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Recommended Resources & Reading

Book descriptions by Stephen Wilbers




Brusaw, Charles T., Gerald J. Alred, and Walter E. Oliu. The Business Writer’s Handbook. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

This helpful, 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 style).



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.



Schell, John. Writing on the Job: A Handbook for Business & Government. New York: Plume (NAL Dutton).

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 & Sons.

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 use.





Dworsky, Alan L. The Little Book on Legal Writing. Littleton, Colorado: Fred B. Rothman & Co.


A short 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.


An 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).



Shapo, Helene S., Marilyn R. Walter, Elizabeth Fajans. Writing and Analysis in the Law. Westbury, New York: The Foundation Press, Inc.


A standard 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 appellate brief).



Wydick, Richard. Plain English for Lawyers. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.


An excellent brief guide to more understandable legal writing. Each guideline is accompanied by practical exercises.





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.



Bernstein, Theodore M. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York: Atheneum.

A good resource for the careful writer, one who cares about correct usage and precise meaning.



Corbett, 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.



Corbett, 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.



Dornan, Edward A., and Charles W. Dawe. The Brief English Handbook. New York: Addison-Wesley.

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.



Freeman, 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.



Goldberg, Natalie, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. London: Shambhala.

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.



Maggio, 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 Press).

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.



Miller, 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.”



O’Conner, 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 especially helpful.



Ross-Larson, Bruce. Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone who Works with Words. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

A “better-words-and-phrases” 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 “soon,” etc.



Stilman, 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.



Strunk, William, Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. New York: Macmillan Co.

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 read.



Wilbers, Stephen. 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.



Wilbers, Stephen. 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.

With exercises, 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.



Wilbers, Stephen. 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.



Wilbers, Stephen. 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.



Williams, Joseph M. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity & Grace. Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

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.




Zinsser, 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 American writing.”






The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Boston, New York, London: Houghton Mifflin.

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.



The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. Ed. Norm Goldstein. New York: Addison-Wesley.

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.



The 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.



Gibaldi, 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.



Hacker, Diana. A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press.

“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 grammar.



Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster.

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 business writers.



Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. New York: Glencoe Macmillan McGraw-Hill.

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 hyphen”) and 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”).




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