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Dr. Grammar

A Writer's Toolbox

While the instruments a writer uses are personal preferences (kind of paper, pen and/or pencil, computer, etc), other tools can be obtained from the reference books listed below. Go through the lists and select the references that will be most helpful to you. A list of online dictionaries is provided in case a print version is not available at the time when you need one. Purchase the reference books at a favored bookseller.


Dictionaries come in all sizes and formats — large and small, paperback and hard bound, abridged and unabridged. In addition, there are more dictionaries than are listed here.

The American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.) is available in various paperback and hard bound formats.

Cambridge Dictionary of American English (2nd ed.) is advertised as the "best American English learner's dictionary."

The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.) is available in various paperback and hard bound formats. Be sure to look for the "American" and not the "English" in order to avoid the British spelling of words.


ONLINE DICTIONARIES   Has the traditional dictionary feature along with specialized word searches and translations.   A site worth the time to explore it. Contains a myriad of features for writers that include a dictionary, a thesausus, an encyclopedia, an English usage book, and a style book.   Contains a dictionary, thesausus, and encyclopedia features amoung others.   Includes a dictionary, thesauses, translations, and encyclopedia features.   Can use the dictionary, thesaurus, Spanish-English translator, or medical search feature by word or phrase.   Users will need to register to use some of the features on the site; however, registering is not required to look up an exact definition.   In addition to dictionary and thesaurus features, this website provides specialized dictionaries and word games.


A sample of handbooks used in academia and by the general public is listed here.

The Brief Penguin Handbook (3rd ed.) by Lester Faigley. "Complicated subjects are broken down into processes, giving students strategies for dealing with problems in their writing" (v). (ISBN 978-0-2055-5638-0)

The DK Handbook by Anne Frances Wysocki and Denis A. Lynch. The authors "wrote this handbook to be useful [...and] to be pleasurable in its use and application" (v). (ISBN 978-0-3214-2053-4)

The Elements of Style (4th ed.) by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. A very popular little book (4 1/2" x 7" and 105 pages) that presents information about style and usage. (ISBN 978-0-2053-0902-3)

The Everyday Writer (3rd ed.) by Andrea A. Lunsford.   “A writing reference you can use easily on your own [, . . .] this text has been designed to help you find information quickly, efficiently, and with minimal effort" (v). (ISBN - 978-0-3124-5280-3)

Keys for Writers (5th ed.) by Ann Raimes. "Specifically written for todays's students, citizens of a changing world, and so includes broad rhetorical contexts for writing while still guiding students to produce essays that meet the goals and requirements of college courses" (v). (ISBN 978-0-6187-5386-4)

The Longman Writer's Companion. (4th ed.) by Chris M. Anson, Robert A. Schwegler, and Marcia F. Muth. The book was prepared "for people who will be called on to write for different audiences and purposes — in short, for all writers" (v). (ISBN 978-0-2055-9142-8)

Prentice Hall Reference Guide (7th ed.) by Muriel Harris. "This handbook is designed for easy use [...and] concentrates only on the most essential points of grammar and the most frequently made errors" (v). (ISBN 978-0-1323-7949-6)

Rules of Thumb: A Guide for Writers (7th ed.) by Jay Silverman, Elaine Hughes, and Diana Roberts Wienbroer. This "is a quick guide that you can use easily, on your own, and feel confident in your writing" (xvii). (ISBN 978-0-0735-3319-3)

A Writer's Reference (6th ed.) by Diana Hacker. This handbook "is not only the most widely adopted English Handbook on the market but also the best-selling college textbook of any kind in the discipline" (xvii). (ISBN 978-0-3124-5025-0)


Usage refers to the way words and phrases are used. In other words, these books will help writers better use the English language.

The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage by Theodore M. Bernstein. "The book is designed as a guide to good written English usage" (vii). (ISBN 978-0-6848-2632-5)

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English by Kenneth G. Wilson. This guide "seeks to help you make some of the choices standard users must make if their usage is to be what they want it to be and what their listeners and readers eacpect it to be" (xi). (ISBN 978-0-2310-6989-2)

Common Errors in English Usage by Paul Brians. "Mixed-up, mangled expressions; foreign language faux pas; confused and confusing terms; commonly mispronounced words — they're all explained in this useful guide (back cover)". The website was established first (, then came the book. (ISBN 978-1-8879-0289-2)

The Elements of International English Style: A Guide to Writing Correspondence, Reports, Technical Documents, and Internet Pages for a Global Audience by Edmond A. Weiss. "The book emphasizes principles of simplicity and clarity, proper etiquette, cultural sensitivity, appropriate layout and topography and more, and thus will increase the chances that texts prepared by native English speakers will be properly understood by non-native speakers" (back cover).  (ISBN 978-0-7656-1572-5)

The Grammar Bible: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Grammar but Didn't Know Whom to Ask by Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglass. "Whether you need a comprehensive review of the subjunctive mood or simply want to know which form of a verb to use, The Grammar Bible is a practical handbook that will enlighten, educate, and entertain you" (back cover). (ISBN 978-0-8050-7560-1)

Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty. "Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, is determined to wipe out bad grammar — but she's also determined to make the process as painless as possible" (book cover).  Check out her podcasts.  (ISBN 978-0-8050-8831-1)

Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. "Examines and evaluates common problems of confused or disputed English usage from two perspectives: the of the historical background, [...] and that of present-day usage" (4a). (ISBN 978-0-8777-9132-4)

Modern American Usage: A Guide by Wilson Follett and revised by Erik Wensberg. "Tens of thousands of readers from all sorts of occupations have turned to [this book] as an essential guide to writing well" (vii). (ISBN 978-0-8090-0139-2)

The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style by Bryan A. Garner. "A handy paperback that discusses the most common problems of usage and style" (ix). (ISBN 978-0-1951-3508-4)

Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O'Connor. "A lighthearted guide written for the grammatically challenged giving straight advice on the most common mistakes made by writers" (ii). (ISBN 978-1-5944-8006-5)