Guide to Style Guides
At some point in high school or college, students learn that in addition to effectively applying the rules of English grammar and usage in their writing, they often must also follow conventions of a particular style guide. Style guides are primarily differentiated by their rules on documentation of sources. They also vary in terms of their formatting requirements. Some of the most commonly used styles include:
- American Psychological Association (APA), used in the social sciences, including nursing, sociology, psychology, and education
- Modern Language Association (MLA), used in most of the humanities, including literature and languages
- Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), used in history, some humanities, and the US publishing industry
- Associated Press (AP), used in journalism
- Council of Science Editors (CSE), used in biology and natural sciences
If you cite outside sources in your work, the style guide you use will determine the formatting of all your citations and your reference page, so it’s essential to use the correct guide consistently throughout your work and on your reference pages. There are many resources online that can help you once you’ve determined the style you’re using, and if you use the same style repeatedly, it’s a great idea to buy a paper copy of it. Call me old fashioned, if you will. I am indeed suggesting you obtain a copy of the actual book.
Sometimes it’s perfectly obvious which style you should be using, usually because someone has told you to or because you are working in a field that always uses a certain style guide. But what should you do if what you’re working on doesn’t have such specific requirements? Here are a few ideas to format your writing when you’re on your own in the style department:
- Use an easy-to-read font in an appropriate size. For a paper, letter, or work of fiction, 12-point is best.
- If you are using a title, center it on the top line of the first page.
- If you are using headings, be consistent. Format all same-level headings the same way. For example, you might do first-level headings centered in bold in title case and second-level headings left-aligned in bold in title case.
- Double-space most types of writing. Single-space letters.
- Indent the first line of each double-spaced paragraph .5 inch. Do the same for single-spaced paragraphs, or leave a blank line between paragraphs.
- Use page numbers if over one page.
- If you will be citing outside sources, and it really doesn’t matter what style you use, just pick one, and, most important, be consistent! (You can always go with Harvard style.)
Finally, here are a couple of notes about selecting writing style for ProofreadingPal customers: When you place your order, the styles you may choose from are MLA; APA; CMS; CSE; business editing; personal statement, application essay, resume, or cover letter; or other. For your convenience, a brief description of each style appears when you select it. If you choose “other,” our proofreaders will default to CMS. If you are using a style guide other than those listed, select “other” under writing style, and indicate the style you’d like applied in the document description. No matter the style you choose, it’s a good idea to indicate any specific formatting preferences you may have in the document description that stray from the standards of the style you select.
Also, if you have a specific style for an institute or publication, you can give us a copy to follow.
PS. For more help with styles, check out:
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