Using a Style Guide Instead of a Website

By Adriana Santana

Picture this. You have one hour before your rhetorical analysis of Machiavelli’s The Prince is due. Your professor asks that you use direct quotations to support your original argument. Just as you’re preparing your reference page, the internet goes down, and you have no access to OWL Purdue or BibMe. Not only do you have no idea how to properly format your APA citations, but you also are unsure of whether “effect” or “affect” is grammatically correct in the sentence you’re constructing. It’s a college student’s worst nightmare, but it’s one that can be avoided.

The prospect of formal citation and correct grammar in academic papers can be daunting and overwhelming to any student. Our years in high school, where we dabbled some in MLA and basic grammar rules, did very little to prepare any of us for the day we would be thrust headfirst into a research paper that demanded precise citation and syntax. Not only is proper citation difficult, but all the AP English classes in the world could not prepare us for all the nuances and quirks of correct grammar in the English language. We can find ourselves lost and staring in frustration at the little green squiggle of doom in our Microsoft Word document; however, we are not all doomed to wander aimlessly and blindly around the confusing and winding landscape that is academic writing. There is hope out there. And in this case, hope takes form in grammar and style guides. Here are three common questions about style guides and some answers to give you some guidance.

  1. Why should I use a style guide and not a website?

Sure, it is a lot easier to hop on Google and look up the answers to our grammatical and formatting questions and concerns. But, what is easy is not always best. When reading about citation or grammar rules online, students are far less likely to comprehend and absorb the information versus reading the same information on printed pages (Crum, 2015; Ferro, 2015). This is because students often feel less connected with digital texts than they do with physical texts. Using a physical guide instead of a website also helps cut down on the distractions so often found on the internet and can help you remain productive and focused on the academic task at hand. Finally, sticking to the updated, official citation and grammar guides allows for your work to be more accurate. The formal MLA and APA guides are much more credible and reliable than going to a third-party citation website.

  1. How do I figure out which style guide to use?

Once you’ve decided to take the bold and courageous step to use a physical style guide, the next question becomes how to find the figurative needle in a confusing and voluminous haystack. The first thing you need to do is narrow down your search to find out exactly what you need to know. A style guide on sentence variety might not be helpful if you’re concerned about semicolon usage, so narrowing your search down will help ease your search and lower your stress levels. After you decide on what aspect of academic writing you want to focus on, it’s important to stick with credible guides. If what you need is a guide on APA formatting, then make sure to use the book published by the American Psychological Association. Other physical guides on APA formatting and citation may be easier to read and smaller than the official guide, but they may also be inaccurate or skip over needed information. Lastly, after obtaining an official style guide, it is vital to ensure that the guide you have is the most recent and updated edition. This is easier than it sounds: just flip to the publishing information on the first couple of pages of the book. There will always be a publishing year, so just check and ensure you have the guide with the most recent publishing year. Grammar, citation, and formatting rules are very fluid and malleable, so it is always better to double check that you have the latest printing.

  1. How do I use my style guide?

Now that you have your updated and official grammar/style guide, the final hurdle before the finish line of academic success is figuring out how to use it properly. First off, you’ll quickly find out that the table of contents is confusing and should be avoided to prevent headaches. Stick to using the index in the back of the guide, it will be much easier to find exactly what you’re looking for based on key words. If you own the book, it’s also great to mark it up with annotations, highlights, and notes to help deepen your understanding and enhance your learning of the complex material. If you find yourself citing the same thing often, make a bookmark for the page you so often turn to make your search process a lot quicker. If you don’t own the book, keep some scrap paper nearby to make any notes that will be helpful to you. All guides are full of examples, so use them to learn the material, and feel free to go ahead and practice the grammar/citation rules on your own.

Finally, if you still end up with citation questions or can’t get the hang of a style guide, come visit the University Writing Center! We have a number of citation guides available in our writing lab, and all of us consultants are happy to help you with your grammar and citation questions.



Crum, M. (2015). Sorry, EBooks These 9 Studies Show Why Print is Better. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Ferro, S. (2015). 5 Reasons Physical Books Might Be Better Than E-Books. Mental Floss. Retrieved from


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