House Style

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In this section:


    Avoid abbreviations wherever possible. They are often ambiguous. For example spell out “verse,” as v. can be confused with a roman number. Spell out “lines,” as ll. could look like 11. Always use English rather than Latin: for example “see above” rather than “v. supra.”

    Abbreviations consisting of capital initial letters do not have a full point: USA, UK (we prefer USA to US, but either is fine, so long as it is consistent). Contractions ending with the same letter as the original word do not have a full point—St, Mr, Dr—but abbreviations where the last letter of the word is not included do have a full point—ed., ch. Thus ed. and eds are both correct.

    There is no full point after per cent or abbreviated units of measurement such as mm, lb. Note that the plural of abbreviated units is the same as the singular: 65lb not 65lbs. Do not use ‘ and “ to mean feet and inches.

    Avoid punctuating sets of initials (e.g. NATO). Avoid the use of an apostrophe in the plural: NCOs is better than NCO’s. I realize this is more of a British convention than American (see under Spelling below), but we’ve had no complaints so far.

    Be careful about assuming knowledge. CNN is fine in the UK as well as the USA, as is BBC in the USA. But ATT hasn't travelled to the UK, or BT to the USA.

    Where an abbreviation that takes a full point comes at the end of a sentence, do not add another to end the sentence.

    Avoid using &, &c., e.g., i.e., viz., et al., f., op., cit., loc., idem., #.

    Accents, umlauts and diacritical marks, mathematical or unusual symbols

    Avoid using them if at all possible. If you can't avoid using a few, check that they are special characters from the "Symbols" option in Word. If not, if they are from a specialized font, add the fonts used to the stylesheet.

    In general, it's only appropriate to use these in specialist academic works that we can charge £30/$50+ for, or unless you’re an established author with great academic credentials who has already sold in the tens of thousands. If it’s a popular-level work, very few people are going to understand what they mean or how they affect the pronunciation, they aren’t interested, and, particularly if it’s non-roman lettering, doing a few dozen of them can cost as much as typesetting the whole book. So we can't accommodate them within normal bookshop prices.


    There is a difference between its and it’s. “Its books are the only assets a publisher has when it’s going bankrupt.”

    Watch out for the incorrect apostrophe in yours, ours, theirs, hers. Apostrophes should not usually be used to indicate plurals.

    Books of the Bible

    These should be spelled out in text wherever possible. Use abbreviations only when they appear as references in parentheses or in notes, in which case these are the standard abbreviations:

    Gen. Ex. Lev. Num. Deut. Josh. Judg. Ruth 1 Sam. 2 Sam. 1 Kgs. 2 Kgs. 1 Chr. 2 Chr. Ezra Neh. Esth. Job Ps. Prov. Eccl. Song Is. Jer. Lam. Ezek. Dan. Hos. Joel Amos Obad. Jon. Mic. Nah. Hab. Zeph. Hag. Zech. Mal. Matt. Mark Luke John Acts Rom. 1 Cor. 2 Cor. Gal. Eph. Phil. Col. 1 Thess. 2 Thess. 1 Tim. 2 Tim. Titus Phile. Heb. James 1. Pet. 2 Pet. 1 John. 2 John. 3 John. Jude. Rev.

    Please don’t use roman numerals in biblical references (these are only standard in references to classical writings, works of the Church fathers, Josephus, etc.). We prefer the style: “2 Corinthians 2.13.”

    Biblical references in the text are best given as follows:

    “1 Corinthians,” or “The first epistle to the Corinthians” (not the 1st epistle).

    “Romans chapter 13 verse 9,” or “Romans chapter thirteen,” or “The thirteenth chapter of Romans” (not the 13th chapter).

    “Psalm 23,” or “The twenty-third Psalm” (not the 23rd Psalm).

    Don’t italicize names of books of the Bible.

    Use small capitals (no full points) for AV, RV, RSV, NIV, GNB, etc.


