There are several ways to understand "style" in writing, but here we are concerned with only two: first, the various rules that govern writing in different disciplines, and second, the general rules that make our writing better, again dependent, but more loosely, on the field of writing. More formally, "A style guide is a set of editing and formatting standards used by students, researchers, journalists, and other writers."
Style guides, also known as style manuals, stylebooks, and documentation guides, are indispensable reference tools for authors seeking publication, especially those who must document their sources in footnotes, endnotes, parenthetical citations, and/or bibliographies; but not only!
There are style guides for British English, American English, Canadian English, etc. We will only present the ones for British English, also called Standard English. So for general writing, we have selected the following for you. (Some are in "pdf" form and you can download them, some are online and you can read them, some are books and you can buy them. Usually, though, if you look hard enough, you can get anything in "pdf", on Script or elsewhere).
(1) The BBC News Styleguide. Written by John Allen, a BBC reporter and editor for the past 40 years, this popular manual "is not a 'do and don't' list but a guide that invites you to explore some of the complexities of modern English usage." A more comprehensive presentation of the same, written by Pete Burns, here.
(2) Economist.com Style Guide. John Grimond's online guide is based on the stylebook followed by journalists at The Economist magazine. The 11th edition of the paperback version of the guide will be published in 2015. Again, a more comprehensive presentation of the same, can be found here and another here.
(3) The Guardian and Observer Style Guide, edited by David Marsh and Amelia Hodsdon; this is the online version of Guardian Style. The third edition of this witty handbook was published in December 2010.
(4) Telegraph Style Book. Augmented by monthly "style notes" from associate editor Simon Heffer, this is the "official guide to house style" for The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, and Telegraph.co.uk.
(5) The AP Stylebook. "The first Associated Press Stylebook came out in 1953. It was 60 pages, stapled together, distilled from a thousand suggestions and ideas, a stack of newspapers and a big dictionary." Far more than just a collection of rules, the book became part dictionary, part encyclopedia, part textbook — an eclectic source of information for writers and editors of any publication. (American-english biased, but very good.)
(1) APA Publication Manual. "From its inception as a brief journal article in 1929, the 'Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association' has been designed to advance scholarship by setting sound and rigorous standards for scientific communication." The 'Publication Manual' is consulted not only by psychologists but also by students and researchers in education, social work, nursing, business, and many other behavioral and social sciences.
(2) Chicago Manual of Style. "[This] is the one book you must have if you work with words. First published in 1906, the indispensable reference for writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers...[is] replete with clear, well-considered advice on style and usage." A classic!
(3) Last, but not least, is my favourite, which is a book: The New Oxford Style Manual, 3rd Edition. This is like a compilation of two other excellent books, the New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors: The Essential A–Z Guide to the Written Word, 2nd Edition, which, in themselves are also excellent books. If you search enough, you just might find any of these in "pdf" form.
Lest you think that this is a list of instructions and guides for academic writing, let me remind you that, while you are correct, academic writing is precisely the area of writing that must convey its message with precision and without error, while honouring the language in which it is written. Is the style too strict and formal? Not necessarily; there is no reason it cannot be light and creative. In fact, the best writing, in any field, is just that; but that is no reason to be flawed!
To illustrate the point, let me give you a quote from Dr Richard Nordquist, English and Rhetoric Professor:
"Editing is a stage of the writing process in which a writer or editor strives to improve a draft by correcting errors and making words and sentences clearer, more precise, and as effective as possible. The process of editing involves adding, deleting, and rearranging words to cut the clutter and streamline overall structure."
He quotes, among others, from the book On Writing Well by William Zinsser:
"Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it's where the game is won or lost... Most writers don't initially say what they want to say, or say it as well as they could. The newly hatched sentence almost always has something wrong with it. It's not clear. It's not logical. It's verbose. It's klunky. It's pretentious. It's boring. It's full of clutter. It's full of cliches. It lacks rhythm. It can be read in several different ways. It doesn't lead out of the previous sentence. It doesn't... The point is that clear writing is the result of a lot of tinkering."
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