashes’ but someone else on your team might not know you’re referring to em-dashes.

The house style can also serve to improve the relationship between editor and author, as an editor can say with confidence why they’ve changed the numerals to spelled-out numbers in the author’s manuscript, for example. An editor or author can refer to the publication’s house style instead of assuming their version of spelling and grammar is correct. A document such as the house style can give both the author and editor confidence that the changes they’re making to a manuscript will be an improvement to the product.


What’s included?

There are many detailed decisions to be made when it comes to creating a house style for an organisation. The following are just some of the aspects of the text that need to be made consistent.


Time, dates and numbers

Will numbers be spelled out, or will numerals be used?

What punctuation will be used for dates? Will it be 12 April 1959, or April 12th, 1959?

Will numerals be used for sums of money, times, weights and measures, percentages and degrees of inclination or temperature?

Will centuries be spelled out? e.g. nineteenth century or 19th century?

Will there be a comma in thousands? e.g. 7,000 and 10,000?


Grammar, spelling and general usage

How long will block quotes be? As a guide, quotes longer than 30 words could be indented.

Use Australian spelling (colour, favourite, neighbour). No US spellings (always use –ise not –ize; -isation not –ization; -our not -or).

‘Aboriginal’ (adjective) should always be capitalised when referring to Indigenous Australians.



Will single or double quotation marks be used?

Will em-dashes (—) and ellipses (…) be spaced or unspaced?

Will there be punctuation between letters in acronyms?

Remember that the plural of acronyms has no apostrophe (e.g. CDs; DVDs).



What style of referencing will be used? e.g. APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, etc.

Use italics for published book titles, names of paintings, titles of films, videos, plays, long poems, musicals, operas, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, and scientific names of plants and animals.

Use quotation marks for television programs/series, articles and essays.


And another thing …

Use the house style alongside the Style manual for authors, editors and printers. It’s important to refer to the Style manual if you’re unsure about proper usage, as it’s Australian Government standard. This is an editor’s bible, and everyone working in publishing should own one.

It’s also important to have a reliable dictionary on hand, such as the Macquarie Dictionary online, for when the house style doesn’t outline the preferred usage of a particular word. Unlike print dictionaries, online dictionaries are updated as needed (the word 'yolo' now appears in the Macquarie Dictionary online!). There is also the increased speed of searching, and the online dictionary’s ability to suggest alternatives to the word that is searched for.


So the next time you’re wondering why all your double quotation marks have been changed to single quotation marks during the editing process, remember that the house style is the reason. Why not impress a publisher by asking them to send you their house style before you begin the editing process, or even before you submit a manuscript for publication?