Beyond AP style: Terrific writing resources for communicators

These authoritative websites can help you create better copy with grammar advice, style and citation rules, engaging quotations and more.

Guidelines for writing do exist apart from the Associated Press Stylebook.

PR pros need guidance for all sorts of preferred terms, as well as advice on protocol, grammar, citations, abbreviations, quotable sources and different versions of English.

Fortunately, many online resources provide free content. Here are standouts in seven categories:

1. Inclusive and non-discriminatory language: The Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University created an online “Diversity Style Guide” (www.diversitystyleguide.com) that consolidates content from more than 20 style guides and journalism resources. Here you can find glossaries on terms related to age, ethnicity, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation, among others. The National Council of Teachers of English also posts a useful reference called “Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language” on its website (http://www.ncte.org).

2. Protocol for royalty and dignitaries: If you wanted to invite Prince Harry, an ambassador and a state governor to an event, would you know how to address them properly? Proper forms of address apply to royalty and nobility, government officials, diplomatic corps, religious dignitaries and certain professions. Robert Hickey’s “Honor & Respect: the Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address” (www.formsofaddress.info) and the Emily Post Institute (http://emilypost.com) cover some free content on forms of address, as does Debrett’s (www.debretts.com), focusing on British etiquette.

3. Alphabet soup of abbreviations: Acronym Finder (www.acronymfinder.com) includes more than 5 million acronyms and initialisms used in business and government. It also lists more than 850,000 postal codes in North America. Content is updated monthly.

[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 punctuation essentials]

4. Quotable quotes: You can find quotations from fiction and nonfiction archives on Bartleby.com (www.bartleby.com), and the site contains the entire edition of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” Brainy Quotes (https://www.brainyquote.com) is another source full of quotations from famous authors.

5. Grammar and punctuation support: Mignon Fogarty, in her role as Grammar Girl (www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl), gives entertaining and practical advice on grammar, usage and punctuation. Capital Community College Foundation (http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/) sponsors a “Guide to Grammar & Writing” packed with useful resources and quizzes. Grammarly (www.grammarly.com) is another option, with free online grammar and spell checking, along with paid premium upgrades for extended services. If you’re an AP style adherent, just make sure to look at the stylebook rules on punctuation, such as omitting the serial comma in most cases.

6. Webster’s and Oxford English to Australian English: You can access Merriam-Webster online (www.merriam-webster.com) for both its dictionary and thesaurus for American English. Oxford Dictionaries (www.oxforddictionaries.com) offers an online dictionary in both U.S. English and British and World English, as well as synonyms, grammar, and an overview on the differences between U.S. and British English. The Macquarie Dictionary (www.macquariedictionary.com.au) features a 30-day free trial for the most comprehensive dictionary and thesaurus on Australian English.

7. Citations and references: If you’re writing a white paper or a more formal document requiring citations and references that you may not remember from your college days, look at the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl), which is called Purdue OWL, and available to anyone. This site includes the basics of citing research in the styles of APA, MLA and the Chicago Manual of Style, as well as other content related to academic writing. These stylebooks also have their own websites with some free content: http://www.apastyle.org, https://style.mla.org and www.chicagomanualofstyle.org.

Arhlene Flowers is an associate professor in Integrated Marketing Communications at Ithaca College, a former PR pro and the author of “Global Writing for Public Relations.”

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