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Reference books make great gifts! They're used again and again.

Need help?

If you need someone to write or edit your documents clearly and concisely, contact Gary B. Larson at Gary's Good Cause Communications! I also can train your staff in clear, concise writing.

If you're interested in writing resources for your bookshelf or alongside your computer--or for the desk of a friend, relative or colleague--welcome to my online bookstore!

Below you'll find an annotated list of books I recommend and others available for purchase online through my association with Amazon.com. I haven't added other useful books here for quite some time. But stay tuned! Also available are contemporary novels by some of my Favorite Fiction Writers.


My Recommendations

Here are the latest editions of some books I use for reference, inspiration and developing this website, organized by overlapping categories. The Associated Press Stylebook has been my first reference for more than 30 years, plus a dictionary, of course! For quick, easy access, I keep those books, Robert Fiske's Dictionary of Concise Writing, Garner's Modern American Usage, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The Gregg Reference Manual on my desk near my computer. Editions of the books below (and other reference books) are in a six-shelf bookcase next my desk.

Grammar/Punctuation | Concise Writing/Plain Language | Style | Usage | Dictionaries/Thesauruses | Writing/Editing | Business/Technical Writing | Creativity | Quotations | Amazon.com's Best-selling Writing References | Your Amazon.com Search

Grammar and Punctuation

bullet The Classic Concise Writing Guide, 1996--Rudolf Flesch and A.H. Lass

Originally titled The Way To Write, this handbook provides writing methods, examples and exercises for getting started, organizing and connecting your ideas, choosing the right tone, making your meaning clear, giving your writing flair, and using correct grammar.

bullet The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed,  updated edition, 1993--Karen Elizabeth Gordon

Playful and practical, this style book addresses classic questions of English usage with wit, the blackest of humor and a cast of gargoyles, mastodons, murderous debutantes and vampires.

bullet Just Commas: 9 Basic Rules to Master Comma Usage, 2000--Diane Lutovich, Janis Fisher Chan

An easy-to-use book that will clear up your confusion about using commas in a series, joining or separating parts of sentences, setting off nonessential words, and punctuating quotations, addresses and dates--with examples, exercises and "Common comma blunders."

bullet The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed,  first Marine edition, 2003--Karen Elizabeth Gordon

The revised edition of this classic punctuation handbook has been expanded to make it even more useful and thorough. Includes enough instruction and entertainment to satisfy the most punctilious scholar and the wariest student. Also check out Gordon's Torn Wings and Faux Pas: A Flashbook of Style, a Beastly Guide Through the Writer's Labyrinth, 1997

bullet Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay: Practical Advice for the Grammatically Challenged, 2001--Richard Lederer and Richard Dowis

The 10 chapters in this entertaining but authoritative book discuss expressions writers should rarely use, slaughters some scared cows of grammar and usage, shows how careless arrangement of words creates fuzzy writing and gives 10 10-minute lessons that will improve your writing.

bullet When Words Collide: A Media Writer's Guide to Grammar and Style,  8th edition, 2011--Lauren Kessler, Duncan McDonald

Praised for its straightforward, clear treatment of grammar, and lighthearted, almost conversational tone, this book provides concise explanations and examples.

bullet Write Right! A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style, fourth edition, 2001--Jan Venolia

Using amusing drawings and quotations to illustrate points, this handbook takes you through the entire writing process, from understanding the parts of speech to constructing a correct sentence to fine-tuning the mechanics. Also check out Venolia's Rewrite Right! Your Guide to Perfectly Polished Prose, second edition, 2000

Concise Writing and Plain Language

bullet The Complete Plain Words, 2003--Sir Ernest Gowers; revised by Sidney Greenbaum & Janet Whitcut

Top Choice: Gowers gives sound advice on avoiding superfluous words; choosing familiar, precise words; and handling troubles with conjunctions, pronouns, verbs and negatives.

bullet The Dictionary of Concise Writing: More Than 10,000 Alternatives to Wordy Phrases,  second editing, 2006--Robert Hartwell Fiske

