Getting Familiar with Style Guides

Let’s get one other thing clear: Style guides don’t only tell you how to properly document your sources. They also give advice on all aspects of writing within a certain discipline. Therefore, it is the point of this assignment to get you to see just what your chosen style guide has to offer. Later on we’ll deal more with documentation—that is, the citing of sources—itself.


Complete the following steps to get familiar with your chosen style guide.

Step 1: Find a style guide

I've asked you all to obtain a copy of the style guide that best represents your academic interests—most of you have chosen either MLA (used mostly in the humanities) or APA (used mostly in the sciences). For this assignment, you'll need to have your style guide in front of you.

Don't have a style guide yet? The Writing Center usually has several copies you can sit and use, and the library usually has copies in the reference section. Make sure you get the proper edition, though; the library usually has a few old editions on the shelves for no good reason. Also, because these are reference books, you usually can't check them out.

Step 2: Getting Familiar with the Contents

Now, using your style guide, answer the following questions. Be sure to type up your answers so they're easy to turn in.

  1. What style have you chosen and what is the full name and edition of the style guide you’re looking at?
  2. Why have you chosen this particular documentation style?

Before answering the next few questions, read any prefaces, forewords, introductions, or other short introductory notes you find in your style guide (generally anything that begins before the first chapter).

  1. Many students have the idea that documentation styles were invented specifically to torture them. According to the introductory material, what might the creators of your chosen style have had in mind other than torture, revenge, or cruelty? Why was this style invented in the first place?
  2. What words or concepts stand out to you as you read? What are you anxious to know more about?
  3. How is the current edition different from the previous edition?

Now spend a few minutes looking at the table of contents of your style guide. Don’t just stare at it for 15 seconds—read it. Consider how many chapters there are and what each is about. Read the subtopics of each chapter and make some mental notes on what looks valuable to you. Try to put yourself in the writers’ shoes and see why they arranged the book in the way they did. Now answer these questions.

  1. In your own words, what all does this book cover? How do its contents relate to the writing process as you see it? Are there chapters geared towards prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing? Which ones?
  2. Which chapter(s) or section(s) tell you how to format your document?
  3. Which chapter(s) or section(s) tell you how to properly document sources?
  4. What parts of the book talk about plagiarism?
  5. What parts of the book give you direction on how to do research?
  6. What parts of the book look particularly useful to you and your situation and why?
  7. What parts of the book seem to have nothing to do with you and the type of writing you are usually assigned?

Now I want you to spend a few minutes looking at the actual text of your style guide. Choose a chapter that piqued your interest and start reading (please don’t choose documentation or formatting, as those will be covered later). See what’s there. See what kind of diction the book uses, how hard or easy it will be for you to understand. Take the measure of your foe. Learn something useful for a change. Now answer these questions.

  1. What did you look at and why?
  2. What did you learn?
  3. What do you notice about the way the book is written, the way information is arranged?
  4. What do you like about your style guide?
  5. What do you dislike or find frustrating about it?

Due Date

This assignment should be uploaded to your Submitted folder on Dropbox by classtime on Friday, June 7. Please follow the file-naming and format guidelines.