It’s difficult to find a consensus on what makes good writing. This is because stylistic issues are a matter of preference rather than subject to strict rules. We do, however, have style guides, which are full of helpful advice.
But what are style guides exactly? All set guidelines for how to write a document, including issues related to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. But different style guides focus on different issues.
Here, then, are some of the major style guides you may encounter.
Academic Style Guides
Academic style guides are used by academic publishers and universities. As well as spelling and grammar, they tend to focus on issues such as:
How to structure an essay or research paper
Citing and referencing sources
How to use graphs, charts, and illustrations
Subject or field-specific vocabulary
How to write abbreviations, initialisms, and acronyms
The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style)
The Modern Language Association Handbook (MLA style)
Most universities use one of these or have an in-house style guide. If you are a student, then, you should check your school’s website to see if they favor any of the style guides listed above or if they have their own rules.
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Regional Style Guides
Regional guides focus on English dialects (e.g., British English or American English). These specify the standard spelling, punctuation and grammar rules for a specific type of English. Well-known examples from different parts of the English-speaking world include:
The Elements of Style by W. Strunk and E. B. White (American English)
A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H. W. Fowler (British English)
The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage by Pam Peters (Australian English)
These style guides are most useful when writing for an audience or client from a different part of the world. For example, if you have grown up using American English, you may need to check a British English style guide when writing for a UK-based audience or company.
Publication and Journalistic Style Guides
Publishers, broadcasters, and news organizations may have their own style manuals. The AP Stylebook, for example, is used by journalists and news organizations around the world. As well as the usual issues, these guides may also include editorial guidelines and other industry-specific information.
In-House Style Sheets
Some businesses have in-house style sheets. These are typically shorter documents that set out the preferred writing style for an organization, including company-specific requirements (e.g., brand voice). Larger organizations may even have a full style guide.
Generally, if you need to use an in-house style sheet or guide, your employer will tell you. Whichever style guide you are using, though, don’t forget to have your work proofread. As professional editors, we will always make corrections in line with your chosen guidelines.