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It's All a Matter of Style

by Arlene W. Robinson and Terry Robinson

Some people may ask, "Why is editing so important?" Well, last month's column is a good example. In some issues of Booking Matters, an incorrect email address was entered, and many readers weren't able to get through. One tiny typo, and people weren't able to respond. To you, we apologize and appreciate your patience.

Mistakes do happen. But, if you do all you can, the chances are lowered for them to enter your own writing.

In spite of the error, I did receive a number of questions. Surprisingly, most of them had the same answer:

Question: What is the proper way to. . .

  • Show a book title?
  • Show thoughts?
  • Show a movie title?
  • Capitalize a particular word?

In all these cases, the answers can be found in the Associated Press Manual of Style or Chicago Manual of Style.

Learning how to use a style guide is important to growing as a writer. When I first started editing, I knew what a style guide was. Or so I thought. But soon I found that the Strunk & White or Turabian Manual I'd depended on in school weren't enough. Today, I find the Associated Press Style Guide more useful for general writing, especially fiction writing. In addition, just about every publishing house has their preferred style systems, known as "house style."

No matter what style guide you refer to, the most important thing to remember is consistency. For example, when you write the name of our nation's capital, both "Washington D.C." and "Washington DC" are correct. However, don't write "DC" the first time, then later write "D.C." or "District of Columbia." This inconsistency can distract the reader, and they'll focus on the distractions rather than the point you're trying to make.

Style guides can be expensive, so before you decide which guide you want to purchase, visit your local library and review their copies, then choose the one that best matches what you intend to write.

(Thanks to CT, DJ and KC for this question!)

Of course, no single style guide is the best for every situation. This next question shows this very well:

Question: I have to write a thesis (or term paper). Will these guides work for me?

Answer: Probably not. Academic writing is a different ball of wax. Each school or college chooses what style they want, and which reference they want your paper to conform to. And the style they use may have no relationship to anything else you've done in the past.

Academic writing has a tendency towards passive, less-personal phrases and sentences . . . for example, "The students were given their assignments" rather than the more straightforward "Mrs. Jones gave the students their assignments." In addition, academic writing requires that headings be formatted a certain way. So if you're assigned a paper or thesis for school, be sure to check to find out their preferred style.

That about wraps it up for this month. Please keep those emails coming. We want this to help you in your endeavors. Also, write and tell us about your literary victories—we'd love to hear about them. A future column will share some of your stories for inspiration to others.

 

Reprinted with the permission of Booking Matters (bookingmatters@yahoo.com) a literary publication that promotes authors, book clubs, and bookstores.