House Syle (Editing)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

editor proofreading a text
"The house style is usually set out in a book, pamphlet, or Web document, which is usually called a stylebook or stylesheet, a style manual or manual of style, or a style guide" ( The Facts on File Guide to Style, 2006). (SuperStock/Getty Images)

Definition

The expression house style refers to the specific usage and editing conventions followed by writers and editors to ensure stylistic consistency in a particular publication or series of publications (newspapers, magazines, journals, websites, books).

House-style guides (also known as style sheets or stylebooks) typically provide rules on such matters as abbreviations, capital letters, numbers, date formats, citations, spelling, and terms of address.

According to Wynford Hicks and Tim Holmes, "An individual publication's house style is increasingly seen as an important part of its image and as a marketable commodity in its own right" (Subediting for Journalists, 2002).

Examples and Observations

"House style is not a reference to the canard that an entire magazine can be made to sound as if it were written by one writer. House style is a mechanical application of things like spelling and italics."

(John McPhee, "The Writing Life: Draft No. 4." The New Yorker, April 29, 2013)

The Argument for Consistency

"House style is the way a publication chooses to publish in matters of detail—single quotes or double, use of capitals and lower case, when to use italics, and so on. Putting a piece of copy into house style is the straightforward process of making it fit in with the rest of the publication. The main purpose is consistency rather than correctness.

"The argument for consistency is very simple. Variation that has no purpose is distracting. By keeping a consistent style in matters of detail a publication encourages readers to concentrate on what its writers are saying"

(Wynford Hicks and Tim Holmes, Subediting for Journalists. Routledge, 2002)

Guardian Style

"[A]t the Guardian .

. . , we, like just about every media organisation in the world, have a house style guide.

"Yes, part of it is about consistency, trying to maintain the standards of good English that our readers expect, and correcting former editors who write such things as 'This argument, says a middle-aged lady in a business suit called Marion . . ..' But, more than anything, the Guardian style guide is about using language that maintains and upholds our values . . .."

(David Marsh, "Mind Your Language." The Guardian [UK], August 31, 2009)

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage

"We recently revised two longstanding rules in The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, the newsroom’s style guide.

"They were very minor changes, involving simple matters of capitalization and spelling. But the old rules, in different ways, had long annoyed some Times readers. And the issues illustrate the competing arguments of preference, tradition and consistency behind many style rules. . . .

"We continue to favor clarity and consistency over a hodgepodge of idiosyncratic preferences. We prefer established usage over change for change’s sake. And we put the needs of the general reader over the desires of any particular group.

"Consistency is a virtue. But stubbornness isn’t, and we’re willing to consider revisions when a good case can be made."

(Philip B. Corbett, "When Every Letter Counts." The New York Times, February 18, 2009)

"A Set of Local Fetishes"

"For most magazines, house style is just an arbitrary set of local fetishes that matter to no one but those insiders petty enough to care."

(Thomas Sowell, Some Thoughts About Writing. Hoover Press, 2001)

Also See