Reality Blog: Check Your Style — A Brief Look at 5 Writing Style Manuals

Order.

I broke my own rule this week. It was the one about not looking at social media until the end of my workday. I hopped on Facebook for a quick minute when I got up for my second cup of coffee and caught a post by my friend, Steve Maurer, B2B Writing Success’s Reality Blogger. In it, he mentioned writing style guides or manuals. It piqued my curiosity…

My prior writing training was business writing and later, research writing. Business training taught me that the serial comma was optional, there were two spaces after a sentence, and numbers up to nine (or was it ten?) were written out. Whatever style it was, I learned it and that was that.

Research writing was mostly a matter of following A Writer’s Reference (3rd edition) by Diana Hacker, copyright 1995. I can’t tell whether or not it follows a particular style overall, but it has a section for MLA documentation and one for alternative styles of documentation.

I can’t tell you which style manual my writing follows… because I honestly don’t have a clue. I’ve ignored job postings asking for writers familiar with a certain style because I didn’t think I was.

If you’ve studied writing for a while, you may be rolling your eyes at me, but I had no clue that the style manual someone followed was such a big deal. Time for me to do some research…

Before I tell you what I discovered, let me explain what a style guide is, in case you’re not familiar. Basically, a style guide defines how a company or publication handles common issues in grammar, spelling, capitalization, trademarks, and punctuation.

I started my research with Wikipedia, where if I counted correctly, 58 different style guides are listed for the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia. I was a bit worried at first glance that I’d be completely boggled by the choices, but most of them are specific to industries or companies. Whew!

Common Style Guides

As I mentioned above, I started with Wikipedia. I do know Wiki isn’t the end-all-be-all when it comes to research, but it’s usually a good place to begin. The List of Style Guides entry breaks down different styles by those specific to certain countries. It lists guides for Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, in addition to the U.S. Those listed are further organized by the field to which they apply.

And some of those listed are for specific companies like IBM and Apple, or for organizations such as the American Medical Association and American Chemical Society.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the more widely-used manuals.

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Tracy Clement Wilson

Tracy's a freelance B2B copywriter, web writer, blogger, science geek, tree hugger, and health food fanatic. When she's not busy with her family, she attempts organic gardening and hangs out with her chickens (the ladies who give her eggs), bearded dragon (her favorite...read "only"...lizard), and dogs (her office mates).

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