The Major Differences Between Writing Style Guides

Guest post by Caroline Jones

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were one main guide to follow when it comes to writing? Yes. But unfortunately there isn’t. As a writer, you are constantly told to follow certain writing guidelines, and you may not be familiar with them all.


There are certain styles that you will typically need to follow more often depending on your topics and industries. Some industries may vary their use of style depending on the content being written while others stick strictly to one specific style. Trying to know the difference between all the style guides can be time consuming and daunting. If you’re looking for a brief breakdown, the following information includes basic breakdowns of each of the popular writing styles in order to help you learn the differences.

AP Style
AP Style, otherwise known as Associated Press Style, is typically used for news writing or journalism-based writing, and it may sometimes be used for magazines. Most writing style guides contain information specifically about how to cite sources and format research correctly to reduce accusations of plagiarism. The AP Style Guide goes a bit further and discusses the proper uses of punctuation, abbreviations and how to specifically write names, dates, addresses, etc.

While there is a long list of rules provided by the AP Style Guide, some common AP Style writing guidelines include always using numerals when referring to ages, adding only the abbreviation for states when a town is also listed, using abbreviations for months when used with a date, and never beginning a sentence with a numeral unless it’s a year.

Chicago Manual of Style

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) is another common writing guide used by many writers seeking publication. Chicago Manual of Style guides are typically used for manuscripts and written publications, such as fiction and nonfiction books. While there are some writing rules that need to be followed, most of the guidelines found in the CMS refer to bibliographies and citations.

APA Style

Don’t confuse APA Style with AP Style. APA Style refers to the American Psychological Association style and is typically used when writing for social sciences, including psychology, politics and sociology. The APA Style teaches writers how to format their sentences and how to cite their references correctly when necessary. APA style may also be used in research papers and typically discusses in-text citations and reference pages.

MLA Style

MLA Style, also known as Modern Language Association Style, is used mostly in academics, literature and humanities. Most individuals will be introduced to MLA Style before others because it’s what their teachers will have them use when they write and cite research papers when in middle school, high school and college. MLA Style will help writers avoid being accused of plagiarism when they source their references correctly. If you are unsure how to cite sources in MLA Style, which does vary from the other styles listed above, you will need to refer to the MLA Style Guide.

Caroline Jones is a freelancer and dedicated mother of two.  She recommends the use of this online grammar and spell checker for students and writers.

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