Style Guides?

One common question I ask when beginning an edit is if the author wants me to follow a particular style guide. I ask this because different types of writing, different publishers, and different writers have different preferences. In today’s post, I want to talk a little about the three style guides that I work with the most: Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), American Psychological Association (APA), and Modern Language Association (MLA).

Each of these style guides has different rules for things such as documentation, formatting, and even punctuation. These differ, however, from the individual style guides that the authors/editors create for each individual work, particularly in fiction writing. More information on those is coming soon.


According to their website, the Chicago Manual of Style is “the must-have reference for everyone who works with words,” and that statement is quite true. While many publishers have an in-house style guide that they follow, they often also follow CMS or a variation of it. Thus, if you are a writer, having a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style certainly couldn’t hurt! The manual includes sections on the publishing process, style and usage, and documentation. I actually asked for this guide (and received it) for Christmas. Really. It’s that good.


APA is more often used as a style guide in academic writing. According to the APA Style website, APA “offer[s] sound guidance for writing with simplicity, power, and concision. APA Style has been adapted by many disciplines and is used by writers around the world.” Many academic journals and other such publications use APA because of its emphasis on the date information was published and focus on clarity. One of the biggest differences between CMS and APA/MLA is the use of footnotes. Generally speaking, CMS uses footnotes for documented information, but APA and MLA use in-text citations instead. Because of the way that research in a document formatting according to APA style is structured, the date of publication is very prominent in the document itself rather than as a footnote or endnote.


Like APA, MLA is often used in academic writing, particularly in the humanities. Whereas APA’s focus is on the date of publication, the emphasis in MLA is on the author. Having credible and recognizable sources is the focus in MLA, so it is frequently used in academic settings. The MLA handbook’s website says that the handbook “gives step-by-step advice on every aspect of writing research papers, from selecting a topic to submitting the completed paper.” If you are a student, this is one handbook that you definitely want in your personal library.

Sometimes those who transition from one style of writing to another (ex: academic writing to fiction writing) struggle with the smaller quirks (such as the use of the serial comma) that change between style guides, so having a copy of the actual guide you are using is quite helpful. Those guides, however, can be quite expensive sometimes, so always check your local library or see if there are resources online. The Purdue University Online Writing Lab is a great resource, but always consult the manuals if something isn’t clear.

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