Using a Style Guide
A style guide is a reference that sets standards for written documents to maintain consistency in writing and formatting within the document and across documents. Style guides exist for certain fields, publications, and organizations, and can be created for projects.
Most readers of this blog should be familiar with the AP Stylebook (The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law) and the Chicago Manual of Style. You might also want to learn about The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing, and Creating Content for the Digital World, because writing for the Internet is different than writing for print.
The AP Stylebook is the standard style guide for journalism and is used by newspapers, broadcasters, magazines and public relations firms. Some publications and organizations have their own style guides.
At over 1,000 pages, the standard guide for the publishing industry is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), now in its 16th edition. I own the book and subscribe to it online. I find the online version easier to search, but I actually like reading sections of the print book for fun. And I am such a word nerd, I am absolutely gleeful when the monthly Q&A is posted online because it’s both educational and entertaining.
Wondering whether “e-book” or “ebook” is correct? What is the proper way to make a word ending in an “s” possessive? CMOS will tell answer this. It also includes scads of book formatting and typographic advice that is invaluable to the do-it-yourself publisher.
There are sections on manuscript preparation and editing, the parts of a book, and rights and permissions as well as grammar, punctuation and usage.
A style guide does not replace a good dictionary and knowledge about the rules of grammar and punctuation. It seeks to pick up where dictionaries rulebooks leave off. Guides exist because style and usage is always changing, and they adapt the “rules” to the current culture and a specific industry in a detailed manner.
When you’re editing your work, you might also create your own style guide as a supplement to the main guide you’re using. You could list all your character and place names, for example, to help you make sure they remain consistent throughout.
You can’t be expected to know every aspect of a 1,000-page style guide. But do learn to use one and understand when to refer to it. And make sure before you hire an editor to ask what she’ll use as a style reference.
Mary Ann de Stefano is the editor of The Florida Writer (the official magazine of the Florida Writers Association) and MAD’s Monday Muse. She is also a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30+ years experience in publishing and writing consulting. Besides working one-on-one with writers who are developing books, she designs author websites. Mary Ann does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing.