Style guides are the most referenced tools on an editor's bookshelf—and should be on a writer's bookshelf, too.
Storytelling Communications

Online Writing Tips: Best Style Guides for Your Bookshelf

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With hundreds of books and blogs out there offering writing advice, it can be difficult to choose which ones are the best resources for freelance writers. Some offer specific online writing tips, while others give advice that can apply to almost any kind of writing. What a lot of these resources tend to overlook, however, is style—editorial and formatting guidelines that help keep your writing in line with your client’s brand. If you ask a Skyword editor—or any editor—which books all writers and editors should have on their shelves, at least one style guide will likely make the cut. The following are our top three:

Chicago Manual of Style

This stylebook is the go-to guide for book publishers and one of the most trusted sources for other writing formats, including content marketing. Not sure what an en-dash is? Can’t decide whether to use the Oxford comma? The Chicago Manual of Style will answer these questions and more. At a whopping 1,026 pages, the current 16th edition is the most comprehensive editorial style guide out there.

However, its length may not seem all that easy to work with. To manage this, be sure to make good use of the index. Or, subscribe to the Chicago Manual of Style Online if you want to make searching easier. In the online version, you can also submit questions to the monthly Q&A newsletter or the site’s message boards if you have additional questions.

The Associated Press Stylebook

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, or the AP Stylebook, is traditionally followed by U.S. news journalists. In keeping with the minimalist style of newswriters, the annually updated guide is less than half the length of the Chicago Manual. You can also subscribe to it online.

This guide is split into sections by news type, such as sports or business. It answers such questions as when to abbreviate the names of government bodies and describes “fair use” policy. The book does leave a lot of style questions unanswered, though. Your editors may look elsewhere to provide you with online writing tips in addition to those from the AP.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

That’s right, a dictionary. Though this is not technically a writing style guide, I’d argue that it is just as important. The well-respected Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary is used by editors across the industry. If you don’t want a large dictionary taking up space on your desk, you can reference this source in two ways online. The free m-w.com limits how much you can look up in one sitting, while the more comprehensive unabridged version requires a paid subscription to use. It is important to keep a dictionary on hand not only to check your spelling, but also to make sure your words have the right connotation. As with adhering to a specific style guide, following one dictionary helps create brand consistency.

Remember, your client may not follow all the rules of each book above. These guides are often used in conjunction with a company’s specific style rules depending on what best fits the brand. No matter which style (or combination of styles) you’re following, try to keep your writing clean and consistent. Readers are less likely to trust content that is full of spelling and grammatical errors and style inconsistencies. Fixing these little things will help your client’s message resonate with readers.

Are there any style guides you recommend that we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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