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Every few years or so, I sense that my writing has been deteriorating, and I return to a good style guide for a thorough detox. So highly do I rate these self-help books, that I have none in the house. The reason for this is that at some time I have lent my copies to friends and we all know what happens when you lend your books. The most cherished of these were The Economist Style Guide and the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather’s in-house book, which was given to me by a friend who once worked for them. It was quite superb and very amusing – a grievous loss because it cannot be replaced. The excellent Economist book has always been on sale to the public, so I shall have to buy a replacement soon, possibly for the second time.

It seems that the Economist had its style guide online until just recently. Their web site states that it was recently “lost” when they rebuilt their web site, but will be back soon. The Guardian has a style guide, but I can’t find one online. Their printed version is for sale. The Telegraph does have a comprehensive house guide online. I understand that it was mostly – possibly wholly – compiled by their erstwhile columnist, Simon Heffer. It’s a good and useful read, quite in contrast to Heffer’s recent book Strictly English, which I found really turgid, bad tempered,  and impossible to finish.

What I like about style guides is that the good ones are both educational and entertaining. On the one hand they help you avoid error and improve sentence construction etc. But because much of what they say is inevitably subjective – doctrinaire even – they can both strengthen your prejudices (in a good way, I like to think) or induce indignant disagreement.  That’s the entertainment value.

Do you have a style guide to recommend? Please let us know.

Update 17/10/2011
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! A dear friend, reading this, realised that he had my lost style guides, buried beneath a pile of his Open University books. Being an honourable fellow (else I would not have lent them to him in the first place), he immediately fessed up and the prodigal tomes arrived in the post today, with a sheepish note.

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