House Style

House style

Neil Stamper

A house style is a guide that saves you time and effort. Relax and let it make those arbitrary choices of a trivial nature, such as whether to choose eg or e.g.

A house style does not standardise any important aspect of your writing. Instead, as in any good newspaper, it leaves you free to concentrate on the message.

A house style brings external and internal benefits. Work leaving an organisation is more uniform, demanding less unnecessary thought of the reader. Inside that organisation, it is easier to exchange work among staff members.

A house style can be varied occasionally, if there are good reasons, eg for a North American readership.


All word-processed drafts should:

  • have the file name at top left (for ease of access by others in your absence)
  • have the date at top left (helpful with multiple drafts)
  • have the author (or project officer) name at top left
  • be spell-checked before they are edited or given to dtp (desktop publishing)
  • be printed out double-spaced (to leave plenty of space for legible corrections)
  • have page numbers (for ease in locating amendments).

Keep text formatting simple. Leave it in when you transfer text to dtp. Also, pass a printed copy of your document to dtp, so that the intended layout and appearance is clear. When applying formatting, use the styles available in Word (style box near top left corner). The following will usually suffice, and can easily be translated into dtp:

  • title (capitalise the first letter of all significant words)
  • heading 1, heading 2, heading 3 (capitalise only the first letter of the first word)
  • list bullet
  • normal (equivalent to body text)
  • normal indent (a narrower column, eg for quotations).

If you do not use styles but apply formats manually, the text will not be internally ‘labelled’. This makes it harder to translate formatted text consistently into dtp.


Mark corrections and changes clearly in brightly coloured ink. Ensure each has a mark in the margin, making it obvious. Do not mask original text with correcting fluid or anything else. If you have several sets of corrections (eg from critical readers), collate all changes onto one document for return to the word processor. If corrections are heavy and any of the material is retyped, point this out to the author: it may cause further minor errors. Return the marked-up draft with the new version. No matter who improves a document, the author or project officer remains responsible for that document’s accuracy.

Finished work

Machine and operator time is limited for dtp. Try to make all textual corrections or amendments on a word-processed document, before it goes for dtp. If you must get a feel for the look of the dtp version, please limit yourself to one page, a few pages or, at most, a small section. Further corrections may be necessary after the initial dtp version, eg if a programme has been piloted.


Ensure that you have, as needed:

  • title
  • author(s) and affiliation(s)
  • abstract
  • credits or acknowledgements
  • text
  • consecutively numbered tables and figures, correctly referred to in the text
  • table headings and figure captions
  • references in alphabetical order, correctly cited in text
  • bibliography (recommended reading, but not cited in text)
  • appendices.


If, excluding chapter or page titles, you need more than three levels of sub-heading, you may be inadequately organised. Logical organisation helps you, your readers, your typist or word processor and your editor. The hierarchy should be:

bold, space above
(initial capital only)
A spoonful of sugar is …
italic, space above
(initial capital only)
Soot can help you …
italic, shoulder
(two spaces before text).
The best Some of our
magical cures are …

This three-level system is instantly obvious to the reader. Please avoid bold italic (ie bold and italic simultaneously) and fancy fonts in word-processed drafts.


Listed items, unless they will be referred back to individually, should be bulleted. For short, non-sentence bullets, use the form:

  • one
  • two
  • hullabaloo.

Some bullets are longer and stand as sentences.

  • I came.
  • I saw.
  • I obeyed the house style.


Short quotations (1.5 lines or less) should be put within “quotes”, in the main text.

“Display longer quotations as indented paragraphs. The narrower measure (ie indent) makes them stand out. Remember – large quotations require permission from the author and publisher.”

Display material

If you include case studies, examples or other illustrative material, differentiate them from the main text, no matter how short they are.

Use indented paragraphs (eg normal indent style in Word). It may be possible to include an unusual character (eg ##) for conversion into an icon at dtp. Discuss this first with whoever will dtp your work.


Put a title above every table and a caption below every figure (illustration). Ensure that every table (Table 1) and every figure (Figure 1) is cited in the main text.


A good table needs only two horizontal rules and no vertical rules. Additional short rules may be necessary if some column headings split. Use the table editor built into Word rather than constructing tables with tabs.

Table 1. Pets and their diseases

Mammals Fish

cat dog goldfish guppy
Hissing Woofing Bubbling Smirking
Miaowing Barking Floating Hiding


In the text, use: “according to Smith (1999), . . .”. If this is not suitable, use: “recent research (Smith, 1999; Jones, 1999) shows . . . “. List all references alphabetically by author at the end of the document. A more detailed guide on how to cite and list references is available at:

Tips galore

Many small points can cause difficulties. Here are answers for the most common. Sexism
Doctors can be women; nurses can be men.
Also try to avoid saying “he or she” repeatedly.

Aim to use short sentences and short words.
Keep your layout very simple.
Range the main text left (ie an uneven right margin).
Dates – use style 1 April 1999.
Avoid the use of the symbol /. It frequently brings ambiguity/confusion.

One space after a full stop, question mark, exclamation mark (only use two spaces if you have a non-proportional font, ie the letter i and the letter w occupy the same width).

One space after a colon, semicolon, comma.

Make a visible split between paragraphs. Leave a line space (ie two carriage returns) between paragraphs. Better still, adjust your normal style paragraph format to give you automatic extra space when you press carriage return.

Use tabs to indent or move text across the page: do not use the space bar for this.

Do not indent the first line of each paragraph.

Do not use tab repeatedly, to indent a whole chunk of text (instead use normal indent style).

Number only lists or headings that will be referred back to.
Style is: 1  First item – use only double space, no stop or parenthesis.
Generally, use words for one to ten, numerals 11 and beyond.
Measurements always take numerals, eg 4 cm.
Put a space before units of measurement, eg 6 mg.
Use 6 litres or 6 L to avoid lower-case l being read as number 1.
Big numbers take comma only after five figures, eg 4000 but 55,000.
Adjust wording so that no sentence begins with a numeral.
Use 75%, not 75 per cent, and no space before % symbol.
Section 4, not Section Four.

Phone numbers and addresses
National tel: (01382) 123456.
International tel: + 44 1382 123456  + 44 1382 123456

Three spaces before postcode,
eg Dundee   DD1 1AA.

Quotation marks
“Double quotes are for quotations of speech or text”.
Single quotes are for ‘unusual uses or new words’.

Minimise use of capital letters.
Give trade-name drugs a capital letter, eg Valium.
Do not capitalise generic drug names, eg diazepam.
In titles etc, no capitals after a hyphen, eg Task-based Learning.
Capitalise specific names only, eg Professor Smith, but he is a professor.

Use italics rather than bold to emphasise a word or phrase.
Never use underlines. Amateur and ugly, they belong inside manual typewriters.


Beware of computerised spellcheckers. They are not infallible. Most originate in the USA – and the English language is always changing. In general, omit stops from abbreviations (such as eg and ie) unless this will cause the abbreviation to be read as a different word.

Here are a few words that can cause problems:


back-up (noun)

case notes
competence, not competency

disk (for computer)





in-depth examination, but I will look in depth at this



oriented, not orientated

problem-based learning, but learning is problem based
program (for computer)


self-care (or self- almost anything)
short-term effect, but in the short term

task-based learning, but learning is task based

up-to-date book, but I am up to date


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Comments and suggestions are welcome. Please e-mail neil at if you find this guide useful.