Thanks to the recent release of the 16th edition of the venerable Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), I redid the in-house style sheet for Transformative Works and Cultures, just in time for the production team to start work on the March issue. The style sheet is a document that outlines how information ought to appear so that it’s presented consistently across documents. It specifies such things as how references are styled, what heads look like, and how units of numbers are presented. TWC follows CMOS closely in virtually every respect.
A style does more than simply provide a template that permits many people to work on a single project and be confident of some degree of conformity. The style chosen makes a statement about the kind of information it presents. TWC uses author–year style (CMOS Documentation II), which marks us as falling under a media studies/social sciences rubric rather than a humanities rubric. The presentation of the year in text foregrounds the importance of timely work. Any scholar glancing casually at TWC can infer a lot just by noticing our citation style.
But choosing to style something a particular way can also make a political statement. As an example, take the styling of, for race, Black versus black, White versus white. Depending on context, the capitalized version can indicate anything from official US Census demographic categories to radical political leanings. If it’s capitalized, it’s got to be meaningful. (TWC follows CMOS, which likes down style: black, white.)
Politically speaking, in the small world of fan studies, one could argue that fanfic is used so commonly by fans themselves that TWC ought to style it like that. We don’t. We use fan fic because that is how it appears in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (MW; updated version available at MerriamWebster.com), which we follow slavishly for spellings, even going so far as to permit it to override CMOS where they differ. One reason is that we don’t want to imply that fan is a prefix—it can’t be, because it is a noun, a word meaningful on its own. But another, more important reason is that we think separating the two words emphasizes the status of the fan herself. Thus in TWC’s style, fan words are almost always open compounds, not solid or hyphenated compounds: fan work, fan artwork, fan vid. It’s not a fanwork; it’s a fan work, a work created by an agent, the fan. By styling it open, we are making a kind of political statement that emphasizes agency.
However, when it comes right down to it, TWC likes to use published reference works to make production easier: team members and authors can look items up and be confident they are correctly styled, and, at least for styling references, conformity to a published style means that bibliographic citation managers, such as Zotero and OneNote, may be used without modifying the output. Despite the political implications of styling it open, if MW changes fan fic to fanfic, TWC will change its style. If MW changes Web site to website, TWC will change its style. Published standards result in pleasing stylistic conformity.* And they make the life of production personnel so, so much easier.
A shortened version of the new style appears in the instructions for authors on TWC’s Web site. The long version contains a lot of detailed information really only relevant to the production team. If we have done our jobs correctly, the edited documents will read so clearly that meaning is immediately evident, with no distracting errors: do regular readers of the journal even notice that we style it Web site? Didn’t think so.
In a well-edited document, the editing ought to be invisible. Standards are there to help that happen, and that’s why we follow them.
* Most words we look up are compound words, not words we don’t know how to spell. Is a term one word, two words, or hyphenated? We need to know. The rule is, if a compound word is not in MW (the only dictionary used in the US academic publishing industry), it’s two words. TWC prefers to style most things always open; it usually isn’t confusing to omit a hyphen to indicate that the terms are linked.