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Style Guides

Newspaper Employee

U.S. News & World Report employee working on producing an issue of the magazine at the layout and paste-up room in the production plant, Dayton, Ohio, 1957. Image courtesy US Library of Congress.

Style guides generally give guidance on language usage. 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. (Some of the style guides we use at Compass Rose Horizons can be found here.)

A publishing company’s or periodical’s “house style” is the collection of conventions set out in its internal style guide, or manual of style.

“Style” in this context therefore does not refer to the writer’s voice.


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, etc.
  • 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 a writer’s 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 and 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.

Specialized Guides

Some organizations produce style guides for either 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.

We Are Familiar with the Major Style Guides

Whether your paper needs to be edited to APA, MLA, or Chicago Manual of Style standards, we can help. To reach one of our academic editors, e-mail us at We'll help you get that dissertation or thesis done in time!

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