Styling Your Writing: A Breakdown of Writing Style Guides

by Deborah Parker

Do you spell it cooperation or co-operation? Is it Chris’ or Chris’s?¬† A style guide or manual lays out the standards for the language and design of any written piece. There are almost as many styles as there are ways to write: the Canadian Press and Associated Press each maintain their own style, as do most newspapers, publishers and magazines. In academic circles, APA, MLA and Chicago style are gold standards, while companies like Yahoo! are trying to bring some cohesion to writing for the web.

You should always check with your client or employer before beginning a project to see if the publication or website already has its own conventions. But even if you aren’t told to use a specific style, picking one as your go-to option can help you ensure your own writing is consistent and clear.

Standard Press Styles

The Associated Press Stylebook dubs itself “the journalist’s bible”. AP style is an industry standard. The 2012 edition has an expanded social media section and new chapters about fashion and broadcast terms. You can order your copy here or sign up for an annual subscription to the online version. The online version allows you to search with keywords and remains up-to-date throughout the year. Subscribers can also take advantage of AP’s ‘Ask the Editor’ feature should they have a question the stylebook alone can’t answer.

The Canadian Press has its own style, which is outlined in The Canadian Press Stylebook. Along with covering everything from how to write web addresses to the proper way to abbreviate, the CP Stylebook also reflects cultural sensitivities and even has a pronunciation guide for Canadian place names. You can order a hardcopy or you can opt for the online edition. For those who sometimes have to work in French, there is the Guide de rédaction.

Although originally academic in focus, the Chicago Manual of Style is an extremely versatile resource and is used in both academic and professional writing. Created by the University of Chicago Press in 1891, it has grown to cover everything from the use of mathematics in type to creating indexes. There are several handbooks available, including the full cover-to-cover Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition (print edition). Alternatively, you can sign up for an online subscription that includes full access to both the 15th and 16th editions.

Specific Press Styles

While AP, CP and Chicago styles are industry standards, many larger publications choose to maintain their own style guides for in-house use. The New York Times maintains its own Manual of Style and Usage, which can be ordered through Amazon. Reuters also maintains its own particular style guide, which you can view for free online.

Web Standards

There’s no denying that the Internet is changing the world of writing. With each new technology there are new questions about how to properly incorporate these terms and facts into the written word. The Yahoo! Style Guide has been specifically developed for online writing. While its word list covers standard terms, it also covers computing terms, like ActiveX, open source and screenshot. If you are looking for a paper edition, it is available at most larger bookstores across Canada.

Academic Writing

Then there are MLA and APA styles. Depending on your major, you may remember one or both from your university career, or even from high school.

MLA style, from the Modern Language Association, is a popular choice for academic writing, particularly in the humanities. It focuses upon being simpler and more concise than most other styles. The Modern Language Association puts out two guidebooks for writers. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is intended more for high school and undergraduate students, while the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing is tailored to graduate students, scholars and professional writers.

APA style, developed by the American Psychological Association, is also designed for research and academic writing, although it’s more popular with the social and behavioural sciences. APA style is meant to be spare and straightforward so the focus remains on the writing itself rather than the style. The rules are laid out in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, although you can learn the basics of APA style through the free online tutorial.

One Response to “Styling Your Writing: A Breakdown of Writing Style Guides”

  1. There is definitely no shortage of writing style guides to work from. And, while you may prefer one over the rest, it really comes down to the style that is preferred by your clients. From this perspective, writers need to be flexible with their writing style if they want to serve a wide variety of clients in multiple industries.

    September 20, 2012 at 11:38 am

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