Tag Archives: style sheets

Levelling up style sheets for role-playing games and fiction

The style sheet is an essential part of any copyeditor’s arsenal. In this post, Rachel Lapidow explains how she expands her style sheets to help her edit complex role-playing games. Though some of the extra sections she adds are designed specifically for RPGs, they could be useful for fiction too.

I love creating style sheets for projects; in fact, it is one of my favourite parts of copyediting. This is fortunate because the style sheet for my current project, a 600-page role-playing game (RPG), is over 60 pages long.

When I was first learning how to be a copyeditor, I took a certificate programme online through the University of California, San Diego. One of my instructors gave us a style sheet template, and over the years, I’ve modified and added my own categories to that template.

I’ll be discussing how I set up certain aspects of the style sheets that I use for RPGs in the hopes that you may find some of these sections useful for your own projects, including non-RPG works. Some of these I learned from fellow editors, and some are my own invention.

One of the best tips I can give when dealing with a longer style sheet is to make use of Microsoft Word’s Styles section (I’m assuming that Google Docs and other word processing programs have something similar). When you click on the Home tab in Word, you will see the Styles box to the right-hand side. By using different styles for your headings and subheadings, you will be able to use the Navigation pane. Open the Navigation pane by hitting Ctrl+F and selecting the Headings tab. By using different levels of headings, you will be able to nest subheadings under headings. This will allow you to easily navigate to different sections of the style sheet without having to scroll or search.

One, two, or hyphenated words

I spend a lot of time checking to see if words should be hyphenated, one word or two words. On the advice of another editor, I created a separate section of my style sheets to list those words and phrases. Anything that I need to look up in The Chicago Manual of Style hyphenation table or the dictionary is included. I list the word(s) along with what part of speech it is – adjective, noun, verb, etc. Plenty of words are open in one instance but closed in another (eg ‘take out’ as a verb, ‘takeout’ when referring to a food order).


RPGs, especially militaristic RPGs, tend to have a lot of acronyms in them. Many of these will exist outside the game, like VTOL (vertical take-off and landing), and a number of them will be unique to the game, such as the names of guilds, armed forces, fictional companies, etc. When proofreading the encyclopedia for a video game series, the acronym section included things like HEDP (high-explosive, dual-purpose) and MARFOR (Marine Corps Forces). There were simply too many abbreviations and acronyms to remember. By listing them all in one place, I saved myself a lot of time instead of having to look up each instance.

Italicised words

Vessels, like ships, planes and spacecraft, are often in italics, depending on what style guide you are following. So too are the names of magazines, newspapers, plays and movies, whether or not these works exist only within the RPG. It’s far too easy to miss a name that should be in italics. By listing all italicised words together, I’m less likely to pass over a term that should be in italics.

Role-playing dice and character sheet

Game mechanics

Should game terms, like character attributes, skills, spells and more, be capitalised? Should they be in bold font? Should these terms be in italics or quotation marks? Here’s the place to record that information. For example, in the game I’m currently editing, character attributes (the qualities of a character) like Awareness and Physique are capitalised. In a game like Dungeons & Dragons, spell names, for example cure wounds, are written in lowercase italics. For the current game I’m working on, I have a section that lists all the attributes and skill sets so I know how those terms need to be formatted.


Here’s where to list details about characters, historical figures and divine entities in the RPG. If given, I will note a character’s pronouns, age, physical appearance, location, unique traits and relationship with other characters. An entry may be just a few words for a background character to as much as several paragraphs for a character who drives a lot of the plot. There have been instances where a character has been misgendered or their name has been misspelled. By referring to my character section, I help ensure that characters appear and behave consistently throughout the RPG.


For the game I’m currently working on, there are towns and cities spread across an entire planet, but that planet is just one place inhabited by humans. In the world of the RPG, people live on multiple planets, moons and space stations located within two solar systems – so it’s easy to forget where places are in relation to each other. Because earlier versions of this game have been published, I was able to copy and paste a map of one of the planets into my style sheet. In addition to this map, I have created a list of towns, cities and settlements. I like to add the key features of each town, its population if known, and any nearby geographic features.

A dragon sitting on top of a building breathing fire


Creating a timeline for my current project was a considerable upfront time investment, but it’s helped me so much to keep track of when major and minor events happened. Because of the game’s sprawling nature, I’ve also colour-coded entries depending on where they occurred. I’ve caught a number of errors in the manuscript because of this timeline, such as events happening in a city that hasn’t yet been discovered or settled. I use Microsoft Word’s highlighting ability to indicate certain planets, moons and continents. When I ran out of colours (there are a lot of locations) I used coloured typefaces. Another option is to enter your timeline into an Excel spreadsheet. This allows you to easily sort by year, place or some other attribute.

And then of course the style sheet includes more standard sections, such as punctuation, spellings, how bullet lists are treated, how numbers are dealt with, etc.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and that you’ll find one of these sections worth incorporating into your next style sheet. In a full circle moment, one of my instructors from UC San Diego asked me to share one of my RPG style sheets for her to use in her class. It’s a bit surreal to imagine future copyeditors looking at a style sheet I created while they’re learning how to utilise this tool. But it’s also pretty darn cool.

About Rachel LapidowHeadshot of Rachel Lapidow

Rachel Lapidow is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader who works on RPGs, board games, comics, manga and fiction. Visit her website at www.rachellapidow.com.


