English style guide recommendations
Thread poster: Jessie LN

Jessie LN
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:11
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 15, 2013

Could anyone recommend me a good English-language style guide for 'general' writing? Preferably one that notes differences in British and American usage.

I've come across the MHRA Style Guide - does anyone have experience using this?
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Style-Guide-Handbook-Authors-Editors/dp/1781880093/ref=sr_1_19?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1376563228&sr=1-19&keywords=english%20style%20guide

Thank you in advance for your suggestions!


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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 18:11
Member (2006)
French to English
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Tall Order! Aug 15, 2013

I really don't think that there is such a thing as an all-purpose general style guide. The style you use depends so much upon the register, purpose and readership involved. I suggest that you might try comparing a number of style guides produced by different British and American publishing houses and other institutions to see how they differ.

Of course that will be more expensive and time-consuming and finding a single magic reference work, but it might also show why such a resource is unlikely to ever be written.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:11
Spanish to English
+ ...
Several Aug 15, 2013

There are many, but I tend to refer to the Guardian or Economist style guides if necessary (which isn't often, as I usually prefer to consult friends or colleagues for contrasting opinions).

For US English I like the Chicago Manual of Style, but it's really the only one I know.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:11
Russian to English
+ ...
The Chicago Manual of Style Aug 15, 2013

Jessie Linardi wrote:

Could anyone recommend me a good English-language style guide for 'general' writing? Preferably one that notes differences in British and American usage.

I've come across the MHRA Style Guide - does anyone have experience using this?
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Style-Guide-Handbook-Authors-Editors/dp/1781880093/ref=sr_1_19?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1376563228&sr=1-19&keywords=english%20style%20guide

Thank you in advance for your suggestions!


It cannot be used for all academic writing in the US, but it is really the most popular. Also, each publishing house has their own manual, often based on this one.



[Edited at 2013-08-15 11:47 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:11
Russian to English
+ ...
Aug 15, 2013

extra -- technical malfunction. Sorry.

[Edited at 2013-08-15 12:51 GMT]


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:11
German to English
Chicago and Guardian or Economist Aug 15, 2013

I agree with neilmac and Lilian. I usually use Guardian style only because Economist style seemed to be offline for a period of months or years, while I was getting started.

I actually use the MHRA Style Guide quite a bit for UK English, but it's really only relevant for academic material (scholarly journals and books), because it requires Oxford spelling and it goes into a lot of depth regarding matters that aren't really relevant for general texts. (And, by the way, there is an unabridged free online version of the style guide.)

As far as US/UK differences go:
Peters: Cambridge Guide to English Usage
Algeo: British or American English?

And just use a dictionary and Google regional searches a lot (obsessively, really) whenever you're not sure about a preposition or a term. I find British dictionaries tend to be better than American about pointing out differences between the two varieties.

You'll quickly start to develop a feel for what kinds of vocabulary often lead to problems. As far as subtleties in terms of the use of tenses and similar details: It just takes a lot of time and a lot of careful attention.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 18:11
English to Polish
+ ...
One from a spy ;) Aug 15, 2013

The author's a British officer (an analyst more than a line agent, I guess, but who knows with those guys) who went through the ranks, which, in his own words, has him somewhat rougher round the edges than typical in his sort. He also notes generals have a tendency to be arrant grammatical pendants (okay, he probably said 'proper' instead), and his grammar has supposedly been whipped into shape by a succession of both British and American ones, helping him progress from 'rammee' to 'rammer'. Again, his own words.

It's really grammar, syntax and punctuation reference, but the same can be said of most 'style guides'. Still, stylistic concerns frequently pop up in his discussion of how your writing sounds if you do this or that, which is discussed in terms of communication settings and the tastes of your likely readers. The author's own preference seems to favour brevity and seriousness, although his own rather informal narration is quite snappy.

Without further ado, I recommend Craig Shrives's Grammar Rules: Writing with Military Precision:

http://www.grammar-monster.com/grammar_rules.htm

This said, I disagree with some of the recommendations. The bautiful thing is that when that happens, there's a quick round-up of existing conventions and an explanation why sticks with the one and not the other.

For example, I stick with the old rules on quotations, and I pretty much don't care whatever has been claimed to be standard(!) British or American usage after around 1980. Similarly, I prefer Cambridge to Oxford, as Cambridge puts up more of a fight and does not validate gibberish or poor usage just because the latter's gained some frequency. I generally dislike modern linguists by default, as I believe the descriptive approach, while founded on worthy premises, has gone too far and nowadays serves as a rubber stamp on all sorts of sloppy grammar and syntax which are rooted in speakers' and writers' failure to understand the logic involved. And that's different from when a writer rejects the chafing tyranny of semi-made-up rules that prevent natural expression and stop the flow. (And yes, I start sentences with conjunctions. And I always will.)

