- Dictionaries – General
- Style Guides – General
- Style Guides – Specialized
- References – General
- References – Specialized
- Grammar, Punctuation, & Usage
- Writing & Editing
- HTML, XHTML, CSS, & Other Web Design Resources
One of the strengths of online dictionaries, other than not taking up shelf space, is that they are updated as new words enter the English language. One of the weakenesses is that they rarely offer every word or definition. Many dictionaries, however, offer subscription services so you can access online all their content.
The Oxford English Dictionary – The OED is the finest, most comprehensive dictionary of the English language. By subscription only. Most large library systems offer full subscription access.
You will also find useful the more broad Oxford Dictionaries, where you can search all their modern English dictionaries and thesauruses, and the Oxford Reference, which gives you access to many dictionaries, thesauruses, the World Encyclopedia, and a number of other references covering subjects from languages to physics.
Dictionary.com – Includes notes on usage. Thesaurus and reference searches also available.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary – A good, basic resource for definitions, usage, and hyphenation. Includes a thesaurus and medical terminology.
Macmillan Dictionary – Another good, basic resource. Includes a thesaurus.
Macmillan has a blog on which they discuss words, usage, and writing.
Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989 – The current edition of the OED fills twenty volumes plus additional volumes and supplements (to keep it up to date). It examines the origins of words and the evolution of their meaning and use over time. I don’t know any other dictionary in which you can find the difference between “use” and “utilize” or between “need” and “require.” Also available on CD. For more information, see the Wikipedia article.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, 2003 – Comes with a CD-ROM of the dictionary. Merriam-Webster is the standard reference (for spelling, usage, and hyphenation, punctuation of abbreviations, and capitalization) for most major style guides. For more information, see the Wikipedia entry.
Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 2005 – Comes with a CD-ROM of the dictionary. Also available as an e-book.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, 2006 – An electronic version is also available. For more information, see the Wikipedia article.
Thesaurus.com – Includes not only synonyms and antonyms but a discussion of the usage of the synonyms. Many of the synonym’s thesaurus entries are also included on the results page.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary Thesaurus – Not as extensive as the one at Thesaurus.com but better than many and, if you’re using the online dictionary anyway, quite handy.
Roget’s – A number of versions are available, including Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus (which I prefer), Houghton Mifflin Roget’s II (which also comes as an electronic version), and Roget’s International Thesaurus (which I find difficult to use). For more information, see the Wikipedia article.
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White – Available online, as a PDF file, and in a new (2016) printed version. This book’s small size belies the richness of the information within. It’s the third book on my reference shelf and the third most used (after the dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style). It’s an easy read; I recommend perusing it once a year to refresh yourself on the basics.
Strunk and White, as it is often called, is not the extensive style guide that The Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook are. But it covers the basic use of the English language in a no-nonsense, concise manner.
A quick guide to its citation style can be found on the manual’s website.
The MLA Handbook, 8th edition, 2016 – Published by the Modern Language Association of America. Used for academic writing.
A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 8th edition, 2013 – Also called Turabian style, after its original author, Kate L. Turabian. Published by the University of Chicago Press.
A quick guide to citation and references styles can be found on the manual’s website.
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition, 2010 – APA Style is commonly used for academic writing, particularly the social sciences. It's an excellent and easy-to-read reference for reporting on the social sciences and any statistical data.
U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual, 2008, available as downloadable text or PDF files.
Microsoft Manual of Style, 4th edition, 2012 – Widely used for software and application documentation.
Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, 8th edition, 2014 – Published by the Council of Science Editors. Widely used for natural science writing, particularly the life sciences.
ACS Style Guide, 3rd edition, 2006 – From the American Chemical Society. Used by the physical sciences, including physics.
AMA Manual of Style, 10th edition, 2007 – Published by by the editors of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) and the Archives Journals. Used for medical writing. Also available online by subscription.
The AMA also has a blog, the AMA STYLE Insider, that addresses AMA style issues and questions.
Guide for the Use of the International System of Units (SI), 2008 – From the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This is available as a PDF. NIST also has an online reference.
There are a number of other specialized style manuals such as
- The AIP Style Manual, from the American Institute of Physics, available as a PDF file.
- The ASA Style Guide, from the American Sociological Association.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) – These include International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards.
