Edit Yourself by Bruce Larson

My five favorite reference books for writers

A printed book is sometimes the best place to find a solution to your question about writing style, punctuation, or grammar.

Here are my five favorite reference books.

  1. Edit Yourself: A manual for everyone who works with words by Bruce Ross-Larson. Everyone should own this small, inexpensive, easy-to-use book. I use Part II, the back of the book, the most. It lists troublesome words in alphabetical order. It’ll help you cut pretentious words and resolve problems such as deciding between “which” and “that.” Part I describes and offers solutions to problems common in everyday writing. Buy it today!
  2. Words into Type, based on studies by Marjorie E. Skillin, Robert M. Gay, and other authorities. This fat classic from 1974 is my second “go to” reference book when I’m flummoxed by a question of style, punctuation, or grammar. I go straight to the index to look for the word or type of problem. The book is aimed at individuals preparing manuscripts for publication.
  3. The Chicago Manual of Style was my favorite reference book for many years. It’s the most academic of the books on this list. You can also subscribe online to the manual and follow it on Facebook or Twitter.
  4. The Associated Press Stylebook. If you’ve ever heard an editor say, “We follow AP style,” they’re talking about the print or online edition of this style book. There’s even an iPhone app for this guide. You can follow AP style on Twitter at @APStylebook or on Facebook.
  5. The Grammar Bible by Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas. This book gives plain English explanations of vexing issues of grammar and more.

Honorable mention

If you’re passionate about good writing, you’ve probably got a favorite reference that I’ve overlooked. Please tell me about it.

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Updated: October 2020

16 replies
  1. Karen Witham
    Karen Witham says:

    Thanks Susan! I own older editions of #3 and #4.

    I HIGHLY recommend “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. This gem stays with you your entire writing life. “What would Zinsser say?” echoes in my mind when I’m writing and editing my own work or that of others.

  2. joe polidoro
    joe polidoro says:

    I know you’ve asked for reference books, but I think half of understanding what’s in them comes from reading well-edited writing.

    So by all means try these books (I use Words Into Type). But if you want to know why the serial comma may be important, or see how someone deftly avoids a dangling participle, read good stuff. Especially if you prefer to learn by doing, as I do.

    Any number of good magazines and newspapers, online and print, will do the trick. I still believe that current British writers and publications are on the whole better–more clear, vivid, forceful–than their American counterparts. If you find that too reactionary, go part-way there with U.S. citizen Christopher Hitchens and the Brit/American hybrid Economist magazine.

  3. Randy Myers
    Randy Myers says:

    I too use the Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk & White and the AP Stylebook. For anyone writing copy, I also highly recommend Bob (Robert W.) Bly’s “The Copywriter’s Handbook.”

  4. Sumantra Sen
    Sumantra Sen says:

    This is helpful… In addition to APS, I do keep “Write right!: a desktop digest of punctuation, grammar, and style” By Jan Venolia, within reach. Fun!

  5. Jeff McLean, Ph.D.
    Jeff McLean, Ph.D. says:

    I enjoy sharing grammar/style/usage and business/financial titles. I highly recommend The Gregg Reference Manual for such issues. I knew the author and currently answer questions from readers on grammar, usage, and style issues. For financial clients, I use The Wall Street Journal Guide to Business Style and Usage. I also highly recommend Garner’s Modern American Usage, Words Into Type, The American Hertiage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, and Swan’s Practical English Usage. I was raised on The Chicago Manual of Style and still use it often (16th edition now available). My library includes over 100 other titles in the field, and I never tire of reading about writing and editing.

  6. Zack Miller (Tradestreaming)
    Zack Miller (Tradestreaming) says:

    I really enjoyed “Eats Shoots and Leaves”. While it might not be referenceable, it underscores the importance of getting grammar and punctuation right and its impact on your readers.

    Great idea for a post. Would love to see books you’d recommend on writing in general.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] you have questions beyond the book’s scope, check out the books listed in “My five favorite reference books for writers” and the online resources I discuss in “Poll: What’s your favorite online […]

  2. […] by Susan B. Weiner, a Massachussetts-based writer and editor who specializes in financial products. Weiner wrote about her favorite reference books for writers. This made me think of my own favorites, as well as the practical reference books I use on a […]

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