Writing For the Digital Age: 5 Free Writing Style Guides Online

Saikat Basu 14-01-2013

writing style guidesSomebody correctly remarked that English is a funny language. You can question why quicksand works slowly or why does a nose run while feet smell. As Dough Larson said – “If the English language made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur.”


But it is the language the world speaks and we have to put in our two bits to do it correctly. The web has created a global audience, so if you are among the ones who write in English for a living, you got to be word perfect even you may not be pitch perfect with your accents. As a writer and blogger, I know the pitfalls of a typo or making a mistake with an ‘effect’ or ‘affect’. If writing perfection is your calling card, you need a Writing Style Guide by your side.

What Is A Writing Style Guide?

A style guide documents the basic rules that help to ensure consistency in any written or visual work. Think of it as a set of standards everyone should follow. These standards could be about fundamentals like grammar and punctuation, or address structural elements of layouts, typography, citations, and visual design. For example: a writing style guide could tell the writer the minimum words he should use or that an image should be of a specific size. Some guides may also lay down rules for tone and voice. The main motive is to create a uniform experience for the audience.

Wikipedia defines it as – A style guide or style manual is a set of standards for the writing and design of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication, organization or field. The implementation of a style guide provides uniformity in style and formatting within a document and across multiple documents.

Writing style guides are more common in publishing and academics. There are many different varieties of style guides; some are general while some are specialized. Some are universal while some are region specific. The fact is that anyone can create a style guide for internal use. On the other hand, there are easily available style guides which anyone can refer to.


5 Style Guides for Bloggers, and Content Writers

Associated Press Style Guide or the AP Style Guide is the recommended one for journalists and I would say, even for online writing. It is a widely followed standard as it allows newspapers to easily sell or exchange stories without having to make wholesale changes in the press piece.

The Chicago Manual of Style on the other hand is equally well known but followed by authors and writers. Both have updated social media guidelines for the digital age. But being industry standards they carry nice price tags. So, let’s look into five free style guides that are also out there for our reference.

The Yahoo! Style Guide [No Longer Available]

writing style guides

Yahoo has been putting together online copy since the early years of the web and the Yahoo Style Guide is supposed to be a result of all their best practices. The style guide started as an in-house reference and the website is a companion to the book by Chris Barr. Yahoo style Guide differs from the AP Style Guide in some respects and the differences are listed. The Yahoo Style Guide is more relaxed and on the face of it seems just what you would need for web writing.


The BBC News Styleguide

Writing For the Digital Age: 5 Free Writing Style Guides Online style guide 02

When it comes to the Queen’s language, few can argue with BBC’s usage. The BBC News Styleguide is a standard set forth for clear written and spoken communication. The single 86-page PDF file is a primer for that. It is not about strict guidelines but more about what you should follow to get it just right. As the guide says – The BBC is listened to throughout the world and should be a beacon of correct English. The PDF guide covers topics on the basics of parts of speech, jargons, abuse of clichés, and political correctness.

The Guardian and Observer Style Guide

Writing For the Digital Age: 5 Free Writing Style Guides Online style guide 03

75 is not a bad age for a style guide, but The Guardian style guide has managed to keep pace with the times (I did find web 2.0 and Wi-Fi there). The Guardian remains one of U.K.’s leading dailies. The style guide is alphabetically listed and is concise with its instructions on word usage (and abusage). The style guide also has its own Twitter handle at @guardianstyle.


National Geographic Style Manual

Writing For the Digital Age: 5 Free Writing Style Guides Online style guide 04

The National Geographic Style Manual is a guide to preferred National Geographic Society style and usage. It is a house guide but can be used by others for reference purposes as it is free and openly available on the Nat Geo site. Search through the site alphabetically or use the search box on top. Though National Geographic is science oriented, the style guide is non-academic and is meant for general usage. You will quite obviously see a lot of words from the world of natural sciences. The first version came out in print form in 1962, so one can assume the guide is full of editorial experience.