Top Choice: Fiske's excellent book spotlights common say-nothing phrases and shows how to kick them out, to make writing tighter, easier to read and understand. Part One covers wordiness and how to eliminate it, while Part Two is a dictionary with thousands of entries. Also see Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English: A Compendium of Mistakes in Grammar, Usage, and Spelling with commentary on lexicographers and linguists, 2011

bullet The Plain English Approach to Business Writing, 1997--Edward P. Bailey

Bailey describes how to write clearly and easily by using a style that's readable, an organization that gets to the point and a layout that has visual impact.

bullet Oxford Plain English Guide, third edition, 2010--Martin Cutts

Top Choice: The author, a co-founder of the Plain English Campaign and an activist in the international plain language movement, explains in practical terms how to write and deliver information clearly.

bullet Write Tight: How to Keep Your Prose Sharp, Focused and Concise, 2007--William Brohaugh

Top Choice: Twelve useful chapters on trimming and tackling wordiness, testing for writing flab, developing an awareness of concision, danger signs of wordiness, nonverbal streamlining, and more.

Style

bullet Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law 2011

Top Choice: This invaluable book has become the journalist's bible, providing facts and references for reporters and defining usage, spelling and grammar for editors.

bullet The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, 2010

Top Choice: This classic handbook covers it all -- from bookmaking, production and printing to punctuation, spelling, names, numbers, foreign languages, quotations, abbreviations and documentation.

bullet Elements of Style,  4th edition, 1999--William Strunk Jr., E.B. White

Considered a masterpiece in the art of clear and concise writing, and an exemplar of the principles it explains. I think some of its advice is a bit dated.

bullet The Gregg Reference Manual, Tribute edition, 2011--William A. Sabin

Top Choice: This comprehensive book covers grammar, usage and style for punctuation, capitalization, numbers, abbreviations and other topics; and techniques and formats for letters, memos, reports and other business documents.

bullet New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage, 1994--Andrea Sutcliffe

This five-part guide covers current English usage, grammar, style, preparing text, and the production and printing processes.

bullet The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, revised and expanded edition, 2002--Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly

Two experienced Times newspaper editors revised and updated this alphabetical guide to correct hyphenation, punctuation, capitalization, spelling and word usage.

bullet Words into Type, third edition, 1974--Marjorie E. Skillin

A dated but still useful classic among style manuals, it's organized in seven parts: manuscript preparation, handling copy and proofs, copy-editing style, page makeup and typographic style, grammar, word usage, and composition.

Usage

bullet Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right, 2004--Bill Bryson

A compilation of suggestions, observations and "treasured prejudices" of the author that tries to identify a consensus on good English usage, grammar and spelling.

bullet Common Errors in English Usage, second edition, 2008--Paul Brians

Top Choice: An alphabetical listing of commonly confused terms, common misspellings, mangled expressions, foreign-language faux pas, commonly mispronounced words and more. Based on Brians' excellent Web site.

bullet Garner's Modern American Usage, third edition, 2009--Bryan A. Garner

Top Choice: A comprehensive guide to style and usage, basic grammar, punctuation, spelling and idiomatic phrases.

bullet Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print--and How to Avoid Them,  2000--Bill Walsh

Top Choice: The chief copy editor in the business section of the Washington Post provides opinionated, irreverent and useful advice on the usual writing topics and new or obscure issues. Also see Walsh's The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English, 2004

bullet Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English,  third edition, 2010--Patricia T. O'Conner

Top Choice: With wit and a down-to-earth tone, a former New York Times Book Review editor offers a guide to grammar that teaches you the basics and subtleties of the language--without the kind of jargon that tempted you to cut your high-school English class.

bullet Word Court: Wherein Verbal Virtue Is Rewarded, Crimes Against the Language Are Punished, and Poetic Justice Is Done, 2001--Barbara Wallraff

Expanding on her column in The Atlantic Monthly, Wallraff addresses changes in the language, questions of grammar, issues concerning specific words and phrases, and other linguistic concerns.

