I know. It feels like there are eight hundred style guides. It can get pretty confusing, especially since it feels like they all go by acronyms nobody really knows what they stand for. Some of them use the serial comma, aka Edee’s Beloved Oxford Comma, and some do not. They differ on when and how to write out numbers. Footnotes vs. end notes vs. bibliography vs. index, oh my! GAHHH!!!
Breathe! Let me break this down for you.
Style Guides: Who Uses What
Here’s a quick look at the most commonly used style guides:
|Name||Stands for:||Who uses it?||Oxford Comma?|
|AP||Associated Press||journalists; some corporations||Only when omitting a comma could "lead to confusion or misinterpretation."|
|CMOS||Chicago Manual of Style||book publishers, literary journals; authors of journals with reference sections||YES!|
|MLA||Modern Language Association||authors of academic papers; authors of research papers||YES!|
|APA||American Psychological Association||APA style is mostly used in social sciences, however I was required to use it in grad school for my M.Ed.||YES!|
Obviously, these aren’t the only four available. There are also the AMA (American Medical Association), ACS (American Chemical Society), Bluebook (law), CSE (Council of Science Editors), and more. You can read about all the others in this Wikipedia article.
House Style Guides
For editors and proofreaders one of the greatest gifts is a house style guide created by the author or publisher. It will go into more detail about things like character name spelling, American vs British spellings, or preference for spelling out numbers. Corporations will likely have in-house guides for branding purposes, and to make sure their message is delivered in a consistent way across all media, whether it be for customers or for their own employees.
Yeah, I know. Different beast. There is so much content on the web these days. Breathe! Most places tend to use the same guides online as they do in real life. If you aren’t sure, a good default is CMOS, especially if it isn’t journalistic or scientific. When proofreading, editing, or writing for a blog, ask the company or client for whom you are working. If they don’t know, which is always a possibility, ask yourself what kind of writing this is and go from there.
Well, you had to know this stuff isn’t free, right? It would be great, sure, but there are actual people behind these guides, and those people deserve to be paid. The guides are usually updated every year or two, and they have to cover production cost of the print editions, and running a website like that isn’t cheap. This is where knowing narrowing your focus can come in handy. While some of these are free, these guides can get expensive. Pick a focus, purchase a subscription to the latest edition, or order one from your favorite bookstore.
Yay! Now I have a quick cheat sheet, and so do you!