Over on What manual of style should I use for technical writing for US Federal Government documents?, I posted the following comment:

Interesting question, but this is really about government work, not English language usage. You could just as easily ask which brand of pen to use while doing government work, or what make of car to lease.

@MatthewMartin replied with this:

I disagree, your comment would make a good meta question though. Someday someone is going to ask a question about the Chicago Style Guide or try to answer a question by appeal to it. Should we close those for being related to the tools of the trade of a journalist?

Was I right? Was Matthew? Neither of us? Both of us??? Discuss!

3 Answers 3


Despite what was said above, in general, I think questions about style guides are appropriate. It's likely that such questions will be about usage, which is definitely in the scope of the site.

In this particular case, though, the fact that the OP asked about a style guide was incidental. If he wants to know what style guide to use for US government work, he should find out what the government recommends; the question has no direct tie to English. The answer is probably listed in the same document that provides information about the official government pen — the US government purchases extra-cheap pens in bulk that actually have "U.S. Government" printed on the side — and approved motor vehicles for fleet use.

  • For the sake of the debate, how about if someone asked, "What style guide should I use?" It would probably become a community wiki with answers all over the place, some of them saying "It depends on where you are," which would get back to listing the specifics of a situation. Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 21:34
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    @MatthewMartin: Well, that question implies that the asker actually has a choice, so what "we" think is at least a bit more likely to be relevant...
    – SamB
    Commented Mar 18, 2011 at 21:36

There's another side to this issue: Chicago and AP are paywalled sites; linking to the information, my preferred practice for stable sites, won't work for most people, and copying/pasting is problematic. One can always cite the printed copy, of course.

Is anyone here qualified to explain whether or not the for-pay status of a style guide affects when a quote is fair use? I'd think that paraphrasing instead of quoting would be sufficient (which seems to be what people are doing in at least one case I can think of), but I don't know the answer. Can anyone experienced in other StackExchange sites say what they've done?

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    To be frank, I'd consider it a great impediment to science if we couldn't quote digital texts. I quote them. I have always believed that the same rules apply as to paper texts: as long as you don't quote more than a certain length, say one page from a style guide, there is no serious harm done to the author such that people would not buy his book because they could already read essential parts of it in a quote. The greater risk to copyright lies in downloading a torrent of your favourite book, which is very well possible. Commented Dec 28, 2010 at 14:26
  • @Cerberus - I fear you're missing the point I was making, these sites are paywalled, which means you need a password to access them. Is quoting material where access to non-subscribers is prohibited still fair use? (I for one would hope it is, but I don't know.) Commented Dec 28, 2010 at 15:14
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    Yeah I got your point, I just failed to address it clearly. What I meant was that, since most paper sources must be paid for, the same rules should apply to quoting paid-for digital sources. When I quote articles from, say, paywalled jstor.org in my papers, I do not treat them any differently than I treat articles in paper. In fact, most digital articles that I use are also published in paper, so that it would be impracticable to make a difference. Commented Dec 28, 2010 at 15:31
  • @Cerberus - Okay, that's a good point. Commented Dec 28, 2010 at 23:54

According to the closing of my question, it seems the Writers Stack Exchange is the proper place for questions about style guides and style usage. I would like to see a more clear delineation of this in the FAQ because it neither allows nor denies this explicitly.

  • Interesting, I didn't know Writers SE had made it into beta. It didn't exist at the time I originally asked this question.
    – Pops
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 13:59

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