I Like Your Style! A Quick Look at the Major Style Guides


I Like Your Style! A Quick Look at the Major Style Guides

Style guides promote consistency for clear and accurate communication. A consistent approach to style shows professionalism and builds trust with the reader.

Consistency also helps readers understand what is being communicated without having to question whether inconsistencies were intentional or a case of sloppiness or inattention. If two instances of the same term are styled differently, the reader might wonder if she’s being presented with two different meanings or if she’s missing something.

Fiction authors don’t want these questions to break the spell of the reading experience, as can also happen with typos or poor construction. 

In academics, writing represents a kind of conversation that promotes knowledge and the spread of ideas. Standard citations, for example, help this conversation by creating a common language that can be easily understood and used.

But styles are almost always better thought of as “guidelines” rather than “rules,” and writers might break style for any number of reasons, not least to help the reader when a slavish adherence to style might do the reader a disservice.

The following are major styles you may encounter (there are, of course, many more, and links to free online style guides appear at the end of the post):

  • AP
  • Chicago
  • Turabian
  • MLA
  • APA
  • AMA
  • CSE


The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law

Current edition: printed yearly and updated regularly online

Audience: newspapers, magazines, and public relations offices 

Website: www.apstylebook.com

The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative with teams in over 100 countries. AP style helps ensure consistency across worldwide distribution. Much of AP style is based on the premiums of space, so, for example, AP does not use the Oxford comma (except for clarity) or an s after the apostrophe when forming the possessive of singular nouns ending in s.

The 2017 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law contains new entries on fact checks and fake news, guidance on the use of cyberattack, a new entry on gender, a new entry on addictions, and revised drug-related entries.

You may buy a print copy (updated yearly) or subscribe to the AP Stylebook Online.

The AP Stylebook Online gives you choices for

  • One or multiple users
  • Subscription to Webster’s New World College Dictionary
  • Twenty percent savings when signing up for automatic renewal


The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers

Current edition: seventeenth (2017)

Audience: writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers

Website: www.chicagomanualofstyle.org

For more than 100 years,  the Chicago Manual has been the go-to reference for style, usage, and grammar.

While AP style meets the needs of a daily, 24-hour news cycle, the Chicago Manual addresses the longer planning cycles of the publishing industry. Editions may therefore be separated by six years or more.

Among the changes in the seventeenth edition are the lowercasing of internet and the dropping of the hyphen from email.

The manual is divided into three main parts:

  • Part I: The Publishing Process
  • Part II: Style and Usage (including a chapter on grammar by Bryan A. Garner)
  • Part III: Source Citations and Indexes


A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students & Researchers (Kate L. Turabian)

Current edition: ninth (2018)

Audience: students and researchers

Website: www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/turabian

Since Kate L. Turabian assembled guidelines for students at the University of Chicago in 1937, Turabian style has been a reference standard.

The manual’s ninth edition covers the research and writing process, from planning to production; all aspects of source citation, including both notes-bibliography style and author-date style; and style matters, offering guidance on spelling, punctuation, and numbers.

The notes-bibliography style is frequently used in the humanities and social sciences, while the notes-bibliography style is more often used in the natural and physical sciences.

The eighth edition diverged in small ways from the Chicago Manual, but the ninth edition aligns completely with the Chicago Manual.

Turabian/Chicago style paper-formatting tip sheets can be found here.


Modern Language Association (MLA)

Current edition: eighth (2016)

Audience: scholars, journal publishers, and academic and commercial presses

Website: www.mla.org/MLA-Style

As expressed in the preface by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, the purpose of this edition is to offer a “truly flexible documentation practice that will continue to serve writers well in a changing environment.”

The handbook is divided into two main parts. The first part addresses the principles of MLA style and covers the reasons for documenting sources, plagiarism, and the Think, Select, Organize model.

The second part addresses the details of MLA style, including treatments for names, titles, quotations, numbers, works cited, and in-text citations.


Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA)

Current edition: sixth (2009)

Audience: scholars and others writing in the the social and behavioral sciences

Website: www.apastyle.org

Maintaining styles for scientific communications, the Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association is favored by writers, editors, students, and educators in the social and behavioral sciences.

The contents include the following:

  • Writing for the Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • Manuscript Structure and Content
  • Writing Clearly and Concisely
  • The Mechanics of Style
  • Displaying Results
  • Crediting Sources
  • Reference Examples
  • The Publication Process

APA Style employs the author-date system for citations.


AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors

Current edition: tenth (2007)

Audience: authors, researchers, institutions, medical editors, publishers, and members of the news media who cover scientific research

Website: http://www.amamanualofstyle.com/

The AMA Manual of Style is geared at the medical and scientific publishing community: authors, researchers, institutions, medical editors, publishers, and members of the news media who cover scientific research.

The tenth edition features expanded electronic guidelines, increased attention on ethical and legal issues, and guidelines on authorship, conflicts of interest, scientific misconduct, intellectual property, and individuals’ rights in scientific research and publication. The manual examines research ethics and editorial independence and features new material on indexing and searching as well as medical nomenclature.

The manual is also available online.


Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers

Current edition: eighth (2014)

Audience: authors, editors, publishers, students, and translators in science and related fields

Website: www.councilscienceeditors.org/publications/scientific-style-and-format/

Scientific Style and Format is aimed at authors, editors, publishers, students, and translators in science and related fields (physics, chemistry, genetics, biological sciences, and astronomy). The eighth edition was updated for electronic and online environments and for changes in international standards and policies.

The manual contains style instructions for numbers, units, mathematical expressions, and statistics; information on managing tables, figures, and indexes; guidance on plagiarism and other aspects of academic integrity; and information on copyright law and Creative Commons.

With coverage ranging from style conventions to publishing procedures to citation practices, Scientific Style and Format offers clear guidance on both print and electronic publications.

Scientific Style and Format is available in print and online. You can visit scientificstyleandformat.org for a free trial.

Free Online Style Guides

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