About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:


Photo credits: blue and gold role-playing dice by Timothy Dykes, role-playing dice and character sheet by Gian Luca-Riner, dragon by Jimmy Blackwell, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Talking tech: Automating style sheets

In this Talking tech column, Andy Coulson considers the options available for automating style sheets.

The theme of February’s member newsletter, The Edit, is editorial judgement and, as I’m sure you’ll have noticed, this is something computers are not good at! While the latest artificial intelligence systems are great at applying rules consistently and often ruthlessly, they are not good at making those subtle judgements that convey nuanced meaning or reflect an author’s voice. So how can technology help us?

Our main tool for recording our professional editorial judgement is the style sheet, whether that is something created specifically for a job, or by making additions to a style sheet from a client. We have a number of tools that we can use to support our creation of style sheets.

Exploiting your computer’s strengths

So, if our computer is not good at judgement, what is it good for? Computers are very good at following rules and recognising consistency. We can make good use of that to spot patterns in the materials we are working on and inform decisions that we can then record in a style sheet. We can also use these to help us see where exceptions are, as these can be important too (for example judgment in British English refers to a legal judgment; judgement is what you are applying in choosing the right spelling of it!).

One thing I’m not going to look at is the Editor tool in Word itself. In theory this should be able to do a lot of the things I’m going to talk about, but I’m afraid I just can’t get on with it. I find that configuring it is too fiddly when you are working on material where the style can change from job to job. I’m going to look at PerfectIt and Paul Beverley’s macros, as both of these will ultimately allow you to do things quicker and, to my mind, more accurately as editors and proofreaders.


PerfectIt is a proofreading and consistency add-in for Word. Many of us use it to speed up our workflow and it can be used to help with identifying style sheet issues with the text you are editing. When you run PerfectIt, the content of the document is compared against a number of tests. You can use the results to identify what needs to be included in the style sheet.

Let’s have a look at an example. I’ve got a journal article that the client needs to be in US English and they prefer to use the Merriam-Webster dictionary for spelling. I’ve selected the basic ‘US Spelling’ style in PerfectIt, but you may be able to find (or create) a more comprehensive style sheet that is more applicable. If you regularly use PerfectIt it would be worth keeping an eye on the ‘PerfectIt Users’ group on Facebook, as they are developing a collaborative style sheet project.

Here one of the tests is checking the consistency of hyphenation. As we can see, the author has used ‘photogenerated’ five times and ‘photo-generated’ once. This flags that we need to check and make a judgement. This isn’t in Merriam-Webster, but ‘photoactivated’ and ‘photometered’ are, so I feel comfortable going with the single word and can justify the choice, and that goes on the style sheet.

Hopefully you can see how you would go through and build your style sheet in this way, using the computer’s strength around consistency checking.


I’ve written before about Paul Beverley’s macros (archivepub.co.uk/index.html) – they are a brilliant resource and Paul contributes so much to the community with these. I’m not going to give detailed instructions about using the macros highlighted as Paul’s book and videos do that really well. I’ll concentrate on an overview of the tools you can use to create a style sheet at the start of a job. Paul also lists his editing process in the book or in his Macro-aided book editing video, and this includes using the macros to identify potential style sheet items.

Overall, I think I prefer this approach to using PerfectIt, although I do use both tools for different jobs. I work on a lot of school textbooks and I find that the macros are able to do a lot more tidying up of formatting than PerfectIt, so they suit my workflow better.

Two key macros to start with are DocAlyse and HyphenAlyse. DocAlyse is a ‘Swiss army knife’ tool that looks at a range of features of the document, such as how numbers appear, approximate US and UK (and -is/-iz) spelling counts, Oxford (serial) comma counts and so on. All of these give you a broad view of your author’s preferences. Paul also has the UKUScount and IZIScount macros that provide more accurate counts if the language and spelling choices are unclear, and SerialCommaAlyse that counts serial comma use more accurately. You can then apply your judgement to the results and record those in the style sheet.

Next up is HyphenAlyse, which looks at hyphen and en dash usage in the document and creates a list of hyphenated phrases along with their open equivalents as well as commonly hyphenated prefixes (for example, net-zero and net zero or coordinate and co-ordinate). The output gives you counts of each usage, helping you to narrow down your choice and again build the style sheet.

SpellAlyse can then be used to make a list of potential spelling issues – this will help identify spellings specific to the topic or flag words that need checking. SpellAlyse has a number of other tricks up its sleeve and Paul’s book explains these. In addition, ProperNounAlyse and CapitAlyse try to identify proper nouns and capitalised words, again helping to inform the choices you make, which can be added to the style sheet.

Unlike PerfectIt you don’t see these in context, but Paul has a number of highlighting macros that can help with this. Because all of these macros produce outputs in Word files it is quick to add things to a style sheet. It is also fairly easy to create a file to use with Paul’s FRedit macro, which performs a scripted find and replace on your file. As well as building a list of corrections to apply to the files you could also use FRedit to highlight a range of issues in the document so you can make decisions about them.

Macros do take a little getting into, but the time savings that they can provide make this time well spent. Over a few jobs you will be able to identify a set of macros that help you create an efficient process, and you will be able to allocate keystrokes to them and create backups.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to invest a bit of time in learning these tools, as in the longer term they can be real time savers. As ever, back up your customised PerfectIt style sheets (.pft files) and FRedit script files as you can often use and adapt them. There are also lovely people out there sharing other resources like this that they have created. Among the places you can find these are the CIEP forums, where there’s a dedicated ‘Macros’ forum; and the ‘PerfectItUsers’ group on Facebook.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.



About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:


Photo credit: laptop by Skitterphoto on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.