I sat down today to write about some of the more common errors I have seen over the last two decades working with highly regulated manuals in the airline industry. Then I realized I could provide you more value if I shared my top four resources that I rely on and that have served me well over that time and much longer. These tried and true resources, in my expert opinion, represent the absolute best. If you can only have four resources, get these.
The first is the massive Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). Currently in its 17th edition, the CMOS was first published in 1906 by the University of Chicago Press. It comes as an imposing 1,200 page hardcover version that, in addition to being an impeccable resource, makes you feel smarter just for having it on your desk. For me, this Style Guide has everything. I have never had a question that this book could not answer. I also subscribe to an online version that works very well for targeted searches.
I do not use this next book, but it’s included here with an explanation because you may run into people that swear by this resource, and I want you to have all of the facts. The Associated Press Stylebook is similar to the CMOS, but it is primarily written for journalists and reporters. The first modern edition was published in 1977. While the CMOS publishes an update when there are significant changes (hence only 17 updates in 114 years), the Associated Press Stylebook publishes updates sometimes as frequently as every few months – which explains its 55 editions over only 43 years of formal publication. The Associated Press Stylebook does have a Spanish version which is a giant plus if you are in this group. If not, however, and you write content for your company or just need guidance on a letter to a friend, stick with the Chicago Manual of Style.
The second book that sits on my desk is the venerable Elements of Style by Strunk and White – a must-have for anyone that writes on a regular basis. Weighing in at only 100 pages, this small book was first published in 1918, and to underscore how remarkable it is, in 2011, it was named by Time as “one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English.” What I love about this book is that it is so small and compact, and yet, all of the basics are in here. While anything you can’t find will be in the Chicago Manual of Style, when you open The Elements of Style, you feel like mastering the English language is not that hard, and that feels good. As a side note, because of my love for this book, friends over the years have gifted me various editions. Some of these are quite elaborate special editions. I treasure every one of them – a fun quest if you are in to that sort of thing.
Next, and quite a bit newer to the English usage scene, is Mignon Fogarty, also known as Grammar Girl. She has several books, a YouTube channel, and a very popular podcast, but her book that sits on my shelf for easy access is Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, written in 2008. It’s also a must-have. What I love, love, love about Grammar Girl is that she writes on topics in a free, interesting, and non-academic way. While the Chicago Manual of Style and Elements of Style are fabulous resources, they are written in the scholarly style that you might expect. They are great in that space – very factual and clear. Mignon, on the other hand, brings fresh life to English rules. She takes them very seriously but also gives you tips that really help you remember how things are supposed to be. For example, on the continual confusion between “farther” vs. “further,” she explains that “farther” refers to physical distances, and “further” refers to figurative or metaphorical distances. Then, to really lock it in, she says, “It’s easy to remember because farther has the word far in it, and far obviously relates to physical distance.” Her tips that are so clear and easy to remember that you’ll likely read them once and know them for life.
Lastly, because we all need to check spelling once and awhile, I use The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary. Here again, this choice has come from years using various sources and, time and time again, this one has never let me down. I don’t own a physical copy because I only use the online version for lookups. There is a lot of history and significance to Noah Webster’s first dictionary which would eventually, after his death, become The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary. Mr. Webster thought, for instance, that English had become too complex, so while studying in Paris, he actually changed many of the accepted spellings of the time to Americanize them (e.g., color instead of colour, and center instead of centre). Several years ago, after choosing Mirriam-Webster as my official dictionary, I was secretly delighted to learn that the Chicago Manual of Style uses it as their preferred spelling source as well.
So, there you have it – the four sources that have served me infallibly over the years. Everything that you will ever need to know about standardizing your own writing (and even formatting your content) can be found in these four incredible resources.