    It is especially important to be consistent when capitalizing words (though capitals should be kept to the minimum; if you use capitals to stress a point, it suggests the argument that gets there isn’t strong enough).

    Capitals are used:

    To distinguish the specific from the general—for example, “I wish I was Professor of Botany at Oxford University rather than a publisher,” or “King David was a violent, sex-mad war-leader,” but “my friend is a professor at a university,” “David was a born king but not divine.”

    Earth has a capital when used in an astronomical context, otherwise lower case, e.g. "Mars is next along from the Earth," but "I live on earth." Moon and sun though are lower case.

    “Church” used to be capitalized unless it referred to a building. Now it is usually lower case except when part of a title such as Roman Catholic Church. Similarly with “state.”

    Protestant, Catholic, etc. are usually capitalized. Radical/radical, Liberal/liberal, more difficult, depends on the meaning.

    Use lower case for a.m. and p.m.

    Small capitals are used for AD, BC, AH (Islamic dates), and for most capitalized roman numbers, e.g. vol.XII, though full capitals are used in titles such as Henry VII and for LXX (Septuagint).

    For particular spellings see Words below.


    Commas create controversy. Some editors and publishers hardly use any commas, others use a lot. Americans tend to use more than English. But excessive use of commas can make the text unreadable. If you have clear views, express them in the style notes at the front of the manuscript. Our preference is only to use them where it helps clarify possible misreading of the text, or if you need to pause to take a breath. Read the sentences out loud, with pauses representing commas. Or have someone else read it. If they have to re-read it to get the correct meaning, a comma may be needed. If still in doubt, rewrite the sentence.

    If a sentence is long or if the meaning is clarified, a comma after a conjunction such as “and,” “or,” “but,” “nevertheless,” etc. is correct. Otherwise don’t use them.

    In lists of three or more items omit the comma before the final “and.”

    There should not be a comma before an opening parenthesis (short phrases in brackets), except in an index where sub-entries are in parenthesis. A full point should come after a closing parenthesis (unless the whole sentence is in parenthesis).

    Parenthetical dashes stand on their own, without commas.

    Omit commas after “that is” or “i.e.”

    Semi-colons or full points, not commas, should be used to separate main clauses that have different subjects and are not introduced by a conjunction.


    Check particularly for consistency in punctuation and grammar—all the items listed here. Also watch out for consistency where there are various possibilities, e.g. Qabalah, Kabala, Kabbala or Kabbalah.


    Try and avoid cross-references wherever possible. They add to the corrections needed at proof stage. Think of it as spending a fiver every time you put one in. If you have to have them, refer to chapters “(see chapter 7)” or sections of text rather than to pages. Specific page numbers can change so often that this small issue becomes a major task to keep up-to-date.


    Dates should be styled consistently, usually in the form 19 September 2001. BC/AD (small caps) with space either side: AD 1850. AD goes before the date, BC goes after. Some think it more politically (religiously?) correct to use BCE/CE, whichever you prefer. I can’t quite see the point myself, as we’re still talking about the same date, based on the presumed birth of Christ. Decades are written as Seventies or 1970s without an apostrophe. Century numbers are spelt out; thirteenth century (adjective thirteenth-century).

    Elide dates to the last two digits: 1808–10.

    Decimal points

    These should appear as full stops on the line. Mark the difference between the capital letter O and zero, and between lower case l and figure 1, where there may be doubt. Decimal commas should not be used.

    Per cent should be spelt out and the number should appear in figures: 33 per cent. In tables the % symbol can be used.


    There are several common ways of spelling this. Our preference is ebook (and ereader).


    These should follow without a break, e.g. “no purpose, no meaning…” not “no meaning …” But if the text is consistent it will probably not be changed.

    En rules, em rules (and hyphens)

    Try and avoid using en and em rules. Few readers can remember what they're for, and they create disproportionate problems in typesetting.

    An en rule (or dash) is longer than a hyphen. It's generally used for two purposes: for a period of time when you might otherwise use to, as in 2009–2010. Or in place of a hyphen when combining open compounds, as in a high school–conference.

