Andrea Altenburg at Copyediting.com writes: “A style guide creates consistency for all writing, such as spelling and language.The benefit of adopting a style guide is that it puts guidelines in place to ensure consistency across all documents that go out the door.“
I “grew up” with the Associated Press Stylebook because I started my career in newspapers, and that’s what newspapers usually use. According to Wikipedia, “The AP Stylebook is considered a newspaper industry standard and is also used by broadcasters, magazines and public relations firms. It includes an A-to-Z listing of guides to capitalization, abbreviation, spelling, numerals and usage.” This style guide also includes sections that reporters and editors might need: business guidelines, sports guidelines and style, photo caption rules, a chart of editing marks, and a briefing on media law.
Some publications use The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, which unlike AP uses double S’s for possessives and requires surnames of subjects be prefixed with a title (such as Dr., Mr., Ms., or Mrs.), among other differences. The New York Times also uses “up style” for its headlines (nearly every word is uppercase) instead of AP’s sentence style (only proper nouns are uppercase).
But the Chicago Manual of Style (often shortened to CMOS by editors) is the one most often used in non-journalistic writing environments. Most book publishers I’ve worked with use this style guide.
Some of the differences between AP and Chicago are:
- Numbers: AP calls for whole numbers up to nine to be spelled out, while Chicago calls for whole numbers up to and including one hundred to be spelled out.
- Ellipses: AP—three periods together, with a space before and after; Chicago—three spaced periods, with a space before and after.
- Em dashes (long dashes): AP—space before and after the em dash. Chicago—no space before or after.
- The serial comma (some call this the Oxford or Harvard comma): AP—no; Chicago—yes.
A blogger who writes about the differences between AP and Chicago says: “AP and Chicago have very clear yet conflicting intentions, often producing diametrically opposed styles. If I think of AP as governing “fast” content (newspapers, online articles) and Chicago as governing “slow” content (books, some periodicals), then it helps to clarify how the reality of their media dictates style.” See the full piece for more.
Other popular guides are the AMA (American Medical Association) Manual of Style for medical writing and the MLA (Modern Language Association of America) Style Manual & Guide to Scholarly Publishing. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White; Garner’s Modern American Usage; and Fowler’s Modern English Usage are useful language references as well, but I haven’t found them used as the primary style guide at any publication I’ve worked for.
A newcomer to the list is the Yahoo! Style Guide, which has been used by many for online writing since its release in 2010.
Now, on some online groups (I’m thinking about some LinkedIn editing groups I belong to) there are debates about which style guide to use—which one is better; which one makes more sense. Some people even put down others who can’t see how incorrect their choice of a style guide is, and some rather esoteric choices have been proposed as the ultimate guides to maintaining the integrity of the English language.
To me, these are ridiculous points to make, and probably a waste of time. Editors are going to use whatever style the publisher they are working for wants them to use, and there will usually be some in-house style that they’ll have to follow as well. It’s not which style guide is better, Andrea points out, but which works best for a particular publication. And the overall goal is to provide consistency throughout.