Planning Your Writing: 5. Style Guides and Manuals

Planning Your Writing: 5. Style Guides and Manuals
By Norma J Hill (aka Pen and Paper Mama) © 2021

In our previous series for writers, we discussed and provided worksheets for “Self Exploration For Writers,” “Your Writing Life,” and “Author Considerations Beyond Just Writing.” In this new series, “Planning Your Writing,” we will explore:

  1. Research
  2. Target Audience, Genre, and Purpose
  3. Seeking Help
  4. Useful Planning Documents
  5. Style Guides & Manuals
  6. Developing Creativity and Story Skills
  7. Personal Style Sheet

At the end of each post in the series, there is a link to a downloadable and printable PDF copy on which you can write your responses. Put them in a binder or Duotang-type report folder (you can continue to add to your binder from the previous series). Then, periodically along your writing journey, return to your answers, read what you noted previously, and add new thoughts and experiences. Through this process, you’ll end up with a wonderful record of your writer’s journey.

5. Style Guides and Manuals

Before you start writing, you’ll want to locate a style guide suited to the type of writing you are doing. For example, if you are writing fiction and you live in North America, you’ll probably use The Chicago Manual of Style. If you are doing other types of writing such as journalism, academic writing, or poetry, there are standard guides for those, too. Some organizations and publishers have their own specialized guides as well, which you must follow if writing for them, as do specific nations or regions. Here are some examples of guides that might be useful for you. Check off the ones you think could be related to your type of writing, and then examine them at the library or a bookstore and choose the one(s) that you need. Purchase (or get an online subscription) and add to your writer’s library:

The Elements of Style (by William Strunk Jr. And E.B. White) is a great little book to begin building your personal library. It is frequently updated and will get you off to a great start.
The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. University of Chicago Press. North American standard style guide, especially for fiction. New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors. Oxford. British style guide.
Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. For journalistic and feature writing. APA Style: for writing in the social sciences. Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors. Style guide of the American Medical Association. MLA Handbook. Writing resources from the Modern Language Association, for various types of academic writing such as essays. Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Scientific Style and Format: CSE Manual for Authors, Editors and Publishers.
Elements of Indigenous Style by Greg Younging—an important guide for any writing that deals with Indigenous topics and issues. You may also seek out “sensitivity” guides for writing that deals with other specific groups (races, gender, etc.).
The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing, Revised and Expanded. Dundurn Press. Oxford Canadian A to Z of Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation. (Note: Other countries or regions have similar guides specific to their areas)
Dictionaries: You’ll also want a top-notch, up-to-date dictionary featuring the form of English suited to your audience. For example, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary is suited to a Canadian audience. There are also specialized dictionaries that may be helpful, such as The Dictionary of Canadianisms which is a great help if you’re planning to write dialogue from a particular Canadian region and time period. Roget’s Thesaurus or another quality thesaurus of synonyms is also very helpful.  Many thesauruses include antonyms. Thesauruses come in different formats, so check out a few and see which one would work best for you. If you’re a poet, you might want a copy of the Merriam-Webster Rhyming Dictionary (or a similar one). There are also specifically regional/national thesauruses such as the Oxford Canadian Thesaurus.
Also consider a writing handbook or grammar guide such as The Little, Brown Handbook in an up-to-date edition. The exercises in these handbooks can really help you improve your writing skills. Pick out areas of personal weakness and practice, practice, practice.  
There are also some rather amusing and entertaining guides available for various self-editing topics. One of my favourites is Punctuation Without Tears by Dominic Selwood. Who knew punctuation could be this much fun? Another popular guide is The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed, Revised Edition, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon.

Putting your notes into practice:

You’d be wise to at least scan through the appropriate guide(s) before you start writing (or, if you’ve already written your first draft, before self-editing and revising) so you have a general idea of how the guide is set up, what’s included, and how to use it efficiently. Later, in your editing and revising process, you’ll be able to refer to details in the guide when you need guidance.

PDF LINK: Planning Your Writing: 5. Style Guides and Manuals

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