Amelia Bodner
Food Editor | Proofreader

Writing Tips

Let your culinary wisdom shine

Style Sheets for Cookbooks


What does that even mean?

Well, you might already know that it takes a bit more than just good food to make a brilliant cookbook – taking beautiful photographs of your meals can be just as important, for instance. Another key aspect of recipe development is your style of writing and how information is presented. Does each individual recipe have a short description at the beginning? Are ingredients given in metric or imperial units of measurement? Or both? Should instructions be numbered? How specific do you want them to be? Will you supply a length of time saying how long each meal will take to prepare?

So many questions … but don’t worry! Let’s take things one step at a time.

If you’re not that interested in these finer stylistic choices and would rather just focus on cooking, that’s not a problem – but it’s still helpful to know roughly what your editor will be making decisions about if you don’t have any preferences. That way, you won’t be surprised or bothered by their questions and it will be easier to communicate your thoughts. And even if you’re not planning to write a book, but just presenting your recipes on a blog for now, it makes your content much easier to read and enjoy if you follow the same structure and stylistic choices everywhere – so here we go …


Volume vs weight

Probably the most important decision will be which system of measurement you want to use. If you’re in America, you’ll likely be used to the imperial system, which is based on volume, while in most other places the metric system is more common, which uses units of weight instead. Think about your target audience when making this decision: what will they be most comfortable with? Once you have decided, it is key to stick to it rigorously. There’s little more confusing than measurements switching back and forth between grams and cups, for example.


Abbreviations and contractions

Many writers choose to use short forms of words and shorten sentences as much as possible, so as to save time and space. This is especially common in blogs or other web content. However, this can be risky: imagine what would happen if you read ‘1 tsp of salt’ as ‘1 tbsp’ because you weren’t looking closely! On the other hand, short forms like ‘g’ for ‘grams’ or ‘ml’ for millilitres are less likely to be misread. A good rule of thumb might be to use the full form whenever the shortened version of a word could easily be misunderstood or mistaken for something else.


Formatting and style choices

The key is always to keep your instructions clear and easy to follow, and that applies to your formatting and stylistic choices as well. For instance, it is usually easier to keep up with a list of instructions (using bullet points or numbers) than have to search through a long block of text until you’ve reached the part you’re at again. Formatting and style apply to all areas of your cookbook, from the recipes themselves to your introduction, index, images and any other side topics you are including. Another aspect may be your choices concerning capitalisation and how to treat numbers.


Specificity

Think about how specific you want to be: will you mention that carrots should be peeled before they are sliced, or assume that the reader will know this instinctively? This depends on your readership as well as the type of recipe (perhaps it calls for unpeeled carrots?).


Further information

Depending on your goal and requirements, you may want to mention aspects of your recipes in the form of symbols or separate paragraphs. This could be nutritional information, gluten-free/vegetarian/vegan options, or the required cooking time.


That’s it for now! Probably enough to start with. I’ll be adding more to this list in further posts if and when necessary, but until then, I’ve also developed my own basic style sheet that I use for cookbook projects – you can get it for free if you subscribe to my newsletter. Things may be added or changed at any time according to the project of course, but it’s a useful starting point!


If you have any questions or more ideas, do leave a comment below.

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Your Target Audience

Amelia BodnerFood Editor and Proofreader Writing Tips Let your culinary wisdom shine Your Target Audience and Purpose   When it comes to writing a recipe

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Want to learn more about culinary writing and developing recipes? Sign up for my newsletter to get notified about new posts – and get your very own sample style sheet for cookbooks!

Your Target Audience

Amelia BodnerFood Editor and Proofreader Writing Tips Let your culinary wisdom shine Your Target Audience and Purpose   When it comes to writing a recipe

Read More »

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