Style guides: What are they and how to choose the best one for you

Style guides

All copyeditors need a style manual–a set of “rules” for editing and designing different types of print and web documents. Such rules, which we prefer to think of as guidelines, are designed to help editors ensure consistency throughout the text in areas such as grammar, spelling, references, formatting, and visual design. Final style decisions, of course, lie with the author or publisher. Choosing which style manual to use depends on several factors, including the type and style of writing, the intended audience, and the editor’s personal preferences.

Below we offer an introduction to some of the most commonly used style guides across various disciplines and industries in the US.


  • Chicago Manual of Style. CMS is the encyclopedia of style guides. The industry standard for US book publishers, CMS is an essential resource for advanced editors and an ideal place to start for those new to style manuals. Currently in its 17th edition, Chicago covers issues like grammar, usage, spelling, and citations in great depth. Available in both print and online versions, CMS also offers helpful background information on the publishing, editing, and design process.
  • Associated Press Stylebook. The AP Stylebook is used widely among newspaper divisions and corporate communication departments. With the goal of promoting uniformity of editorial style, the 2017 edition includes more than 3,000 A to Z entries about “AP style” rules on grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, and word and numeral usage, as well as a new chapter on data journalism. Like CMS, it is accessible both digitally and in print.
  • American Psychological Association. APA Style is popular among social and behavioral scientists, including psychologists, sociologists, and economists. Developed by a group of social scientists in 1929 to help ensure clear and consistent writing, APA Style covers elements like punctuation and abbreviations, headings, references, and presentation of tables. Although no digital version is currently available, Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) provides an excellent overview of APA style.
  • Modern Language Association. Undergraduates will likely be those most familiar with MLA style, the editorial standards commonly used by students to write research papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. The eighth edition of the MLA Handbook explains the principles of citing sources, describes the MLA’s documentation system, and offers advice for constructing scholarly prose. Purdue University’s OWL also provides a useful summary of MLA’s style guidelines.


  • Yahoo. Published in 2010, The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing, and Creating Content for the Digital World is a comprehensive resource designed to help writers and editors develop and refine web content. In addition to offering grammar and punctuation tips, as well as an alphabetical listing of web terms, TheYahoo! Style Guide provides an excellent introduction to blog writing, search engine optimization, and website design. Unfortunately, it remains unclear when (and if!) an update to the 2010 version will be released.
  • BuzzFeed. Available free online, the BuzzFeed Style Guide offers a set of standards for the internet and social media. While not meant to be a comprehensive manual of grammar and style (it defers to the AP Stylebook for any questions left unaddressed in its own guide), the BuzzFeed Style Guide provides valuable tips for ensuring the consistent spelling and usage of digital language. Unlike The Yahoo! Style Guide, BuzzFeed’s manual is updated regularly to reflect the evolving nature of web terminology.


  1. American Medical Association. Currently in its 10th edition, the AMA Manual of Style is the go-to guide for medical and scientific publishers. It is available in print and an online version.
  2. Council of Science Editors. Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers (8th edition) is used by those working in biology, chemistry, physics, medicine, mathematics, earth sciences, and the social sciences. The latest edition, available in print and online, includes guidelines for citing online images and information graphics, podcasts and webcasts, online videos, blogs, social media sites, and e-books.

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George J. Williams

A certified copyeditor by the University of California, San Diego. He specializes in copyediting, substantive editing, fact-checking, proofreading, and Spanish-English translation