After covering style sheets in last month’s post on The ABCs of Style Sheets, the next step is to chat about a similar sounding (and related!) aspect of the writing and editing process: Style Guides.
These grammar and punctuation handbooks directly affect the final version of your manuscript before its release to the public and are applicable to both traditional and self-publishing authors.
Here is a breakdown of what they are, why they’re important, and which one applies to you.
What is a style guide?
At its most basic level, a style guide is the basis for all structural, grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and formatting decisions of your manuscript.
These details vary depending on your genre and/or writing format (e.g. fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, academia). Therefore, each format has an applicable style guide to detail this information, which ensures consistency across a format’s written works.
The following are a few of the most notorious style guides:
- The Chicago Manual of Style
- The AP (Associated Press) Style Guide and Libel Manual
- The APA (American Psychological Association) Style
- The MLA (Modern Language Association) Style Manual and MLA Handbook
One such infamous difference between the Chicago Manual of Style and The AP Style Guide is the use of an oxford (or serial) comma, i.e. whether to place a comma before the word “and” within a sentence that lists three items. The former loves it, the latter eliminates it.
Why is a style guide important to writers?
Style guides are not just for editors! While I don’t recommend you memorize it front-to-back as an editor would, it is helpful to understand the basic expectations of your genre/format. Here are three (of many!) reasons why:
1. It will improve the clarity of your work for your readers.
For self-publishing authors, this is very important. Readers (either consciously or not) expect stories to be written in a certain style. As such, it can be jarring for them to encounter a book breaking too many of the conventional rules, even one that’s gone through a self-publishing route.
If traditionally publishing, clarity of work through a general adherence to your style guide will make a good impression when querying agents and editors. Furthermore, it will be clear that you have taken valuable time to become familiar with and understand the expectations of your industry.
2. You will understand mark-ups and suggestions from your editor.
Both freelance and traditional editors will use the appropriate style guide while working on your manuscript (I use the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition!). If you know the basics of your style guide, you will understand why your editor suggests certain changes and alterations to your work.
3. You will know what deliberate style variations to add to your style sheet.
And it’s a full circle back to style sheets! Once you understand your genre/format’s standard style rules, you’ll know when to follow and when to deviate from the norm (as your story requires). This is very much in the spirit of the “learn the rules so you can break the rules” saying.
These intentional decisions should then be included on your style sheet to indicate that you are aware of the industry standards but are choosing to format such-and-such in a different (but deliberate) way.
What style guide applies to you?
As you now know, different genres/formats rely on their category-specific style guides:
The traditional “book” writing and publishing industry standard is The Chicago Manual of Style (this is what I edit in and what I suggest my self-publishing book authors follow!).
If you are writing for a magazine, newspaper, or other journalism source, you will most often encounter The AP Stylebook.
The preferred style for scientific writing and their published papers is The APA Style.
If you are a humanities student (literature, history, arts, etc.), you have likely been recommended The MLA Handbook. This specifically instructs on how to cite sources, but also describes how to organize information.
If going the traditionally published route, each newspaper, magazine, journal, and publishing house will use one of these Big Style Guides. From there, they may also have an in-house style guide, describing any company-specific deviations from the Big Style Guide.
Style guides quite literally guide the final version of your manuscript. All grammar decisions, formatting choices, and whether you use the oxford comma will be decided based upon your style guide.
Your style sheet may impact or alter some of these decisions (read more here on Style Guides vs. Style Sheets).
However, becoming well acquainted with your applicable style guide will truly help inform and improve your writing style.
Do you use a style guide? Still unsure which style guide applies to you? Let me know in the comments below and let’s see if we can narrow it down!