The Way We Work
January 25, 2010 by Tamara Rice

Every freelance editor and proofreader knows a style guide is the key to high-quality and efficient editing. Without it, you might find yourself going five rounds with a writer over the use of an em dash! And every freelance writer knows the right style guide is the key to producing work that may not require an editor at all.

A style guide puts everyone involved in the creative process on the same page (no pun intended) when it comes to tricky matters of preferred spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviations, etc.

While it's always easier when the organization or publisher you are working with has already chosen a style guide, or (better yet) has an in-house style guide of their own, experience tells us that, freelancers are sometimes on their own to determine the most suitable style guide to follow.

So, we offer you our Basic Guide to the Style Guides to help you know which book to pull off your shelf the next time you need to make a stylistic decision for your writing.

140characters 140 CHARACTERS: A Style Guide for the Short Form

For: Twitter and Facebook
Buzz: While social media newbies may find short form wisdom here, editors looking for standards may be disappointed
Verdict: Not a must-have
Editor/Publisher: Dom Sagolla/Wiley

ama manual AMA (AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION) MANUAL OF STYLE: A Guide for Authors and Editors

For: Medical and science-related copy (articles, papers, etc.)
Buzz: Not just for med students; newer editions are organized for quicker reference; designated copyediting segment
Verdict: Keep it handy, if this is your field
Editor/Publisher: Various/Oxford University Press


For: Magazine, newspaper and internet articles
Buzz: Love the alphabetized content (so easy to look things up!), spiral bound editions, media law briefing, and iPod app
Verdict: It's a must-have
Editor/Publisher: Norm Goldstein/Basic Books (Perseus)

chicagomanualofstyle THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE (CMS)

For: General use
Buzz: While it can be difficult to navigate, once you know your way around this master-of-all-editing-guides, it can be a true lifesaver
Verdict: Can you edit without it? Yes. Should you? No.
Editor/Publisher: Various/University of Chicago Press



For: Christian literature -- internet and print
Buzz: While the latest version is too exhaustive (get the generic term for Alka-Seltzer elsewhere), the treatment of religious terms is still helpful; usually preferred to The Little Style Guide to Great Christian Writing ...
Verdict: In this huge field it's a must-have
Online: Product listing at
Editor/Publisher: Robert Hudson/Zondervan


For: Behavioral science copy (articles, papers, etc.)
Buzz: The jury is still out on the best pocket guide to APA style, but if the Publication Manual of the APA is too much text for you, try this one; check out the related APA Style Blog
Verdict: Useful, if this is your field
Editor/Publisher: Various/American Psychological Assoc.


elements of style THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

For: General use
Buzz: Basic style guidance; more extensive writing advice -- known for it's pithy tone (Strunk's later version is online)
Verdict: While it's a fave for writers, it's not much for editors
Online: Product listing at
Editor/Publisher:William Strunk, E.B. White/Longman


For: White papers, business, technical writing
Buzz: Easy to use and includes a CD to put it on your computer; this is an oldie (1999) but it's still a goodie
Verdict: Newbies to business writing may need it
Online: Product listing at (not listed at
Editor/Publisher: Various/Franklin Covey

Global English Style Guide THE GLOBAL ENGLISH STYLE GUIDE: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market

For: International technical writing and articles that will be translated by software
Buzz: Teaches how grammar, sentence structure and figures of speech can cloud translation clarity
Verdict: Yes, if you are new to this style
Online: SAS Companion Site
Editor/Publisher: John Kohl/SAS Institute

Gregg Reference THE GREGG REFERENCE MANUAL: A Manual of Style, Grammar, Usage and Formatting

For: White papers, business, technical writing
Buzz: A go-to resource for business writing; spiral bound, online and concise editions available; trustworthy, as it has set the standard for 50-plus years
Verdict: A business writing and editing must-have
Editor/Publisher: William Sabin/McGraw-Hill Co.

the hollywood standard THE HOLLYWOOD STANDARD: The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Script Format and Style

For: Scripts, screenplays
Buzz: Answers 100s of formatting questions (shows examples); it's known for its conciseness and clarity
Verdict: Highly recommended in the industry
Online: Product listing on
Editor/Publisher: Christopher Riley/Michael Wiese Productions


For: Academic papers
Buzz: Its useful in the world of academia, and it's a go-to for citation and footnote guidance therein (proofreaders and editors may prefer a pocket guide to MLA Style)
Verdict: For profs, students and those who edit their work
Editor/Publisher: Various/Modern Language Assoc.

PR Guide THE PR STYLE GUIDE: Formats for Public Relations Practice

For: Press releases, media kits
Buzz: The basics of PR writing, with samples and examples; perhaps useless to a PR pro, but invaluable to newcomers
Verdict: Newbies to PR copywriting and editing may benefit from having it
Online: Product listing on
Editor/Publisher: Barbara Diggs-Brown and Jodi Glou/Wadsworth Publishing

oxford style manual THE OXFORD MANUAL OF STYLE

For: General use
Buzz: An Oxford English dictionary with a basic style guide; known for articulating the differences between UK English and US English terms, spellings, etc.
Verdict: Great for Brits editing American English text and vice versa
Online: Product listing on
Editor/Publisher: R.M. Ritter/Oxford University Press

Our list is not meant to be exhaustive, but if we've missed one of your favorites, tell us about it in the comments below - we just might add it!

feature image by by Nic McPhee on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.

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  • Lauren

    This is the BEST article on style manuals, Tamara! Such a helpful and informative resource for me as a copyeditor-in-training. Thank you!

  • Bob Chapman

    When doing software writing, the essential book is the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications. This is the basic manual that writers and editors at Microsoft use. (Individual projects and groups have additional style sheets and guidance. This means a particular Microsoft product may have small variances in its documentation from what you see in this manual.)

    Sun's Style Guide for the Computer Industry does not set specific guidance for everything--sometimes leaving you choices. The MSTP does give specific guidance, as far as possible. This provides better consistency for your writing and editing work.

    Since everyone uses something by Microsoft at some point (in some cases, with loud protests), it makes sense to refer to things in a way familiar to your readers.

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  • Tamara

    Cool, Julian. I'm glad you appreciate it!

  • Julian

    Great article Tamara. I've been looking for a way to seriously upgrade my writing ability and now I've found it!


  • social network design

    This is cool, i hope this guides really help it out for me.

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