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Mary Brotherton
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Inside my Brain

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Style Guides

Writers often ask me what style guides they should use when they write and which style I will use to edit their work. My answer is: it depends on the subject matter.

Some publishers have their own House Style and when you work with a specific publisher, your contract will spell out which guide you must use. If a House Style is used, the publisher will most likely provide a copy for you. If no guide is provided, or if you are still working toward that contract, you have other options.

Attorneys and legal writers will refer to The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation.

Many university classes adhere to APA Style, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association for social and behavioral sciences writing, while the Modern Language Association’s MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing is the preferred guide for academic writing in languages and literature.

The Chicago Manual of Style is used by some social science publications and most historical journals. Many fiction writers also use CMOS.

AP Style is the short term for The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, often called the AP Stylebook. This is the primary style and usage guide for most newspapers, magazines and some online writing.

The style guide used by U.S. Government agencies is the United States Government Printing Office Style Manual, also called GPO Style. Another option is The Complete Guide to Citing Government Information Resources: A Manual for Social Science and Business Research.

Turabian style is the book scholars will pick up to help format and write research papers and dissertations and many institutions of higher learning, such as Oxford and Purdue have their own style guides, which are often a mixture of several other styles.

Engineers often refer to the Chicago Manual of Style, the IEEE Editorial Style Manual (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) or  APA Style.

Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers is the reference biologists and other science writers reach for when they need help and guidance in their writing, although chemists will probably have a copy of The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information handy.

Geowriting: A Guide to Writing, Editing, and Printing in Earth Science is the reference of choice for geologists.

Physicists use Style Manual: Instructions to Authors and Volume Editors for the Preparation of AIP Book Manuscripts. Another option is the American National Standard for the Preparation of Scientific Papers for Written or Oral Presentation.

Professionals and executives who don't use Chicago Manual or AP Style will refer to the The AMA Style Guide for Business Writing (American Management Association).

Other writers use specialized style guides that have been customized for specific professions such as the Language Style Sheet provided by the Linguistic Society of America.

American Mathematical Society uses the AMS Author Handbook.

Writing about Music: A Style Sheet is the guide of choice for music writers.

Writers for the American Medical Association will reach for AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors.

American Political Science Association writers use APSA Style Manual for Political Science.

Technical writers, especially those writing about computer technology will reach for their copies of Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications or Science and Technical Writing: A Manual of Style.

The National Association of Social Workers Press created NASW Press Author Guidelines for its members.

Many writers, especially Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers, like to create their own Style Sheets, which is a list of rules for their editors. These Style Sheets may be used for all writing or customized for each book or world they create. A custom Style Sheet helps the editor – and the writer, who needs to remain consistent – with unique spellings and special effects. An editor will need to know if one character uses jargon or if all the characters speak a certain way. Likewise a custom Style Sheet tells the editor if a writer uses specialized spellings for names. Often, writers build their characters on their style sheets by describing physical features and providing biographical sketches, so while the editor is reading, it’s clear if a typo has been made or if the character is supposed to say or do something in particular.

Style guides are meant to strengthen writing and make it easier to read. Specific styles cater to particular industries to keep the writing uniform. Whichever guide you prefer, the point is to remain consistent in your writing. If you know a publishers preferred style, your writing is more likely to be accepted. If you publish your own work, having a style guide helps polish your writing.

So, what's your style?

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