Issues of Style

3rd shelf, left bookcase, writing resources

3rd shelf, left bookcase, writing resources (Photo credit: Yvesanemone)

Grammar and punctuation rules aren’t the only things to consider when writing or editing copy. Style issues also play a major role. Unfortunately, many business and organizations don’t take the time to determine what their editing style will be for their written materials. This can lead to inconsistencies in published works (both print and electronic) that can give readers an impression of unprofessionalism. When creating written materials consistency in style not only gives continuity to products, it shows an attention to detail and gives an overall professional look.

While most my clients adhere to one of the style guides listed below, they usually deviate from these written guides in one area or another. For example, some religious organizations I work with follow the Chicago Style Manual on most issues, but follow their own guidelines when it comes to capitalizations of certain terms and the use of numerals in text. This type of deviation is perfectly acceptable and expected.

You may also choose to create your own “style” for your written communications. Just remember, the key to maintaining an editorial style is consistency. Keep track of the rules that differ from your chosen style guide so that writers and editors know what they are.

Here are just a few of the styles guides available:

General Usage

The Chicago Manual of Style (aka: CMS or CMOS): According to, The Chicago Manual of Style is “one of the most widely used and respected style guides in the United States.” This manual is updated every year or so, marking changes in publishing and updating style to go along with new technology. Many editors consider reference as the “gold standard” of the technical edit. It covers everything from basic punctuation to citing online references. Check it out at the CMS website.

The New York Times Manual: This is another great reference tool for just about any writer/editor. Among other things, it covers guidelines to hyphenation, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling in an easy reference layout. It also covers topics such as how to express the equality of the sexes, how to reference ethnic groups in a correct manner, and how to navigate the ever-changing world of writing for and about electronic publication. You can take a peek at what this manual has to offer at

The Oxford Style Manual: Formerly known as Hart’s Rules, is one of the oldest style manuals around. It’s a timeless and thorough manual for writers and editors alike, especially those writing with scientific or mathematical text, or something dealing with foreign languages or legal work. Take a look at it at You can also see its predecessor Hart’s Rules, which is still a mainstay for copy editors worldwide.


Associate Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (aka: AP Stylebook): This is a guide used by journalists—newspapers, broadcasters, magazines, and public relations firms. Considered the industry standard, it is updated every year, making it a great up-to-date reference for press releases, online posts, and other media driven pieces. You can buy a hardcopy at any book distributer or access it online at the AP website.

Business Writing

The Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin (aka: Gregg or GRM): This book is widely used in business and professional circles although it is intended for anyone who writes, edits, or prepares material for distribution or publication. It has been recognized as the leading style manual for anyone seeking to master the on-the-job standards of current business writing. From formatting business letters to composing business reports and charts, Gregg Reference Manual has the answers most professionals are looking for. Check out some of its features at

Writing for the Humanities

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (aka: APA Style): This reference guide claims to be the manual of choice for writers, editors, students, and educators in the social and behavioral sciences. While it briefly touches on such things as grammar and punctuation, the focus of APA is to improve scientific writing. It covers everything from ethics of authorship (using proper citation) to how to reduce bias in language (choosing the right words). It also guides writers in choosing headings, tables, and figures to use in scientific communication. The APA website has more information.

Research and Education

MLA Formatting and Style Guide (aka: MLA): The MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. It specifies guidelines for formatting manuscripts and citing references. This particular book reflects the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (3rd edition) and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition).

A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian (aka: Turabian): This style guide is essentially the Chicago Style written specifically for students and researchers. As the title indicates, it is mainly used for college papers and dissertations. According the book’s preface, “this guidelines in this manual offer practical solutions to a lot of issues encountered by student writers.” Find out more at the Turabian website.

Technical Writing

Handbook of Technical Writing, 9th Edition by Gerald Alred, Charles Brusaw, and Walter Oliu: This book claims to be “the complete technical-writing reference for students and professionals alike.” In it’s nearly 400 entries it provides guidance for the most common types of professional documents and correspondence, including reports, proposals, manuals, memos, and white papers. It gives sample documents and visuals to show effective technical communication that reflect current practices for formatting documents and using email.

Get out there and start writing with “style.”


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