A style guide (or manual of style) is a set of standards for the writing and design of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication, organization, or field. (It is often called a style sheet, though that term has other meanings.)
A style guide establishes and enforces style to improve communication. To do that, it ensures consistency within a document and across multiple documents and enforces best practice in usage and in language composition, visual composition, orthography and typography. For academic and technical documents, a guide may also enforce the best practice in ethics (such as authorship, research ethics, and disclosure), pedagogy (such as exposition and clarity), and compliance (technical and regulatory).
Style guides are common for general and specialized use, for the general reading and writing audience, and for students and scholars of various academic disciplines, medicine, journalism, the law, government, business, and specific industries.
Style guides vary widely in scope and size.
This variety in scope and length is enabled by the cascading of one style over another, in a way analogous to how styles cascade in web development and in desktop publishing (e.g., how inline styles in HTML cascade over CSS styles).
A short style guide is often called a style sheet. A comprehensive guide tends to be long and is often called a style manual or manual of style (MOS or MoS). In many cases, a project such as one book, journal, or monograph series typically has a short style sheet that cascades over the somewhat larger style guide of an organization such as a publishing company, whose content is usually called house style. Most house styles, in turn, cascade over an industry-wide or profession-wide style manual that is even more comprehensive. Some examples of these industry style guides include the following:
Finally, these reference works cascade over the orthographic norms of the language in use (for example, English orthography for English-language publications). This, of course, may be subject to national variety such as the different varieties of American English and British English.
Style guides that cover usage may suggest ways of describing people that avoid racism, sexism, and homophobia. Guides in specific scientific and technical fields cover nomenclature, which specifies names or classifying labels that are preferred because they are clear, standardized, and ontologically sound (e.g., taxonomy, chemical nomenclature, and gene nomenclature).
Most style guides are revised periodically to accommodate changes in conventions and usage. The frequency of updating and the revision control are determined by the subject matter. For style manuals in reference work format, new editions typically appear every 1 to 20 years. For example, the AP Stylebook is revised annually, and the Chicago, APA, and ASA manuals are in their 16th, 6th, and 4th editions, respectively. Many house styles and individual project styles change more frequently, especially for new projects.
Several basic style guides for technical and scientific communication have been defined by international standards organizations. One example is ISO 215 Documentation — Presentation of contributions to periodicals and other serials.
The European Union publishes an Interinstitutional style guide—encompassing 24 languages across the European Union. This manual is "obligatory" for all those employed by the institutions of the EU who are involved in preparing EU documents and works. The Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission publishes its own English Style Guide, intended primarily for English-language authors and translators, but aiming to serve a wider readership as well.
In the United States, most public-facing corporate communication and journalism writing is written with styles following The Associated Press Stylebook. Book publishers and authors of journals requiring reference sections generally choose the Chicago Manual of Style, while scholarly writing often follows the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. One of the most popular grammar guides used in third-person writing is The Elements of Style. The Associated Press Stylebook is written to be used together with The Elements of Style to provide a very complete grammar and English style reference with no conflicts.
Despite the near uniform use of the Bluebook, nearly every state has appellate court rules that specify citation methods and writing styles specific to that state - and the Supreme Court of the United States has its own citation method. However, in most cases these are derived from the Bluebook.
There are also several other citation manuals available to legal writers in wide usage in the United States. Virtually all large law firms maintain their own citation manual and several major publishers of legal texts (West, Lexis-Nexis, Hein, et al.) maintain their own systems.
Guidelines for citing web content also appear in comprehensive style guides such as Oxford/Hart, Chicago and MLA.
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