Style guide

Style guides generally give guidance on language use. Some style guides consider or focus on elements of graphic design, such as typography and white space. Web site style guides often focus on visual or technical aspects.



Traditionally, a style guide (often called a style manual or stylebook) dictates what form of language should be used. These style guides are principally used by academia and publishers.

In such works, style can have two meanings:

  • Publication conventions for markup style, such as whether book and movie titles should be written in italics; expression of dates and numbers; how references should be cited.
  • Literary considerations of prose style, such as best usage, common errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling; and suggestions for precision, fairness and the most forceful expression of ideas.

Some modern style guides are designed for use by the general public. These tend to focus on language over presentation.

Style guides don’t directly address writers’ individual style, or “voice,” although writers sometimes say style guides are too restrictive.

Like language itself, many style guides change with the times, to varying degrees. For example, the Associated Press stylebook is updated every year.

Academia and publishing

Style guides used by publishers set out rules for language use, such as for spelling, italics and punctuation. A major purpose of these style guides is consistency. They are rulebooks for writers to ensure language is used consistently. Authors are often asked or required to use a style guide in preparing their work for publication. Copy editors are charged with enforcing the style.

Style guides used by universities are particularly rigorous in their preferred style for citing sources. Their use is required of scholars submitting research articles to academic journals.

General interest

Other style guides have as their audience the general public. Some of these adopt a similar approach to style guides for publishing houses and newspapers.

Others, such as Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd edition) report how language is used in practice in a given area, outline how phrases, punctuation and grammar are actually used. Since they are for the general public, they cannot require one form of a word or phrase to be preferred over another, though they may make recommendations, and sometimes strong recommendations at that. These guides can be used by anyone interested in writing in a standard form of a language.

To give an idea of how this approach, it is useful to consider what Burchfield and observers have stated about Fowler's. On one hand, Burchfield notes: 'Linguistic correctness is perhaps the dominant theme of this book'. But he also writes: 'I believe that "stark preachments" belong to an earlier age of comment on English usage'. Indeed, John Updike, writing in The New Yorker commented: 'To Burchfield, the English language is a battlefield upon which he functions as a non-combatant observer'.

Specialized guides

Some organizations other than those above also produce style guides, either for internal or external use. For example, some communications or public relations departments of business and nonprofit organizations have guides for their publications, such as newsletters, news releases and Web sites. Also, organizations that advocate for minorities may set out what they believe to be more fair and correct language treatment.

Examples of style guides

International standards

Several basic style guides for technical and scientific communication have been defined by international standards organizations. These are often used as elements of and refined in more specialized style guides that are specific to a subject, region or organization. Some examples are:

  • ISO 18 — Contents lists of periodicals
  • ISO 214 — Abstracts for publication and documentation
  • ISO 215 — Presentation of contributions to periodicals and other serials
  • ISO 690 — Bibliographic references — Content, form and structure
  • ISO 832 — Bibliographic references — Abbreviations of typical words
  • ISO 999 — Index of a publication
  • ISO 2145 — Numbering of divisions and subdivisions in written documents

United Kingdom



United States

Two of the most widely used style guides in the United States are The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press stylebook. Most American newspapers base their style on that of The Associated Press, but also have their own style guides for local terms and individual preferences. The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, is considered a classic. Bill Walsh, in "Lapsing into a Comma" and at his Web site, The Slot (, addresses contemporary conundrums such as nonstandard orthography in names, as in "Yahoo!" for the Internet portal.


Books and general interest

Web sites

  • Janice Walker and Todd Taylor The Columbia Guide to Online Style; Columbia University Press ISBN 0231107897 (paperback, 1998) and ISBN 0231107889 (hardback, 1998)



Computer Industry (Software and Hardware)

  • Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry; Sun Technical Publications/Prentice Hall; ISBN 0-131-42899-3 (2nd edition, 2003). Provides comprehensive guidelines for documenting computer products, from writing about web sites to legal guidelines, from writing for an international audience, to developing a documentation department. Available for purchase on Amazon (
  • Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications; Microsoft Press; ISBN 0-735-61746-5 (3rd Bk&CD edition, 2003). Provides a style standard for technical documentation, including: use of terminology; conventions, procedure, and design treatments; and punctuation and grammar usage. Available for purchase on Amazon (

For a summary and comparison of academic style guides, see Style Manuals and Writing Guides ( by the UCLA University Library.

See also

External links

Style guides for American English:

Style guide for Australian English:

Style guides for British English:

Style guide for Canadian English:

Style guides for international organizations


  • Design style guide tips (, by Ron Reason, United States
  • Stylebook advice ( Tips on creating, revising and using style guides; report from a conference session by the American Copy Editors Society
  • Style Matters: What the AP Isn't Telling You (, research on style guides by Beth Hughes, United States
  • Web style guide (, by Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton, United States

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