Which Resources Should You Use?
There are days when even the best spellers or grammarians can have a total brain meltdown. Simple words that a 3-year-old can spell suddenly perplex you. (I once sat at my computer totally baffled at how to spell a very simple one-syllable word I used all the time … I thought for sure I was losing my mind.)
You may wonder if you are or are not supposed to use the serial comma – this year. (There are no guarantees on what the rules will be next year.) You may wonder if you’re using semicolons correctly, or need to know how to format a bibliography for your book. You may even Google for the information and find a hundred different answers. Is there an industry standard?
The good news is, there is. And it will help you tremendously if you know where to go to answer those pesky questions on spelling, grammar, and formatting.
No, all dictionaries are not created equal. The industry standard for the writer is Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary. You can use the free section of their site or you can buy a yearly subscription. I prefer to pay for the subscription service. It’s only $4.95 a month or $29.95 a year and it gives you access to several references and is easier to use than the free service because it has more choices and more detail in the definitions.
These are the guidelines for formatting in various industries. For example, book publishers use The Chicago Manual of Style, but if you’re a Christian publisher, you’ll also incorporate The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. These are the books you need to reference for formatting guidelines, capitalization rules, number rules, bibliography formatting, formatting references, fair use of Bible quotes, copyright page information, and a host of other items you may not think about.
If you’re publishing in magazines, newspapers, and on the web, then you’ll probably follow TheAssociated Press Stylebook. And if you’re writing for scientific journals, then you’ll want to follow the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.
I know you’re wondering if you have to pay for all these high-priced books just to write your one! No, not at all. If you’re going to make writing a career, then you’ll eventually want copies of these in your personal library. However, for now, go to your public library and use their copies or see if any of your writer friends have one you can borrow.
There are a few other references that I use when writing that cut out my research time when I’m stuck on those minute details, such as whether I can use a percent sign or not, how to format times, apostrophe use, and other seemingly insignificant details that will make an editor bleed all over your manuscript. The first one is Barron’s Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliott, Ph.D. For any question I have on grammar, this is the first book I grab. It’s simple, complete, and so easy to use.
At best, English is a difficult language and the publishing world is full of obsessive-compulsive types who love rules of grammar, style guides, and consistency. You’ll find your writing better received if you make the effort to put out a professional manuscript from the very start.
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