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From Wikipedia:

A style guide or style manual is a set of standards for the writing and design of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication, organization or field. The implementation of a style guide provides uniformity in style and formatting of a document.

What are the most popular such manuals? Which are considered "standards" for writers to follow? Are they used by specific professions, industries, etc.?

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    Note: Might it be best to CW this and keep one manual per answer? – Josh Leitzel Nov 18 '10 at 23:07
  • Probably, since I don't think anyone's going to come up with a comprehensive list of style guides - the five I have in reach don't even come close to covering the field. I've flagged it for the mods. – Neil Fein Nov 19 '10 at 3:53
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    There may be a ton of different style guides, but there are only a handful that are actively used in the academic and publishing worlds. – Ralph Gallagher Dec 20 '10 at 14:46
  • if you want CW, flag for moderator attention and note that in your comments so we can see it. I actually don't see what having one manual per answer will do for this question - why vote individually. I think the question is fine as is and comprehensive, specific answers are the ones that should bubble to the top. – justkt Dec 20 '10 at 15:27
  • @justkt - Lots of good information here so far. I think it's still possible to write an answer that will be the best, most comprehensive response. – Neil Fein Dec 20 '10 at 17:37
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To add on to TML's answer:

Journalists generally use the AP Stylebook.

When writing for the web, the Yahoo! Style Guide is often used.

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    The Yahoo Style Guide is a bit shallow in some ways, but that's probably because it's new. It's incredibly accessible, and the simple fact that it's free makes it a good choice for non-profit organizations. – Neil Fein Nov 20 '10 at 19:56
  • I completely forgot about the AP Stylebook - good call. – TML Dec 13 '10 at 7:44
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The style manual or guide depends on the audience. Journalists will use the AP Stylebook. Academic writers have a few more options depending on their field. Most English or Literature focused writing will use MLA and social science writing will likely use APA. For other kinds of writing, especially for an academic journal, check what style they prefer. They may have their own style (ACS) or use something like Chicago.

  • Not so much audience as publication venue. Authors sometimes choose to follow a particular style guide, but more often if a style guide is followed, it is because their publisher insisted on it. – Charles Stewart Apr 12 '11 at 13:53
  • @Charles A publication is an audience. – user1461 Apr 12 '11 at 14:07
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    I'd say a readership is an audience, but I guess this starts to be hairsplitting. – Charles Stewart Apr 12 '11 at 14:11
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My experience indicates that the "big three" are: The MLA Style Manual, Strunk and White, and The Chicago Manual of Style.

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    Strunk and White is not a professional-level style guide on a par with the others you mention, but it is an excellent introduction to writing for amateurs. (It is unfortunately often mistaken for a guide to grammar.) – Neil Fein Nov 19 '10 at 3:50
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    +1 for Strunk and White's Elements of Style. A bit outdated, and not necessarily the be-all and end-all, but definitely opens the eyes of the beginner. – Zayne S Halsall Nov 19 '10 at 15:52
  • @Zayne - A lot of folks on ELU might disagree; dissecting Strunk and White seems to be a bit of a hobby to some folks. (Personally, I quite like the book, and have owned two editions of it.) – Neil Fein Nov 20 '10 at 19:54
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    @neilfein: I agree... but style is subjective, and haters gonna hate. ;) – Zayne S Halsall Nov 20 '10 at 21:35
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    Strunk&White is a usage guide, not a style guide as it is usually meant. It doesn't say anything about the organisation of manuscripts, which is the first responsibility of style guides proper. – Charles Stewart Dec 20 '10 at 12:30
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MLA (Modern Language Association) is the style guide used in the academic world in essays and term papers. It's generally used in English, History, Literature, and similar classes.

APA (American Psychological Association) is the style guide used in the academic world for Psychology and Science type courses.

CMOS (Chicaco Manual of Style) is the style guide used by 90% of publishing houses. Most houses also have their own style guide that takes its information from the CMOS and shows only the relevant information.

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  1. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 2010, APA Press. Very accessible style guide, probably the easiest style guide to get into for scientific writing.
  2. New Hart's Rules, 2005, Oxford University Press. The OUP house style, good overview of book publication. Popular in Britain.
  3. Butcher's Copy-editing, 2006 (4. ed.), Cambridge University Press. The House style of CUP and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Well-respected by editors, not really known outside of publishing.

Style guides such as these, Chicago, the AP stylebook, and the MLA handbook explain the structure that documents should have, and provide detailed instructions about such things as capitalisation of titles. They are much less widely read than usage guides such as Strunk & White's Elements of Style or Fowler's, which are references for writing effectively, but which don't care about the purpose of the writing, or whether it will ever be published.

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Not a style guide, but for adding nuance to this discussion I'd like to suggest the talk "Linguistics, Style and Writing in the 21st Century" by Steven Pinker, held at the Royal Institution. Summary:

Does writing well matter in an age of instant communication? Drawing on the latest research in linguistics and cognitive science, Steven Pinker replaces the recycled dogma of style guides with reason and evidence. [...] Steven argues that style still matters: in communicating effectively, in enhancing the spread of ideas, in earning a reader’s trust and, not least, in adding beauty to the world. Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist and one of the world’s foremost writers on language, mind, and human nature. He is Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University and conducts research on language and cognition but also writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and is the author of many books, including The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works.

  • Sorry, it wasn't a TED talk but a talk at the Royal Institution. I corrected it, and added a quote from the description of the talk. – sigvaldm May 22 at 13:22
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    While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. - From Review – JP Chapleau May 22 at 18:56
  • @JPChapleau: I appreciate the rationale behind that rule, but in this particular case I wonder, first, how to go about adding the contents of the video on SE? Should I quote the whole one hour talk? I have already quoted what it is essentially about. Second, the OP did not ask about theory of style, but about a list of references. Hence, the video is an answer the same way others answer "Strunk and White". People do not copy contents off Strunk and White because the OP only asked for references.Having a permanent reference to the video would be nice, but then I need to know where to find it. – sigvaldm May 23 at 12:37
  • @JPChapleau: Something which might work for both of us: The answer is now "the talk <title of the talk>". The link could be omitted and people could search for it themselves. This is similar to wrinting "Strunk and White" and letting people find the book themselves. – sigvaldm May 23 at 13:05
  • There is nothing wrong with including a link to external material in an answer. However, the answer needs to remain useful even in the absence of the linked content. "Watch the video at some-URL" is meaningless if the video disappears from "some-URL". "Watch the video at some-URL which makes points A, B, C and D, explaining that E and F relate to each other by G" provides an answer even if the linked content becomes inaccessible, yet allows the reader to go further in depth if they so desire. – a CVn May 23 at 13:34
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The Apple and the Microsoft style manuals (do not have the exact names with me to provide) are valuable for as style guides for software documentation and any writing about computers. They were formerly available easily on the websites, but have become harder to find. Maybe someone has archived these? Search around in MSDN and you'll find the current Microsoft UI documentation guidelines.

They were THE definitive guides for whether "double-click" has a hyphen (it does), what to call an interface thingy that you click to select one of several options (MS calls it an "option button", Apply calls it a "radio button" and that sort of thing).

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