Saturday, April 1, 2017

Style Guides for Writers

by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

You’ve finished writing your story and now it’s time to go back and edit. How do you know what the standards are before you make your changes?

All writers face this dilemma. Writing has so many suggestions, but few rules. Do you use a comma or semicolon? What about this thing called a serial comma?

It’s enough to make you miss a deadline.

That’s when you should turn to your bookcase and get out a style guide.

What is a style guide?
A style guide is a set of standards for the writing and design of documents. Its goal is to improve communication. But before you go to get one, you have to decide which one you need. (It’s never easy, is it?)

If you had high school or college English, you are already familiar with our old friend, Turabian: A Manual for Writers. Many teachers required it as a guide to proper citations for your research.

And that is what the guide is for, to ensure that all editors and writers use the correct format, punctuation, and wording.

Which style guide should I use?
For our purposes, there are two main style guides to chose from. (But because we want to go the extra mile, we give you four.) I have to start by saying you should first look at the guidelines where you’re submitting your work. Some publishers and magazines have their own style and/or preferences that you can find on their websites.

Book publishers usually use The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). For magazines and blogs, The AP Stylebook (AP) is the guide most recommended.

There are two others guides you may be interested in. The Yahoo! Style Guide was put together by the people at Yahoo as a reference for their massive website. It’s specifically aimed at websites and emails.

A fourth style guide is the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style by Robert Hudson. It shows how to properly cite scripture references, abbreviate the books of the Bible, and handle other unique items in Christian writing.

How should I use the guide?
(Tim, that rascal is huuuge. Do you really expect me to read it?)

It is big and reading it would put you several steps ahead of the average writer. But luckily there are other ways we can get a lot of the information without investing the next two months to read it. (But, if you think about it, that is shorter than a class.)

Strunk and White have given us The Elements of Style (thank you, thank you), which is much smaller and clearer (and funny). I would definitely recommend that every writer reads this. I plan to reread it every year.

The guides are constructed to be used as reference books to be kept next to your desk or writing area. The topics are broken down into sections with a handy index in the front that helps to find the pertinent passage.

Other tips.
Writing and publishing are constantly changing. Be sure to use the latest edition. The CMOS is currently on the 16th edition. The AP goes by years, the current is 2016. As fast as publishing is changing, I would get the latest edition.

The guides come printed and on-line. I like having a book beside me that I can hold, but the online versions have the additional benefit of having search capabilities.

The online CMOS at the time of this article is $39.99 a year. This way, you don’t have to worry about keeping up with the new editions as they come out.

 Using the proper style guide will greatly help in your rewriting and editing. When you come to twelve, you’ll know if you should use the number or the word. Your writing will be more consistent and easier for the reader to follow.

And, isn’t that the goal in all of our writing?

Which style guides or other books have you found beneficial?

Do you use the printed or the online version?

Which style guide to use for which type of #writing - @Tim Suddeth on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Style guides for writers - @Tim Suddeth breaks it down on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Tim Suddeth has been published in Guideposts’ The Joy of Christmas and on He’s working on his third manuscript and looks forward to seeing his name on a cover. He is a member of ACFW and Cross n Pens. Tim’s lives in Greenville, SC with his wife, Vickie, and his happy 19-year-old autistic son, Madison.  Visit Tim at and on Facebook and Twitter. He can be also reached at


  1. Tim, good job! I do know that Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (LPC)sent me their own brief style sheet during our edits on my novel, In a Pirate's Debt, being released in May of this year. So your publisher is a good place to look, if you get a contract on a book. Of course, LPC also still recommends the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and the Christian Writer's Manual of Style. Pelican/Prism Book Group, the publisher of my just released romantic suspense, Summer of Deception, did not send me a separate style sheet but pretty much followed the CMOS, I believe. It's a continuing job to keep up with style! This is a good article to keep.
    Elva Cobb Martin
    Pres. ACFW-SC Chapter

  2. Great information, Tim. Thanks so much.