Saturday, March 23, 2019

A Community Cookbook Style Guide

A Style Guide is a set of instructions to the editor(s) on how to edit a piece of writing so that it conforms to a “house style.” This Style Guide, compiled by M. Jane Ross, was created to give the 10 volunteer editors who worked on Kitchen Table Stories a consistent and clear set of instructions to follow as they worked on the six stories and recipes that each was assigned. Editing was done online using Google Documents.

This Style Guide is offered with a Creative Commons, non-commercial, attribution, share-alike license. That means, I’d really appreciate it if you would give me a credit line plus a link to my website if you are using the Style Guide mostly unchanged. Learn more about Creative Commons licensing on the Creative Commons website.

This Style Guide is freely available for other non-profits and community groups to use in preparing community cookbooks and similar publications. It may not be reproduced for commercial sale.

Questions? Email me at jane (at) mjaneross  (dot) com

Community Cookbook Style Guide

Why Edit?

The most important purpose of our project to publish Kitchen Table Stories is to let authors connect with their readers through stories written in their own authentic voices.

Here’s what we’re trying to achieve with our editing:

  • Preserve the unique character of each author’s voice while clarifying any part of the story that is ambiguous, difficult to follow, or repetitive;
  • Make grammar, punctuation, and spelling conform to current standards of correctness (with occasional exceptions for very specific reasons);
  • Make layout and formatting consistent across the book;
  • Create a reading experience for the reader that will allow her to focus her attention completely on the stories and to connect with the authors. We edit primarily to ensure that the reader is not distracted by obtrusive or discordant elements of the presentation.

We will not be trying to give the stories a uniform voice! Our editing will generally be done with a light touch. Besides the items identified in this Style Guide, we will only be changing the prose when we see very clear reasons for doing so.

Why This Style Guide?

We have a very diverse editorial team, some with editing experience in a wide variety of fields, others new to editing. For the sake of consistency and efficiency, our first authority on what and how to edit is this Style Guide. Please print it out and read it carefully. Ask questions if you are unclear about any item! I’d much prefer questions now to lots of corrections later.

For questions not covered in this Style Guide, the ultimate authorities on all matters editorial will be:

Webster’s College Dictionary or Merriam-Webster online dictionary, ,

Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS),

• The Project Coordinator Jane Ross’s decision.

The Chicago Manual of Style is available online as a 30-day free trial at .

You may sign up if you wish. You are not required to do so. Just know that I will be using it as my first reference in case of editing questions. (If you use AP style, I think you’ll find that, for the purposes of this book, CMoS and AP are generally in agreement.)

Style Guide for Editing Stories

Move all author contact information up to the top of the story, above the story title.

If the author has included a short biography, move that also to sit above the story title.

All text and headings should be left justified.

Use the style called Header 1 for the story title and recipe title.

Story titles should be in upper- and lowercase (not all capitals).

The story title should be followed by the author’s name on a new line.

Use the style called Header 2 for the author’s name.

Remove the word “By” before the author’s name.

All story text should be run on. (In other words, if the author has inserted a carriage return at the end of each line of text, remove these carriage returns.)

Remove extra line spaces between paragraphs.

Use a tab character to indent the first line of each paragraph. Or use 4 space characters to create an indent.

Find and replace all double spaces by a single space. (We no longer put two spaces after a period. Multiple space characters should not occur anywhere in the book.)

If a recipe is mixed in with the story, you will need to copy the ingredients and instructions and paste them below the story and give them a recipe title. If the recipe is not really integral to the story, you may remove it from the story and paste it below, referencing it in the story as necessary. (Please insert an editorial comment to alert me to the fact that you have done this.)

Spelling: Please use your Spell Checker.

Watch out for “dessert” (not desert).

Emphasis: Use lowercase italics (not bold, not all capitals, not quotes).

Numbers: Spell out numbers (other than years) in the story that are between one and a hundred (inclusive), e.g., twenty-three years ago.

Numbers from 101 up should be numeric, except a thousand, a million, a billion.

Years and decades: 1923, 1950, etc. No apostrophe before the s in decades, e.g., 1950s, 1960s, etc. Use an apostrophe if the 19 is omitted, e.g., during the ’50s.


Every question should end in a question mark, including rhetorical questions.

In dialog and quoted matter, final punctuation will generally go inside the quote marks.


An em dash is a long dash used to indicate a pause—see what I mean?

An en dash is a medium-length dash used to indicate a range, e.g., 1945–50.


the Depression

World War II (but “the war”)

Grandma (but “my grandmother” and “my grandma”)

Mom (but “my mother” and “my mom”)


Watch for compound words that require a hyphen, especially any compound that is used as an adjective before a noun, e.g.,

a dough-lined pie dish

my after-winter cleanup

a soul-filling garden experience

a five-year-old girl (but “when I was a five year old”)


We will be using serial commas (i.e., when there are three or more items in a list, make sure there is a comma before the final and, e.g., apples, oranges, and pears.)

Whether to add or delete a comma can often be a tricky editorial question. For experienced editors, please follow Chicago Manual of Style rules. Otherwise or if in doubt about a comma, please mark it in a color or insert a comment—a decision will be made about it at a later time.

Foreign words: Make foreign words italic except words that are now in common usage and can be found in a U.S. dictionary such as the Webster’s College Dictionary.

Replace square brackets [ ] in the story text by parentheses ( ). Square brackets will be used for editorial notes and comments only.

