What’s In A Style?

style guidesWhen publishing a magazine or periodical, it seems that there are so many things to consider. There is subject, peer review type, audience, staffing, online or not, and so much more, but not in the least is the type of style guide you will use.

The choice of style appears to be a minute detail compared to the other decisions editors and publishers have to make, but a concrete style guide determines the format an article and even how you make citations and references.

Medical and psychological periodicals have it somewhat easier than other disciplines. They can just slap on AMA Style or APA Style respectively, and many, rightly so, do. Journalism has it even easier. There are exactly three press styles that folks take seriously in that field. A few other industries can find solace in the fact that others have created guides for them. For instance, Web Style Guide for publishing online, Harvard’s Bluebook Guide for legal research, and Gregg Reference Manual for business.

For other types of journals it can be difficult. There are so many different styles to choose from. It can feel like a literal jungle. You want British English? You got Oxford Guide to Style. You want American English? You got Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. No, you say. You want Canadian English? We even got that covered with The Canadian Style and I have not even gotten to non-English style guides created by international standards organizations.

With the market of styles flooded, some publications have begun to use an “in-house” style that they have either developed independently or have made from an amalgam of several different styles. For example, while the research paper format may follow MLA Handbook, but citations might be done in the style of Index Medicus. Personally, I find the “mix and match” styles very confusing. 

When I was in college, most of my teachers did not care about the style with two exceptions. My journalism adjunct professor wanted us to use the Associated Press Style Guide and my Sociology professor let us choose between The Chicago Manual of Style and MLA Handbook. Of course, I also knew of APA Style.

It was not until I got into the publishing industry that I discovered the maze of guide styles that were floating around in the atmosphere. While examining various periodicals, I would look in the “About” tab and find the randomness that was there. Now to be fair, most used a pretty well-known style guide, but I would still find ones that were so rare that I had not even heard mentioned.

Like I said earlier, choosing a style guide can be considered a minute problem compared to such issues like peer review or staffing, but I disagree. Choosing an acceptable, easy to follow style will make your periodical, magazine, or journal seem more attractive to readers, editors, and even your readers.

For more information, I have a list of the top three styles respected by the writing and journalistic community:

  • Chicago Manual of Style
  • MLA Handbook
  • APA Style Guide

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