The internet is a very useful tool, but sometimes there is just no replacement for a proper reference book. Whether copy-editing, proofreading, collating or checking corrections I often find myself reaching for a trusty guide. There are so many reference books available, and they don’t come cheap, so it can be hard to know which ones to invest in. Here are a few of my favourites.
1. New Oxford Spelling Dictionary: The Writers’ and Editor’s Guide to Spelling and Word Division (2014)
Small but mighty, this little gem is useful for so many things. As well as spellings (of course), it also gives you the correct italicisation of words (e.g. Latin terms), and tells you where a word can be split over a line break. For example, ‘maniacally’ should never be man-iacally, but can be mani-acally – who knew! If you use this book for a while you will start to become attuned to bad word breaks, and you can add a whole new level to your grammar policing.
2. Butcher’s Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders, 4th edn (2006)
For any tricky or bizarre editing queries that crop up in the office, the best answer is usually ‘ask Judith’. Originally published in 1975, this book is now in its 4th edition and really is the essential all-in-one editing guide. My favourite thing about this book is that Judith understand that things aren’t always black and white, and she offers guidance for those trickier scenarios.
3. New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide, 2nd edn (2014)
This one really is almost pocket-sized, and is jam-packed with useful information. Need to know how to use that little dagger symbol (†)? Wondering whether to capitalise the name of a board game? Hart’s Rules can help you out, and it also has helpfully numbered sections and an excellent index to boot. Not bad for under 500 pages. (P.S. board games should be written with a capital letter, no italics, no quote marks: Scrabble.)
4. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edn (2017)
This hefty tome can help you out with the obscure, the complex and the downright mind-boggling. Now in its 17th edition, this grammar bible is updated regularly to reflect changing trends and new conundrums. There are 17 entries in the index for ‘apps’ and 11 entries for ‘metadata’, alongside traditional guidelines on punctuation, referencing, indexing and anything else you can think of. This one isn’t cheap, but it is chock-full of invaluable information.