Whether you’re a writer or a respected professional in another field, you’re not expected to be a grammar and citation expert as well. There are simply too many rules to remember—that’s what style guides are for. A style guide is a thorough review of grammar, punctuation, citation, and spellings for different disciplines. These guides describe the rules and show examples to make it easier to polish your paper and be consistent.
Some of the better-known style guides are APA, MLA, and Chicago.
APA (American Psychological Association): Most commonly used for the social sciences, such as psychology and sociology. For medicine and related fields, use AMA (American Medical Association).
CMS (Chicago Manual of Style): Used for papers about English, history, and other arts.
MLA (Modern Language Association): Used for papers about English, history, and other arts. MLA often acts as the default citation style if one isn’t specified.
If you know which guide you want to use, but aren’t sure what the rules are, Purdue Online Writing Lab is an excellent resource. It offers examples for each of the styles and even includes sample papers.
It’s crucial to offer credit for sources you use when you’re doing research or writing. Style guides provide a uniform way to cite your sources by outlining the information you need to include every time in a standardized format. This helps readers locate the sources you used for their own understanding and helps remove the possibility of plagiarism.
An Example of Each
While the style guides have different formatting for citations, they generally include the same information. Here’s an example from Purdue Online Writing Lab for what you would include when citing a web page or online content:
Last Name, F. M. (Year, Month Date). Title of page. Site Name. URL
Price, D. (2018, March 23). Laziness does not exist. Medium. https://humanparts.medium.com/laziness-does-not-exist-3af27e312d01
Last Name, First Name. Name of Site, Name of institution, Date of creation, URL. Date of Access.
Felluga, Dino. Survey of the Literature of England. Purdue University, Aug. 2006, web.ics.purdue.edu/~felluga/241/241/Home.html. Accessed 31 May 2007.
Last Name, First Name, Contributing Author. “Title of Web Page..” Name of Website. Publishing organization, publication or revision date. Access date. URL.
McNamara, Nathan Scott. “Why American Literature Needs Indie Presses.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, July 18, 2016. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/07/why-american-publishing-needs-indie-presses/491618/.
As you can see, the same general information is included, though the formatting for each style is different. Style guides are available online and in print, though online access may be limited to a few sections. Unless you’re in a writing-intensive position, you likely won’t need your own copy of the style guide. Some sites, such as easybib.com and citationmachine.com, offer free generated citations. If you use these resources, be sure to double-check that the end citation is correct. This is the easy way to do citations, but it’s not always the most accurate.
Style guides offer endless information on a uniform approach to writing, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. The underlying goal of a style guide is to improve communication through a cohesive, industry-standard approach to writing. Sometimes an official style guide is needed in conjunction with your own style sheet.
A style sheet is not regulated and is far more casual. This is your personal or company reference to the rules. As you work through your paper, you can jot down terms, spellings, or punctuation that may be “unusual” or that you find tricky to remember.
For instance, if you were writing a paper on ancient cultures, you’d likely make a note that Aristotle was the philosopher and Archimedes was the mathematician. Or maybe you have that memorized but you’re unsure when to write “renaissance” versus “Renaissance.” A style sheet is a personalized cheat sheet to save you from looking up terms and usage every time. It’s meant to make your life easier with specific issues, while still following the official style guide.
“Working smarter, not harder” may be an old adage, but the lesson is still the same. Use the style guides to ensure top quality work and if you need a style cheat sheet, write one up. Whatever tools help you to write more efficiently and effectively are worth learning.