ASTM International (originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials)
Check your local libraries for online access to encyclopedias and other reference books. For instance, my local library offers online access to Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, the American Heritage Dictionary, and the World Book online reference center. The larger Denver Public Library offers online access to Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia and the Oxford English Dictionary. Both also offer access to a number of more specialized online references as well as databases of popular, academic, and professional articles.
Wikipedia can be an excellent source of information. They have recently become even more careful about maintaining only information that can be verified against reliable published sources.
Online reference sites such as Infoplease.com can be useful too. Because Infoplease is produced by Pearson Education Inc. (with which I am not affiliated), its information is probably pretty reliable. They provide access to almanacs, an atlas, a dicationary, and an encyclopedia.
Refdesk is a dizzying collection of online reference sites. You can get lost if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. For quicker results, scroll nearly to the bottom of the main page and look for “Refdesk Subject Categories“ in the center column. Or go directly to their more general “Reference Desk“ page.
Most professional organizations offer an online page of useful, relevant reference sources. These are just a few general ones I use the most.
NIST’s “Weights and Measures” page
The Council of Science Editors’ “Reference Links”
The American Society for Indexing’s “Reference Shelf”
Grammar is the rules about using different types of words, phrases, and clauses and how those are put together to form sentences. Punctuation is the "road signs" that help readers correctly interpret words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. Usage addresses how words or phrases should and should not be used.
Many style guides have sections on grammar, punctuation, and usage.
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White – Available online and as a PDF file, but I recommend buying a printed copy. Covers the most important basics of grammar, punctuation, usage, and good writing.
Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, by Henry W. Fowler, later updated by R. W. Burchfield; 2015 – Widely regarded as the finest English usage guide. Covers both American and British English. For more information, see the Wikipedia article.
GrammarBook.com – Covers grammar and punctuation and some usage and style issues.
I often refer to posts by Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty on her website, Quick and Dirty Tips.
You might also find useful Paul Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage; the Guide to Grammar & Writing, dedicated to English professor Dr. Charles Darling; or The Grammar Handbook, from The University of Illinois’ The Center for Writing Studies.
Wikipedia has a decent entry on “English grammar” that includes a list of grammar books and useful links.
On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, 2016 – This is, I believe, the finest book on writing. It’s easy to read and full of guidance, stories, and examples that will inspire you to write better.
There are probably at least a hundred technical communication books or books useful to technical communicators and I certainly have not read all of them! In addition, different books are useful for different levels and different kinds of professionals. Moreover, other people have already put in a great deal of effort to research and compile lists, and I probably couldn’t improve on their hard work. Here, then, are some links to sites with useful lists:
Docsymmetry’s “Books for Technical Writers”
Ken Hanson’s “Help with Technical and Scientific Writing” – Includes a number of online resources and articles.
Robert Wisbey’s “Technical Writing Books”
I’d Rather Be Writing’s “40 Foundational Books for Technical Writing”
Three books I recommend:
Technical Writing: A Comprehensive Resource for Technical Writers at All Levels, 2011, by Martinez, Peterson, Wells, Hannigan, and Stevenson
Managing Your Documentation Projects, 1994, by JoAnn T. Hackos
Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged, 2006, by Michael A. Stelzner
“The Science of Scientific Writing,” by George Gopen and Judith Swan, originally published in the November-December 1990 issue of American Scientist.
KOK Edit’s “Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base” – A comprehensive list of resources compiled by Katharine O’Moore-Klopf.
ESL and/or Translation
The Elements of International English Style, 2005, by Edmond H. Weiss – Writing for international audiences is becoming an increasingly important skill, and this book is an excellent guide to the reasons for and the details of such writing.
I have created a separate page for web-specific resources.
The STC’s Ethical Principles are excellent professional guidelines for professional communicators.
ComSoc has a blog about the society and its events.
I particularly like SPJ’s Code of Ethics.
SPJ has a number of blogs on a variety of journalism issues.
If you really care about quality journalism, you may be interested in Investigative Reporters and Editors, which promotes quality investigative reporting.
The EFA has an excellent “Editorial Rates” page.
The NAIWE has a good blog, NAIWE NewsWire, with useful articles for writers and editors.
The Boulder Writers Alliance – This is a local organization for communications professionals but it’s an excellent group and resource.
The BWA has a good blog with tips for communicators.
KOK Edit’s website has an extensive list of relevant organizations on its “Networking” page.