Most publishers use the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (currently the 11th) for basic editing and the hefty latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s International Dictionary (currently the 4th) as the final authority. Few individuals are willing to devote money or space to the international version on their desktops, however, and generally make do with the collegiate edition. Webster’s is a "descriptive" dictionary, in that it neutrally describes "how" words are defined and doesn’t help much in making choices whether those words are generally accepted in formal writing.
The second-most used dictionary is the latest edition of the American Heritage college dictionary (currently the third). This dictionary is a "prescriptive" dictionary in that it isn’t as quick as Webster’s in accepting slang and gives the writer a better idea of whether and how words are acceptable for use in formal writing.
British written English has some striking differences from American written English. The Oxford Dictionary is the authority of choice for British publishing. For writers preparing a work for a British publisher but not wishing to buy the pricey Oxford Dictionary, we recommend the Collins standard and pocket dictionaries (published by HarperCollins).
For personal names, publishers usually use Merriam Webster’s Biographical Dictionary (still in its first edition).
For place names, publishers usually use Merriam Webster’s Geographical Dictionary (currently the third).
For synonyms, use J. I. Rodale and Nancy LaRoche’s The Synonym Finder (Warner Books, 1986).
For an encyclopedic dictionary with many extras, including grammar, correspondence, manuscript preparation, dictionary of space, medical dictionary, dictionary of slang, quotations from Reader’s Digest, three foreign-language dictionaries (German, French, and Spanish), and much more, use The Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary.
Turn to the Reader’s Digest for a unique combination of dictionary and thesaurus, Reader’s Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder. Other good thesauri include Roget’s Super thesaurus by Writer’s Digest Books, and The Random House Thesaurus, which is published in an easy-to-use pocket paperback size. It has more than 11,000 main entries, with thousands of synonyms and antonyms, sample sentences, and parts of speech and extensive coverage of all levels of vocabulary.
Publishers almost always have a few "house style" preferences of their own, but they generally rely on a few standard style manuals.
By far, the style manual most in use by the publishing industry—used extensively in both the United States and the United Kingdom—is The Chicago Manual of Style (The University of Chicago Press, 2003), now in its 15th edition.
Many scientific publishers use the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association, 2001), currently in its fifth edition. APA also has a helpful FAQ Internet site at http://www.apastyle.org/faqs.html.
Some academic publishers rely on Joseph Gibaldi’s MLA Style Manual (The Modern Language Association of America, 1998), and many university English-language programs use his MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (The Modern Language Association of America, 1999), currently in its fifth edition.
The U.S. government (and therefore some publishers targeting U.S. government officials) uses the GOP (Government Printing Office) manual of style, published under the formal title of A Manual of Style: A Guide to the Basics of Good Writing (Government Printing Office or Crown Publishers, 1986).
Other style manuals can provide authors with general guidance on style choices (although these generally are not used as authorities by commercial publishers). These include Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference: Fourth Edition (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001), This is an easy-to-use tabulated reference covering every element of writing, style, and word choice. It’s a perfect reference for the college student and instructor as well. Another basic style reference for writers, although used more at the college level than in commercial publishing, is the handy paperback by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style: Fourth Edition (Allen and Bacon, 2000). A Web site based on this style manual can be found at http://www.ablongman.com.
The primary style manual for news organization work is The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual (edited by Norm Goldstein, sixth edition, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1996). The New York Times also has a style manual that it and a few other major papers use as their authority, but because much of the news used in English-language newspapers comes in on Associated Press (AP) ticker machines and most newspaper editors don’t want to go through the effort of restyling this, most newspapers just settle on using the AP style to begin with.
Useful General Grammar, Style, and Word Usage Aids
The American Heritage Book of English Usage: A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contemporary English (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996). The clearest and most up-to-date-explanations often can be found here.
Theodore M. Bernstein, The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage (Atheneum, 1965). This is usually very helpful and has clear explanations.
David Daniels and Barbara Daniels, HarperCollins College Outline: English Grammar (HarperCollins, 1991). Useful when you need the "Jack and Jill" version of an explanation on grammar use.
Harriet Diamond and Phyllis Dutwin. Grammar in Plain English: Third Edition (Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. 1996). This is an excellent resource for writers who need to brush up on their grammar. It contains twenty-one lessons to build and reinforce grammar skills. It’s also recommended for adults preparing to take their GED, for college remedial English students, and advanced ESL students.
Eugene Ehrlich, Schaum’s Outline of Theory and Problems of Punctuation, Capitalization, and Spelling, second edition (McGraw Hill, 1987). Useful when you are so confused that you need not only an explanation but also several examples of usage.
Joanne Feierman, Action Grammar (Simon & Shuster, 1995). This is an excellent paperback grammar book that’s very easy to use with, "everyday usage and punctuation" as well as quizzes and tutorials.
