What Are Style Guides? Chicago, APA, MLA and More
It’s difficult to find a consensus on what makes good writing. This is because stylistic issues are a matter of preference rather than subject to strict rules. We do, however, have style guides, which are full of helpful advice.
Here, then, are some of the major style guides you may encounter.
Academic Style Guides
Academic style guides are used by academic publishers and universities. As well as spelling and grammar, they tend to focus on issues such as:
- How to structure an essay or research paper
- Citing and referencing sources
- How to use graphs, charts and illustrations
- Subject or field-specific vocabulary
- How to write abbreviations, initialisms and acronyms
Common examples of academic guides include:
- The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style)
- The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style)
- The Modern Language Association Handbook (MLA style)
Most universities use one of these or have an in-house style guide. If you are a student, then, you should check your university’s website to see if they favour any of the style guides listed above or if they have their own rules.
Regional Style Guides
Regional guides focus on English dialects (e.g. Australian English or American English). These specify the standard spelling, punctuation and grammar rules for a specific type of English. Well-known examples from different parts of the English-speaking world include:
- A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H. W. Fowler (British English)
- The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage by Pam Peters (Australian English)
- The Elements of Style by W. Strunk and E. B. White (American English)
These style guides are most useful when writing for an audience or client from a different part of the world. For example, if you have grown up using British English, you may need to check an American English style guide when writing for a US audience or company.
Publication and Journalistic Style Guides
Publishers, broadcasters and news organisations often have their own style guides. The BBC News department, for example, has the BBC News Style Guide. As well as the usual stylistic issues, these guides may also include editorial guidelines and other industry-specific information.
In-House Style Sheets
Some businesses have in-house style sheets. These are typically shorter documents that set out the preferred writing style for an organisation, including company-specific requirements (e.g. brand voice). Larger organisations may even have a full style guide.
Generally, if you need to use an in-house style sheet or guide, your employer will tell you. Whichever style guide you are using, though, don’t forget to have your work proofread. As professional editors, we will always make corrections in line with your chosen guidelines.