It doesn’t matter if you write fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, poetry or periodical content (magazines, websites and/or newspapers). If you’re a writer, you will inevitably encounter what is known as a style guide. And understanding the basics of the most widely used and popular style guides in the publishing industry will set you far above other writers in the field. Plus, it can save you time and money in the long-term. Ready to learn about why it’s so important and beneficial for writers to learn these style rules? Here’s our professional editors’ style guide basics for every writer.
What is a style guide?
A style guide (also known as a “manual of style”) is a set of general rules put in place by a publisher, organization or field to facilitate uniformity of documentation and design. Such rules can include preferred spelling, punctuation, capitalization and reference/citation guidelines.
Why should writers learn the basics of style guides? Isn’t that what editors are for?
Yes, implementing the correct style guide is a large facet of what copyeditors and proofreaders do for manuscripts. But there are two huge reasons why presenting a clean, correct piece of writing can do you much good in your career:
- If you are self-publishing, it will likely cost your editor less time (and less money!) to fix issues in your manuscript if a guide has already been followed.
- Submitting work that already implements the guidelines set by a particular institution/publisher immediately presents you as a competent and detail-oriented writer—any agent, publisher or reader’s dream!
Which style guides should I learn?
There are three main style guide basics for every writer. These depend on the area of publishing you’re working in:
1.Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) for most books.
2.The Associated Press Stylebook (AP Style) for most journalistic publications.
3.MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing for most academic presses.
At Midnight Publishing, we mainly work with Chicago Manual of Style, and sometimes The Associated Press Stylebook. While the lists below are by no means exhaustive, these are some of the most common and easily remedied mistakes our editors come across.
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) Basic Rules
- Numbers between one and one hundred are spelled out, while 101 and up use numerals.
- Never begin a sentence with numerals—either spell the number out, or rephrase the sentence.
- Always spell out “percent,” rather than to use the % sign.
- A hyphen is used when two words (a “compound modifier”) come beforethe word they’re modifying, but not afterwards. For example: “He was a well-known orator” versus “the orator was well known.”
- Hyphens are not used for a compound modifier if the first word ends in -ly or very.
- CMS uses the Oxford comma (aka the “serial comma”), which is the final comma of three or more items. For example: “I would like to go to the mall, the ice cream shop, and the bookstore!”
Associate Press Stylebook (AP Style) Basic Rules
- Numbers between one and nine are spelled out, while 10 and up use numerals.
- AP Style does not call for the Oxford comma. If you are writing for a newspaper, magazine or online periodical,a list shouldn’t have a comma following the second-to-lastitem (see what we did there with our comma and hyphens?).
- Do not capitalize federal, state, department, division, board, program, section, unit, etc., unless it is part of a formal name (this applies to CMS as well). For example: “The Phoenix Water Department was on my call list” versus “I planned to call the local water department.”
- Capitalize formal titles if they come before a name, and keep them lowercase if they come afterwards or are on their own. For example: “President Donald Trump” versus “Donald Trump is the president.”
- Never spell out years (even if they start a sentence, but you should try to rephrase the sentence).
For more help on the basic rules of CMS or AP Style, click the links we’ve provided—and don’t forget that Midnight Publishing’s award-winning editors and ghostwriters are just a message away. We’ve been trusted for over 10 years working on books with clients in Phoenix, Arizona and around the world. Contact us today to tell us about your project and get on the schedule!