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Style guides generally give guidance on language usage. Some style guides consider or focus on elements of graphic design, such as typography and white space. Website style guides often focus on visual or technical aspects.
"Style" in this context therefore does not refer to the writer's voice.
Traditionally, a style guide (often called a style manual or stylebook) dictates what form of language should be used. These style guides are principally used by academia and publishers.
In such works, style can have two meanings:
- Publication conventions for markup style, such as whether book and movie titles should be written in italics; expression of dates and numbers; how references should be cited.
- Literary considerations of prose style, such as best usage, common errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling; and suggestions for precision, fairness and the most forceful expression of ideas.
Some modern style guides are designed for use by the general public. These tend to focus on language over presentation.
Style guides don’t directly address writers’ individual style, or “voice,” although writers sometimes say style guides are too restrictive.
Like language itself, many style guides change with the times, to varying degrees. For example, the Associated Press stylebook is updated every year.
Academia and publishing
Style guides used by publishers set out rules for language use, such as for spelling, italics and punctuation. A major purpose of these style guides is consistency. They are rulebooks for writers to ensure language is used consistently. Authors are often asked or required to use a style guide in preparing their work for publication. Copy editors are charged with enforcing the style.
Style guides used by universities are particularly rigorous in their preferred style for citing sources. Their use is required of scholars submitting research articles to academic journals.
Other style guides have as their audience the general public. Some of these adopt a similar approach to style guides for publishing houses and newspapers.
Others, such as Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd edition) report how language is used in practice in a given area, outline how phrases, punctuation and grammar are actually used. Since they are for the general public, they cannot require one form of a word or phrase to be preferred over another, though they may make recommendations, and sometimes strong recommendations at that. These guides can be used by anyone interested in writing in a standard form of a language.
To give an idea of how this approach, it is useful to consider what Robert Burchfield and observers have stated about Fowler's. On one hand, Burchfield notes: 'Linguistic correctness is perhaps the dominant theme of this book'. But he also writes: 'I believe that "stark preachments" belong to an earlier age of comment on English usage'. Indeed, John Updike, writing in The New Yorker commented: 'To Burchfield, the English language is a battlefield upon which he functions as a non-combatant observer'.
Some organizations other than those above also produce style guides, either for internal or external use. For example, some communications or public relations departments of business and nonprofit organizations have guides for their publications, such as newsletters, news releases and Web sites. Also, organizations that advocate for minorities may set out what they believe to be more fair and correct language treatment.
Examples of style guides
Several basic style guides for technical and scientific communication have been defined by international standards organizations. These are often used as elements of and refined in more specialized style guides that are specific to a subject, region or organization. Some examples are:
Two of the most widely used style guides in the United States are The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press stylebook. Most American newspapers base their style on that of The Associated Press, but also have their own style guides for local terms and individual preferences. The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, is considered a classic. Bill Walsh, in "Lapsing into a Comma" and at his Web site, The Slot, addresses contemporary conundrums such as nonstandard orthography in names, as in "Yahoo!" for the Internet portal.
Books and general interest
- ACS Style Guide: style for scientific papers published in journals of the American Chemical Society
- American Medical Association Manual of Style: style for medical papers published in journals of the American Medical Association
- APA style: academic style for the social sciences by the American Psychological Association
- American Sociological Association Style Guide: academic style for the social sciences by the American Sociological Association
- Scientific Style and Format: The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers: style for scientific papers published by the Council of Science Editors, a group formerly known as the Council of Biology Editors
- The Lancet: Formatting guidelines for electronic submission of revised manuscripts Formatting requirements for The Lancet; academic style for research and other articles for submission.
- MHRA Style Guide: academic style for the arts and humanities published by the Modern Humanities Research Association; available for free download (see article); based in the United Kingdom
- MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers: academic style for the arts and humanities by the Modern Language Association of America
- The Style Manual for Political Science: academic style used by many American political science journals, published by the American Political Science Association.
- "Turabian": popular name for a widely used academic style guide based on the Chicago Manual
- Words into Type: publishing conventions, less scholarly, more accessible than the Chicago Manual
- Nature - Formatting Guide (Word-file)
- Advances in Physics - Style Guide (Adobe pdf)
Computer industry (software and hardware)
- Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry; Sun Technical Publications/Prentice Hall; ISBN 0-131-42899-3 (2nd edition, 2003). Provides comprehensive guidelines for documenting computer products, from writing about web sites to legal guidelines, from writing for an international audience, to developing a documentation department.
- Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications; Microsoft Press; ISBN 0-735-61746-5 (3rd Bk&CD edition, 2003). Provides a style standard for technical documentation, including: use of terminology; conventions, procedure, and design treatments; and punctuation and grammar usage.
Style guides for American English
Style guide for Australian English
Style guides for British English
Style guide for Canadian English
Style guides for international organizations
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