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Academic Style Guides

Jan Ryder, Ph.D.


Style guides are an essential adjunct to writing for almost any purpose, whether it be for academia, publishers, journals, newspapers, magazines, business, government, the Web, or many other objectives. Such guides help to answer questions about writing that are not governed by the rules of grammar, questions for which there may be more than one possible answer.

For instance, should numbers be designated by word or figure (ten or 10; third or 3rd or even 3d)? Should it be pp. 465–489 or pp. 465–89? 1914–1918 or 1914–18? Do abbreviations appear with or without periods (A.P.A. or APA, M.I.T. or MIT, Ph.D. or PhD, U.S. or US)? Does one write southern or Southern, earth or Earth, federal or Federal? Is it vice president or vice-president? Does one include a comma before the final item in a series or not (copper, silver, and gold; or copper, silver and gold)? And just where do all those periods and commas and colons and parentheses and italics and quotation marks go in footnotes, reference lists, and bibliographies? Obviously these questions barely begin to scratch the surface of the infinite number of choices writers face every day.

To answer such questions and ensure consistency in their publications, publishers, newspapers, corporations, organizations, the government, and major fields of study have all developed style guides. In the academic world only a handful of these guides are widely used, but undergraduates still often find themselves bewildered. Their English professor tells them to use MLA; their history professor, Turabian; their communications professor, AP; their psychology professor, APA. Once students enter graduate school and begin to specialize in their disciplines, they usually have to contend with only one style. But these guides still undergo periodic revisions, and the rules can and do change. And recent advances in technology have only speeded things up, largely because the advent of the Internet has made it necessary to devise a whole new system of notation. For example, twenty years passed between the publication of the third and fourth editions of APA, but only seven years between the fourth and fifth. Clearly, having an academic editor familiar with the ins and outs of the different manuals in their most current editions can be a real asset for anyone writing for an academic audience.

Below is a brief description of the major style manuals used in academic writing:

AAA: Style Guide of the American Anthropological Association.

This can be accessed at http://www.aaanet.org/pubs/style_guide.htm.

AP: Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, Rev. ed.

The definitive guide for newspapers and journalism in general, it is also widely used in communications and business courses.


APA: Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed.

Designed for the psychology profession, it is also used by other social sciences as well as nursing.

Canadian: The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing, Rev. ed.

Widely used throughout Canada by just about everybody writing in English, this is the essential guide for students, teachers, editors, lawyers, journalists, secretaries, and business people.


CBE: Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, 7th ed.
         Prepared by the Council of Science Editors.

This style is widely used in the natural sciences as well as mathematics.


Chicago: The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. 

This granddaddy of all style manuals had its humble beginnings as "a single sheet of typographic fundamentals drawn up by a University of Chicago Press proofreader" in the 1890s (p. xiii). Today it is the most comprehensive of all style guides, and many other guides, including APA, will refer back to Chicago for matters they don’t cover. Designed primarily for scholarly publications, it is also widely used by magazines, corporations, electronic publications, and other entities. It has long been established in the history profession, and other fields in the arts and humanities use it as well. College students, however, may be asked to use Turabian, which is based on Chicago (see below).

MLA: MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd ed.
         MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed.

The Style Manual is intended for scholars publishing in the areas of literature and language, whereas the Handbook is designed for use by college students in these fields. MLA style is also widely used in the humanities.

Turabian: A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th ed. By Kate L. 

This is Chicago style for college students, recently updated to reflect the latest edition of Chicago.

To learn more about my services or to submit a document, please contact me at editor@myfinaldraft.com.