We all do it when we write or edit: follow a personal “style guide” in the back of our heads even if we don’t have a documented guideline. If the client doesn’t provide a style guide, we create one for ourselves in order to maintain consistency. Within the “product” or across several products, such as manuals or magazines. Because without consistency, the text is more difficult for our readers to perceive and trust.
There are so many choices to make when writing, translating, editing, or revising: what spelling to use (e.g. UK vs. US), vocabulary and style (Oxford vs. AP), hyphenation in compound words (high-class vs. high class), numbers (three vs. 3), capitalization (This Is the Heading vs. This is the heading), serial comma, and so on. Whether we work in a team or alone with the client, all of these decisions create disagreements that need to be solved before our work is done. When editing is done well, the reader has no idea the editor was ever there.
Having worked with many proofreaders, revisers, and editors over the years in the business, I have learned that everyone has their own preferences. So do clients. There are no clear rules to follow, only choices, and tracking and sticking to them throughout the assignment. Being able to do this often requires meetings and negotiations. What we want is the client to be reasonable because our names and reputations are at stake.
When editing a text, the first task is to analyze what are the style choices that have been made. For example, certain scientific journals require non-breaking spaces between mathematical symbols while a fashion magazine may want to start every sentence with lower case. Especially in large client-based projects, such as websites and publications, creating a jointly approved style guide is a must. Although clients have their preferences, they may not always realize how they “sound like” to the rest of the world, and editor’s diplomatic feedback can prove invaluable. It is best not to comment style as such, but to emphasize the importance of recognizing and avoiding discrepancies for the sake of clarity and credibility.