A matter of style – style guides

Style manuals or guides set out standards for writing, proofreading, and editing documents

They provide guidance on matters such as:

  • use of abbreviations
  • preferred punctuation styles
  • formatting of lists
  • capitalisation of words
  • how numbers are expressed.

    Style guides may be specific to the writer’s audience, such as academic papers, legal documents, business documents, or journalistic articles.

Country variations

There are some variations across Australian, British and American English.

In Australia, editors and writers usually reach for the Australian Government Style Manual 7th ed, managed by the Digital Transformation Agency.


This online guide replaces the previous, well-loved handbook, Style Manual: For Authors, Editors and Printers by Snooks & Co,6th ed. 


In the US, commonly used style guides include the Associated Press Stylebook (AP) for journalists, or the Chicago Manual of Style, Yahoo (for the web) and APA for academia.

In the UK, there is the Oxford Guide to Style, formerly known as Hart’s Rules and the University of Oxford website provides a less comprehensive on-line style document. Other guides include The Guardian style guide (also done according to an index), Copy-Editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers, and The Times Style and Usage Guide.

Style sheets

Beyond the recognised guides and manuals that inform style, a writer and his or her editor may wish to discuss any particular preferences. These may include punctuation (double/single quotation marks, paragraph breaks, use of the serial comma), writing numbers, spelling (UK, US, Australian English), etc. The editor will record any special characteristics of the writer’s style in a style sheet. As well as capturing editorial decisions, style sheets are handy for monitoring the internal consistency of a work. For example, if you call a character ‘Marian’, then her name will need to be spelled this way (not ‘Marion’ or ‘Marianne’) throughout the manuscript.


Style manuals and guides set out standards for writing, proofreading, and editing documents.

They are country-specific.

Where an author departs from the usual language conventions or has idiosyncratic rules, a style sheet helps the writer, the editor and finally the proof reader understand and apply what the author wants.

Word choices: sliver vs slither

Serpentine snakes slithered in the sliver of moonlight

Just a quick post to remind you to watch out for words that are sometimes used incorrectly.

One example is sliver vs slither.

Sliver of silvery moon

Your character might see a sliver of the moon or eat a sliver of watermelon.



In contrast, they may see a snake slither into view.




To check I’ve picked the right word, I use the prompt: a sliver of silvery light.


Ah, the English language can be so fickle!


Getting started

Getting started
Writing tips and hints
Advice from some successful authors and publishers:
• Write every day; make it a habit.
• Know yourself—decide if you are a ‘pantser ‘(fly by the
Seat of …) or a planner—and then work with it.
• Organise and honour your workspace.
• Just START writing!
The first draft is just you telling yourself
the story—Terry Pratchett
• A story needs a person, a problem, a place (characters, plot, setting).
• It needs obstacles that get in the way of the characters.
• Good guys MUST change—keep the hero chasing his goal.
• Let your characters show themselves through what they do (show, don’t tell).
• Let them your characters be funny.
• If you plan to research and collate information, be sure to acknowledge your source material.
• Keep it interesting, focused and logical.
All writing
• Always keep your target audience front of mind.
• Draft something, then put it away for a while—don’t perseverate; don’t fiddle with it—you don’t need perfection up front. When you come back to it, refreshed, you’ll either wonder how you were so awesome, or wonder what you were thinking!

Author resources

Resources for authors
Your creative writing efforts will eventually culminate in something resembling a manuscript. As you put out feelers for guidance on ‘what’s next?’ you will be astounded by the vastness of resources—books, online guides, writing groups, Facebook pages, library events for writers. Your personality will probably influence your preferred medium for acquiring information. Here are some of my favourite publications and online resources that deal with writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (2005) (screenwriting)
Self-editing Your Novel by Kathy Stewart (2014)
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, 4th ed (2000)
On Writing: a memoir of the craft by Stephen King (2012)
How to Write Your Blockbuster by Fiona McIntosh (2015)
Bird by bird: some instructions on writing and life, by Anne Lamott (1994)
Facebook—search for ‘writing’ and FB will throw up some interesting options.
Belinda Pollard’s website smallbluedog.com offers practical ideas.


Indulge me a minute! I have spent years of my life suggesting ways that writers could make their message more powerful, logical, emotive, read-worthy!

While the rules of 21st century English are somewhat fluid, there are some basic rules to stick with.

So here are some very basic hints and tips

Tell your software program what spelling you’d like (US, English, Aus English) and respect its suggestions.

You can overlay a program such as Grammarly if you need more help.

You may receive conflicting spelling and grammar advice from your editor, beta-reader, best friend, picky relative.

Be sure you pick a style and keep it consistent throughout your manuscript. The readers won’t mind if you write Mr., Mister or Mr, but they will be frustrated if you keep changing it!

Engage an experienced editor and trust them.