Books for the Writer’s Toolbox: A Guide to Grammar and Style Manuals

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By Erin Nappe (Billiard)

As a teacher of freshman composition, I am intimately acquainted with the rules of grammar, style and usage, but sometimes even I find them difficult to explain to others. They’ve always been sort of second nature to me: I know when something is wrong, but I can’t always give the technical explanation as to why it’s wrong. And so I’ve become intimately acquainted with many guides to style and usage, because sometimes knowing where to look for the right answer is as useful as knowing the right answer.

Recently, my mom asked me if I knew of any good grammar books. She was looking for something to help her brush up on her skills and use as a reference guide. While browsing on Amazon, she decided to buy a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but quickly realized that it wasn’t what she was looking for.

That was when I decided to put together this guide to the grammar and style book. There’s something here for everyone, from the neophyte to the expert writer. It proves that no matter who we are, we can all benefit from adding a little style and polish to our writing from time to time.

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Guides for the Beginner

The Elements of StyleThe Elements of Style, Strunk & White

This little book is a must-have for any writer, wannabe writer, or person who wants to improve his writing. It’s compact and concise, and it covers everything from basic grammar rules (place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause) to commonly misused words and expressions.

A Pocket Style ManualA Pocket Style Manual, Diana Hacker

Diana Hacker is the queen of college writing and style manuals. I use her Rules for Writers in my writing classes to great success. The Pocket Style Manual includes basic guides to clarity, grammar and punctuation, a section on research, and MLA, APA and Chicago style guides. It’s small and portable, and a great all-purpose guide.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and StyleThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style, Laurie Rozakis

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style, like others in the “idiot’s guide” series is a highly readable, step-by-step, comprehensive guide to writing. I expect that it would be a great guide for beginners, and anyone who needs to brush up on their basic skills.

The Everything Grammar and Style BookThe Everything Grammar and Style Book, Susan Thurman

The material covered is very similar to the Idiot’s Guide, but it also includes a look at various types of writing, writing outlines and first drafts, revising and rewriting, and the five-paragraph essay. This makes it slightly better suited for the student writer.

For the More Advanced Writer

On Writing WellOn Writing Well, William Zinsser

On Writing Well is considered a must-have for any professional writer. Zinsser covers the writing traps that even seasoned writers fall into; complicated, cluttered, ineffective writing. The book is specifically geared toward nonfiction writing, covering types of writing like the interview, business and sports writing, but the book’s basic principles are helpful for any type of writing.

Sin and SyntaxSin and Syntax, Constance Hale

Hale’s book covers the basics—parts of speech, phrases and clauses—but she delves further into more advanced ideas like voice and rhythm. Sin and Syntax is a great book for the writer who wants to punch up her prose with more lively, engaging writing.

Grammar and Style for Fun (No, Really!)

The Comma SutraThe Comma Sutra, Laurie Rozakis

Rozakis’s book is a fun and lighthearted approach to punctuation that can be enjoyed by the beginner and experienced writer alike. It includes brief exercises with answers, making it a great “brush-up” guide.

Eats, Shoots and LeavesEats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss

This widely popular book is a humorous look at common punctuation errors. In the author’s own words, it’s a book that “gives you permission to love punctuation. For those with kids, or those who are just kids at heart, I recommend checking out the illustrated children’s version.

Grammar Snobs are Great Big MeaniesGrammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies (A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite), June Casagrande

The author professes to help the reader take English back from the “grammar snobs” by making grammar rules more accessible and easier to understand for the average person. She covers complex gray areas like the hyphen and split infinitives in an entertaining way, making it a great reference for beginners and seasoned writers alike.

Spunk and BiteSpunk and Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language and Style, Arthur Plotnik

Just like the title describes it, this book is a guide to livening up your writing, making it readable, and above all, publishable. Plotnik goes beyond the basics with section titles like Freshness, Texture, and Clarity. This is a great guidebook for the more experienced writer looking to make his writing more exciting.

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