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Creating Our In-House Style Guide

January 9, 2014

I've been the editor for ESL Library for over two years now, and I absolutely love my job (being the grammar nerd that I am)! The director of ESL Library, Tara Benwell, asked me to share some of my experiences as an editor, and we decided to make our style guide available to everyone, too! I'll start by posting a link to our style guide (which you can also print out), then discuss what editing is all about.

Our In-House Style Guide

Why make our style guide available to everyone? We thought it would be helpful for teachers and students! There are a lot of English rules that don’t get explained in traditional textbooks, such as when to use an en dash (–) and em dash (—), or how to write song titles (they should be enclosed in double quotation marks). We’ve made it printable, so you can keep a copy for easy reference if you wish.

Download ESL-Library's Style Guide PDF

An Editor's Roles

Ever wonder what editors do? Most people can guess that they check documents for mechanical errors such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar. But editing involves so much more!

  • Substantive Editing (also called Developmental Editing) - Reorganizing content and structure, including possible additions and deletions
  • Stylistic Editing (also called Line Editing) - Checking for clarity of meaning and effectiveness of language used; rewriting sentences if necessary
  • Copyediting - Correcting grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other mechanical errors
  • Proofreading - Checking the final version of an edited document

It's also helpful, but not necessary, if an editor can bring an area of expertise to the table. In my case, having been an ESL teacher for over ten years is very helpful when I edit lessons. I'm able to offer suggestions such as additions or changes because I'm familiar with what will and won't work within a lesson.


When you’re editing more than one document for the same company, it’s very important to be consistent. As ESL Library’s editor, I need to make sure that the style choices I make (e.g., using a serial comma) are reflected in all of our material, including our blog, lessons, and website.

In order to be consistent, editors need to follow a style guide (also known as a style manual or style sheet). If the company you work for doesn’t already have one, it’s up to you to create your own so you remember all your choices.

What We Use

At ESL-Library, we follow our in-house style guide, which is based on the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., for style rules, and both Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., and merriam-webster.com for spelling. When we need to indicate the American vs. British spelling differences in our lessons’ answer keys, we refer to oxforddictionaries.com.

Our Choices

Sometimes there is more than one acceptable way to do something, so the editor must make a decision. For example, some of the in-house style choices I’ve made are to use the serial comma, one space after a colon, and headline-style capitalization. Sometimes I've even decided to deviate from Chicago's recommendations if it better suits our purposes. For example, we use caps for both parts of hyphenated words in a title so that it stands out more (e.g., In-House) instead of just capitalizing the first word (e.g., In-house).


If you have a question that’s not addressed in the style guide, please leave a comment below. I’d be happy to look it up for you!

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Comments (3)

Tara Benwell(Author)

NEW - Check out our YouTube channel to see a video interview about ESL-Library's style guide.

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    Tara Benwell(Author)

    Hey Tanya,

    Here's a question that I can't find the answer to in our style guide. Should we capitalize 'syndromes' and diseases with names that aren't generic. I'm working on a new lesson plan about the Vanishing Honeybee and it will mention bats who are suffering from white-nose syndrome. In our style guide you mention that hyphenated words that are capitalized have a capital on both the prefix and the adjoining word. So if it's capitalized, is it 'White-Nose Syndrome'?

    Also, honeybees is one word, right?

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    Tanya Trusler(Author)

    Hi Tara,

    You're right about 'honeybees'---it is one word, according to Merriam-Webster's dictionary.

    Syndromes and diseases are not capitalized, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, section 8.143). The name of the syndrome would only be capitalized if it was a proper name (i.e., named after someone).

    Down syndrome (also Down's syndrome)
    Alzheimer disease (also Alzheimer's disease)
    Hodgkin lymphoma (also Hodgkin's lymphoma)
    acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (but the acronym, AIDS, is capitalized)

    Following this rule, you should write 'white-nose syndrome' with no caps. (You were correct in that if it was a proper name, the word after the hyphen would be capitalized according to our style guide, but that doesn't apply in this case.)

    Also, while the title 'Vanishing Honeybee' can be capitalized, it should be written 'vanishing honeybee' within the text. You probably knew this, but I wanted to point it out in case anyone was confused.

    Keep the good questions coming!
    Tanya :)

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