Monday, July 22, 2013

Style Guides

Amy Lorenti makes a concise point about making concise points today on her blog. She also provides a concise list of style guides that are important for different kinds of content and argues that the style you write in can bear as much weight as the content itself when you need to be writing for a specific audience. I couldn't agree more. I work most often with AP, CMS, and MLA, but I get (and format) manuscripts for lots of different styles. The rules are easy to pick up, even though the guides for each of these styles can be dense and complex. Each style has a reason its rules direct grammar and citations in a certain direction, and once you understand why, the rules become more intuitive.

Take the Chicago Manual of Style, for instance. Anthropologists, historians, and philosophers primarily use CMS, and what they primarily want to indicate in a citation is a reference to a book or journal — sometimes with commentary — that informs the reader very specifically about where that book or journal can be located (what the text is called, who wrote it, where it was published, by what publisher, in what year, and what page quoted material comes from) in order to allow readers to verify that the information in the text is accurate and the arguments are rooted in a larger discussion. Grammar and punctuation are also important to CMS, but are guided for neatness and effective writing with consideration to common topics and technical issues that arise in the writing of fields like anthropology, history, and philosophy. The goal of CMS's rules about grammar regards presenting the text in an easily comprehendible manner.

Associated Press style, on the other hand, is used by news sources and is less interested in citing sources than in fitting extremely efficient sentences is extremely tight spaces. For this reason, AP style often cuts down language, forgoes commas, and uses numerals instead of letters to maximize use of space.

There are dozens of style guides in the world, and while mastering them all isn't a worthwhile use of time, versatile editors are familiar with several, utilizing them according to the task at hand like a sort of bilingualism. I'm always happy for an excuse to learn a new style, as it gives me an opportunity to study the English language and the myriad ways we use it according to our purposes.