Recommended Resources &
Book descriptions by Stephen Wilbers
REFERENCE & STYLE GUIDES
Brusaw, Charles T.,
Gerald J. Alred, and Walter E. Oliu. The Business Writer’s Handbook.
New York: St. Martin’s Press.
easy-to-use handbook features a “unique four-way access system.” The
main body is organized alphabetically for quick, straightforward
reference. If you don’t find your topic this way (and sometimes you
won’t, as when, for example, you’re looking for the “nonrestrictive
comma”), you can turn to the index, which provides an “exhaustive” (as
opposed to “exhausting”?) list of topics. Or if you prefer, you can
turn to the topical key, which arranges the alphabetical entries into
subject categories, such as “Types of Business Writing” and “Format
and Illustrations.” Also featured is a section on “Five Steps to
Successful Writing” (Preparation, Research, Organization, Writing the
Draft, and Revision). Many of the entries are brief, but some (such as
formal reports and proofreading) are developed at some length.
Ewing, David W. Writing for
Results: In Business, Government, and the Professions. New York: Wiley.
Written when Ewing was Executive Editor of the
Harvard Business Review, this book suggests ways to improve your writing
in the context of particular situations. Especially useful are the sections on
deciding whether to write (Ewing suggests a seven-item checklist) and on
expression (in which he discusses tone, coherence, clarity, correctness, and
Huckin, Thomas N. Technical Writing and Professional Communication for Nonnative
Speakers. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
This is one of the best handbooks in the field, for
nonnative speakers and native speakers alike. The author provides a
comprehensive look at basic writing principles, audiences, types of argument,
ways to orient the nonspecialist, visual elements, major genres of technical
reporting like the oral presentation, technical reports, the proposal, the
business letter, and the technical article. They also suggest a variety of
techniques for making your writing readable.
Maggio, Rosalie. How To Say It:
Choice Words, Phrases, Sentences, and Paragraphs for Every Situation.
Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
If you have trouble finding the right word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, or
sample letter, this popular, easy-to-use guide is for you. Maggio offers
suggestions in each of these categories for 40 types of correspondence, from
acceptances and fund-raising letters to refusals and thank-you letters.
Munter, Mary. Guide to
Managerial Communication: Effective Business Writing and speaking. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Munter offers sound, basic advice on both written and
oral communication skills. Perhaps her most helpful and insightful chapter is
her first, in which she breaks managerial communication into five components:
communicator strategy, audience strategy, message strategy, channel choice
strategy, and culture strategy. Though less inspired, her other chapters also
are well done and helpful. Topics include the process of writing,
organization, coherence, paragraphs, editing for brevity, and choosing a
style. For oral communication, topics include tell/sell presentations,
questions and answers, meetings, group collaborations, special speaking
situations, visuals, and nonverbal delivery skills. The appendices (which
cover formats, word choice, unbiased language, grammar and usage, and
punctuation) provide quick reference to common questions and concerns.
Writing on the Job: A Handbook for Business & Government. New York: Plume
An excellent reference book for advice on specific
types of on-the-job writing, from resumes and letters of application to
reports, position papers, manuals, minutes, policies, procedures, informal
surveys and questionnaires, and press releases. The author also includes a
unit on the writing and editing process, as well as one on usage and style.
Sweetnam, Sherry. The Executive
Memo: A Guide to Persuasive Business Communications. New York: John Wiley
Designed for the busy
practitioner, this book is one of the best on the market. It covers basic
principles of communication and persuasion as they apply to everyday writing
problems, offers techniques to help you organize your ideas quickly and write
faster, and presents models of business communication (information memos,
sales letters, proposals, letters of apology, “tough-message” memos) in a
straightforward style and format. Its forty-two exercises reinforce and
illustrate key points, and its various checklists and index make it easy to
REFERENCE & STYLE GUIDES
Dworsky, Alan L. The Little Book on Legal Writing. Littleton, Colorado: Fred B. Rothman & Co.
handbook that offers advice both on basic writing skills (plain English,
style, usage, spelling) and specific applications (case briefs, cases and
courts, names, citations, quotations authority, office memoranda, questions
presented, and argument). Each point is illustrated with useful
examples, but no exercises are provided.
Garner, Bryan A. The Elements of Legal Style. New York: Oxford University Press.
intelligent and well-researched guide, written by the author of the
award-winning Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. It offers a
review of fundamental rules of usage (punctuation, word choice, grammar, and
syntax), principles of legal writing (concision and clarity, simplicity of
structure), matters of form (titles, headings, italics, numbers, defined
terms, contractions, first person, enumerations, quotations, ellipses and
alterations, citations, footnotes, forms of address and reference, and signing
off), commonly misused words and expressions, rhetorical figures in law
(comparison, wordplay, syntactic arrangement, and repetition), and an approach
to legal style (being yourself, speaking legally, and expressive tactics).