    An em rule is longer than an en rule. It's used to indicate added emphasis, an interruption, or an abrupt change of thought. It's more frequently used in informal writing, like letters. For formal writing there's usually an alternative:

    "You are the publisher—the only publisher—who ever tried to help me." A semi-colon would be more commonly used here in formal writing.

    "We need three things from you—cash, time and commitment." Use a colon here instead.

    "Please call my agent—Ruth Less—about paying me more money." Commas would work fine here.

    "On the question of advances, I wish you would—oh, don't bother." This shows an abrupt change of thought and warrants an em rule/dash.

    To form an en rule, on most PCs, type the first number or word, then hold down the ALT key while typing 0150 on the numerical pad on the right side of your keyboard. Then type the second number or word. For an em rule, it's 0151. Most authorities say do not add spaces before or after the dashes, so that's what we follow.


    Align these to the left, particularly at the top of chapter headings. Often these are for poetry, where lay-out is important and looks odd if the lines are centred.

    Foreign-language material

    If your book depends on using foreign words with accents and ligatures, mark it on the style sheet. If there are just a handful, the extra cost of using designers and copyeditors familiar with the material is not worth it, so please avoid them.


    Hyphens are a short dash. Only use them to avoid ambiguity. Don’t use floating hyphens.

    Compound adjectives usually have hyphens. E.g. "award-winning author" or "friendly-looking dog". No need to hyphenate capitalized compound adjectives like "Booker Prize nominee" or "Tibetan Buddhist monk".

    E-mail and email are both acceptable, just go for consistency.

    Hyphenate written numbers. i.e. twenty-one, thirty-five etc.

    Hyphenate ages, as in two-year-old, three-year-old etc. But not if the age is plural, as in two years old, three years old.

    Hyphenate words beginning self-, ex-, all-, non-. e.g. self-knowledge, ex-partner, all-knowing, non-partisan.

    For an in-depth study of the rules follow this link.


    Words to be in italics should be in italics. Do not leave them underlined. Do not use bold.

    Italics should be used for:

    Foreign phrases

    Titles of books (except books of the Bible), songs, long poems, plays

    Names of newspapers, magazines, periodicals, journals (but not articles in journals)

    Emphasis within the text, but use sparingly


    Use bold bullets for main entries in a list and em rules for subentries. Alternatively, use Arabic numbers for main entries, lower-case letters for subentries, and lower-case roman numerals in parentheses for sub-subentries. Do not classify lists as tables.

    Measurements and money

    This is a tricky area where compromise is inevitable. Dollars and cents are more widely acceptable (worldwide) than pounds and pennies, but feet and inches more so than metres.

    If whole dollars or pounds appear in the same context as fractional amounts, they should be treated in a similar way, e.g. $2.00, $2.30, $0.25.

    An alternative (this also applies to Numbers) is to put both versions: $15/£10, six feet/two meters, etc.


    One to ten are expressed in words, but 11 upward appear in figures, unless used in general terms—for instance, about a hundred people. Always use numerals for statistics, ages and measurements (including time, e.g. 6 weeks). To be consistent in a sequence, numerals may be used throughout (e.g. "most religions have 1 prophet, 3 gods, 12 disciples and over 1000 saints").

    Wherever a unit of measurement is used the number preceding it appears in figures, unless it is used in a very general sense such as hundreds of miles. Four-digit numbers should appear closed up without a comma, but five-digit numbers and above should take a comma: 2000 but 20,000. In tables, all numbers with four or more digits take a comma.

    Inclusive numbers should include the fewest possible digits: 24–5, 2100–5, except in “teen” numbers, where the 1 is repeated, 114–18.

    Avoid “billion,” as UK and US billions have different numbers of zeros, so half your readers will be surprised at their ignorance or yours.


