A Reference Shelf for Good Writing

Once upon a time, every writer had a shelf of favorite reference books. These days, the “shelf”‘ may well be an online one, and books on your shelf may have online versions. But whether you reach for a volume or click on a link, these are some reliable favorites:


Webster’s New World College Dictionary: the dictionary traditionally used by journalists.

The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale: a very easy-to-use thesaurus, arranged like a dictionary.

The Chicago Manual of Style: a comprehensive reference for writing of all kinds.

The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual: Frequently updated, this “journalist’s bible” is the classic stylebook for news releases, articles, guest editorials, and anything else intended for the news media.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White: the slim granddaddy of writing books and the go-to source for answers to such perennial questions as whether to use “lie,” “lay,” or “lain”; “that” or “which”; and other such writing challenges.


Wikipedia: Recent controversies notwithstanding, Wikipedia is a good first reference for general overviews.  Always search your topic on other sites, too, for corroboration and further information.

Dictionary.com: a good, general online dictionary.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary: a dictionary and thesaurus, all in one place, run by Encyclopedia Britannica.

The Oxford English Dictionary: These are the folks who literally wrote the book on dictionaries. Once a gigantic, twenty-volume classic available in smaller, home editions and CD-ROM, its latest permutation is The OED Online. Individual access is pricey but many libraries subscribe, which gives patrons free access to this ultra-comprehensive reference.

Libraries:  Library of Congress, New York Public Library, university and local libraries. My local resources are the University of Maineand Bangor Public Library.  Library websites are great starting points for online catalogs, databases, and links to other resources.

 HarpWorks Writing Services  P.O. Box 173   Bangor, ME  04402-0173
207/852-6746   HarpWorks@StephanieHarp.com

(c) 2012 HarpWorks Writing Services.  All rights reserved.


About HarpWorks

HarpWorks Writing Services offers writing, editing, grant writing, publicity, and research to the commercial and not-for-profit sectors, and to individuals. Owner Stephanie Harp has more than 25 years of experience in journalism, public relations, arts administration, and creative writing, and is a professionally trained researcher, interviewer, and historian.
This entry was posted in Tips for Good Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Reference Shelf for Good Writing

  1. Quekvevaple says:

    Hello! Just want to say thank you for this interesting article! =) Peace, Joy.