Quotes and dialog:

• Quote marks should generally be reserved for dialog and quoted material.

• Start new dialog on a new line.

• For a quote within dialog, use single quotes.

• In several stories, italics have been used to indicate inner dialog. Let this stand.

Prose style:

Generally, sentences should be complete and not just a sentence fragment (i.e., each sentence should have a verb). For example, “The aromas of home.” is not a complete sentence because there is no verb. In instances like this, the fragment can often be connected to the sentence before or after it. For example, “I smelled bread baking and coffee brewing—the aromas of home.” (Note that an instruction such as “Peel the apples.” is a complete sentence—peel is a verb.) However there may be instances where it is appropriate to leave an incomplete sentence unchanged.

Watch for repetition of a word within one sentence or in two adjacent sentences. I don’t want to lay down a hard-and-fast rule about word repetition, but if a word jumps out at you as repetitive but not poetic, then change one of the repeated words to a synonym.

Delete weak adverbs such as “quite”, “rather”, “fairly”.

Make sure that parallel structure is applied correctly, e.g., Grandma worked hard to peel the apples, knead the dough, and assemble the pie. (Email me if in doubt.)

Poetry style:

Format poetry as a series of paragraphs (i.e., leave carriage returns at the end of each line of the poem).

Do not use a tab character to indent the lines of a poem.

Delete excess space characters and line spaces.

Change the author’s capitalization and punctuation only with caution and discretion! Add an editorial comment to indicate you’ve changed the poem.

Style Guide for Editing Recipe Ingredients

Begin the ingredients list with a heading, Ingredients, in Header 2 style.

List ingredients in a single column in Normal Paragraph style.

If appropriate, you may group ingredients under subheadings, e.g., Dry ingredients, Crust, Filling, Sauce, etc.

Use Header 3 style for ingredient subheads.

Spell out all units of measurement (teaspoon, tablespoon, cup, ounce, pound).

Spell out abbreviated words (medium, not med.).

Write fractions as 1/4, 1/2, 1/3, etc.

Insert a tab character after the quantity and before the unit of measurement, e.g., 1/4 [tab] cup of flour. Or use 4 space characters for this purpose.

When a recipe calls for a can or a package of some ingredient, include the size of the can or package, e.g., 1 [tab] 8-ounce can of ….

If a recipe calls for an ingredient to be processed in a simple and familiar way, you may include that instruction in the ingredient list, e.g.:

1 onion, chopped

2 apples, peeled and sliced


1 cup finely shredded cheese

Do not add a period to the ingredients list items.

If in doubt about the spelling of an ingredient, check the dictionary.

If the author has specified a frozen ingredient, include the corresponding fresh ingredient in the ingredients list and add a note in the Tips and Notes section saying that frozen may be used. For example, in place of “1 16-ounce package of frozen shredded potatoes”, write “1 pound potatoes, grated” and add a note in the Tips and Notes, “Shortcut: use frozen shredded potatoes.”

Canned ingredients may be included in the ingredients list.

If the author lists a choice of fresh or pre-prepared ingredients, include the fresh ingredient in the ingredients list and add the other option to the Tips and Notes section.

Style Guide for Editing Recipe Preparation Instructions

Begin the instructions with a heading, Preparation, in Header 2 style.

All recipe instructions should be complete sentences. They should have, at a minimum, a verb and an object (preceded by an article) and a period at the end. (E.g., Slice the apples.)

Spell out all units of measurement (teaspoon, tablespoon, cup, ounce, pound, degrees, minutes).

Separate the recipe instructions into short paragraphs of 100-200 words.

If the author has numbered the recipe instructions, delete the numbers and run instructions on (i.e., continue an instruction on the same line as the previous instruction).

Add a line space between paragraphs.

If appropriate begin the recipe with oven heating instructions, e.g., Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

All quantities that are included in the instructions should be numeric, e.g., Sift 3 cups of flour with …. Add 1/4 cup of milk.

As the last line of the instructions, include information about how many servings the recipe makes (for mains) or how many loaves or cookies or muffins the recipe makes in the case of baked items. Write this information in the form “Serves 4‚” or “Serves 6-8‚” or “Makes 2 loaves” or “Makes 2-dozen cookies”.

Style Guide for Editing Tips and Notes

This section is the place to include extra information provided by the author about the recipe or ingredients.

Add a “Tips and Notes” heading after the recipe only if it is needed.

The “Tips and Notes” heading should be in Header 2 style.

If there are two or more items for this section, please use bullet points.

All tips and notes should be complete sentences with a period at the end, except where they are simply a list of items.

Examples of items that could be placed in a “Tips and Notes” section

Substitutions/variations, e.g.,

    • Almonds or pecans can be substituted for the walnuts.
    • You can substitute tilapia for the salmon and then use thyme instead of rosemary.
    • This can also be cooked in the microwave in a glass baking dish for 12 minutes on high.

Shortcuts, e.g.,

    • A can of cream of mushroom soup can be used in place of the white sauce.
    • The crust can be made ahead and frozen. Thaw before filling.

Accompaniments, e.g.,

    • Herbal ice tea complements this dessert well.
    • Serve this meat on a large oval platter and decorate edge with fresh herbs.
    • Add deli-made coleslaw and fresh rolls for a complete meal.

Notes on the origin of a recipe

  • My family has preserved this gingersnap recipe that was brought from Germany by my great-grandmother in the 1800s. The original copy says that it “makes about 10,000 cookies.”