Style guidelines are precise directions for how language should be used and are an important tool for writers. Famous examples include the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook, but individual companies, institutions, and organizations also have their own guidelines. Style guidelines are extremely important because they lay out the desired format for a piece of written communication. By following them, the writer will produce a polished, professional piece of writing which meets the requirements of the organization the writer is working for.
Commonly, style guidelines include grammar conventions. This is especially important with languages like English, in which several grammatical forms may be technically correct. By indicating how things such as quotes and citations should be written, consistency is ensured. For example, some guidelines will clearly dictate how measurements, dates, and numbers should be presented. A good style guide will also indicate how things should be spelled, and which regional dialect is appropriate for the writing. For example, many American style guidelines indicate that American spellings should be used for words like color, theater, and recognize, rather than the British spellings, which can be unfamiliar and confusing for American readers.
Usually, style guidelines also dictate the overall tone and content of a work as well. The level of formality required in a piece of writing is typically indicated, which will also inform the writer whether or not profanity and controversial topics are acceptable. Tone requirements vary widely not only from industry to industry, but also within a field, as a comparison of the style guides for the New York Times and Washington Post reveal. Each organization has developed its own style, which contributes to the unique style of the newspaper, and readers have come to expect pieces which conform to these parameters. Copy editors are responsible for ensuring that authors stay within the guidelines.
For professionalism, style guidelines are crucial. In newspapers, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other documents which require contributions from large numbers of writers, these rules help keep the work consistent, so that readers are not jarred by personal stylistic choices which may vary. In the academic world, they help to enforce clear discipline and also allow students to show that they can follow directions clearly. While style guidelines may seem onerous at times, following dictated guidelines as a writer can impress an audience, and may make the difference between success and failure as a writer.