We’ve got style

Copyediting and proofreading are often about minutiae. That’s where stylebooks or style guides come in. For consistency, most organizations use a mix of a published guide and their own proprietary specifics.

Washingtonian had its own list, constantly updated, which I eventually memorized. We called it an extremely bastardized version of AP. The Investment Company Institute sent me its paper guide. Foreign Policy used Merriam-Webster, AP, and Chicago. AGB uses Chicago. I’ve also used APA, Words Into Type (not really complete, but some people use it as an addition), and – occasionally and unhappily – GPO.

Chicago’s a bear. I can understand using it for academic writing, books, footnotes, and so on, and it does cover nearly every eventuality. But being of the opinion that academic writing ought to have its hot air let out until the average number of syllables per word drops to 2.5 and it becomes more easily understood, relatable, laypeople writing, I much prefer AP – The Associated Press Stylebook.

AP is easier to use, easier to understand, even had a spiral binding for a while (wish it still did). I recommend it to my students. It covers common misspellings, some grammatical bugaboos, and pretty much all the necessary style points as well as basics of business, sports, law, and punctuation.

We have our quibbles: AP doesn’t like “okay,” and really, would anyone write “cat box filler”? And then there’s the matter of the serial comma. Someday the editors will see the light on that. But the word “media” is plural, it says. “A controversial issue is redundant,” it says. AP is clear. It’s alphabetical. It explains dozens of idioms without condescension and spells “ketchup” properly. AP is the Mac to other style guides’ PC. All hail AP!

Copyright 2011 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

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