Dictionaries and Thesauruses

bullet Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary,  11th edition, 2003

Besides the 215,000-definition English dictionary, this reference includes a history of the English dictionary, a guide to pronunciation and appendices with chemical element abbreviations and symbols, foreign words and phrases, biographical and geographical names, signs and symbols, and a handbook of style.

bullet New Oxford American Dictionary, Third edition, 2010

With more than 350,000 words and phrases, this "Americanized" dictionary draws on the renowned Oxford English Dictionary.

bullet Webster's New World College Dictionary,  4th edition, 1999

The preferred choice of The Associated Press, this 160,000-item reference includes new words, Americanisms, biographical and geographical entries, more than 700 illustrations and an all new Charts and Tables section.

bullet Webster's New World Dictionary and Thesaurus, second edition, 2002

A combination dictionary and thesaurus in a single volume encompasses more than 58,000 dictionary entries accompanied by cross-references to thesaurus entries that list synonyms in the order of frequency of use.

Writing and Editing

bullet The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, third edition, 2011--Amy Einsohn

A practical manual for both newcomers to publishing and experienced editors--covering grammar problems, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, tables, bibliographies, production and other topics.

bullet Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words, 1996--Bruce Ross-Larson

Part I provides solutions to the most common problems of everyday writing, such as fat, inconsistency and nonparallel grammatical constructions. Part II gives more than 1,500 alphabetized recommendations for clear, concise writing.

bullet Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know About Writing, 2000--Patricia T. O'Conner

"[T]he practical and tough-minded O'Connor uses her playful sense of humor to help us swallow with a laugh the rules that schoolmarms once forced down students' throats"--New York Times Book Review.

Business and Technical Writing

bullet The Elements of Business Writing, 1992--Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly

This concise book clearly explains important writing principles of composition; organization; wording and phrasing; tone; persuasion; format; and punctuation, grammar, abbreviation, capitalization and spelling.

bullet E-Writing: 21st Century Tools for Effective Communication, 2001--Dianna Booher

Besides its advice on handling email, memos and letters effectively, this book describes a useful five-step process for planning, outline and editing business and technical writing.

bullet Handbook of Technical Writing,  7th spiral edition, 2002--Charles T. Brusaw, Gerald J. Alred, Walter E. Oliu

This comprehensive resource--alphabetically arranged for quick reference--provides guidance on the writing process, in-depth treatment of grammar and usage, abundant real-world examples of technical writing and up-to-date coverage of technology.

bullet Web Word Wizardry: A Net-Savvy Writing Guide, 2001--Rachel McAlpine

This book is a straightforward, authoritative guide to making your website findable, readable, credible and profitable through clear, concise writing and content organization.

Creativity

bullet A Kick in the Seat of the Pants: Using Your Explorer, Artist, Judge and Warrior to Be More Creative,  1986--Roger von Oech

Von Oech takes readers on a guided tour through the four roles of the creative process, providing exercises, stories, tips and proven techniques to help them strengthen each creative role.

bullet A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative,  revised edition, 2008--Roger von Oech

Von Oech's classic work on creativity is back and revised with more bright ideas, expanding exercises and famous innovation boosters.


Quotations

line Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom from a Dazzling Array of Literary Lights,  2000--Jon Winokur

Includes counsel from more than 400 authors on subjects ranging from writer's block and writing dialogue to dealing with editors and appearing on television.

bullet The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations,  1993--Tony Augarde

Augarde gathers together 6,000 of the best-known quotations from our time, drawn from novels, plays, poems, essays, speeches, films, songs and even advertisements.

bullet Seeds of Peace: A Catalogue of Quotations,  1986--Jeanne Larson (no relation), Madge Micheels-Cyrus

bullet Sunbeams: A Book of Quotations,  1990--Sy Safransky

bullet Words to Live By: The Origins of Conventional Wisdom and Commonsense Advice,  1999--Charles Panati

Panati tracks the origins of hundreds of gems of folk wisdom--such as "Ignorance is bliss" and "Let the buyer beware"--that have found their way into American culture.


Favorite Fiction Writers

Writing experts believe that one of the best ways to learn how to write well is to read good writing. Here you can find contemporary novels I've enjoyed and appreciated.

Creativity | Writing Process | Grammar | Style and Usage | Reference Sources | Words | Fat-Free Writing | Plain Language | Action Writing | Word Play | Favorite Writers

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Created and maintained by Gary B. Larson of Seattle, Washington, garbltoo@gmail.com. Amazon.com pays me commissions on items bought through this website.

Updated July 10, 2011.