There’s A Style Guide for That

By Maeve Maddox

Authors who specialize in one field of knowledge are sometimes unaware of style guides used in other areas.

In writing for DWT, I mostly rely on these three style guides:

The Chicago Manual of Style
The AP Stylebook
Penguin Writer’s Manual

Chicago is directed at a broad audience that includes both scholars and entrepreneurs. AP is targeted specifically to journalists. CMOS and AP recommendations don’t often differ, but when they do, the differences sometimes reflect an interesting divide between scholarly and popular usage.

I trust the Penguin reference guides to point me to differences between American and British usage.

When wearing my academic hat, I regard the MLA Handbook (published by the Modern Language Association) as my style bible.

These are my preferred guides because I write chiefly about standard usage and literature. Not all disciplines process and present information in exactly the same way. Authors who write about other subjects–sociology, science, and mathematics, for example–look to other guides. Here’s a sampling of instructions in authors’ guidelines for just four specialized journals, each recommending different guides:

Journal of Aging and Physical Activity
Manuscripts that do not conform to APA guidelines…may be rejected without review.

Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation
References must conform to the format printed in the journal and must include titles. The article should conform to the usual ACS format.

Sociological Theory
In general, please refer to the ASA Style Guide (4th edition) for style and formatting guidelines. Manuscripts that do not conform to the desired format will be returned to the author for rectification.

Amyloid: Journal of Protein Folding Disorders
[This journal] conforms to the CSE style guidelines, using the NLM style for references.

What the initials mean:

APA: Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association and is generally used for writing about research in psychology, education, and social sciences.

ACS: The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information
Published by the American Chemical Society, ACS style is followed by writers and reviewers of scientific manuscripts.

ASA: American Sociological Association Style Guide
Similar to APA, ASA is also used by writers about sociology and related fields.

CSE: Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers
Developed by the Council of Science Editors (CSE), this guide is used by writers in all areas of the sciences.

NLM: Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers
This guide is published by the National Library of Medicine to provide instructions and examples for formatting citations of published and unpublished material, both printed and digital.

Other guides for other areas of specialization also exist. Of the guides mentioned here, MLA and APA are probably the best known because high school students and college undergraduates are most likely to be required to use one of them for their research papers. I’ll discuss the differences between them in another post.

Related: 5 Online Style Guides

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4 Responses to “There’s A Style Guide for That”

  • Curtis

    I knew that any publishing house was likely to have their own in-house style guide, but I was unaware of all the specialization.

    Along with Strunk & White and “Woe Is I” by Patricia T. O’Connor, my fallback is Garbl’s, because it’s free and on the web. Find it here:
    http://garbl.home.comcast.net/~garbl/stylemanual/#.VAH590j2JuA

    While looking for a free one, I also found those produced by National Geographic and the U.S. Government Printing Office. I think hard copies of either would likely crush my pickup truck.

  • Preciseedit

    Unless otherwise directed by a client, I generally follow the APA guide, except for their vague advice about one of the most important issue: paragraphing. Of course, if a client is submitting a dissertation to a university or submitting an article to a specific trade publication, I get and follow the guide for that organization.

  • Cynthia

    I have three of the first four you mentioned. I have not used the Penguin Writer’s Manual. Along with other resources, they are always within reach when I write or edit.

  • Andy Knoedler

    I work in one of the publishing branches of a very large company and AP has been elevated to the pedestal of highest authority. CMOS was demoted a few years back. We unofficially also use Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage, but we keep it out of sight as it isn’t sanctioned by the company.

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