7 reference resources for writers and editors

If you work with words—or play with them, or both at the same time—you’ll want to be familiar with these excellent guides.


What guides and handbooks does a careful writer (or editor) rely on? I’ve consulted many resources, but the ones on this list have pride of place and show the most wear and tear.

1. The Associated Press Stylebook

Associated Press style and Chicago style (see below) differ in some respects, but many of the listings in this alphabetically organized resource will set you straight about how to treat many common and proper nouns.

2. The Chicago Manual of Style

This is the primary resource, after a house style guide, for many American publishing companies and other companies that produce publications, providing guidance about grammar and usage, as well as topics including abbreviation, capitalization and other emphasis (such as italics or boldface), numbers, and punctuation. It’s only one of many, but it’s pre-eminent.

3. The Copyeditor’s Handbook

This paperback guide, originally conceived as a companion to Chicago, is similar in organization but formatted more like a textbook (I’ve used it as such with great success), with exercises at the back of each chapter. It’s more accessible but not as comprehensive as the preceding book.

4. Garner’s Modern American Usage

Language maven Bryan Garner’s authoritative, encyclopedic tome about proper use of words is the definitive specimen of this type.

5. Merriam-Webster’s Biographical Dictionary

This is a handy resource for double-checking names of famous people or their life spans (and years in office or on a throne). The publisher’s general dictionary includes in its appendixes both biographical and geographical dictionaries, but the listings in the stand-alone publications are much more extensive.

6. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

Actually, I generally use Merriam-Webster Online, but the print version is handy for finding all the words that start with a certain prefix, or coming up with an alliterative adjective.

7. Merriam-Webster’s Geographical Dictionary

Find out the current spellings of foreign cities and the official names of countries and their land area and population. The latter figure will be out of date, and you can find this information (and that available in the biographical dictionary) online, but you may prefer flipping pages to clicking through sites.

This list is not a purchasing guide; don’t blindly buy any of these books. Visit your local library, and take a look at them; then decide which are good investments for your needs.

A version of this article originally appeared on DailyWritingTips.com.

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