The Writer's Bible

by Cherie Tucker

People always ask me for the name of a good reference book.  The very best one for information on the basics and ease of use is The Gregg Reference Manual by the late William A. Sabin.  Lots of people say they have Strunk & White’s Elements of Style or the Chicago Manual of Style, and those are both excellent.  However, they are style manuals, and that word presumes that the reader has some knowledge of the basics.  If grammar and usage are your things, then those kinds of books will serve you well.  However, if you are not a grammar nerd, you need something that will let you find what you’re looking for even if you don’t know what it’s called, and that’s the Gregg.  Its Index is extremely user-friendly.

For example, years ago the Pacific Science Center called me and needed to know the plural of Ms. They had a letter from two women and wanted to write back with a single salutation line.  I had never thought about the plural of Ms., but went to the Index of the Gregg and looked under “salutations” and then “courtesy titles.”  I found it in both places.  Had I gone to the Index with exactly what I was looking for, however, and looked under “Plurals personal titles” I would have found it instantly.  By the way, the plural is Mses. or Mss., but the latter is also the plural of manuscripts, so I never use that one.  

There are other useful things in the Gregg besides grammar and usage.  There is a whole section on titles, professional, military, religious, etc., and how to address people with those titles.  There is a section on how to address an invitation to a married couple with different last names, a married couple if one has a title and the other doesn’t, and even an unmarried couple (gasp) living together.  There is a terrific section on Usage that will tell you that the difference between “anxious” and “eager” is fear and that “one seeks a consensus (NOT:  a consensus of opinion).”  There is a section on Tables and one on Rules for Alphabetical Filing, as well as one on Notes and Bibliographies.

It is the easiest, most complete resource guide I have found.  Go to the bookstore and check it out.  The Eleventh Edition is now in, called the Tribute Edition for my late friend.  The Tenth Edition is still for sale as well.  The main difference between the two is in the area of technology, which insists on changing at lightning speed.

I think you’ll find it’s what you mean when you say you need a good reference book.  This one is the best.

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.

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