Style Guides


Many people are confused about the fundamentals of good writing for good reason. The reason is that the rules of grammar and punctuation sometime seem inconsistent. Luckily, we can determine whether some element of grammar or punctuation is correct. Well maybe not absolutely correct, but correct according to the rules outlined in a style guide. But, what’s a style guide?

Style guides are resources, online or in print, that give direction for grammar, punctuation, formatting, word usage, and spelling for a particular publication. Before a writer chooses a style guide, he or she should review the publication’s guidance on which style guide it uses.

Style guides will help writers make the right grammar and punctuation choices. Review the following sentences and determine which is correct:

  1. A. Adults returning to school must review the guidelines for grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  2. B. Adults returning to school must review the guidelines for grammar, punctuation and spelling.

These sentences contain only one difference: the comma after “punctuation”. Which do you think is correct? Why did you select the one you chose?  Did you use grammar rules learned in school?  Did you guess?  Did you think you saw it written a certain way in a magazine or online?  Did you go online and try to find an example?

Ok, here’s the answer: neither A or B are incorrect, but only by knowing which style guide should be used can you know for certain which is correct. Yes, both can be correct.

Many punctuation and grammar guidelines are universal (meaning they apply no matter which style guide is used), but some grammar and punctuation rules vary in different style guides. That’s why items A and B both could be correct. Depending on which style guide the writer must follow, either will be correct, but the writer must know which style guide to use to make the correct choice.