Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Style Guides

When it comes to writing papers or presentations, one of the most useful tools you can get your hands on is a good style guide.

What's a style guide?

Well, a style guide is designed to make sure that what you write looks "right". Most publications, such as journals and newspapers, have style guides to make sure everyone is following the same patterns.

Style guides do three main things:

  • They dictate the formatting of your writing (Do you indent the first line of a paragraph? Use italics for foreign words? Use double or single quotation marks first? Use section headings?)
  • The give recommendations on grammar and punctuation (How do you use commas in a list? Where should you use semicolons? Can you start a sentence with a conjunction?)
  • They dictate the way you use references in the text and how you format your reference list (Is the title of the book underlined or in italics? Where do you put the date? How do you write out the volume and issue of the journal article?)


Most referencing systems (APA, MLA, etc) have their own style-guides, and you will find abbreviated versions of these guides on many academic library websites. You will also be able to find the style guides themselves in the reference section of most libraries.

Some libraries may also hold style guides put out by publishers and news sources. Some, like the BBC News Styleguide, are available online.

There are also generic style guides that just offer good advice on how to create a readable, professional looking piece of writing.

You may find your lecturers recommend following a certain style, in which case the style guides become invaluable. Any serious student should probably take a look at one before tackling their assignments, at any rate.

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