H. W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, second edition (Oxford University Press, 1996). This is considered by many as the ultimate authority on grammar and style, but it sometimes seems so taken with its own elegant language that it’s hard to determine just what guidance it’s giving. There’s a newer edition out than this, but most of the Fowler material has disappeared from this edition, and it hasn’t received good reviews.
Karen Elizabeth Gordon, The Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed (Times Books, 1984). This is specifically for those who will only check their grammar if they are entertained in the process.
Thomas S. Kane, The New Oxford Guide to Writing (Oxford University Press, 1998). This is a standard for British usage.
The New York Public Library Writer’s Guide to Style and Usage (HarperCollins, 1994). This is often a good resource for a second opinion.
Theodore A. Rees Cheney, Getting the Words Right (Writer’s Digest Books, 1995).
Harry Shaw, Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions (McGraw Hill, 1987). A very useful resource doing exactly what its title says it does, but it now is hard to find.
Sol Stein, Stein on Writing (Griffin Trade Paperback, 2000). Perhaps the most-recommended writing guidance book on writing-focused Internet discussion boards.
Ann Stilman, Grammatically Correct (Writer’s Digest Books, 1997). This book delves into punctuation, spelling, structure, style, usage, and grammar. Going beyond the mechanics, it teaches the reader to write well.
William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style (Allen and Bacon, 2000). This is a college student’s standby that is quite useful for the basics, but book publishing does not follow all of its suggestions.
William Zinsser, On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, fifth edition (HarperCollins, 1994). Packed with helpful guidance and engagingly written.
Where to Find It
For quotes, consult John Bartlett and Justin Kaplan’s Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 16th edition (Little, Brown and Company, 1996). Of course, many quotation databases, including Bartlett’s, can also be found on the Internet. http://www.bartleby.com/100/ carries the 10th (1919) edition of Bartlett’s. A selection of searchable quotation databases is provided at http://www.libraryspot.com.
For general in-print help in tracking down information, try Sherwood Harris’s The New York Public Library Book of How and Where to Look It Up (Prentice Hall, 1991).
For help in rendering trademarked names correctly, you can find the updated list of proper trademarked names renderings from the International Trademark Association at http://www.inta.org/tmcklst1.htm.
For what day of the week dates fell on in past years, go to http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/easter.html.
Writing Aids: Print
Lawrence Block, Writing the Novel from Plot to Print (Writer’s Digest Books, 1979).
Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction (Pearson Longman, 6th edition, 2002)
Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint (Writer’s Digest Books)
Ansen Dibell, Plot (Writer’s Digest Books, 1999)
Phillip Gerard, Writing a Book that Makes a Difference (Story Press, 2000). This author presents strategies for the creative nonfiction writer. He delves into characterization, point of view, voice and style, and all elements of storytelling, where he explores both fiction and nonfiction.
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones (Shambhala, 1986)
Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference: Fourth Edition (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001). This is a tabulated reference book covering not only writing style but much more. It’s easy to use because of its tabulated menu.
Handbook of Short Story Writing, preface by Joyce Carol Oates, (Writer’s Digest Books, 1986). Multiple authors contributed to this handbook. Every possible element of short story writing is covered from plot to character development.
Jerome Judson, The Poet’s Handbook (Writer’s Digest Books, 1980). This book is an excellent source for the writer delving into poetry. Mr. Judson gives instruction in the mechanics and art of writing poetry. Many questions are answered that are most often asked by beginning poets.
Stephen King, On Writing (Pocket Books, 2002). One of the most popular background books on writing among aspiring authors.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (Anchor, 1995). Someone who had to work hard to get published wrote this humorous, helpful book.
Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees (Riverhead Books, 2001)
Noah Lukeman, The Plot Thickens (St. Martin’s, 2003)
Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel (Writer’s Digest Books, 2003)
Robert McKee, Story (Regan Books, 1997)
Jeff Mock, You Can Write Poetry (Writer’s Digest Books, 1998). This book offers dozens of sample poems along with exercises. Also included is a market list for submissions.
Richard Rhodes, How to Write (Quill, 1996)
Sol Stein, How to Grow a Novel (St. Martin’s Press, 2002)
Sol Stein, Stein on Writing (Griffin Trade, 2000)
Dwight Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer (University of Oklahoma Press, 1982)
David Trotter, The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script (Silman James, 1998). Aspiring screenwriter’s will love this book. It has it all.
Joseph P. Williams, Style (University of Chicago Press, 1995)
Albert Zuckerman, Writing the Blockbuster Novel (Writers Digest Books, 2002)
Writing Aids: Internet Links
This site contains articles and interviews from professional writers and writers connected to screen writing, novels, and nonfiction.
The Alliance for Computers and Writing
A massive directory is listed here offering learning resources, journals, essay, and groups of all kinds. It also lists university writing centers from around the country.
