9 Best Style Guides for Business Writing

Finding the best style guide for business writing is easy with this simple guide on the best guides for the industry.

Many writers have a varied scope of work so they must constantly change hats depending on the assignment. One client may want a conversational, relaxed style, while another prefers a more formal tone. The different styles of writing may also be command-specific styles.

For instance, a blog for a personal trainer will probably be more informal and motivational while a corporate blog will lean more toward the formality of business writing.

Business writers are often left wondering what style guide is best to follow. After all, there is a certain level of professionalism that is expected in content for businesses. The industry standards dictate lean toward a couple of popular style guides, but which is best for your business writing?

If the client has not given clear parameters on the desired style, it is best to err on the side of caution and go with a style guide that is widely accepted and used in business today.

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What is a Style Guide?

Best Style Guide For Business Writing

If you have done any academic writing or professional writing you have likely encountered style guides at some point. They provide a certain writing style for journalistic pieces, academic papers, business correspondence, web pages, blog posts, and more.

The two that are probably the best known are the “APA Publication Manual” and the “Chicago Manual of Style,” although “AP Stylebook” is popular too. There are many different types. Some like these two, which are aimed at American writers, are country-specific, while others are more universal. Check out these top 6 house style guide examples.

What does a Style Guide Do?

A style guide provides guidelines for handling certain material within a written document or copy, including:

  • Punctuation
  • Grammar nuances
  • Use of language
  • Tone
  • Citations
  • Layout of a document
  • Bibliography format
  • Use of headings
  • Use of the Oxford comma
  • Use of quotation marks
  • Use of bold, italic, and underline

These areas and more are addressed in a style guide so that the writer has a clear direction for handling the copy and it will be consistent throughout the organization.

In the past, they were only available in book form. There were comprehensive manuals and smaller, pocket-sized versions that highlighted the areas most often used. Today, you can easily find style guides online with not only the rules of the chosen style, but examples, discussions, explanations, and even videos to help the writer better understand how to apply the style to their own writing.

Why does a Style Guide Matter?

Adhering to the rules of a style guide for business writing gives the copy a higher level of professionalism. Of course, the content is important too, but it’s the style guide that determines how the content is presented. It also allows for standardization throughout the company.

Everyone who is writing content for the organization is using the same style guide and following the same writing rules. This means everything that is created within the organization is consistent in style.

It is this consistency that is a key concept of branding.

Create Professional Looking Copy Every Time

Another good reason to use a style guide is that it just looks more professional to have a uniform copy in regard to style and formatting. Every published piece, whether it’s internal copy such as memos or policy, a newsletter to customers, or communication with vendors, will all be consistent in style. That matters.

We live in a world where consumers, talent, and suppliers/vendors can access as many companies as they like before deciding which they want to do business with.

Stand Out with Style

The internet brought the world to our fingertips which is great but it also ups the stakes because of the increased competition in the marketplace.

Suddenly we are all in a spotlight and in order to stand out from the crowd, we must make sure we put our best foot forward, dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. A style guide helps with that, with maintaining a consistent, professional image. And when you think about it, people will see the text on our website or in our ads, which means that the copy they see where they draw their first impression is dictated by the style guide we use.

Who Should use a Style Guide?

Any person or business with a brand should have a style guide. It addresses elements that are consistent with just about every business such as communication, website, blog, marketing, reports, and other aspects of business writing.

No matter if you are writing for a local pet store or a multi-million dollar corporation, you will see many of these things and a style guide can help you by providing important guidance on business writing assets including:

  • Letters
  • Email
  • Web copy
  • Blog posts
  • Social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.)
  • Research papers and reports
  • White papers
  • Press releases
  • Content marketing assets
  • And more…

Some industries may have specific needs, especially with handling citations or highly technical material, but style guides can be adjusted for them as well. The beauty of these guides, though is that you can often apply them just as easily to a Standard Operating Procedures manual for the federal government as you can to a blog post or web content.

They are flexible, helpful, and necessary for business writing.

You Need a Style Guide for Business Writing

Most companies have guides to help keep their branding consistent, but they aren’t the only ones who should use a style guide. As a writer, you need a style guide too. While you will often use whatever style guide your client requests for an assignment, there will be times that you have no guidance. What then?

Keeping your own style guide, either one you created or one of the popular versions out there is essential to being an effective business writer. Either way, you won’t have to think about whether you should use an Oxford comma or not or how you should best list resources at the end of an article.

You already have your guidance and you know it gives your copy a professional polish every time. You need that consistent style and clean, crisp, professional copy that will be as visually appealing as the content is engaging.

The 9 Most Common Types of Style Guides

There are hundreds of different types of guides out there. While some are for general writing, others are geared toward legal writing, scientific writing, journalism, academic writing, editorials, and business writing.

