Essential Basic Tools for Writers by Mike McNeff

No, I’m not going to talk about computers and word processing software. There are other important tools that writers need to have at their fingertips that relate to the craft of writing. They are a dictionary, a style guide, and a grammar reference.

I know what you’re thinking—those are tools for the editor’s job. No, it’s your job we’re talking about. A writer needs to be an expert on proper spelling, word choice, phrasing, sentence structure, grammar and a million other rules. Knowledge of these things comes with writing every day, but writers can’t remember everything about these subjects. I know I can’t.

Luckily, there are references you can buy to keep you straight. The first one is a good dictionary. Merriam–Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th ed. is a good choice. Not only does it give the correct spelling of words, it has sections containing foreign phrases; the correct spelling of the names of many notable people; important geographical locations; signs and symbols; and a handbook of style. When you buy the desktop hard cover, you get a code to get free access to the online version.

The Chicago Manual of Style 16th ed. is the premier style guide for writers. What’s a style guide? Don’t know if you should use a hyphen, en dash or an em dash? Can’t figure out what order adjectives should be placed in a sentence? Confused about whether you should spell out a number or use numerals? A style guide sorts through these issues for us and sets forth the most accepted answer. The Chicago Manual of Style is the reference most used by publishers, editors, proofreaders, and authors.

Chicago has in depth sections on publishing, editing, proofreading, copyright, grammar, word usage, punctuation, capitalization, proper use of offices and titles, historical and cultural names, scientific terms, brand names and trademarks, titles of works, abbreviations, bibliographies, and indices—and that’s just the highlights. It is a required reference for good writers. You can subscribe to the online version for around thirty–five dollars a year which, will keep you up to date on changes without waiting for a new print edition. The online search feature is very helpful.

Even though you can find most answers to grammar questions in Chicago, a grammar reference is still a good idea. The Gregg Reference Manual, 11th ed. is a great resource because it is so easy to find the answers to vexing grammar questions. The index is comprehensive and easy to use. It has a quick reference guide in the front of the book that is also helpful.

If you are serious about your writing, these references are essential tools for success. The quality of your work starts with you when you write your story, and ends with you when review the proofed galley copy for approval. Use these tools and get it right.

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