Children’s Writing Resource Central
This is a great resource site for anyone with a desire to write books for children. It contains a free library of how-to information, step-by-step help, and a message board, where aspiring children’s authors can gather.
Christian Periodical Publishers
Boasts an alphabetical list of book publishers as well as religion editors at secular newspapers. It also includes a periodical publishers index.
Common Errors in English
This site is an excellent teaching aid for writers by a university English professor. It contains a large list of common errors committed by writers.
The Stephen Coonts Web site
For writing tips from a best-selling adventure author, go to this site, click on "More" and then on "Writing Tips."
Creative Writing For Teens
This site is an excellent source for the aspiring young writer. It offers a multitude of instructional materials covering every phase of creative writing. Older writers could benefit from this site as well.
Gotham Writer’s Workshop
Online classes are offered. It makes available a syllabus, student forums, and many other things, including sample assignments. A sample class is offered as well.
The Grammar Handbook was compiled from a grammar workshop. Everything about basic grammar is addressed.
Guide to Grammar and Writing
This site was established by now-deceased English professor Charles Darling. It’s basic discussions of grammar continue to be maintained on the site, although his very useful "Ask Grammar" feature no longer exists.
"How Much Should I Charge," by Lynn Wasnak http://www.writersmarket.com/content/howmuch3.asp
This and subsequent pages provided by Writer’s Digest provide ranges to charge for all sorts of jobs related to publishing.
Inspired Writing Workshops and Writing Services
Excellent workshops are offered in creative writing, creativity, grammar, and so forth. They also offer a range of professional writing-related services, including coaching, freelance writing, editing, and German-English translation.
Lighthouse Writers Workshop
This is an independent creative writing school that instructs in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and screenplay writing.
Jack Lynch’s Guide to Grammar and Style
A very useful explanation of grammar and style on the Rutgers University Web site.
The Midwest Book Review
This site offers much more than book reviews. It has a large and outstanding directory of writer resources as well.
The online library is a collection of resources compiled and edited by the members of Writer’s Village University and A Novel Approach. It contains The Help Files, Reference Center, Research Files, Tips and Tricks, and much more.
The Phrase Finder
Everything about the origin and meaning of phrases can be found here. The site contains a thesaurus database search, meaning and origins of over a thousand alphabetically listed phrases, and a discussion forum, where you can find out the meaning or origin of a phrase or saying from people who know.
Press Release Writing Tips
This site offers formatting suggestions, a PR template, Past News, Letters, Writer’s Resources, and a list of PR-related books as well as a newsletter.
Gateway to a large collection of reference links, including encyclopedias, libraries, dictionaries, and thesauri and information on genealogy, government, law, postal codes, time zones, history, and so forth.
Robin’s Nest for writers and Web Surfers
Professional freelancer, Robin Nobles, has compiled an outstanding list of articles for freelancers as well as useful link URLs for writers.
Science Fiction Novel Workshop
This workshop is a great place for the hard science fiction writer to hone his or her craft. It offers critiques and encouragement to writers of science fiction.
Here is an informative site offering the fundamentals of successful speechwriting, including structure, strong opening, purposeful body, and memorable conclusion.
Suite101.com Freelance Writing
This site contains useful resources for the freelance writer. It is a community with a forum, bulletins, articles, discussions, polls, and much more.
Tips, Tools & Ideas to Improve Your Writing
A nominal $1.50 lifetime fee is required to access this source.
The Writer’s BBS
This site contains many writer’s and critique forums, chat rooms, links to writing sites, articles, and more.
Write101.com—All About Writing
A great site for the beginning writer, this site offers a free online writing course, home study tutorials, writing services, reference center, and much more.
Outstanding site that features writing workshops, conferences, contests, guidelines, and many other resources to help all levels of writers to achieve success.
To establish individual skill levels, a writing sample must be submitted. This is an excellent source to establish your skill level and receive critiques on your work. Submission guidelines are available at the site.
A site where aspiring and experienced writers gather to discuss writing, publishing, and marketing issues.
Writers Write/ Screenwriting
This is a great site offering sources for screenwriters. It has a resource list on the craft, links to producers, screenwriting links, a message board, news and much more for the aspiring screenwriter.
This site offers a live chat, message board, writer’s workshop, poetry, short stories, and a searchable database of guidelines for writers, and writing for children.
Writer’s Resource Directory
This site has a resource directory listing helpful sites in every phase of writing.
Here is an excellent site with classes, a "Fun Stuff" section, specialized markets, a "For Writers and Authors," online publishers, writing careers, and reference books.
This site offers online or in New York City creative writing classes. It includes all types of writing from fiction to stand-up comedy and everything in between. These are 10-week courses. Also offered are one-day classes, private instruction, and classes for teens.