Recently, Carrie wrote a great post about style guides, detailing what they are and why they’re important for your business.
I’m going to drill down a bit more into two of the pre-made style guides she mentioned: The Associated Press Stylebook (AP) and The Chicago Manual of Style. Both are well-respected and widely used, but depending on your industry and audience, one of the two will be better for your business. How do you know which?
This post will explore the backgrounds of each style guide, and how people use them today in academic and professional settings. We’ll leave you with points to consider as you make this decision for your brand.
Histories of the AP and Chicago Manual Style Guides
In 1846, five newspapers in New York City wanted to bring news of the Mexican War to the north. Unsatisfied with the pace of the U.S. Post Office, they funded a pony express route through Alabama. Those five newspapers became the Associated Press, which was the first private U.S. organization to operate on a national scale.
Today, AP maintains more than 260 locations in more than 100 countries and prides itself on continuing a tradition of top-notch journalism. The style guide is one aspect of that dedication with annual editions and continuous updates.
In 1891, the University of Chicago Press opened its doors. Soon after, the staff created a style sheet to bring consistency to the process of deciphering manuscripts and proofreading the results. The sheet became a pamphlet, and by 1906 the pamphlet became a book. Since then, the Chicago Manual of Style has grown from 200 pages to more than 1,000 and is now in its 17th edition.
To recap: AP originated from the newspaper and journalism industry, and the Chicago Manual originated from an academic university. That alone may help in your choice, but let’s dive further into the details of each.
Who Traditionally Uses Each Style Guide?
Any organization creating content on a regular basis should use a style guide. It’s a way to ensure consistency throughout your organization, as multiple people are often creating the content for one brand.
Further, style guides can provide guidance on referencing current events and the people involved in them, which is helpful when it comes to journalistic integrity.
Both the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual have a list of typical users. These users go one way or the other based on audiences and the purpose of the content. One blog dedicated to the subject of AP versus Chicago puts it this way:
If I think of AP as governing “fast content” (newspapers, online articles) and Chicago as governing “slow content” (books, some periodicals), you can see how the different styles grew from different needs.
The post goes on to highlight three reasons organizations choose one over the other:
- Layout: The spacing guideline differences between the two (this has to do with the spaces around certain punctuation, which I’ll specify later in this article) make AP more convenient for the somewhat unpredictable layouts of newspaper and online text. Book and magazine publishers have more time to make sure breaks happen in exact spots, so Chicago spacing is less of an obstacle.
- Deadlines: Publishers who are always working against deadlines prefer the limited options and guidance of AP. Those who have more time between publish dates can afford to weigh the nuanced options of the Chicago style.
- Compatibility: In the digital space, content doesn’t always reach its destination looking the same as it did at creation – characters or attributes can change from one place to another. Journalistic-type content tends to do more digital traveling and translates better when using the plainer style of AP. Non-journalistic content makes fewer stops and is more receptive to the attributes of Chicago.
HiP B2B offers this advice for any organization trying to choose between the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style:
… whatever your audience would pick … If you are stumped in a decision turn to your audience, because they actually care more about a style than you.
So if your audience is academics use the Chicago Manual, because it’s what they are used to in their own work and will be more comfortable reading. For most other readers (including those who pay no attention to what style they’re reading) AP is the way to go; it’s probably what they’re most familiar with. We use AP here at bizbuzzcontent, as the vast majority of our content is for blogs and websites.
Keep in mind that, even though you’ve committed to one style guide, you have some wiggle room if a guideline doesn’t match with your brand’s voice. For example, if the guidance on apostrophe usage looks odd or confusing with your company name, you can call that out in your brand’s own style sheet, which lists your exceptions to the chosen style guide.
Major Differences Between the AP and Chicago Manual Style Guides
Both style guides update on a regular basis and cover an incredible amount of detail, so I can’t possibly note all differences here (though this blog, which I referenced earlier, might come close).
Still, in addition to the Chicago Manual being much longer and more detailed, a few specific differences stand out:
This comma goes between the second-to-last item in a list and the conjunction before the last item (and/or). Chicago style uses it while AP does not.
AP: I like cats, dogs and lizards.
Chicago: I like cats, dogs, and lizards.
Em Dashes and Ellipses
I mentioned the spacing differences earlier, and this is where they come in. AP calls for spaces before and after an em dash and before and after an ellipses. Chicago adds spaces between the periods of an ellipses and uses no spaces on either side of the em dash.
AP: Hey … are you joining us? We’re planning an outdoor activity – biking or hiking – for this weekend.
Chicago: Hey . . . are you joining us? We’re planning an outdoor activity—biking or hiking—for this weekend.
To reduce the attributes that might get lost in translation, AP generally uses quotation marks around titles of significant works while Chicago uses italics.
AP: “Gone With the Wind”
Chicago: Gone With the Wind
While both styles use an apostrophe-s for singular, possessive nouns that end in s, AP uses only an apostrophe if the noun is proper. If the (common or proper) noun is plural, both styles use only an apostrophe.
AP: Mathematics’s rules; Silas’ book; the babies’ hats
Chicago: Mathematics’s rules; Silas’s book; the babies’ hats
AP spells out numbers under 10 and uses numerals for all others. Chicago spells out numbers through 100. The guides also differ on details of percentages, measurements and currency.
AP: One, two, three … nine, 10, 11, 12 …
Chicago: One, two, three … ninety-nine, one hundred, 101, 102, 103 …
Now that you know the basics of the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style, it should be relatively simple to choose the best one for your business. The more challenging part might be determining where you brand will make exceptions.
Have experience with the style guides discussed here? Let me know how it went in the comments below!