Choose Your Style Guide

I wrote before about three of the most common style books: The Chicago Manual of Style, The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, and the Associated Press Stylebook.

Two others are worth considering if you do most of your work online.

The Yahoo! Style Guide is a huge compendium that not only deals with spelling issues (it recommends capitalizing Internet but omits the hyphen in e-mail, which I think wrong-headed) but also with web-specific issues like search engine optimization and user interfaces. At the moment, the Yahoo guide is going for $11 on Kindle and $16.88 in print, but it’s possible to buy used copies for much less.

Garbl’s Editorial Style and Usage Manual is compiled by freelance writer and editor Gary B. Larson, and though I have yet to delve deeply into it, what I’ve seen so far is entirely sensible, except of course that pesky omission of the hyphen in e-mail. The Garbl manual is organized alphabetically, just like the AP and CWMS books. Garbl seems very similar to the AP book. I offer it here because it’s free, so you can use it as a “starter” style guide until you settle on one for sure.

style books e-reader
Illustration © Oleksiy Mark • Fotolia

How style affects spelling

Which style book you choose can have an effect on your spelling. If you’re using Chicago, you’ll hyphenate e-mail, as the major dictionaries recommend.

On whether to write OK or okay, AP, Yahoo, and Garbl specifically call for OK. CWMS calls for okay. Chicago is silent in print, but when I asked the editors, they said, “We follow Webster’s 11th Collegiate, which puts ‘OK’ as the first spelling—but that does not mean it is preferred. Rather, ‘okay’ is an equal variant (also standard).”

So when checking your spelling, check the style book first. If it’s silent on the issue, go to your dictionary.

Knowing Which Style Book to Choose

With so many style books to choose from (and I haven’t even addressed The Gregg Reference Manual and the FranklinCovey Style Guide, which are for business writing, or the Turabian and APA manuals, used in colleges), how do you pick?

The main thing to consider is what you are writing. If you plan to do most or all of your writing on the web, the Yahoo manual is perfect. Use Garbl if financial constraints are a problem.

If you’re writing in the Christian Market, the CWMS will advise you on matters the others don’t address. A colleague recently introduced me to the now out-of-print Creative Writer’s Style Guide, which so far looks very useful for novelists and writers of creative nonfiction. I suggest picking up a used copy while you still can.

If you’re writing articles for periodicals, you may want the Associated Press Stylebook, but again, since Garbl seems closely modeled on that one, you could use Garbl if you need to save money. Chicago is the standard for academic nonfiction, but for most writers, it’s overkill. As I said before, Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors compiles information from both Chicago and AP, so it’s the only one most writers will need.

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