You’ve probably faced at least one of these conundrums in your writing: do you write out the number 'twenty-seven' or simply write '27'? Do you hyphenate 'co-operation' or leave it unhyphenated it as 'cooperation'? 'Single' or "double" quotation marks? When do you use italics and when do you use bold? Do you refer to a single person of unknown gender as “he”, “she”, “s/he”, or “they”? You won't find solutions to these issues in a dictionary. Why? Because it’s a matter of style. Style guide, to be precise.
What is a Style Guide? How Do You Use It?
A style guide, sometimes called a manual of style, is a set of principles to help you produce consistent writing. Refer to a style guide to help you decide about issues like hyphenation and punctuation in the same way you'd check a dictionary for the meaning of words. While not a set of grammar rules, a style guide may include recommendations for sentence construction too. Or whether and when to choose passive voice. Some style guides also include guidelines on the type of words to use to improve inclusivity and avoid inadvertent racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination.
Three Levels of Style Guide
There are three levels of style guide. The first, and simplest, is a style sheet:. This is usually a short list of tips specific to the manuscript you’re working on. You can draw this up yourself before you start writing and add to it as you go along. When you send your manuscript to an editor, it’s a good idea to include your style sheet so that you’re on the same page. (Pun intended!) Your editor may add to the style sheet too and include it when sending the manuscript to a proofreader.
The second type of style guide is a publisher’s house style manual. Traditional publishers usually have their own preferences about style, so they create their own house style manuals for their authors, editors and proofreaders to use during the process of creating a book. When I worked for the Ontario government, I and my team–all ministries in fact–used a government-wide style guide to frame all of our writing. It addressed treatment of numbers, abbreviations, and other stylistic elements. Per cent was two words, for example, never percent. These house style manuals are a more detailed version of a style sheet.
Professional Style Guide
As an indie author, you probably won’t be using a publisher’s house style manual. However, you may find it of great help to use the third level of style guide. A formal professional style guide or manual of style. This is a comprehensive reference book that covers just about everything you may want to know about writing for a specific industry. You may want to refer to this style guide as you make stylistic decisions relevant to your manuscript.
You don’t have to stick religiously to what the style guide says. For example, you may use an American style guide as a general guideline but tweak the rules to adapt to British English, or vice versa.
How Do You Choose Your Style Guide?
To decide which style guide to use, ask yourself these questions.
1. Are you familiar with the style?
Each country has general style guides that are more commonly used. For example, popular style guides in the United States include the Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style, also known as “Strunk and White” after its authors. In the United Kingdom, New Hart’s Rules and Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage are two of the most well-known style guides. Canadian authors often refer to The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing. In Australia, the Commonwealth Government Printing Office and Snooks & Co’s Style Manual: For Authors, Editors and Printers is the one used most often.
Choosing a style guide that you’re completely unfamiliar with will slow down your writing and may prove to be frustrating. Instead, consider a style guide suited to the variety of English you’re going to use. You’ll find that many of the suggestions in the guide will come naturally to you already.
Choosing an unfamiliar #styleguide will slow down your writing. Choose one suited to the variety of English you’re using #indieauthor #iartg
2. Who is your audience?
Different industries or professions use different style guides too. Book authors normally use the more general style guides. Journalists in the United States may use the Associated Press Stylebook, also called AP Style. When I was a journalist in Canada, we followed the Canadian Press Stylebook, aka CP Style. That's likely still the case today. In the UK, they’ll write according to the style guides published by the BBC, The Economist, The Guardian or The Times. Other examples of industry-specific style guides include:
- MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers for academic writing in the United States.
- The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation for legal documents in the United States, the Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities for legal documents in the United Kingdom and the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation / Manuel canadien de la référence juridique–also called the McGill Guide–for legal documents in Canada.
- American Psychological Association Style Guide, or APA Style, and the American Sociological Association Style Guide or ASA Style for the behavioural and social sciences in the United States.
- American Medical Association Manual of Style, or AMA Style, for medical writing in the United States.
- ACS Style Guide: A Manual for Authors and Editors and The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information for scientific writing in the United States.
You don’t have to stick to only one style guide. If you write for a specific industry, you can use a style guide for that industry in conjunction with a more general style guide.
Remember that a style guide is exactly what it says it is: a guide rather than hard and fast rules. Still, it will help you with those niggling little things. You'll know how to punctuate your lists, how to write about money, when to capitalize, and more. Yes, your writing is a matter of style.
Your #writing is a matter of style. #Styleguide that is
Very helpful information
Thank you, Mary! Good luck with your writing.
How thoroughly informative, and inspiring. I’m so grateful that Ingramspark referred me to your website. I’ve started writing my second book and unlike my first, this one is fiction. I’m new to this writing genre and am now grasping my style. Thank you.
Patricia Von Johnson