The Elements Of Style

writing style guides

Many consider William Strunk’s little booklet (just 43 pages of American English usage) an essential read. In fact, Times listed it as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923. Written in 1918, it remains relevant to this day. His 17th principle of composition is one which everyone should remember – “Omit needless words.” You can get to an online version of the book by following the above link. The little guide is searchable.


The question you should ask yourself is – do I need a writing style guide? The answer could be yes, because it lays the foundation for any writing Write More Good: 7 Free Online Tools To Ensure You Use Proper English Improper use of English is one of my pet peeves. I’m not a full-blown "grammar nazi" (a colloquialism for someone very strict with grammar) but it does irk me. An exception can be made for... Read More you do on the web. There are many other resources like dictionaries and spell checkers, but if you want to put it all together professionally, sift through a style guide.

Feedback wanted – have you purposefully ever looked up a style guide? Do you consider it along with your research?

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  1. Hilary Smith
    April 30, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Every time i click on the Yahoo Style Guide link you provide, i'm redirected to the site for buying the book.
    Can you help me with this?
    Thank You!

    • Saikat
      April 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      The link was active when I wrote this post. Since then, Yahoo has removed the site. It's all in the book now.

  2. Neil McPherson
    January 17, 2013 at 11:07 am

    A useful collection for checking when you are unsure. Outside your ambit here, but can I suggest the accompaniment of Roget's, for those who want to spark-up their prose? The range of additional words (which often suggest new concepts) is usually vast.

  3. Michael Teague
    January 15, 2013 at 8:30 am

    I often write lengthy injury investigation reports for my employer. I have been slowly developing my own style guide to use when writing these reports. I believe organization that produces documents should adopt a style guide and then develop extensions to the style guide that are specific to their industry and organization.

    • Saikat Basu
      January 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm

      True. And if I am not wrong, that is how organizations develop in-house style guides.

  4. Adrian Bagnato
    January 15, 2013 at 6:55 am

    I started writing a book on iBooks Author, that was like 2 months ago and im still on page 6... ^_^

  5. Catherine McCrum
    January 15, 2013 at 12:26 am

    I not only will be sharing this article to my friends and family but also to all the writing groups I belong to. The five FREE resources are excellent at first glance and I think these guides will be invaluable to my writing friends. Hopefully they will also see the value of MAKE USE OF and become members themselves. Thanks so much for repeatedly producing useful articles.

    • Saikat Basu
      January 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      Hey Catherine, thanks so much for your feedback and of course, for sharing this article. Glad you found this useful.

  6. Doc
    January 15, 2013 at 12:04 am

    I work for a print/electronic publisher, and the owner swears by (and sometimes, I at) the Chicago Manual of Style.

    • Saikat Basu
      January 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      I hope it is the right kind of "swear" :)

  7. Austin Halsell
    January 14, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    I always hated being told by a professor to write in a specific style, because that always meant scouring the internet for the guide. Which I had this article back in college! I'm surprised MLA isn't on here. owl.english.This is a solid source I've used in the past:

    • Saikat Basu
      January 15, 2013 at 2:21 pm

      Yes, Purdue is a good resource. The only reason I didn't include it was because it is not that comprehensive in my opinion. But your feedback is definitely valuable because you seem to have used it.

  8. webproductif
    January 14, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    It would be nice to indicate the price of these guides, 'cause they are not free.

    • Saikat Basu
      January 14, 2013 at 6:53 pm

      They are very much free my friend.

      • Jennifer Basham
        January 15, 2013 at 9:19 pm

        Unfortunately "webproductif" is correct, the majority of them requires a payment.

        • Jennifer Basham
          January 15, 2013 at 9:26 pm

          The Chicago Manual of Style Online $35.00.

          AP Stylebook Online Subscription $26.00

          The Yahoo! Style Guide: $12.96

        • Saikat Basu
          January 16, 2013 at 5:13 am

          Yes, I have mentioned that there carry price tags. The Yahoo Style Guide "Paperback edition
          i.e. the print version has a price. I have talked about the online site here which one can use too for looking up word lists and other usage. For instance