For questions about accepted usage and punctuation, a stylebook is a must

Ever wonder whether your company’s “band-aid solution” requires that band-aid be capitalized? And are you closed for a holiday shut-down or a shutdown? These and many other answers can be found in a writing stylebook, a resource that ought to be on every business professional’s desk. A stylebook is halfway (or is it half-way?) between a dictionary and a grammar book; it addresses common questions relating to appropriate business writing style.

Keep in mind that there are two kinds of “style,” personal style and editorial style. We are talking about the latter.

The most widely used style guide in business and journalism is the Associated Press Stylebook, and two others that also are worth having are the Chicago Manual of Style and the Gregg Reference Manual. All three are set up differently, and one might contain more details about a particular issue than the others. The AP Stylebook is in alphabetical order and it is a usage manual, covering such questions as when to abbreviate, when to capitalize, and how to punctuate. The Chicago manual is a heftier guide. It contains more in-depth explanation of punctuation issues and such things as how to use quotations and how to use tables and charts, but it does not provide the same coverage of word usage that the AP Stylebook does. The Gregg Reference Manual is closer to the Chicago guide, and it too has a wealth of information, with an inclusive index that makes it easy to find the answer you are looking for.

The books agree on many issues about accepted style, but they also will vary a little on certain questions. That’s because some issues in the language do not have well-established answers. For example, the AP Stylebook will say that after a colon, you capitalize the first letter if the information after the colon is a complete thought, and if it isn’t, you don’t uppercase the first word. The other stylebooks will elaborate more about when you do and don’t capitalize the first word. The best practice for you is to choose one book to follow and then be consistent. A major reason we have stylebooks is for consistency, to ensure that everyone in a company is not doing something different.

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