Learn which style guide is the best for your project.
Chicago Manual of Style
The Chicago Manual of Style is the typical standard used in publishing by writers, editors, and publishing professionals. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, this is your bible, unless your publisher has advised you otherwise. The printed guide can look daunting, but the online version makes sifting through instructions on grammar, punctuation, and spelling easy. Authors can also find a comprehensive guide that contains publishing and editing instructions. Familiarize yourself with the abundance of useful tools, like the hyphenation table and the online Q&A.
Application: Fiction and non-fiction books
Associated Press (AP) Style
The Associated Press Stylebook is the leading standard on writing for newspapers and other forms of media. Because traditionally news articles needed to fit within a certain space on a printed page, AP Style is all about simplicity and cutting the fat. This is the style that turns a cold shoulder to the oxford comma and has strict rules on using numerals and abbreviations to condense content. More recently, AP editors have grown the sections on inclusive language, biases, and sensitivity writing, and it’s worth a look whether you’re a fiction author, a journalist, or really anyone who lives in this society and needs a refresher on inclusive language.
Application: Media, marketing firms, and corporations
American Psychological Association (APA) Style
APA Style is the standard for writers of scholarly articles and books. This guide is all about being clear and concise in a way that best conveys a given topic or thesis. The style was originally developed for scientific learning, but it has since spread to the behavioral sciences and humanities. Writers asked to contribute to scholarly journals, scholarly websites, or research and white papers will need to be familiar with this style. The guide is also a great reference for when a writer is publishing with a niche publisher for non-fiction books, specifically when citing sources.
Application: Scholarly articles, scholarly books, non-fiction books, white papers
Modern Language Association (MLA) Style
Like APA Style, The MLA Handbook is a widely used guide in the educational sphere; however, its focus is more on the student side for writing research papers. The handbook provides guidance on citations and creating a Works Cited page, as well as instructions for laying out papers and avoiding plagiarism.
Application: Research papers, humanities, and citation guidance
Using a Style Guide Hierarchy
Sometimes, picking a style guide isn’t quite as black and white as it should be. Authors may prefer to use a particular style but ignore certain elements of that style. For example, you decide to adopt Chicago Style for your novel, but you prefer AP Style’s rules on using numerals for numbers 10 and higher. Consistency is key, so whatever rules you choose to break, stick to them throughout your entire project.
Occasionally, a publisher or organization may adopt a style hierarchy. For example, a publisher has their authors follow Chicago Style, but they may also have their own style guide and/or choose to adopt author preferences. Here’s an example of a typical hierarchy:
- Author Style Sheet and Preferences
- Publisher/Company Style Guide
- Local Usage (e.g., if the characters or your audiences use coke vs. soda)
- Chicago Manual of Style
Oh yeah, what about dictionaries?
Style guides each have their own preferred dictionary:
- Chicago Style: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
- AP Style: Webster’s New World College Dictionary
- APA Style: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
- MLA Style: Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
Again, consistency is key. If you’re googling words instead of using a printed dictionary, pay attention to which words are preferred for American English vs. British English.