Word Traveler: Using a Style Guide

This feature is for all word lovers as well as those studying for the SAT and seeking to learn new vocabulary.

American English is rich and varied. Given the breadth and extent of the language, writers often encounter situations in which they need help ensuring that their writing will be understood. Style involves spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, and typography used in one's writing. The manner in which these elements of style are employed by the writer greatly impacts the tone and character of the writing and influences how one's meaning will be received by the reader. A style guide is a handbook on these matters, intended to sit alongside a dictionary and thesaurus. The entries are written with the average student, businessman, secretary, and writer in mind.

Such a guide has a section devoted to the "form" of words -- mainly spelling of words and compounds, their capitalization, plurals, irregular verb sets, variants, hyphenation, and punctuation. Words whose spellings are different but pronunciations the same are often differentiated. Words that are different but often confused are also described. Important abbreviations commonly found in writing and reference books are given. The styling of medical, scientific, and technical terms is covered, answering questions like: Are names of computer languages written as all capitals? When are Latin names and expressions italicized? How are meteorological terms styled?

The handling of proper nouns is dealt with, including the full forms of names, titles, groups, places, and things. Entries are often chosen on the basis of their currency and frequency in written material. Others which appear less frequently but which are difficult to spell or the full form less well-known are also listed. The full titles and abbreviations (if any) are given for academic degrees; military, nobility, and religious ranks, and organizational positions. Company names, place names, trademarks; and government, labor, religious, and other organization names are spelled and usage notes often offered.

Rules for punctuation - from apostrophes to slashes - are covered thoroughly, as well as how to divide (hyphenate) words and how to use numbers and numerals in text.

Writers benefit greatly from choosing a style guide or manual to help make their writing efficient, consistent, and as correct as possible.

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