Friend and author Darren Sapp recently emailed me with a few choice questions regarding style guides and writing books. Because of his post-graduate degrees, the Turabian style guide is thoroughly lodged in his brain. But because he’s writing and publishing his own novels, he wanted to know if another style guide is better suited to books.
Judging by his questions, he already knew these answers, but he suggested they could make for a helpful blog post. I agreed, so now this post exists—well, it’ll exist tomorrow. I’m trying to get better about weekly posts emailed to you on Sundays and then posted to my site on Mondays, which means you’re getting first dibs!
What’s the best style guide for me?
The answer to what style guide to use requires knowing the kind of writing you do and your intended audience. Broadly speaking, these are the recommended style guides for various purposes:
- Fiction and most nonfiction books: The Chicago Manual of Style
- Journalism and writing for websites: The Associated Press Stylebook
- Research papers, theses, and dissertations: The Turabian Style Guide
- Academic writing, mostly in literature and the humanities: MLA Handbook: The Modern Language Association of America
The Turabian Style Guide is actually titled—take a breath— A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Eighth Edition: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. Most people just call it Turabian for obvious reasons.
American University has a great list that breaks down preferred style guides for different topics: “Which Style Should I Use?”
Should I always use the Chicago Manual of Style when writing a book?
If you’re writing a novel or a work of nonfiction for the general market, yes. While it’s not necessary to know everything about the Chicago Manual before writing your book, it’s helpful to know a few things—like the fact that CMOS prefers the Oxford comma.
However, your editor’s job is to know CMOS like a dear friend, or at least know how to find the right information within CMOS.
For instance, they’ll help you figure out whether you’re supposed to spell out numbers or not. Per CMOS, “In nontechnical contexts, Chicago advises spelling out whole numbers from zero through one hundred and certain round multiples of those numbers.” But a number—pun intended—of exceptions exist, such as percentages: 50 percent.
If you want to become a better writer (and your editor’s favorite client), take the time to learn the Chicago Manual of Style, especially if writing and publishing is something you want to do more than once.
Should I buy the CMOS print edition or subscribe to CMOS online?
It’s your preference: the print version of The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition is currently $36. The yearly subscription to the online CMOS is $39 per year or discounted to $70 per two years. Many writing and editing organizations offer a group discount to the online version.
I love the ease of searching the online edition. The people behind the site were smart too: you can save the sections you most often refer to, make your own notes, and create your own style guide. It’s a necessary investment for editors, but I think it’s a very worthwhile investment for writers.
If you have further questions about style guides, leave a comment!