Helene S., Marilyn R. Walter, Elizabeth Fajans. Writing and Analysis
in the Law. Westbury, New York: The Foundation Press, Inc.
textbook that deals with basic writing techniques (paragraph transitions and
development, sentence structure and wording), approaches to legal analysis,
and specific applications (the legal memorandum, writing to the court, the
Wydick, Richard. Plain English for Lawyers. Durham: Carolina
excellent brief guide to more understandable legal writing. Each
guideline is accompanied by practical exercises.
REFERENCE & STYLE GUIDES
Angell, David, and Brent
Heslop. The Elements of E-mail Style: Communicate Effectively via
Electronic Mail. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
Taking up where Strunk and
White leave off, Angell and Heslop apply the principles of clear, concise
writing to electronic communications. Topics include e-mail etiquette and
politics, structure of e-mail messages, word choice, tone, “flame control,”
sentence structure, punctuation, and special formatting, as well as a glossary
of e-mail jargon and conventions for posting on the Internet.
Theodore M. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New
A good resource for the
careful writer, one who cares about correct usage and precise meaning.
Edward P. J., and Robert J. Connors. Style and Statement. New York &
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
When Corbett and Connors
discovered that many teachers of writing courses were concentrating on chapter
four of their book,
Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, they did what any
intelligent authors would do: They published chapter four as a separate book.
Based on the premise that style is not “ornament or embellishment” but “an
integral and reciprocal relationship between matter and form,” they identify
six features for analyzing prose style (kind of diction, varying length of
sentences, grammatical variety of sentences, euphony of sentences, various
ways of articulating parts of sentences, and skillful use of figures of
speech). Particularly helpful are their suggestions for writing exercises,
their discussion of how to use figures of speech (including 19 schemes and 17
tropes) for particular stylistic effect, their presentation of model sentences
and passages, their suggested techniques of modeling and imitation, and their
stylistic critiques of John F. Kennedy and Virginia Woolf. This relatively
short book (140 pages) is an exceptionally useful resource for competent
writers with a sound command of grammar who want to write with more
personality, emphasis, and flourish.
Edward P. J., and Sheryl L. Finkle. The Little English Handbook: Choices
and Conventions. New York: Watson-Guptill.
A succinct, easy-to-use
reference book that illustrates its points with numerous examples of proper
and improper usage. (To illustrate a non-parallel structure: “John was
healthy, wealthy, and an athlete.”) With its list of commonly misspelled words
and its emphasis on grammar, punctuation, and mechanics, this handbook
provides more advice on how to avoid writing poorly than on how to write well.
Edward A., and Charles W. Dawe. The Brief English Handbook. New York:
More comprehensive in scope
than Corbett, this handbook is still compact and easy-to-use, with rules and
advice indexed by page tabs in the corners, grammatical terms listed
alphabetically in a glossary, cross-referencing, and a complete subject index.
It begins with a review of the essentials of grammar before presenting
sentence structure, punctuation, and techniques of composition and research.
The approach is “necessarily prescriptive in matters of standard English but
more relaxed in matters of style.” Includes exercises designed to reinforce
rules and examples.
Morton S. A Treasury for Word Lovers. Philadelphia: ISI Press.
The title says it all. As
Freeman points out in the preface, “Every effort has been made to present the
material simply and to make its reading pleasurable.” He addresses questions
such as: Is a person with a queasy stomach nauseous or nauseated?
Why can a parent
convince his son that the lawn needs mowing yet be unable to persuade
him to mow it? Why is -ble the suffix in deductible but -able
in excludable? When is the noun-ending -ance preferred to -ence,
or the verb ending -ize to -ise? If you are interested in the
nuance and subtlety of language, you’ll love it.
Natalie, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. London:
A wonderfully inspiring book
whose main theme is: You
can write. Goldberg understands the psychological implications of
writing as well as anyone. She urges writers “to learn to trust your own mind
and body; to grow patient and nonaggressive.” Her practical, imaginative
techniques for getting started are a sure antidote to writer’s block.
Rosalie. The Dictionary of Bias-Free Usage: A Guide to Nondiscriminatory
Language. Phoenix: The Oryx Press. (Reissued as The Bias-Free Word
Finder: A Dictionary of Nondiscriminatory Language, Boston: Beacon
A compilation of some 5,000
entries and 15,000 alternatives that may prove engrossing to people who are
fascinated with the evolution of English and annoying to people who think
language should not change under social pressure. See column entitled “Having
fun with The Dictionary of Bias-Free Usage” for a review.
Casey, and Kate Swift.
The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing for Writers, Editors and Speakers. New
York: Harper and Row.
