Six Writing and Editing Resources

In my line of work, we use several resources to guide our decision-making. These are our tools of the trade, helping us keep things consistent and in order. If you are writing or editing any type of content, I recommend you utilize one or more of these resources and keep your own in-house style sheet (I’ll be posting about that soon).

Here are my top resources for writing and editing:

Stylebooks

The_Chicago_Manual_of_Style_16th_edition1. The Chicago Manual of Style

Here’s the style guide I used at my former job at an independent book publisher. The Chicago Manual of Style is very comprehensive (and thick!). I swear, it answers nearly every question that might come up when you are working on a document. I highly recommend this style guide for books.

Why I love Chicago style:

  • Comprehensive
  • Helpful chapter on punctuation
  • Great advice for notes, references, and bibliographies
  • Informative for beginning editors and writers who are learning about the process

Last year I began using the online version of the guide, making my editing work even more transportable. For just $35.00/month you can have access to the book as a searchable resource — making it easier for you to look up a term, question, or style preference.

51Ejt8rMFaL2. The Associated Press Stylebook

I first used The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook when I worked for my college newspaper. I loved this resource for many reasons at the time, mostly because of its cut-and-dried approach to punctuation, terms, and formatting. Now, I have to admit, my love of the serial comma is strong, so exclusively referring to this style can be difficult (sorry to any of you who love the omission of that last comma in a series!). I recommend this style guide for writing intended for the web, newsletters, and magazines.

Why I love AP style:

  • Definitive
  • Easy-to-use
  • Good style for short-form writing

Make sure you start with the most recent edition of this book to avoid making any style decisions based on previous issues. In our constantly changing world, many of the terms and recommendations will change related to the web and other emerging technologies.

apa-style3. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association

Of all the style guides, I find this resource the most helpful and the most frustrating. You may be asked to follow this style book (hereafter called APA style) for higher education courses or for professional writing. Its main focuses are avoiding bias in your writing (important!), formatting academic papers (crucial if that’s what you need to do), and ensuring that your references are consistent and match the manual’s recommendations (I can guarantee you’ll never stop checking for ampersands and appropriate periods). These sections of the book are immensely helpful, though I find it difficult to use when I have higher-level grammar or style questions. Sometimes I will confer with Chicago to confirm those questions.

Why I love APA style:

  • Great for academic writing
  • Helpful tips for bias-free language
  • Straightforward approach to references and citations

If you are using APA style and need more help, be sure to use the Publication Manual’s blog. It will provide you with plenty more information on writing and editing in APA style.

Web Resources

Okay, enough with the stylebooks! Here are some great web references that you can utilize for quick grammar, usage, and style questions.

4. Merriam-WebsterMerriam-Webster_logo.svg

I use merriam-webster.com as my go-to dictionary and thesaurus. It’s wise to have one specific dictionary to source for consistency. I recommend this tried-and-true version, and it’s the favorite of many stylebooks. You’ll be able to confirm spellings and capitalization as well as determine good synonyms when writing punchy copy. It even has a great medical dictionary and fun words of the day.

ud-logo5. Urban Dictionary

Okay, this is a little out of left field, but a lot of my clients use slang and colloquial language when writing blogs, newsletters, and other personal communications. Urban Dictionary is my source for looking up terms not in the Merriam-Webster (think figuring out what YOLO or FOMO means or deciding on a consistent spelling for “biznass” or “hair-did”).

duVKyUtt_400x4006. Grammar Girl

I have a professional crush on Grammar Girl. She’s all-knowing and is great at explaining problematic grammar issues, such as affect vs. effect, split infinitives, and parallel construction. Whenever you have a grammar question, this site can give you helpful information and tips without a whiff of grammar snobbery (a pet peeve of mine!). It’s a great way to answer specific questions or to relearn grammar that you last thought about when writing your final school paper a decade or two ago.

I hope these resources can be helpful to you as you create and edit content. I am always here to help you with any type of writing or editing. Contact me at natalielsilver (at) yahoo (dot) com to discuss your project and needs.

Consistency Rules: An Easy Method to Improve Your Writing

If you don’t consider yourself a grammarian but love to write (or have to for academic or professional reasons), there’s an easy way to make sure your writing looks good. Be consistent.

While it’s important to use proper grammar and punctuation, one of the simplest ways to make sure your work looks polished is to be consistent. An editor fine-tunes her eyes to look for consistency in written works, and it’s important that you either work on this skill or outsource your public writing to someone who can do this for you. While you don’t need to master the Chicago, AP, APA, and MLA styles for documents you plan to publish or submit (unless it’s required), it’s good to identify certain components of your work that should remain consistent.

Here are five things to review in your document to ensure consistency:

  1. Capitalization. Are particular words capitalized the same way throughout the document? Check how you incorporate product names, personal names, professional titles, and organizations.
  2. Spelling. It’s important to spell words the same way throughout a document. While this seems obvious, the English language can be tricky, so double-check your treatment of compound words (did you use a hyphen once, break it into two words another time, and consolidate it in another instance?) For example, in a book I recently edited, the term twenty-something was hyphenated, though I could see someone breaking it into two words (twenty something) or even smashing it together (twentysomething) depending on personal style and the purpose of the document. When in doubt, use the dictionary as a final authority. Also, not to add complications, consider the part of speech of the compound too.
  3. Punctuation. Are you using the serial comma?  Are you using a three-dot ellipsis or three- and four-dot ellipses? When you need to use an apostrophe after a singular word that ends in s are you adding just an apostrophe or an apostrophe and an s (e.g., Henry James’ book or Henry James’s book?) Are you adding two spaces after a period? What about em dashes — are you adding spaces around them? Punctuation can be dubious and, while there are basic rules of American English to follow, you have some choices in punctuation.  Stick with a consistent method in your document.
  4. Formatting. Are you italicizing or bolding specific terms throughout the document? Are paragraphs indented? What about space between paragraphs? Do you capitalize captions or punctuate them as sentences? The document should look good on first glance, and formatting consistently is key to making a good impression.
  5. References. Choose one method for references, such as footnotes, endnotes, or in-text references. Format the references the same way every time. For example, don’t use an author’s full name and the abbreviation for page number (i.e., Mark Twain, p. 123) and then later just use the author’s last name without the page abbreviation (i.e., Twain, 144). Likewise, use the same formatting from endnote to endnote in a given document.

I hope you find this advice useful. I could go into more detail about consistency, but this is supposed to be a tutorial to make you feel more at ease about polishing a document. And always, keep in mind the audience for your work. If you are submitting a paper to a professor, refer to the syllabus for the class’s preferred style. If you are editing a newsletter or a blog, just try to be as consistent as possible. If you are handing over your work to an editor, trust that he keeps a style sheet and refers to the appropriate stylebook.