Style manuals are systems of documentation and formatting used in academic disciplines to facilitate collaboration among people writing in those disciplines. The most common style manuals are the following:
Style manuals standardize the way to format a paper, including what style and size font to use, how big to make the margins, where to type your name, and how to organize your references.
They also standardize how to document borrowed material, which includes quotations, summaries, and paraphrases. By regulating how to format a paper and to document sources, each style manual makes it easy for students and professors to read papers, journal articles, and book chapters in their disciplines. It makes collaboration easier. Clear citations and references can help a reader find additional resources for research.
Finally, style manuals help writers avoid plagiarism. Because style manuals include the rules for signaling the use of borrowed ideas in writing, they ensure that writers properly indicate which ideas are their own and which come from other sources.
Many writers find the rules of the style manuals overwhelming, confusing, and downright frustrating. It often seems that the rules about citations, references, commas, periods, capital letters ... were invented by some cruel academics with too much time on their hands. However, every rule serves an important purpose and must be followed. Every rule helps the readers decode the paper quickly and correctly. It is a sign of professionalism and respect for your reader that you should carefully follow the style of your discipline.
When you write a paper using borrowed sources, you will need to follow a style manual. If you are not sure which manual to use, ask your instructors for guidance. They can tell you which manual is standard for the discipline in which you are writing.
Become familiar with the online version or print version of the style manual you will use. See below for specifics of each manual.
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition) is used in the liberal arts and humanities.
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition is used in psychology and other social sciences.
Chicago Manual of Style is used in history and some disciplines in the humanities.