Best books on writing.

Old books (From Paper Cat on Flickr)

Many of my students ask me for recommendations of books that can improve grammar and writing skills. So, I’ve compiled a short list of books that one should have, whether it’s for school, business, or for every-day written communication.

1. Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style”:

It’s difficult to stress how helpful and necessary this little book is. It’s about as classic as classic gets, even more so than jeans or John Hughes movies could ever be. Everyone, especially students, should have a copy of this book. I personally have gone through several copies, as I am constantly using it in academia, when working with students, and even for my own writing. It’s a true must-have.

2. Modern Language Association’s “MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers” (MLA format)

-Kate Turabian’s “A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations” (Chicago/Turabian Style)

-American Psychology Association’s “Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association” (APA format)

These manuals are for the thesis and dissertation formats and styles most commonly used in high school, college, and graduate schools: MLA, Chicago, and APA. At some point in your academic career, you will be required to use at least one of these styles. Meaning, you will be required to format and structure your paper and, most importantly, cite your research in a particular style of writing. The style you use, however, will depend on your major or academic track. Social and behavioral sciences will almost always use APA so, if that is what you are studying or plan to study in the future, be sure to have a copy as it will be your life’s blood for a long while. If you are a humanities or liberal arts student, you have a choice. Some swear by MLA and others fight to the death for Chicago (also called Turabian) style. Personally, I prefer MLA but simply because my school had a preference for it and I became most used to that particular style. Other schools may prefer Chicago, and you may grow to use that one as well. There is merit to being familiar with both (especially for those in academia, like me), but see what works for you. Either way, you should choose one of these and use it consistently, unless your teacher or professor says otherwise.

3. American Heritage College Dictionary

Yes, it’s a dictionary. But everyone needs a dictionary! Sure, there is Oxford, Merriam-Webster, and even Google– but A.H. takes the cake. It’s more progressive than most, reflecting more technological and social changes to the English language than the older, tonier ones.
There are also curse words, in case you’re wondering. All in all, it’s just a great general, mid-sized dictionary that would work for everyone.

4. Patricia O’Conner’s “Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English”

Let’s face it: grammar can be confusing and downright frightening sometimes. The English language can be pretty ridiculous; trying to figure out what goes where is hard, and trying to understand why is even harder still. But, have no fear. I often recommend this book as it’s very easy to use, it’s very comprehensive, and it’s not as boring as most other grammar books. She clearly explains each rule (and there are many) with humor and plenty of examples. She also doesn’t make you feel stupid, which is an added plus. It answers most if not all grammar issues and problems but is totally not intimidating in the least. I am a big fan of this one, as are a lot of my students, and have always gotten a great deal of use out of it.

5. Zinsser’s “On Writing Well”

If you’re a nerd like me (which, let’s be honest, I have to be one to do this for a living) and want to invest further in how to improve yourself as a writer, this is one of the best. It’s been around for ages now and is consistently cited as one of the best resources a writer can use to improve their craft. He talks primarily about writing non-fiction but extends past academic writing and can be used for fiction as well– memoir, travel, and humor writing are also covered. I will admit, it can be a little hokey (see the “Field of Dreams” reference in one of the reviews, for example) but it is definitely a great insight into how to improve the quality of your writing and the importance of writing clearly, simply, and honestly. It’s not a must-have necessarily but, if you’re looking to improve yourself as a writer and want to hone your craft, I wholeheartedly recommend this.

Stefanie Arr

One Response to Best books on writing.

  1. Thurman Russe says:

    Very well written article. It will be beneficial to anybody who employess it, including yours truly :). Keep up the good work – i will definitely read more posts.

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