Dragonfly Guide to Style Guides

Next to a dictionary, an editor’s top resource is a style guide. Style guides dictate how editors should handle hyphenation, capitalization, and number style. They describe how to format elements like bulleted lists and reference lists. They even proscribe certain elements of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
But which style guide should be used for which type of material? This handy guide explains it all.
 You can download the PDF file here.

The big two

These all-purpose guides can be used in almost any situation, in almost any industry, to answer almost any question you might have on editorial style. Pick either one as your default guide and you can’t go wrong. Both are available in hard copy and online.

  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition
    Standard resource for book publishing and other industries; contains comprehensive guidelines on grammar, punctuation, syntax, usage, and reference style
  • The AP Stylebook
    Go-to resource for journalism and news writing, with a massive A–Z words list and other entries outlining rules of grammar, punctuation, and usage

Guides to medical and scientific style

There are three major style guides governing medical and scientific content.

  • AMA Manual of Style, 10th Edition
    Essential style guide for medical and scientific publishing
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th Edition
    Style manual for writers in the social and behavioral sciences; dabblers in APA style can use the Concise Rules of APA Style, Sixth Edition
  • Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, 8th edition
    Reference for editors in all areas of science and related fields

In addition, many scientific associations publish their own guidelines. For example:

Guides for academic publishing

  • MLA Handbook, 8th Edition
    Style manual used in the liberal arts and humanities, especially for research focused on language, literature, and culture
  • A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, 9th Edition (aka “Turabian”)
    Comprehensive guide to Chicago’s two methods of source
    citation: notes–bibliography and author–date
    press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/M/ bo27847540.html

Guides to non-U.S. English

Use these guides to edit English written for an Australian, Canadian, or UK audience.

Business writing

  • The Business Style Handbook: An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job
    A–Z entries on handling terms such as “consumer price index” and “return on investment”; also includes results from a survey of Fortune 500 communications pros about effective business writing

Legal citation

These two guides govern legal citation. The Bluebook is the definitive guide; The Maroonbook, a simplified alternative.

Entertainment and news

Government-specific guides

  • U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual, 2016 Edition
    PDF manual listing style conventions for U.S. government publications. Includes appendices on foreign countries,
    U.S. geographic divisions, and currencies.

In addition to GPO’s “one guide to rule them” manual, some branches of government and defense publish their own guides. For example:

Company-specific guides

Most large companies publish in-house editorial style guides stipulating how company divisions, product names, and trademarks should be handled. Most guides are private; a few are public. For example:

University-specific guides

Most large universities publish style guides defining university-specific terms, such as campus locations, departments, and degrees. For example:

Guides to conscious language

These guides can help you create content that is respectful, accurate, and inclusive.

The one style guide you shouldn’t use

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

Yes, this is a classic. But it was published in 1959, and some of its stylistic advice is dated, such as advice to avoid split infinitives, ban the word “hopefully,” and set “all right” and “worth while” as two words. Turn to The Elements not as a rule book but as a source for lyrical inspiration. For example: “Writing is, for most, laborious and slow. The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by.”
This post is part of a series featuring Dragonfly field guides, tips, and tricks. You can download the PDF file here. Feel free to share!


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