Tagged: usage

Reference Books

A common topic brought up by editors regards what type of reference books to use. There are threads all over the internet (what can I say–editors can be pretty nerdy) with recommendations for reference books. Here are what I find to be the most popular:


  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate
  • American Heritage College
  • Random House Webster’s College
  • Webster’s New World


  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • Words into Type
  • The New York Public Library Writer’s Guide to Style and Usage
  • Gregg Reference Manual
  • Associated Press Stylebook (used mostly by newspapers and magazines)
  • Modern Language Association (used mostly by writers in the humanities)


  • Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms
  • Random House Webster’s College Thesaurus
  • Rodale’s Synonym Finder
  • Roget’s International Thesaurus


  • Dictionary of Modern English Usage
  • The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage
  • Modern American Usage: A Guide
  • Fowler’s Modern English Usage (3d ed.)
  • Garner’s Modern American Usage (3d ed.)


  • Language Dictionaries
  • The Bible (you might have to pay attention to the various translations)
  • Barlett’s Familiar Quotations
  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn

The Compulsive Editor

Excerpt from The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists by Arthur Plotnik (Macmillan, 1982)

Signs of a Dysfunctional (Editor-Related) Compulsiveness

  • Holding to favorite rules of usage, whatever the effect on communication
  • Musing for fifteen minutes on whether to use a hairline or one-point rule
  • Changing every passive construction to an active one
  • Concentrating on negative rather than positive space in layout

Signs of Functional (Reader-Oriented) Compulsiveness

  • Following up
  • Rewriting every headline that fails to motivate readership
  • Quadruple-checking of page proofs
  • Staring at type specifications a full ten seconds
  • Reading every word in its final context
  • As soon as one issue is put to bed, insisting that work begin on the next