Style Manuals: Why Use Them?
*UPDATED: with more style! See below.
For publications, style manuals can be both fantastic tools and shackles. Editors love them (and sometimes hate them) with good reason. Other people involved in publications ask, “Why? Why not develop your own style? Why impose a style from Chicago or _______?” First, a definition…
- style manual or guide—a publishing reference that helps decide matters in which there are options (e.g., how a quoted article should be cited, the order of elements in a print publication, how to mark errors in a text file for correction)
In many cases, a style manual (or style guide) developed as a short list of style decisions made for a particular publication, organization, or publisher and then grew and grew and grew. The expanded list was published for a small group, and then it became the norm in a certain discipline or industry. Finally, it was adopted (sometimes with minor adjustments) by others as the style to follow. Within a certain field, any other style might jar. Some popular styles are
- the University of Chicago Press’s Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)
- the American Psychological Association (APA) style
- Modern Language Association (MLA) style
- Associated Press (AP) style
- Canadian Press (CP) style
- The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing
- The Yahoo! Style Guide
What Style Manuals Do
Style manuals are designed to bring some order to chaos, to create consistency, and ultimately, to address the needs of certain targeted readers. They offer direction, answers to frequent questions, and considered solutions to recurring problems in certain types of publication. They also evolve (and some go online; see below*). For example:
- APA is used by many authors in the sciences. APA citations place great importance on the publication date of references cited.
- MLA is used by many authors in the humanities. In MLA citations, the publication date is less important than the author’s name.
- CP style has many guidelines for using and captioning news photos.
- The Canadian Style is a publication of the Canadian federal government. It addresses, for example, the official titles for various government roles and style for bilingual terms.
- CMS is used by many traditional publishers in Canada and the United States. It is in its 16th edition and is supported by an online version and website. CMS 16, for example, addresses style questions about simultaneous print and digital publications.
The Principles of Style(s)
The best style guide saves the editor from reinventing the wheel every day. The best style guides address the targeted readership with care and provide sound advice based on deliberation. They evolve over time and address new considerations in the field in which they are used. Ideally, the style guide an editor chooses (or has chosen for her) for a publication should address most style questions. Key decisions about style and any variations can then become part of a style sheet (more on this to come).
UPDATED: Some styles can be found in whole (or part) online. Here are some examples:
- Chicago Manual of Style online < http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html>
- Chicago Manual of Style re. citation styles – an overview < http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html>
- Canadian Style, online < http://www.btb.termiumplus.gc.ca/tpv2guides/guides/tcdnstyl/index-eng.html?lang=eng>
- National Geographic Style < http://stylemanual.ngs.org>
- National Geographic Style, map style < http://stylemanual.ngs.org/home/M/map-style>
- The Economist Style Guide online < http://www.economist.com/styleguide/introduction>
- The Guardian Style Guide < http://www.theguardian.com/guardian-observer-style-guide-a >
- BuzzFeed style guide < http://www.buzzfeed.com/emmyf/buzzfeed-style-guide>
- New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide < http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/secondary/harts_rules/>