Style Guide How-To from a journalist, creative writer, and student

My headline is most certainly in Chicago/MLA Style. AP Style does not approve of the Oxford Comma.

Funniest explanation I’ve ever seen.

Welcome to the Style Guide How-To, where a journalistic, creative, and academic writer explains the difference between three major style guides and outlines how and when writers use them. There are many differences between these guides, such as the use of the Oxford Comma, displayed above.

The Chicago Manual of Style: This is the style manual mainly used in book publishing, magazines, and journals. This manual is currently on its 16th edition and is also used in some social science publications (though most social sciences use the American Psychological Association Style Guide). In order to view the online edition, it is necessary to purchase a yearly subscription, but most universities and publishing houses have this.

An example of an in-text citation in Chicago style:

“Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey refers to Knowledge as a woman, calling her ‘young and beautiful and drowned’ (Trethewey, 2012, p. 28).”

An example of a Works Cited listing:

Trethewey, N. (2012). Thrall. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Modern Language Association (MLA) Style Manual: This is the manual with which students are most familiar, as we use it throughout high school and much of university to write research papers. This guide is used most often for those in the arts and humanities, and is used for academic writing. This style will be seen in comparative literature essays, literary criticism, and other scholarly essays. Literary journals use MLA rather than Chicago as a Style Guide.

An example of an in-text Citation in Chicago style:

“Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey refers to Knowledge as a woman, calling her ‘young and beautiful and drowned’ (Trethewey 28).”

An example of a Works Cited listing:

Trethewey, Natasha. Thrall. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2012.

Thankfully, Purdue OWL provides the MLA Style Guide for free online and is great for a quick reference when writing up a Works Cited page. But watch out: OWL has differences with the printed version of MLA, so it is best to use the hard copy of the guide when editing or writing scholarly articles or essays.

Associated Press (AP) Stylebook: I use this stylebook most often since I write for a newspaper. This is the style guide used by journalists, and its rules are normally much different from Chicago and MLA. This stylebook is used by journalists because it is designed to save print space—such as dropping the Oxford comma (see my example above!) and using figures rather than words for numbers above nine (Chicago prefers spelling out all numbers below 100). You must have a subscription to the online version of AP, just like Chicago, but all newspapers and public relations firms will have one. Since this Style Guide is used strictly for writing news stories, there is no citation guide included. Journalists who write a scholarly essay would turn to the MLA Style Manual.

As a student, journalist, and future (hopefully!) publisher, I use all three of these manuals quite often. It’s important to know how to get a hold of these manuals when they’re needed and when they must be used.

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