Annual Meeting Reports

Behind the Scenes with Style Guides: How Updates are Made and Manuals are Selected

Like dictionaries, style guides seem to be updated fairly frequently, and it never fails: As soon as you finally get the hang of a particular style point, the manual is updated, and style points are changed. Some of the updates seem arbitrary, and others are clearly much needed and welcomed by those who use them. This session offered attendees a behind-the-scenes look at how style-manual updates are decided on and implemented.

David Morrow, of the University of Chicago Press; Cheryl Iverson, of JAMA; and Peter Olson, of Sheridan/Dartmouth Journal Services presented this highly valuable 90-minute session to a standing-room–only crowd of enthusiastic editors, copy-editors, and writers.

Morrow discussed the editorial process for style-guide updates at the University of Chicago Press, which is a structured approach that uses three advisory groups. The six-person internal advisory team comprises book and journal manuscript editors and performs an outline review simultaneously with the 11-person external advisory committee, which comprises editors and publishers of scholarly books and journals in the sciences and humanities. Finally, the manuscript is reviewed by the topic-specific advisers, a 42-person team that focuses on such subjects as language, mathematics, documentation, and copyright and permissions. Once the outline review is completed by the three advisory groups, the “Triumvirate”, a special team in the university composed of Morrow, Mary Laur, and Russell Harper does a final review and approves the outline.

The same process is followed once the full manuscript is prepared; all comments are screened by the Triumvirate to create the final work. XML is used during the editorial process. As a back-end need, fully tagged XML content can be created for an online version, and there is the front-end ability to have the full text with XML tags in place. To aid in workflow, a single set of source files goes through print galleys. For the first print pages, the source files are split for online and print versions. Corrections from later print stages can be transferred to online files. Style guides are full of complex rules and exceptions, and much manual work is needed to address them.

Olson addressed the benefits of journal-specific guides in a lively presentation. General style manuals often do not have enough detail to address individual journals’ needs. In general style manuals, style points may be covered too broadly or not discussed at all. For example, a CSE style point merely states that acknowledgments should be included but does not give details about whether to include reviewers, locations, titles, and the like. Similarly, the AMA manual addresses figure citations in text but leaves out instructions about figure panel letters, sub-panels, and so on. By creating a journal-specific guide, one can develop a more streamlined publication and have more flexibility with special article types. If publishing a specialty journal, one might wish to expand AMA’s rules about standard abbreviations to suit the specific needs of the publication; if the journal publishes articles of many types, it is logical to have separate style rules for each.

When creating a journal-specific guide, provide effective categorization, cross-references, and examples. Keep the user in mind when detailing style points, and integrate standard author queries into the style guide to create uniformity. Including cross-references will aid the user in finding information faster and will streamline the style guide and reduce redundancies. The examples in the style guide should be simple, clear, realistic, and comprehensive. Avoid vagueness and be consistent.

Iverson, cochair of the AMA Manual of Style Committee, noted that although new editions of style manuals represent “big” updates, online versions of a style manual offer opportunities for many “small” updates between editions. For the AMA Manual, these include a list of errata (all have been corrected in the online version, but a complete list is available for print users), updates (changes in policy since publication, noted in the text, linked from an updated list, and dated), monthly style quizzes, a blog (AMA Style Insider), and tweets (Twitter @AMAManual).