What is a style guide, and why should I use one?
Are you new to the writing game, and ready to write a book? Or an article?
Or a website or blog? Here's a way to make life easier: set up a style guide
and use it as you write.
What do I mean by style guide? Basically, a style guide is a writer's
guidelines. It could be one that's published, or one you create. The key:
give your readers consistency. You can't remember everything, can you? You'll
face decisions such as: is it "website" or "web site"? Or "internet" or
Every time I edit articles, I ask the writer if there is a style guide I
should follow. Most works require a style guide. Guidelines vary. Widely.
I recently edited articles for a client: one was for a professional journal
(with online guidelines) and two were for The Huffington Post (very different).
Today I will start another for a professional journal, with yet a completely
different style (online guidelines).
Sometimes space is part of the consideration, as with Associated Press.
Journalists know that every space counts in newspapers and magazines. And
the AP Stylebook has specifics for many things, e.g., capitalization,
abbreviation, punctuation, spelling, numerals, and usage.
Much depends on your subject. Writing fiction? You might want to use
Chicago Manual of Style. For general business, you might choose The Gregg
Reference Manual by Sabin. If you're writing nonfiction, you might want
to research whether the publisher requires a specific printed style guide,
like those produced by the American Psychological Association (APA) and
the American Medical Association (AMA).
Whatever works! For the publisher, that is.
For books, articles, and blogs, use the style guide recommended by the
owner/publisher, unless you are self publishing. If you choose to create
your own style guide, start by setting up the parameters of your book in
these areas (and there can be many more):
- Abbreviations, Capitalization, Possessives, Plurals, Punctuation, Spelling.
- Citing Sources.
- Cultural/Religious Sensitivities, Avoiding Gender Bias, etc.
- Dates, Numbers, Places.
- Formatting (indents, margins, headers, footers, etc.).
- Internet (Technical) Terms.
- Lists (bullets, numbers, etc.).
- Typography. "Typography," says Wikipedia, "is the art and technique of
arranging type, type design..." Arranging type involves selecting
typefaces, point size, line length, leading (line spacing), adjusting
the spaces between groups of letters (tracking) and adjusting the space
between pairs of letters (kerning).
Summary: it won't hurt to investigate the wonderful world of style guides. Go
Here are a few style guides and resources to give you an idea of how to write
A site with proofreader's and editor's symbols
The Elements of Style (which mentions that you must know the rules in order
to break them)
Judy Vorfeld's The Writing Center Style & Style Guides
Literacy Education Online: LEO Write Place Catalog
Lynch Guide to Grammar and Style (Lynch says there are countless writing guides,
most of them awful.)
Polished Presentations by Judy Vorfeld
The Ultimate Style Guide Resources for MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE
Writer's Style Guide: University of Texas at Austin
Wikipedia: Style guide
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