    Don’t use parochialisms. Refer to “USA” rather than “this country” (the reader won’t know where you live), “the early 2000s” rather than “in the last few years.” If you live in the UK don’t refer to cricket, petrol, radio or television programs, LSE, tube, GCSE and similar if you want to sell in North America.


    All full stops and commas come within the quotation marks, whether a single word, phrase, or incomplete sentence.

    There should be no full point at the end of items in a list of plates, figures, etc., or at the end of broken-off headings.


    Do not mix singular and plural in one sentence, or even in one paragraph. If you are describing people as a group or as a whole, use they and them, otherwise pretend you are talking about one person and use the correct tense. If your book is for a general readership, use the masculine singular, if it is for women, you can use the feminine singular, but be very consistent.

    Proper names

    Pay particular attention to getting these right; the copyeditor and proofreader probably won’t be able to check them for you.

    Quotation marks

    A major problem here. US punctuation tends to use double inverted commas outside the full stop or comma. English used to be the same, but now tends to use double inverted commas inside the full stop or comma. It tends to follow the sense of the sentence more. US uses double inverted commas around parts of books and poems, English uses single inverted commas. It’s a little more complicated than this, as, for instance, in the US style, question or exclamation marks and semicolons are always inserted according to the sense. Formal British-English practice requires a closing full stop to be put inside the quotation marks if the quoted item is a complete sentence that ends where the main sentence ends. Frankly, we don’t care which option you go for, so long as it is consistent.

    For dialogue, general practice for both is to use double rather than single quotation marks.


    Long displayed quotations are used where there is a possibility of confusion. Quotations of more than 60 words from a poem or another text, case histories and equations should be typed as separate paragraphs in the place where they should appear. Put a one-line space before and after the quote.

    In long quotations use italics for verse, Roman for prose. Long displayed quotations do not have quotation marks (except within them for speech, when double are used). Indent and align to the left, with the source ranged right in italics. Unless you have a preference for ranging left, in which case do so and mention it on the first stylesheet page.

    In sections where there are both long and short displayed quotations, as have been interspersed in some of the tables, all quotes have quotation marks.

    There is no need for double punctuation at the end of a sentence.

    It is usual to follow the style of the quotation, rather than amend it to your preferences or our house style. This is not a rigid rule. For instance, antiquated spelling is usually changed. But it's not a significant issue.

    Special characters and typefaces

    Characters, accents, symbols, Greek etc. that aren’t commonly used as standard setting can be done but disproportionately increase cost and time on the schedule. It’s not worth having just a handful in the book, in that it means using a copyeditor/designer who understands them/has the equipment. For some books it’s unavoidable. If you must use Greek letters spell them out, as symbols can disappear from disks during conversion process.

    Square brackets

    Avoid them, religiously.


    Check for underlying stereotyping that shows for example women only as mothers, or most jobs being done by men. “Humankind” is generally preferable to “mankind,” “chair” to “chairman,” and “spokesperson” to “spokesman.” Some people say that “he” has been used for either gender for so long that it is still understood by most people to refer to women as well as men, others that it’s best to pluralize the entire sentence and use “they.” It’s acceptable now to use “they” as third-person singular specifically in order to avoid gender, as in “When someone becomes a pagan, they go out and buy a white robe.” “He or she” is clumsy, using “he” and “she” alternately may be disconcerting, some see it as exclusive or patronizing, and “s/he,” “(s)he” and “he/she” are plain ugly. If you have strong views on this express them in your comments on style at the beginning of the manuscript.


    Avoid tables if you can.

    • A handful of them can take more time to set than the rest of the book.
    • If there are any changes at proof stage, the whole thing has to be reconstructed bit by bit.
    • They don’t transfer to ebooks.

    If you really need to, we offer presentation guidance in Tables, Images, Illustrations, diagrams, and photos (and we reserve the right to discuss a charge for it).


    Be careful of tenses, e.g. "The priest was sat by the altar" (correct word: sitting); "The priest was stood by the altar when the roof fell in" (correct word: standing).


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