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How Do I Choose the Best Publishing Style Manual?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated May 23, 2024
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Generally, the style manual you choose will depend on the area for which you’re writing. For example, if you’re a college or university student, your style guide most likely will depend on your major or the class requiring academic writing. On the other hand, if you’re a professional, the manual will depend on your field or work. In addition to a certain style guide, a writer might find he has to follow extra style rules set forth by his employer. Sometimes, writers are able to choose their own manuals.

Often, students find themselves purchasing several different guides during their college years, since most degrees require courses in a variety of subjects. Humanities courses, especially those dealing with language and fiction literature, usually require an MLA writing style manual such as The MLA Handbook or the MLA Style Manual. Courses that require scientific writing, such as those dealing with behavioral and social issues, tend to prefer the APA style outlined in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. On the other hand, those dealing with health sciences and requiring medical writing might prefer the AMA style conventions outlined in the AMA Manual of Style by the American Medical Association. Some journalism majors might find their professors prefer the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook by the Associated Press.

Most professionals, including writers and editors, must adhere to the conventions of the style manual their particular profession prefers. Sometimes, this means using the same guides the professionals used in school. Often, this is the case with journalists writing for newspapers or providing nonfiction articles for magazines. Generally, any other kind of professional writer or professional who prepared documents will follow the convention of his profession’s preferred style manual. For example, people who prepare government documents or engage in business writing often follow the style rules set forth by the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual.

Occasionally, writers and editors must follow not only their professions’ preferred style manual, but also their employers’ preferred style rules. Some companies, especially those in the business of regularly providing print or web content, will choose a style guide that best suits them. Then, they will instruct their writers and editors on certain style rules involving usage, grammar, and punctuation. These rules might not be included in their preferred style guide, but they might be rules the companies want to follow. When this is the case, writers and editors must work to provide copy that follows the style rules set forth by both the chosen manual and the company.

Some people won’t have teachers, professions, or employers dictating which style manual they should use. If this is your situation, try choosing a manual that provides conventions that are simple for you to employ and for your audience to understand. For your own convenience, you might also consider a supplemental version of a lengthier manual. By doing this, you can access the style conventions you need and avoid the cost of those extras you don’t need.

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