A style guide or manual of style is a set of standards for the writing, formatting, and design of documents. It is often called a style sheet, although that term also has multiple other meanings. The standards can be applied either for general use, or be required usage for an individual publication, a particular organization, or a specific field.
A style guide establishes standard style requirements to improve communication by ensuring consistency both within a document, and across multiple documents. Because practices vary, a style guide may set out standards to be used in areas such as punctuation, capitalization, citing sources, formatting of numbers and dates, table appearance and other areas. The style guide may require certain best practices in writing style, usage, language composition, visual composition, orthography, and typography. For academic and technical documents, a guide may also enforce the best practice in ethics (such as authorship, research ethics, and disclosure) and compliance (technical and regulatory). For translations, a style guide may be used to enforce consistent grammar choices such as tenses, formality levels in tones, and localization decisions such as units of measurements.
Style guides are specialized in a variety of ways, from the general use of a broad public audience, to a wide variety of specialized uses, such as for students and scholars of various academic disciplines, medicine, journalism, the law, government, business in general, and specific industries. The term house style refers to the individual style manual of a particular publisher or organization.
Style guides vary widely in scope and size, and writers working in most large industries or professional sectors reference a specific style guide, written for their industry or sector when writing very specialized document types. These guides are useful primarily for only peer-to-peer specialist documentation or to help writers working in specific industries and/or sectors communicate highly technical information in scholarly articles or industry white papers.
Notable exceptions are The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, both of which focus on "general", third-person English. The Associated Press Stylebook is written for journalists, and The Chicago Manual of Style is written for academic writing.
A short style guide is often called a style sheet. A comprehensive guide tends to be long and is often called a style manual or manual of style (MOS or MoS). In many cases, a project such as one book, journal, or monograph series typically has a short style sheet that cascades over the somewhat larger style guide of an organization such as a publishing company, whose content is usually called house style. Most house styles, in turn, cascade over an industry-wide or profession-wide style manual that is even more comprehensive. Some examples of these industry style guides include the following:
- ACS style, AMA style, and CSE style for various hard sciences
- AP Stylebook for journalism and all types of internal and external corporate communications
- APA style and ASA style for the social sciences
- Bluebook style for law
- The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and Oxford style for academic writing and publishing
- MLA style for language and literature studies, and normatively in American secondary education
- USGPO style and AGPS style for government publications
Finally, these reference works cascade over the orthographic norms of the language in use (for example, English orthography for English-language publications). This, of course, may be subject to national variety, such as the different varieties of American English and British English.
Style guides that cover usage may suggest ways of describing people that avoid racism, sexism, and homophobia. Guides in specific scientific and technical fields cover nomenclature, which specifies names or classifying labels that are preferred because they are clear, standardized, and ontologically sound (e.g., taxonomy, chemical nomenclature, and gene nomenclature).
Most style guides are revised from time to time to accommodate changes in conventions and usage. The frequency of updating and the revision control are determined by the subject. For style manuals in reference work format, new editions typically appear every 1 to 20 years. For example, the AP Stylebook is revised annually, and, as of 2021, the Chicago, APA, and ASA manuals are in their 17th, 7th, and 4th editions, respectively. Many house styles and individual project styles change more frequently, especially for new projects.
- But the stylebook says ... – Blog post about stylebook abuse, by Bill Walsh of The Washington Post
- Handouts about writing style guides, from a conference of the American Copy Editors Society in 2007
- Language Log » Searching 43 stylebooks