Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BiblioFile: Books on editing

I wanted to share a few resources that I use when I edit. Whenever I mention I'm an editor, people always have a question they want to ask me. "Can you really not end a sentence with a preposition?" "Is it lay or lie?" "Should you use a comma on the last item before and in a list?" It's amazing how many questions people have about their own language! And here's a secret: I don't know all the answers off the top of my head. I have a pretty good feel for the language and know quite a bit, but after years of editing I still look up rules and spellings all the time.

So I wanted to put together a list of books and resources for people who are interested in editing and writing--or even people who have just always wondered about the difference between affect and effect. Most of these books were texts for my classes in college, but I still use them on a regular basis.

The first is the Chicago Manual of Style. This is essentially the editor Bible. I took an entire course in college that basically taught me how to navigate this thing. I can think of one maybe two editing issues that I haven't been able to answer using this style guide. You can use the print edition or purchase an online subscription. The online subscription is nice because you can search for what you need, but I like the print edition because I can mark up the sections I use the most.

The next resource I love is Merriam-Webster's English Usage Dictionary. Have you ever wanted to know if it's could or couldn't care less? This Dictionary basically spells out any language debates. This may come as a surprise, but a lot of issues in language don't have a right or wrong answer. And to make things more confusing, language is constantly evolving. This text helps explain the history of an issue so you can make an informed decision in your writing.

Index to English is very similar to Merriam-Webster's English Usage Dictionary, but more compact. I think it is good to have a couple resources that cover these topics because one text might cover an issue that another text doesn't or provide a different perspective or aspect to the issue. 

I would recommend The Copy-editor's Guide to Substance and Style  as a great beginning book. It's designed to help you learn to look for and solve errors in writing. Some editing resources can feel a little overwhelming, but this book helps walk you through the process and teaches you how to become a good editor in a very simple manner.

The Copyeditor's Handbook is one of the resources that is a little more overwhelming. I remember using it and liking it in college, but I honestly haven't used it much since then. I think it could be good to read as you are learning about the process, but it is less of a resource now that I have been editing for a while.

Both Style: Ten Lessons on Clarity and Grace and  Elements of Style are books worth reading. They are less reference manuals for editing and more writing instruction. They have exercises and specific methods for improving writing. Although I don't agree with everything the authors say, I think that they are both worth a read.

Editors on Editing is a compilation of essays about the actual job of editing. It is a great book for anyone who is interested in either editing or writing as a career. To be honest, I haven't read it since I was in college. But as I was flipping through it for this post, I thought it would be interesting to re-read after having edited for several years. 

Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a little different from the rest of the books. It's less of a resource and more of an exploration on the need for a solid understanding of the language. And it's hilarious. I have written about Lynne Truss and this book before here.

Finally, this isn't a book, but Grammar Girl is a really fabulous online resource. She records podcasts (there are also published transcripts) where she explains editing issues. Her explanations are always really easy to follow which is huge in the world of grammar. I recommend her site to anyone who has a simple question about grammar or writing.

Did I miss anything? Do you have any resources that you love to rely on for editing or writing?


Margaret said...

Were you around when Charity and I busted out those stickers in Eats, Shoots & Leaves around the IT department? That book is brilliant. Love your post on it! How cool that you got to meet Lynne Truss!

I'm a huge fan of Strunk and White. I remember them quoting Garner for calling s/he/it "the glorious misbegotten double entendre." Editors have a great sense of humor. You just have to get the jokes. :)

Brenda said...

Wow, impressive list and insights!

Alisha Erin said...

I am personally in love with "The Well-Tempered Sentence". :)

M.C. Sommers said...

@Alisha--I hadn't heard of that before! I'm adding that my "To-read" shelf on goodreads. Thanks for the recommendation!