This is more than a handbook
to help you avoid sexist language. It is an eloquent, reasoned, erudite
argument for ridding our language of its sexually exclusive linguistic
structures. With the premise that “every language reflects the prejudices of
the society in which it evolved,” Miller and Swift take aim at sexually
exclusive phrases and wording that suggest that “maleness is the norm,
femaleness the deviation.”
Patricia. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain
English. New York: Grosset/Putman.
Billed as “a survival guide
for intelligent people who probably never have diagrammed a sentence and never
will,” this brief book provides a lively, somewhat capricious review of common
errors in pronoun case and agreement, collective nouns, possessives,
subject-verb agreement, usage, and punctuation. O’Conner’s style and wit are
unusually entertaining (as illustrated by her playful headings such as
“Plurals before Swine” and “Metaphors Be with You”), but for a writer who
presents herself as hip (she challenges the “pedants” who argue that
Shakespeare should have written “Woe is I” rather than “Woe is me”), she
offers surprisingly conservative advice on certain issues (she condemns the
modern trend to refer to indefinite pronouns in the plural — “Everybody
has his priorities. Not: their priorities,’’ for example, noting
that “the pronouns he and his have been used since time
immemorial to refer to people in general”). Somewhat like Newt Gingrich
disguised as Teddy Kennedy, she leaves the reader wondering who is doing the
talking. Her chapters on correct word choice, punctuation, and clichés are
Ross-Larson, Bruce. Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone who Works with
Words. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
approach to editing. The format is to present lists of offending words and
phrases in one column and to suggest alternatives in a second column.
Examples: “as a result of” change to “because,” “in view of the fact that”
change to “because,” “as to whether” change to “whether,” “for the reason
that” change to “because,” “give an indication that” change to “indicate,”
“have an impact on” change to “affect,” “in the near future,” change to
Anne. Grammatically Correct: The Writer’s Essential Guide to Punctuation,
Spelling, Style, Usage, and Grammar. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.
A fairly complete,
well-balanced guide that offers clear, precisely worded explanations
illustrated with selections from a range of literary models. In contrast to
O’Conner’s avoidance of grammatical terms and her appeal to the “grammarphobe,”
Stilman seeks not only to teach the rules but also to explain the basic
concepts and the differing opinions behind the rules. If you never have been
able to grasp the difference between a nonrestrictive clause, which is
introduced by the relative pronoun which and set off with commas, and a
clause that is introduced by that and not set off with commas — this is
the book for you.
William, Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. New York:
A brief guide offering pithy
and practical advice on how to write clear and graceful expository prose. It’s
a classic — so good that it warrants rereading every couple years.
Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots &
Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.
I usually don't like books that teach writing by nitpicking — after all, everyone
makes mistakes, including Truss. But this book won me over. Its humor and wit are truly entertaining. American readers
should note, however, that Truss is discussing British English
punctuation, which differs in some important ways from American
English punctuation. Don't be thrown off by the occasional
reference to “inverted commas” and “full stops” for what we would
call quotation marks and periods. But enjoy. It's a fun
Keys to Great Writing:
Mastering the Elements of Composition and Revision. Cincinnati: Writers' Digest Books.
Many books on
writing provide commentary on what is wrong with today’s writing without
offering specific instruction on how to make it right. Keys to Great Writing presents five elements of style
(economy, precision, action, music, and personality), five elements
of composition (purpose, point of view, organization, support, and
coherence), an approach to drafting and revising, a brief glossary of
grammatical terms, a checklist for writing with style, a checklist for
proofreading, and a list of writing resources. Its numerous examples from
literature, on-the-job writers, and students demonstrate why these techniques
work and illustrate how you can use them in your own writing.
Intended for writers of every type
— from on-the-job
writers to creative writers — and at every level of development
— from beginning
to advanced — this book will teach you how to develop a distinctive style that
conveys your unique voice and personality.
Mastering the Craft of Writing:
How to Write with Clarity, Emphasis, and Style. Cincinnati: Writers' Digest Books.
To be remembered for
your words, you need to know what works and why. Whether you're
crafting a novel, composing an email, or creating a technical
report, the 52 practical techniques presented in Mastering the
Craft of Writing will help you write with precision and style.
Spend a week with each technique, or use this book as a go-to
reference. Either way, you'll have the tools to enliven your writing
and delight your readers. This compendium of practical tips will
help you eliminate wordiness, use strong verbs to drive your
sentences, and avoid needless modifiers; use punctuation for effect,
structure sentences and paragraphs for coherency and flow, and
employ repetition to make your point; use your imagination to create
the unexpected, add a light-hearted touch to your writing, and go
beyond clarity to eloquence and grace.
entertaining asides, and a wealth of useful information,
Mastering the Craft of Writing is an invaluable resource for any
writer. Once you master these techniques, you'll want to use them in
everything you write.
