“Seriously—typos do generate spontaneously. Stuff that wasn’t there yesterday appears today. I wonder if this is a corollary of Murphy’s Law.”
—Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D., author, Quicksilver Moon, Finding New Goddesses, Goddess Meditations, Practicing the Presence of the Goddess and A Woman’s Book of Rituals and Celebrations.
“The copy editor is, in a way, a combination of shaman (who possesses arcane secrets, like when to use an en dash), trusted friend (whose advice keeps you out of trouble), and dominatrix (whose demands are both painful and satisfying).”
—Steven Pinker, interview in Copy Editor newsletter
Helpful references for authors
Here are some sources I’ve found useful for combating the dreaded typo, getting the grammar and usage right and putting it all together so nothing gets in the way of your reader being totally absorbed in your words. There are lots of other good references; these are my personal favorites.
The Gregg Reference Manual—This is the bible of grammar, usage and style as far as I’m concerned. It comes in hardcover, paperback and spiral bound, which I like a lot for convenience. The website calls it “the ultimate authority on business style,” but it’s a lot more than that and definitely not just for business writing. I have yet to have a copy editing question it couldn’t answer. When I sit down in my comfy chair for a long session of proofreading, The Gregg Reference Manual and my old collegiate dictionary are the two books that are always with me.
The PC is Not a Typewriter or The Mac is Not a Typewriter—If you’re writing on a computer (and if you’re looking at this site, I’m sure you are), this little book by Robin Williams can help you create much better-looking type. It costs $10 or less, and you won’t be sorry you bought it. Even though my job is to make your manuscript look its best, you’ll still benefit from adopting some simple practices of good typography. A cleaner document will be formatted, proofed and back to you sooner. As one of the reviewers on Amazon.com said: “This small book explains better than any other why we did certain things on typewriters that were never done by professional printers—and why we need to stop doing them now that we are using computers.” Robin Williams has written several other books about computers and design: Beyond the PC/Mac is Not a Typewriter, The Non-Designer’s Type Book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, and more. All highly recommended.
Reference.com—Located at http://www.reference.com/ this one link will take you to Dictionary.com, Thesaurus.com and whole lot of others: atlases, encyclopedias, medical, legal and literary references. Indispensable.
A good, old dictionary—Even if you use an online dictionary, and I use Dictionary.com nearly every day, it’s essential to use an old-fashioned print dictionary too. I recommend getting a “college” edition; they’re comprehensive and obviously intended for bright people. Recent editions are great for all those new terms, but never, ever let go of your old dictionary. Being able to check what usages have been acceptable for decades can help you write like an educated grown-up—at least when you want to sound that way. Go for a dictionary at least 20 years old: from before the Internet got everyone used to seeing “definately.”
Roget’s Thesaurus—I like the version in dictionary form; I’ve always found it easier to navigate. Another good thesaurus is The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale. A quick search on Amazon.com will find you several editions of both.