No matter how many As you got in English class or how many words you’ve written over the course of your career, you don’t know all the grammar rules, all the style laws or all the words. Great writers still need to look things up — probably every day. The best writers know what they don’t know — and know where to look. Is your bookshelf (physical or virtual) up to the task of guiding your daily writing?
Here are the resources and references everyone should have:
Merriam-Webster is my preference, as it is the reference point for The Associated Press Stylebook. (Plus, it’s easy to get what you need online.) But look, most dictionaries agree on the appropriate spellings for most words, so identify a source you trust and run with it.
2. Style guide(s)
There are a lot of style guides on the market, depending on what you’re working on. Remember the good ol’ MLA or APA style guides from college? If you’re writing a term paper, those should still be on your shelf. But for professional writers, I recommend having an Associated Press Stylebook (stay as current as you can) as well as The Chicago Manual of Style. Personally, I have hard copies of both, and I subscribe to the online version of the AP guide as well.
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage can be useful even if you don’t work for The New York Times (it’s mandatory if you do!).
4. Rhyming dictionary
A rhyming dictionary, such as RhymeZone, isn’t just for budding poets. I find this to be a very valuable resource for headline and tagline brainstorming sessions.
5. Plagiarism checker
Technology today enables us to do a plagiarism check, which is pretty darn amazing. I’ll be honest, I often skip this step — often because I’m totally confident I did my own interviews and am presenting my own opinions. But I remember working as an editor and catching plagiarized sections of text within writers’ stories. It’s easy to understand how it happens. You’re writing, and you copy and paste a paragraph or two from a press release or a company’s website or an academic study — fully intending to return to the copy to rewrite it in your own words. But time passes, and you forget. Well, a plagiarism checker, like the one built into services like Grammarly, can help you make sure you don’t submit plagiarized text on accident. Because as much as it can be an accident, plagiarism can get writing professionals into hot water.
6. Readability resource/reading grade level (RGL) checker
If you are charged with writing content that must be readable at a specific grade level — for example, you write healthcare materials that are scored by CMS — it helps to have a tool for checking the RGL. Microsoft Word can do this, offering you a Flesch-Kincaid score. I recommend checking out Readable.io as well. For starters, Readable scores the RGL based on a few different formulas, include Flesch-Kincaid. It also helps you identify some of your problem areas, saving you time as a writer or editor.
7. Other reference texts
I personally recommend The Elements of Style (that’s your trusted Strunk and White from high school) and Garner’s Modern American Usage, but obviously, there are plenty of reference texts out there.
What do you use?
What did I miss? What texts or online resources do you turn to when you have questions as you’re writing? Share them in the comments!