Writing for Business. Minneapolis: The Good Writing Press.
Winner of a 1994
Minnesota Book Award,
Writing for Business
is a collection of
Stephen Wilbers' first 50 columns. Still writing and publishing more
than 20 years and 900 columns later, Wilbers continues to delight
and entertain his readers in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and
elsewhere with his wit, humor, and insight into language and
Writing by Wilbers. Minneapolis: The Good Writing Press.
Writing by Wilbers is Stephen Wilbers' second collection of
syndicated columns on effective writing. His practical, light-hearted advice
is for everyone who writes on the job and
for anyone who cares about language.
Joseph M. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity & Grace. Addison Wesley Longman,
Eschewing a strictly
rule-oriented approach, Williams uses instead the “time-honored” method of
copy and imitation to help writers achieve a “mature” style of clarity and
grace. The idea is that “simply by writing out the new sentences that result
from editing those in the exercises, students will come to feel what it is
like to write down a sentence longer than ten or fifteen words.” The ten
lessons, designed to be taken in “small chunks,” one section at a time, deal
with clarity, cohesion, emphasis, concision, sprawl, long sentences, elegance,
punctuation, and usage.
William. On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction. New
York: Harper & Row.
An excellent discussion of the
basic elements of good writing, written by a professor who draws on his
experience in teaching a course in nonfiction writing at Yale. Short chapters
are devoted to topics such as unity, the lead, and humor. The chapter on
simplicity begins with the memorable quote: “Clutter is the disease of
REFERENCE & STYLE GUIDES
The American Heritage
Dictionary of the English Language. Boston, New York, London: Houghton
A beautifully published volume
featuring detailed usage notes and word histories (see the discussion
regarding the use of impact as a verb, for example), as well as
marginal photographs and illustrations that encourage both adults and children
to browse. Although probably too cumbersome for college-bound students, this
dictionary is an excellent resource for anyone interested in exploring the
connections between language and culture.
Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. Ed. Norm Goldstein. New York:
Designed for newspaper
editors and journalists, this manual also is used by business writers,
particularly those in public relations and consumer affairs. Includes an
alphabetical guide to capitalization, abbreviation, punctuation, spelling,
numerals, and usage, as well as guidelines on sports, business, punctuation,
libel, and copyright. Also includes chapters on the Freedom of Information
Act, photo captions, and filing the wire.
Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Authors, Editors, and
Publishers. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
This standard style manual
first appeared in 1906. Because of its comprehensive format (920 pages), it is
more useful to typographers, professional editors, proofreaders, printers, and
publishers than to writers.
Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. New York: Modern
Language Association of America.
The standard style manual for
students and researchers in the humanities.
Diana. A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s
“Carefully designed to save
you time,” this manual is designed for students. Contents, which are marked
with 12 section dividers for easy reference, include composing and revising,
document design, effective sentences, word choice, grammatical sentences, ESL
trouble spots, punctuation, spelling and mechanics, research writing, MLA
documentation, alternative styles of documentation (especially APA), and basic
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.:
Billed as “America’s
best-selling dictionary,’’ this volume provides clear, precise definitions and
notes on etymology (the origins of a word as far back as it can be traced), as
well as a concluding chapter, “A Handbook of Style,’’ which offers guidance on
punctuation and capitalization. An indispensable resource for college-bound
students and on-the-job writers.
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington,
D.C.: American Psychological Association.
This standard style manual
for students and researchers in the social sciences is also used by many
William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. New York: Glencoe Macmillan
Long considered the standard
guidebook for secretaries, this detailed manual (500 pages) is “intended for
anyone who writes, edits, or prepares final copy for distribution or
publication.” Meticulous organization and detailed indexing make reference
easy. Its 20 sections are divided into three parts: (1) grammar, usage and
style; (2) formats for various written communications; and (3) three
appendices on forms of address, grammatical terms, and computer terms.
Numerous examples and clear, detailed explanations are especially helpful.
Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age. Ed.
Constance Hale. San Francisco: HardWired.
Although it is difficult to
use as a quick reference (its multiple glossaries are organized under quirky
headings such as “Anticipate the Future” and “Screw the Rules”) and at times
its hip style seems forced (“At Wired, we celebrate writing that jacks
us in to the soul of a new society”), Wired Style offers a spirited,
fun-to-read interpretation of an unfolding revolution. In keeping with its
“anarchic, fluid, and rule-averse” approach, the book advises, “When in doubt,
close it up” (email, emoney, homepage, offline, online), but it draws
the line at sacrificing clarity: e-zine (“This shorthand for an
electronic fanzine is not yet recognizable enough to style it without the
log on (“The verb must stay detached from the preposition — after all,
would the verb survive in the past tense as logoned or logged-on?
And the gerund would be a spelling train wreck: loggingon”).