Week 5: Different Style Guides I Have Known

The American Psychological Association Publication Manual is not the first style guide that I have encountered. It is at least the third. That is because writing has always been something I enjoy and, at least I’ve been told, am pretty good at. The fondness for writing was the primary factor in my academic career and choice of profession. If you write a lot, there will be styles to follow and hence, guides that define those styles. (Wikipedia lists at least 20 different guides.)

I was a journalism and English major as an undergraduate, and both fields have their own style guides. The writing Bible (assume that should be capitalized) for reporters and editors is the Associated Press Style Guide, which prescribes rules for grammar, abbreviations, organizing news stories, titles and other matters regarding the mechanics of writing news stories. As the name suggests, the guide was originally developed for Associated Press reporters in the early part of the 20th century, and has since become the standard for journalists all over the world. Public relations and corporate communications professionals also use it, since many began their careers in journalism and they often produce press releases and other materials expressly for consumption by reporters. In editing class in journalism school, the first violation of AP Style on an assignment would earn you one letter grade off, and the second would result in a flat-out “F”. To editors and reporters, this is serious stuff; “That isn’t AP style” is not something you want to hear.

English majors had their own style guide, “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White (the author of “Charlotte’s Web”). Originally published in 1919, it is now in its fourth edition and still being used widely. EOS also addresses writing mechanics such as punctuation, agreement and possessive forms, but its main purpose in my mind was creating more effective composition; how to construct a coherent paragraph, integrating and connecting ideas, setting a positive tone, and writing with precision.

With these experiences in mind, it was not surprising to learn that there would be style conventions to follow in my graduate work. So far, I have observed similarities among APA style and the other forms. For example, AP and APA guidelines for pluralizing and some punctuation and capitalization forms are the same. EOS has advice about being precise and economical with word choice that is very similar to that found in the APA manual.

But there are a lot of differences that may create some challenges given how used I am to using AP style in particular. A small example: APA style says to use commas “between elements (including and and or) in a series of three or more items,” (p. 88) but AP style says not to use a comma before the and or or. I hope that learning the details and nuance of APA style will come mostly from deliberate study of the Publication Manual, as well as encouraging comments from my instructors, rather than mark-downs on assignments!

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