The Oxford Guide to Style | Reviews
'Hart’s Rules has transmogrified intoThe Oxford Guide to Style'
'The extent of the information provided is truly breathtaking, and in some cases, I’m not sure it’s easily available anywhere else.'
'the kind of book you don’t think about until you really need it, but at that moment you’ll be so grateful it’s there.'
Horace Henry Hart wasPrinter to the University of Oxford between 1883 and 1915, but became one of the most influential printers of the last two hundred years almost by accident. Anyone who works with books is familiar with Hart’s Rules, but few know that its first edition, produced in 1893, was originally intended only for the printing staff at the Clarendon Press. Snappily entitled ‘Rules for Compositors and Readers, which are to be observed in all cases where no special instructions are given,’ it also became the default guide when the Press was producing work for other publishers who provided no special instructions of their own. When Hart discovered copies of his free booklet on sale in London, he decided it would be more sensible for OUP to publish it themselves, the first such guide ever to be published. Now, after thirty-nine editions, Hart’s Rules has transmogrified into The Oxford Guide to Style, an altogether larger book which probably has a lot more in common with that other great copy-editing classic, Judith Butcher’s Copyediting: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors, Publishers; not surprising, given the way in which publishing has changed so much in the last few years. (Not that I intend to dispose of Hart’s … like all copy editors, I firmly believe that no reference book ever entirely outlives its usefulness.)
But what, I hear you ask, does the The Oxford Guide to Style have to offer you, particularly if you are a writer rather than an editor. ‘Everything’ is the short answer, but I appreciate that this is not tremendously helpful, so let’s break it down a bit. Chapter 1, for example, guides you through ‘the parts of a book’, which may not sound helpful at first, but you might just find it useful later if you’re talking to an editor who’s happily rattling on about versos and rectos, and it might, for example, be useful to know what those moral rights are that are being asserted on the verso of the title page. I, of course, would urge you strongly to read the section on preparation of copy and proofs, not because I plan to do myself out of a job, but because I think it gives authors a valuable insight into much of what happens once their manuscripts go to the publisher, and will maybe help the working relationship get off to a good start.
But after that … well, what do you want to know? This book will offer advice on punctuation (with examples, and very thorough they are, too), not to mention guiding you through the dangerous shoals of whether or not to capitalise, hyphenate or italicise, all with clear explanations.. It will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about how to present numbers in a text, and provides some very thorough explanations about the different calendars in use through the world.
Much of the book, I admit, is specialised in its coverage, but if you’re writing a scientific or mathematical text, or dealing with foreign languages or legal works, where else do you turn for information on those little nit-picking questions? The extent of the information provided is truly breathtaking, and in some cases, I’m not sure it’s easily available anywhere else.
And if your work requires a bibliography or reference notes, this guide will give you every kind of help in laying them out effectively.
The Oxford Guide to Style is probably not as instantly entertaining as its companion, The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, but it’s one of those quietly efficient books that sits on the shelf and gets on with paying its way in an unglamorous but deeply necessary kind of way, the kind of book you don’t think about until you really need it, but at that moment you’ll be so grateful it’s there.
|© Maureen Kincaid Speller a reviewer, writer, editor and former librarian, is our book reviewer and also works for WritersServices as a freelance editor. 2002||
Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller