How to Select and Use a Style Guide
If you are reading this blog, you are probably a person who frequently has to write for your studies or career. If you are, you may know that different fields, workplaces and publishers have their own preferred styles of writing. These preferences are often collected into a style guide, which authors can refer to when writing. But what does a style guide usually cover, why is this useful, and how can you incorporate a style guide into your writing?
What Is a Style Guide?
You may be familiar with the APA Publication Manual or the Chicago Manual of Style. Both these style guides (written for American authors) include comprehensive instructions for the expression, presentation and referencing of documents, covering such areas as:
- Language use
- Use of and incorporate of quotations
- Document layout
- Heading use
In Australia, universities, public organisations, government and many private organisations use the Snooks and Co. Style Manual to inform the writing and editing of documents. At Capstone Editing, we have our own house style based on the Style Manual, with some modifications made as needed for academic editing and writing specifically.
Style guides are also used by publishing houses and academic journals, although the specifics of these styles may be known only fully to the in-house editors, with only the basics of the styles being made public through the instructions for authors.
Why Do I Need a Style Guide?
The purpose of a style guide is to help ensure consistency across texts in terms of expression, presentation and referencing, despite these texts having different authors and editors.
While not strictly necessary while you are studying, you may be required to follow a style guide in the future should the organisation you work for require it, or should you wish to have a journal article or book published. With this in mind, developing the skill of adhering to a style guide early on can benefit you in the long term—and can be appealing to some employers.
Following a style guide can also help take some of the guesswork out of writing longer documents, like theses or manuscripts. Having some rules to follow can make writing easier, and help you to maintain consistency with confidence in your document, knowing that you are using the best stylistic choice.
Which Style Guide Is Right for Me?
The best style guide for you depends on the field in which you are writing or working. If you are destined for the business world or for a career in government in Australia, you should start becoming familiar with the Style Manual.
If you see yourself publishing in any of the many fields for which the APA Manual of Style is the premier style guide (e.g., psychology or social work), then this is the guide for you. Just remember that it was written as a guide for authors publishing in American journals, so some modification will be needed (and is permitted by APA) for a thesis to be published in Australia, for example.
Anyone writing within the Sciences in Australia should look to BioText’s Australian Manual of Scientific Style as the authoritative guide for all matters stylistic.
If you remain in doubt about which style guide is right for you, ask your supervisor or a trusted colleague, comment on this article or send us a message on Facebook for advice.
How Do I Use a Style Guide?
Once you have selected your style guide, you should familiarise yourself with its content by reading it carefully. In an earlier article, we explained why you should be using a style sheet when you write, to help you to maintain consistency in your writing. The style sheet and style guide work together. As you are familiarising yourself with your chosen style guide, you can make some notes on your style sheet regarding style preferences or things to check for (such as how statistics are presented, or how quotations are punctuated).
You should then regularly refer to your style guide as you write. And don’t forget to read it a few more times in full over the following months and years; you will be surprised how much more you pick up on a subsequent reading after you have been using the style guide in your writing for a while!