[Edited at 2013-08-15 12:46 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 18:11
Member (2003)
Danish to English
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Well said, Łukasz! Aug 16, 2013

Although I don't know the book, it sounds like one I should look out for!

I have recently been asked to follow the Chicago Manual of Style (there is a free 30-day trial of the online version) - after which I bought it, as I prefer it in hard copy. I'm not entirely used to it yet, but apart from American spelling, it looks very familiar to an old librarian like me!

The American Psychological Association (APA) style guide is another that I have had on my shelves for a while - a couple of my clients use it for academic articles published in the UK.

I leave UK spelling - behaviour, not behavior, but standardize etc. with a z, and this seems to satisfy everyone.

But for 'daily' use I am very fond of the Longman Guide to English Usage (Greenbaum and Whitcut), ISBN 0-582-09566-2
It is what I call tolerantly prescriptive - it takes a stand, to discourage sloppy usage, while explaining why it goes in for certain preferences.

And in recent months I have discovered RL Trask: the Penguin Guide to Punctuation, which is neat, inexpensive and easy to look up in - and does at least sometimes tell you about both US and UK English.
ISBN 13-978-0-140-51366-0

Many of my Danish colleagues are familiar with Michael Swann's Practical English Usage.

Otherwise I have the Guardian Style Guide and an elderly Times style guide (I grew up with the Times in the good old days ...) but most of the time they stay on the shelf.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 18:11
English to Polish
+ ...
... Aug 16, 2013

Christine Andersen wrote:

I leave UK spelling - behaviour, not behavior, but standardize etc. with a z, and this seems to satisfy everyone.


I usually go all out British if nothing is said, though without clear regionalisms or anything else that'd be ununderstandable or misleading to a non-Brit or someone who is not a native speaker to begin with. When a client wants AmE, I observe American spellings, vocab and any more or less hard and fast rules I can recall, but I don't use optional features like the simple past instead of the present perfect, adverbs morphologically identical with adjectives etc. and even opt out of dominant conventions in either version. Truth be told, I've had it with both the purists and the modernisers. Many of the modern sources I see make me want to cry, and I've waged a couple of small scale wars with reviewers. I sometimes actually comment on the writing if it makes translation significantly more difficult but especially turns me into an editor. And I always comment on the quality of proofing or editing if it's detrimental to my translation. But I'm rambling again, so I'll just stop here.

But for 'daily' use I am very fond of the Longman Guide to English Usage (Greenbaum and Whitcut), ISBN 0-582-09566-2
It is what I call tolerantly prescriptive - it takes a stand, to discourage sloppy usage, while explaining why it goes in for certain preferences.


Sounds good. I like that kind of approach, and I still have some respect for Longman. Prescriptive or not, I basically associate it with good quality English. When I was a wee boy learning English as a second language, Longman exercises were quite demanding but usually tended to be more engaging than whatever you could find in your default course book. It was the additional resource for more ambitious students.

And in recent months I have discovered RL Trask: the Penguin Guide to Punctuation, which is neat, inexpensive and easy to look up in - and does at least sometimes tell you about both US and UK English. ISBN 13-978-0-140-51366-0


Sounds inviting as well.

Many of my Danish colleagues are familiar with Michael Swann's Practical English Usage.


Rings a bell.

Otherwise I have the Guardian Style Guide and an elderly Times style guide (I grew up with the Times in the good old days ...) but most of the time they stay on the shelf.


I have that Oxford dictionary that's older than I am (A.S. Hornby, 1981), and I tend to stick to its punctuation rules and some other recommendations. I actually like old Oxford a lot, I simply distrust the current incarnation as a bit too descriptive for my taste and prefer Cambridge instead.


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Jessie LN
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:11
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Many thanks Aug 30, 2013

Thank you all very much for your suggestions and insights! Extremely helpful, as usual.

I will look into all of the publications mentioned and see what's what I have a copy of Michael Swan's Practical English Usage which I haven't opened in years; it's maybe worth reacquainting myself with it.

I'm already familiar with differences in British & American usage in many respects as I've always spoken/been around both, but of course, it depends on the field and I'd really like a resource that can help me to confirm suspicions and free me of doubt if it creeps up! I may have to invest in two.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 18:11
English to Polish
+ ...
Don't forget to expense them ;) Aug 30, 2013

Jessie Linardi wrote:

I may have to invest in two.


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