There’s a lot to keep track of when writing a book, so things like spelling, grammar, and punctuation are not often the priority for writers. But, to an extent, they should be. For example, every manuscript should have a style guide. And when you’ve finished your manuscript, you should absolutely make sure you do a round of proofing. So the following are some resources to help you familiarize yourself with the common English conventions and some (like a thesaurus) to help you tidy up your work!
While these resources are helpful for authors at every stage of writing, it is always recommended to have third-party eyes on your work! Looking for professional feedback? My editorial services are currently open!
Currently on its 17th edition, the Chicago Manual of Style is the go-to guide for book writers and editors. (It notably supports the serial comma and the em-dash with no spaces.) If you’re ever asking yourself (*ahem* google) how to style a word, phrase, or punctuation mark, try adding “cmos” to the end of your search. (Note: many features of the CMOS website are not free to use, which is why I recommend alternative, trustworthy sources below, which do the work of paying the style books for you. However, I believe it is important for you to know and understand where that information is coming from and why the answer might look different from different sources.)
Comparatively, the AP Stylebook (yes, it is the same group as the Associated Press news organization) is currently on its 55th edition, and is the generally considered the journalist’s style guide. However, the group does some darn good work and is worth you at least being aware of it. Just like CMOS, though, a lot of the features of the website are also behind a paywall, which leads me to my next resource…
3. Grammar Girl
I have been using Grammar Girl as a reference guide since eighth grade when my Language Arts teacher assigned one of her articles as a reading (thank you for that, Mrs. Powers!). Since then, it has grown into the podcast/blog powerhouse (yes, you read that correctly—you can listen to each topic in podcast form if you prefer that to reading!) of Quick and Dirty Tips, which are all great, but for writing and grammar tips, my number one recommendation is still Grammar Girl. Her posts will also tell you, when relevant, what choice each style guide prefers.
“A style guide comparing Associated Press style and Chicago style for editors, writers, teachers, students, word nerds, and anyone else who gives a dollar sign, ampersand, exclamation point, and pound sign about style.” Created by writer/editor Karen Yin, who is also known for Conscious Style Guide (which I cover in my Writer Resources: Conscious Language post) and the Editors of Color Database, this website is a great resource for when you need to know the differences between the two guides explicitly.
If you’ve never heard of Wordhippo then, wow, do I have a treat for you. This website should be every writer’s best friend. It gives, like, three times the results for synonyms and antonyms of any thesaurus I’ve ever used. You can search by individual words, or, if you look at the bottom of the homepage, you can simply browse by category or alphabetical order. It also has lots of other features, like word scramblers and translations and rhymes!
The Center for Plain Language is a great resource to help you make your writing more accessible. It started as an attempt to push government agencies to write “so clearly that their intended audience understands what they are saying the first time they read or hear it.” It has since grown into a movement across all industries for using plain, easily understandable language through resources such as Five Steps to Plain Language.
This is just a go-to, reliable dictionary for U.S. English. Merriam-Webster pretty much sets the standard for accepted spellings and meanings.
This is just a go-to, reliable dictionary for U.K. English.