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…

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

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:

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).

*Styles Online
UPDATED: Some styles can be found in whole (or part) online. Here are some examples:

© Laura Edlund 2010