Fun With the GPO Style Manual


It’s National Library Week, which prompted me to think about my favorite Government reference book – the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual, which since 1894 has been the Federal Government’s  guide to form and style in printing and a standard reference for professionals in the field. Although I’ve used the Style Manual for years in a number of different jobs I’ve had at GPO, the real reason it’s my favorite is, I confess, that I’m a member of the GPO Style Board. For many months prior to the publication of the latest edition, our little group met for two hours each week to discuss spelling, capitalization, and the myriad of other details that collectively make up any book of this sort. The best part – it was a lot of fun. As one of the members said to me one day, “This is the high point of my week!” For a word person, spending time on this stuff was really a plum assignment. Some of my colleagues were old acquaintances, while others were new to me. The one thing they all had in common was a  depth of  knowledge and a dedication to producing the best possible product that was truly awesome. I also found out what a demonym is: “Demonym is a name given to a people or inhabitants of a place. ” (See Chapter 17, Useful Tables, Pages 332-334.)

My favorite new features of the 2008 edition: A list of information technology acronyms and initialisms; a chapter on capitalization  with totally updated examples of proper names (a lot of research went into this, believe me!); and a clean, contemporary new design and typeface, thanks to GPO Creative Services.

Despite my obvious bias in favor of the Style Manual, many other Government books and periodicals are worthy of inclusion in the library reference pantheon – you can find a few of them here.

35 Responses to Fun With the GPO Style Manual

  1. Kendrick says:

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  2. ivan rhoades says:

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this write-up and the rest of the website is extremely good.

  3. […] form and style of Federal Government printing – also available on CD-ROM (Read our post: “Fun With the GPO Style Manual” for more […]

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  6. Angel Lin says:

    I am Taiwanese American and was surpised not to see the demonym listed after reading Chinese and Japanese. Has this reference been updated?

    • GPOBookstore says:

      From the GPO Style Board: “On the Source note on page 334 of the GPO Style Manual, the Demonym table originated from the CIA’s World Factbook as of July 24, 2008. GPO did not delete, add, or alter this source in any way.”

  7. Scott Tucker says:

    Having read this I believed it was very enlightening.
    I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this information together.
    I once again find myself personally spending
    a significant amount of time both reading and
    posting comments. But so what, it was still worth it!

  8. Colonic inertia says:

    Love to read you!

  9. E.L. says:

    Does GPO have a preferred style for references and citations? I can’t seem to find anything in the manual that addresses this issue. If GPO has no guidance on this issue, do we use Chicago style or something else for formatting?

    • GPOBookstore says:

      Here is the answer from Michael Abramson, our very own “Chairman of the Board”- that is, the GPO Style Board:

      “The GPO Style Manual does, in fact, address citations and references, as well as bibliographies. Please direct the inquirer to pages 25-26, Rule 2.130 where you will find numerous examples.”

      - Michael Abramson
      Foreperson/Style Board Chairman
      Proof and Copy Markup Section
      United States Government Printing Office

      How can you find the GPO Style Manual?

      BUY IT ON OUR ONLINE BOOKSTORE: You can buy the GPO Style Manual in print form or on CD-ROM.

      BROWSE BY CHAPTER ONLINE: You can also browse individual chapters on our online government documents database, FDSys.

      Hope this helps!

  10. Cynthia Knudson says:

    Noon is neither 12 a.m. nor 12 p.m.; it is 12 m.
    Think Latin: ante meridiem means before the meridian and post meridiem means after the meridian. In order for there to be a before and an after, there must be a meridian, which happens to be noon. When I went to school, we were taught that 12 p.m. was the last minute of the day, in other words, midnight, or 12 hours after (post) the meridian. Any chance you can fix that in your style guide? It seems to have caused massive clutural misunderstanding.

    • GPOBookstore says:

      Cynthia: Great question! I consulted with the Chairman of the GPO Style Board who gave me this terrific explanation for the new rule:

      When the GPO Style Board reviewed and revised the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual, we had an extensive discussion regarding this issue. GPO no longer recognizes “12 m’’ as a reference to time. On page 271, Rule 12.9 we make it clear by our parenthetical notation that “12 p.m.’’ indicates “12 noon’’ and “12 a.m.’’ indicates “12 midnight’’ for our purposes. It simplifies the discussion. To say it another way, if “12:01 a.m. is one minute after midnight, then “12 a.m.’’ is midnight.

      I hope this helps!
      Signing off at 12:56 p.m.

