Style, the way the editors define it

Most writers think that style refers to the way we write, the flair and artistry we bring to words on the page. But in the publishing world, editors and copy editors use the term to refer to the very particular way they treat certain words–putting book titles in italics, say, or using OK rather than okay. If you intend to write for publication, it may be useful to pick up one or more of the following books.

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. This is the standard in newsrooms all around the country. Journalists love it for its easy-to-use A to Z organization. Also included is a primer on libel and other legal issues. Many individual newspapers have their own style manuals, which add local place names or idioms to the A.P. list of terms.

The Chicago Manual of Style, Sixteenth Edition. This is the manual preferred by magazine and book publishers. The new edition has badly needed advice on handling how to deal with Web sites, URLs, and the like.

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers and the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing are the authorities in academia, when it comes to style. They are published by the Modern Language Association. MLA style focuses especially on documenting scholarly borrowings for writing on language and literature. It has been widely adopted by schools, academic departments, and instructors for over half a century, as well as more than 1,100 scholarly and literary journals, newsletters, and university and commercial presses throughout North America and in Brazil, China, India, Japan, Taiwan, and other countries.

Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age. This slender volume broke ground in 1996 when its creators at Wired magazine called it “a beautiful object, a useful tool” for its florescent packaging and comprehensive list of Internet words. It was envisioned as a complement to AP and Chicago, which for a long time did not address the kinds of questions made burning by the Internet. A new version in 1999 included an essay on writing in the age of email. Both volumes are out of print by are available from Constance Hale, who edited them.

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3 Responses to Style, the way the editors define it

  1. Ziqke July 17, 2013 at 12:13 am #

    Connie,

    What is your preferred style (e.g., Chicago 16th or AP)?

    • Connie Hale July 17, 2013 at 11:52 am #

      Well, Ziqke, I tried to be very even-handed in my post, but as for my preference: Chicago all the way.

      The main reason I prefer Chicago is that I write mostly for magazines and books, where it is is preferred. But there are other reasons, the biggest being that I love the serial comma (also called the Oxford comma). That is the comma before the “and” in the last item of a list. (In other words, the second comma in this sentence: Major style guides include the MLA, AP, and Chicago.) The New York Times doesn’t use the serial comma, and that drove me crazy when I was writing for Opinionator. (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/author/constance-hale/)

      Here’s another style question that I duked out with my Random House editors: Which is correct, “OK” or “okay”?

      OK is the form supported by Merriam-Webster and the AP. The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t specify, but as it happens, the manual uses “OK” twice (at 2.66 and 7.48) and does not use “okay” at all.

      Why? CMOS follows Webster’s 11th Collegiate, which puts “OK” as the first spelling. But in an online search I learned that “okay” is considered an equal variant (which means it’s also standard). (See http://bit.ly/16JAI9I)

      My Random House editors preferred “okay,” but when I explained the long history of “OK” and sent them the entry from the OED online supporting my preferred spelling, they let me have my way.

      Oxford says “OK” originated in the mid 19th century: “probably an abbreviation of orl korrect, humorous form of all correct, popularized as a slogan during President Van Buren’s re-election campaign of 1840; his nickname Old Kinderhook (derived from his birthplace) provided the initials.”

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