Creating Style Guides for Professional Documents

You have a document, and it has special formatting. Perhaps it has heading styles, block quotes, references, and the like. Maybe you need to use APA style or MLA style. Perhaps your document has special chapter titles. Keeping track of these styles—and using them consistently—can be a chore.

What Is a Style?

A style is basically the format for a particular type of text. A style sheet will help you keep track of the various text formats in your document, whether it’s a business letter, a technical manual, a dissertation, or a novel.

The style for a particular type of text can have many attributes. Common attributes include font size and face, text color, indentation, paragraph spacing (space or blank lines before and after the paragraph), line spacing, paragraph spacing, justification (right, left, center, block), capitalization style, and text styling (bold, italics, underlined, superscript, etc.).

With so many attributes to remember, you may have difficulty applying them consistently. I see this often. A client will have a subheading in bold text, another one in italics, and even a third in bold and underlined. Some paragraphs will have a 0.5-inch first line indent with left justification, and others will have no indent with block justification.

What Is a Style Guide?

A style guide is, simply, a written description of the styles used in a particular type of document. A style guide helps the writer know how the document looks, makes sure the writer is consistent, and communicates the style requirements to other writers.

Clients working on dissertations or graduate papers are generally required to follow an authorized style guide, such as APA style or MLA style. Many trade journals will also have a required style guide to follow. These style guides can be a bit tricky to follow, but they will provide the style guidance some writers need.

What Is an “Individualized” Style Guide?

Many of our clients are graduate students. Most use APA style, and we’re experts…

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