      • Cynthia Knudson says:

        I totally get not using 12 m., but it can’t be substituted with 12 p.m. because that means 12 hours after noon. Other style guides recommend simply using “noon.”

  11. monavie says:

    I would do it, but I ask you for official GPO guidance.

  12. JR says:

    Does the Government have a preference on passive or active voice? Is there a reference for the preference?

    • govbooktalk says:

      Our Style Manual is a printer’s style guide rather than one for writers, so it doesn’t cover that kind of thing. A lot of bureaucratic writing overindulges in the passive voice and I personally try to minimize its use. I’m not the Government, though! Attempts to clarify Government writing recommend concision and limiting passive voice helps with that.

  13. โมนาวี says:

    haha, your style is fun.

  14. Cary Hoagland says:

    Suggested GPO-related and grammatical corrections to the fourth paragraph of the home page of GPO Government Book Talk are enumerated below the copied text.
    “This entry was posted on Thursday, April 15th, 2010 at 10:21 am and is filed under Government Printing Office. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.”

    (1) In the first sentence, per GPO 9.45, text references to dates should not contain “th.”
    (2) A comma is needed after “2010,” per GPO 8.49.
    (3) In expressions of time, the two periods are retained for text references to meridian (a.m. and p.m.), per GPO 8.26 and 9.54.
    (4) In the second sentence above, since “can” indicates capability whereas “may” signifies an optional action on the part of the person addressed, the latter word should be used.
    (5) As is usually the case, the word “any” adds no meaning, retards the reader’s comprehension, and should be deleted.
    (6) Some careful writers reserve the word “through” for its literal spatial sense, preferring “by means of” for intangible usages.
    (7) In the third sentence, “can” should be changed to “may” (see point 4 above).
    (8) The comma after “response” should be deleted, because it needlessly separates parallel, coordinate verbs, in harmony with the context of chapter 8 of the GPO Style Manual.

  15. Cary Hoagland says:

    I could not find in the GPO Manual how to correctly capitalize the expression “State of the Union address” . . . the foregoing is how I would do it, but I ask you for official GPO guidance.

  16. Michael Hopps says:

    Years ago, you seemed to favor “Web site.”

    Now do you favor “Web site,” “Website,” “website,” or “web site”?

    • govbooktalk says:

      We still use “Web site”.

      • Cary Hoagland says:

        The two-word form “Web site” makes eminent sense, not only from the standpoint of pronunciation but also for the purpose of indicating that the Web and sites continue to be distinct entities.
        So on this very page, above this reply block, could that be fixed?

      • govbooktalk says:

        Are you referring to the comment about Web site?

      • Cary Hoagland says:

        Re “Web site”: I was not referring to the comment on the topic but to the instructions for replying, which are below the bold head “Leave a Reply Cancel reply” (pls. review the capping in that phrase). In the instructions, the expression is set solid, which we agree is wrong.
        One other comment about the instructions——twice “e-mail” omits what I was under the impression GPO would rule is a necessary hyphen.

      • govbooktalk says:

        That wording belongs to WordPress, our non-Government blogging software, and cannot be altered by us.

  17. Randy says:

    I’m confused. Is it two spaces or just one space after a period at the end of a sentence when typing essays, letters, briefs, etc., which are not going to be typeset for printing?

    • govbooktalk says:

      The GPO Style Manual is a printer’s style book, so determining whether to use one or two spaces if the material is not going to be typeset by GPO is really up to you, or to whichever style guidelines are set by the entity for which you are preparing the material, be it a law firm, a company, a publisher, or some other entity.

      I hope this helps!

  18. Sarah says:

    I’d love to know who writes each post. shows who the bloggers are.

    • govbooktalk says:

      So far, I am the sole blogger. I mentioned who I am in my first post, but you make a good point. I will add that information to our “About” page.


      Jim Cameron

  19. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Bechtel and Emily Carr, Katie Schwing. Katie Schwing said: Fun?! RT @andybechtel If you like Style Manuals, you might enjoy this: Fun With the GPO Style Manual via @USGPO [...]

  20. Rob Lopresti says:

    My favorite government book on language is Gobbledygook Has Got To Go, by John O’Hayre. It was published by the Bureau of Land Management in 1966. It is wildly outdated (assuming all women are secretaries, and I don’t mean Secretary of State), but it is clever and interesting and full of tips about clear writing.

  21. Cecilia R says:

    What a fun blog — I like your style!

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