There are several very popular guides for business writing. They cover all aspects of business communication such as email, letters, memos, social media, and social sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. You may need to review several before you find a writing style guide that suits your needs.

1.  The Associated Press Stylebook

The AP Stylebook is in its 55th edition of the print. It is commonly used by journalists, magazine writing, and news writing. It has a number of focused sections for areas such as sports, food, and fashion – topics that you might see in a print publication like a newspaper or magazine.

AP style is bare-bones than some of the other styles out there. Italics, symbols, accents, and other extras are very minimal. This is due to the original intent which was to prepare a copy for the newswire.

2.  The Business Style Handbook

The Business Style Handbook is a classic guide for basic business writing. Written by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene, it focuses specifically on writing for business. It includes information on email, using emojis, communicating on portable devices, word choice, and more.

It has an A to Z section that provides insights on communication from executives at companies all over the world.

3.  The Gregg Reference Manual

The Gregg Reference Manual is popular with writers, editors, and business communicators. It is considered the best style manual for maintaining the standards of business professionals and those in content marketing. Students preparing for a career in business often use this guide. It also has additional resources online for students, instructors, and trainers.

4.  Modern Language Association Handbook

MLA Style has long been a standard for writers, particularly those who work heavily in documentation and citations.  It is often thought to be geared for academic writing, but many organizations that deal heavily in research and reporting choose this style for its straightforward ease. The MLA Handbook Plus is a digital product that is subscription-based allowing the user to have online access wherever they are.

5.  The Chicago Manual of Style

Writing style guide for business
It is used by editors, writers, designers, proofreaders, publishers, and business writers

CMOS is a time-tested guide for business writing style, grammar, and usage. It is used by editors, writers, designers, proofreaders, publishers, and business writers.

Purchase of the manual comes with video tutorials and other vital resources.

6.  Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association

APA Style is the style of choice for the American Psychological Association but has been adopted by editors, writers, educators, and students in behavioral and social sciences and other areas as well.

It is best known for its ease of use, particularly in regard to citations and references. There are online tutorials available as well as other online resources.

7.  Words into Type

Words into Type by Marjorie E. Skillin and Robert M. Gay is the style manual typically chosen for copyediting, manuscripts, content marketing, and publications. It is used by editors, writers, and proofreaders as a reference guide for grammar, style, abbreviations, and usage.

It is geared more toward publishing and copywriting but is a valuable reference guide for business writers in those industries.

8.  The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage

The New York Times doesn’t follow a standard style guide, they created their own. This guide is great for journalists writing a feature story, creative writers developing a story, proofreading, or business writers creating a business plan. It is versatile, easy to follow, and a little fun.

This guide covers the most current and relevant issues that writers face today from traditional business writing to digital era communication like email and social media.

9.  The Elements of Style

Just about every person who has written for high school, college, or on the job has perused the pages of The Elements of Style. This classic is one of the first style guides writers are introduced to and it remains timeless.

It is the go-to for English style in writing of all types.

The Final Word On The Best Style Guide For Business Writing

Choosing a style guide is a matter of personal preference. Take some time to review several that appeal to you and apply them to your writing. See which style feels most natural to you and looks the most professional.

Many of these guides have tremendous online resources with tutorials, templates, and indices for easy reference and application. But at the end of the day, it has to be your decision based on what works best for you and the type of writing that you do. Even in business, there are significant differences in communication and publication needs.

Now it’s time to find your style. Want to learn more? Read our article about style guide templates. It’ll help you pick the right one.

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  • Up to 149 team members
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  • Style guide

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FAQs About the Best Style Guide For Business Writing

What style guide do most businesses use?

There is not one single style guide that is appropriate for all businesses. Different businesses have different needs depending on the scope of work, industry, and other factors.

1. The Chicago Manual of Style is the most popular guide for writers in the publishing industry and is very popular in business as well.
2. AP style is another very popular business style as is MLA style. Many government agencies use AP style for their publications, releases, and internal communication. AP style is also commonly used by those in public relations and marketing.

What is the best style guide for business writing?

The best style guide for business writing is the one that best meets the needs of the organization. Not all organizations have the same requirements for their writing.

When you are deciding on a style guide for your business writing services, examine several different styles to find one that works for you and your clients.

If you want a good style to start with, the New York Times Manual of Style and AP style are both exceptional choices.

Where can I find a good style guide?

Just about any bookstore has a business section and you can usually find a great selection of style manuals available. However, the internet has made it even easier with sites like Amazon and even AbeBooks. You can also check your local library.

Just make sure that when you do get ready to purchase a copy that you are getting the most current version available so that you won’t get outdated information.

  • Meet Rachael, the editor at Become a Writer Today. With years of experience in the field, she is passionate about language and dedicated to producing high-quality content that engages and informs readers. When she's not editing or writing, you can find her exploring the great outdoors, finding inspiration for her next project.