There are plenty of books and Internet tools to help you improve your creative writing techniques, but what if you just want to figure out where to insert an apostrophe, or what’s the right way to spell Gorbachev. The trouble is that the Internet will drown you with conflicting information, leaving you more confused than when you began. That’s why there’s nothing to beat a good, chunky reference book. The information in it stands still long enough for you to absorb it, and is carefully researched by experts.
Here are three that help get me through my writing day.
This is the definitive style guide for writers and editors. It gives you advice on how to spell commonly confused words or how to correctly spell the names of historical and current political figures. It also tells you whether a word should be capitalised or not and whether a word is a verb or a noun. For example, it will inform you that when you want to talk about the practice of law, you spell practice with a c, but when you talk about practising law, you spell it with an s.
This book covers all aspects of grammar and punctuation, and it’s useful for editors because it describes how books should be laid out. American and UK English are commonly confused and this book has a whole chapter dedicated to helping you make the distinction. The book also helps you achieve consistency in your writing and editing, as it tells you the best way to write numbers, dates etc, so that they’ll look the same throughout the manuscript you’re working on.
No writer or editor’s shelf is complete without a dictionary. There are a million words in the English language and the average person knows 10,000-12,000 of them, so no matter how good we think our vocabulary is, we’ll have to reach for the dictionary at some point. We often think we know what a word means, but the dictionary tells a different story. Every writer or editor will swear by the dictionary they use. Mine is the Collins, and it’s not as concise as the title suggests. In fact, it’s the size of a small child.
What grammars, dictionaries and style guides do you use to bring polish to your writing?