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What is a style guide? And do you need one?

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Do not confuse a style guide with a style sheet! These are two different proofreading tools. For example, a style guide can help you create a style sheet, but not vice versa. For more information on style sheets, check out this blog post.


There are a lot of rules in the publishing industry; rules regarding layout, formatting, punctuation, abbreviations, how to cite references, and many more. Whilst you don't have to abide by all rules, it is good practice to know the industry standards so you know what to look out for if you want to be consistent with your writing style.


There are different styles, and one's preference often depends on the area one lives in, the employer one works for or the expected readership of one's written work. I will lay out all you need to know from the most popular reference styles I have come across – with their contents list, some examples, who they are generally used by, and where to find them.


All these books have also been gathered on the Ready2Publish online bookstore for your convenience.


These are photos of the Style Guides I own and use to proofread and proofedit customer's copy.


Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)

The Chicago Manual of Style is a very popular American style guide. If you are writing for the American public, this is the guide I recommend. Its 1100+ pages cover everything from the basics of publishing to the "dot the i's" rules. I have yet to come across a query that CMOS could not answer.


It features three parts:

The Publishing Process

  1. Books and Journals

  2. Manuscript Preparation, Manuscript Editing, and Proofreading

  3. Illustrations and Tables

  4. Rights, Permissions, and Copyright Administration

Style and Usage

Source Citations and Indexes

Example:

6.24 Commas with introductory dependent clauses. When a dependent clause precedes the main, independent clause, it should be followed by a comma. A dependent clause is generally introduced by a subordinating conjunction such as if, because, or when (see 5.200, 5.201). If you accept our conditions, we shall agree to the proposal. Whether you agree with her or not, she has a point.

Get one here. (Please note, the Chicago Manual of Style also offers an online subscription.)


New Hart's Rules (Oxford Style Guide)

The New Hart's Rules book is only small, but don't let that fool you. It is part of the Oxford Style Guide (there are more books in the series) and, therefore, a preferred guide when you are writing for the British population or countries that prefer British English. This almost pocket-sized book features 400+ pages and covers basically everything. It is my go-to book for those queries that need a mental nudge. Us editorial folk also get confused from time to time!


Contents of New Hart's Rules:

  1. The Parts of a Book

  2. Preparing Copy

  3. Spelling and Hyphenation

  4. Punctuation

  5. Capitalization

  6. Names

  7. Italic, Roman, and Other Type Treatments

  8. Work Titles in Text

  9. Quotations and Direct Speech

  10. Abbreviations and Symbols

  11. Numbers and Dates

  12. Languages

  13. Law and Legal References

  14. Science, Mathematics, and Computing

  15. Lists and Tables

  16. Illustrations and Artwork

  17. Notes and References

  18. Bibliography

  19. Indexing

  20. Copyright and Other Publishing Responsibilities

  21. US and British English


Example:

4.3.6 Figures In general text most styles use commas to separate large numbers into units of three, starting from the right: £2,200 2,016,523,354 but it will depend on the nature of the material; for example technical texts use a thin or non-breaking space as a thousands separator; for more about numbers see Chapter 11 and 14.1.3.

Get one here.


Butcher's Copy-editing (Cambridge Style Guide)

The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders, AKA Butcher's Copy-editing is the editing bible for most professionals in the publishing industry. It covers everything you need to know to get a book ready for publication. It features 500+ pages that cover subjects like editing, typesetting, and software one can use for on-screen editing. Whilst this is a Cambridge handbook (based on US standards), this editorial bible is useful for everyone that is working in the publishing industry and for those interested in self-publishing that want to learn more about the book publishing process.


Contents of Butcher's Copy-editing:

Chapters

  1. Introduction (to copy-editing)

  2. Preliminary Copy-Editing, Design and Specimen Pages

  3. Preparing the Text for the Typesetter

  4. Illustrations

  5. Proofs

  6. House Style

  7. Preliminary Pages

  8. Indexes

  9. Other Parts of a Book

  10. Bibliographical References

  11. Literary Material

  12. Multi-Author and Multi-Volume Works

  13. Science and Mathematics Books

  14. Other Special Subjects

  15. Reprints and New Editions

  16. On-Screen Editing by Anne Waddingham

Appendixes

Example:

14.1.1 Greek typefaces There are upright, sloping and sans serif typefaces, with associated bold fonts; a sloping font is normally used for mathematics. Classical texts may be set in either upright or sloping Greek. Emphasized words in Greek are not 'italicized' but letterspaced, underlined or set in bold.

Get one here.


So, now that you've seen the basics of style guides and what they offer a writer, proofreader, or editor which one will you use? Which style guide suits your needs? Let me know in the comments whether it was CMOS, Hart's, or Butcher's.


And if you have any questions after reading this blog, feel free to email me or leave a comment.


Please note that there are more style guides available, which are suitable for texts covering certain professions – think medical, computer science, and business.



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