Dragonfly Guide to Style Guides

 An editor’s top resource is a style guide. Style guides dictate how to format elements like bulleted lists, and how to handle hyphenation, capitalization, and even 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. 

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 chicagomanualofstyle.org 

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 apstylebook.com

GUIDES TO MEDICAL AND SCIENTIFIC STYLE 

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

AMA Manual of Style, 11th Edition Essential style guide for medical and scientific publishing amamanualofstyle.com 

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th Edition Style manual for writers in the social and behavioral sciences; dabblers in APA style can use the Concise Guide to APA Style, 7th Edition apastyle.org 

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 scientificstyleandformat.org 

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

ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication, published by the American Chemical Society https://pubs.acs.org/doi/book/10.1021/acsguide 

AGU Grammar and Style Guide, published by the American Geophysical Union publications.agu.org/agu-grammar-and-style-guide 

ASA Style Guide, 6th Edition, published by the American Sociological Association asanet.org/asa-style-guide-sixth-edition 

IEEE Editorial Style Manual, published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers computer.org/publications/computer-society-style-guide 

GUIDES FOR ACADEMIC PUBLISHING 

MLA Handbook, 9th Edition Style manual used in the liberal arts and humanities, especially for research focused on language, literature, and culture style.mla.org 

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 and bibliography, and author–date chicagomanualofstyle.org/turabian.html 

GUIDES TO NON-U.S. ENGLISH

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

The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage, 2nd EditionIn-depth, A–Z coverage of Australian spelling, punctuation, and word choice www.cambridge.org/au/9780521702423

Australian Government Style ManualStyle guidance from the Australian Government describes best practices in design, editing, production, and writingaustralia.gov.au/about-government/publications/style-manual

Editing Canadian English, 3rd EditionGuidance on Canadian English usage, spelling, and punctuation; Canadianisms; and working with French in an English texteditors.ca/publications/editing-canadian-english

The Guardian and Observer Style GuideOnline A–Z listing of word usage; contains UK-specific terms, such as BBC One, garryowen, and parliamentary Labour partytheguardian.com/guardian-observer-style-guide

The Economist Style Guide, 12th EditionContains an A–Z words list similar to AP’s; guidance on handling UK-specific terms, such as knight, dame, and baroness; and a section outlining the differences between American and British English shop.economist.com/products/the-economist-style-guide-12th-edition

BUSINESS WRITING 

The Business Style Handbook: An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job, 2nd EditionA–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 https://www.mhprofessional.com/9780071800105-usa-the-business-style-handbook-second-edition-an-a-to-z-guide-for-effective-writing-on-the-job-group

LEGAL CITATION

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

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 21st Edition legalbluebook.com

The Maroonbook: The University of Chicago Manual of Legal Citation lawreview.uchicago.edu/maroonbook

ENTERTAINMENT AND NEWS

BuzzFeed Style GuideOnline guide for entertainment and news writers, reflecting current internet and social media usagebuzzfeed.com/emmyf/buzzfeed-style-guide

GOVERNMENT-SPECIFIC GUIDES

GPO Style Manual: An Official Guide to the Form and Style of Federal Government Publishing, 2016 EditionPDF manual listing style conventions for U.S. government publications. Includes sections on foreign countries, U.S. geographic divisions, and currencies.https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-STYLEMANUAL-2016/pdf/GPO-STYLEMANUAL-2016.pdf

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

Department of Defense Visual Information Style Guide https://www.dimoc.mil/VI-Training/DoD-VI-Style-Guide/ 

U.S. Army Style Guide https://www.army.mil/e2/downloads/rv7/armydotmil_style_guide.pdf

U.S. Navy Style Guide https://www.navymwr.org/modules/media/?do=download&id=d6c2671c-e9b5-43ea-be3e-a20a4a8b62cf

USAGov Bilingual Style Guide usa.gov/style-guide/style-guidance

USAID Style Guide https://www.usaid.gov/work-usaid/style-guide 

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:

Cleveland Clinic https://onbrand.clevelandclinic.org/explore-the-guidelines/writing-guidelines/ 

Mailchimp Content Style Guide styleguide.mailchimp.com

UNIVERSITY-SPECIFIC GUIDES

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

Emory University https://communications.emory.edu/resources/style-guide/index.html

University of Illinois https://publicaffairs.illinois.edu/resources/writing-style-guide/

University of Baltimore http://www.ubalt.edu/about-ub/offices-and-services/marketing-and-creative-services/the-ub-brand/index.cfm 

University of Oxford ox.ac.uk/public-affairs/style-guide

GUIDES TO CONSCIOUS LANGUAGE

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

AAJA Guide to Covering Asian AmericaGuidelines published by the Asian American Journalists Association https://www.aaja.org/2020/11/30/guide-to-covering-asian-pacific-america/

NABJ Style GuideGuidelines published by the National Association of Black Journalists nabj.org/page/styleguide

NAJA AP Style GuideGuidelines published by the Native American Journalists Association https://najanewsroom.com/ap-style-insert/ 

NCDJ Disability Style GuideGuidelines published by the National Center on Disability and Journalism
ncdj.org/style-guide

NLGJA StylebookGuidelines published by The Association of LGBTQ Journalists https://www.nlgja.org/stylebook/

A Progressive’s Style GuideGuidelines published by the nonprofit SumOfUs; covers language in areas such as age, disability, race, gender, indigeneity, and geopolitics http://interactioninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Sum-Of-Us-Progressive-Style-Guide.pdf

THE ONE STYLE GUIDE YOU SHOULDN’T USE

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. WhiteYes, 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 “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.”