Style Guides

For publishing people, a style guide is a set of writing guidelines for a document, a group of documents (library), an organization, an industry, or a professional field. A style guide can also provide writing guidelines for general usage. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style is used as a standard by a wide variety of fields, industries, and organizations. The Chicago Manual of Style is a general style guide. However, the focus in the following is specialized style guides that are used as standards at the document-library, organization, industry, or professional-field level.

See the recorded overview of style guides.

You can see numerous examples of style guides in editing resources.

Rules, Guidelines, Additions, Exceptions

A style guide functions as a standard. It supplies rules and guidelines for writing style and format. A general style guide provides rules and guidelines for practically everybody—for all fields and disciplines. A specialized style guide typically supplies rules and guidelines that are exceptions to or nonexistent in general style guides. For example, computer documents must occasionally break general rules in order to prevent confusion for computer users. Standard American English requires that periods and commas go inside quotation marks. However, if the period or comma were not part of a computer command, including a period or comma in a command shown within quotation marks would create an error:

Type "delete myfile.txt," and press Enter.

In this example, an alternate font is used instead of quotation marks to indicate a required or example entry. Doing so prevents possible confusion:

Type delete myfile.txt and press Enter.

A general style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style has no such rule like this!

Style guides contain guidelines as well as rules. A guideline is a recommendation or strong suggestion that carries with it the understanding that it may not be applicable in all cases.

Thus, specialized style guides establish rules and guidelines that a specific group of writers, editors, and others involved in the publishing process agree to use. A good style guide prevents people from arguing endlessly about correct usage and individual writers or editors from wasting time searching for the correct or most common usage.

Even among specialized style guides, there are levels of further specialization. For example, within the IBM Corporation, there is a corporate style guide. However, within divisions of the corporation, there are specialized style guides that provide guidelines that are not found at the higher level and that specify exceptions to guidelines at the higher level. Still further specialized style guides exist at the level of the product library. For example, IBM's AIX operating system has a product library—a set of separate books—that use even more specialized rules and guidelines.

Writing Style, Organization, Format

To function effectively, style guides must be written, organized, and formatted to enable writers and editors to find rules and guidelines quickly. To create an effective style guide:

Style Guides and Stylesheets

If you've read about stylesheets, you have probably noticed some similarities between stylesheets and style guides. Stylesheets state rules and guidelines in those non-letter blocks at the bottom of the stylesheet. If a style guide exists and everybody in the publishing group knows about it, there is no reason to state these rules in the stylesheet. The stylesheet can simply contain a cross-reference to the style guide.

It might seem like a good idea to include the material in the letter blocks of the stylesheet in a style guide. However, that good idea is not practical. Indeed you could have style-guide sections for such things as hyphenated compounds, acronyms, product names. But keeping this list updated might be more work than would be feasible. Style guides can, however, include list of "bad" words and preferred words. You could include a heading something like "Terminology" with a three-column list—the first column for the alphabetized "bad" words, the second for the preferred terms, and third for notes and comments.

Organizational Details

If it makes sense organizationally, include a preface or introduction to the style guide. It might stipulate:

Miscellaneous Suggestions

If you are unfamiliar with style guides, you might not be aware of the range of content to consider including:

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