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Style manuals

by Durant Imboden

To write by the book, you need a book.

If you don't have a style manual, a.k.a. "stylebook" or "style guide," you ought to buy one--and soon.

A good style manual helps you resolve questions of usage, punctuation, and standard publishing style--such as whether to put a question mark inside or outside a quotation mark, when to hyphenate terms like "first class," and how to avoid gaffes like using "discreet" for "discrete."

Using a style manual regularly will get you into the habit of using standard publishing style--and that, in turn, will endear you to the editors who can make or break your career.

Which book to buy?

For writers with an interest in general book and magazine publishing, only two books are worth considering:

Words Into Type
(3rd Edition)
Prentice Hall, 1974
Hardcover, 585 pages
List price: US $39.95
ISBN 0139642625

Words Into Type is a book you'll find on any self-respecting copy editor's desk. Most commercial book publishers regard it as the definitive style manual, and I personally find it handier for quick reference than the Chicago Manual of Style (see below). To quote grammar guru Theodore M. Bernstein of The New York Times, "If you were to embark on publishing and found yourself on a desert island, this would be the one book to have with you."

The Chicago Manual of Style
(14th Edition)
University of Chicago Press, 1993
Hardcover, 921 pages
List price: US $28.00
ISBN 0226103897
This manual has been a staple of general and academic publishing since 1906. The 1993 edition added 200 pages of new material, and the usage rules reflect today's accepted standards (e.g., the manual concedes that it's no longer a sin to end a sentence with a preposition).

Other style manuals

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