Top 5 Reference Books for Editors

As one of Lexcode Inc.’s editors, I proofread, copy edit, or even rewrite documents written in English—academic, corporate, legal, medical, promotional, and scientific files, just to name a few. As such, I have come to familiarize myself with different reference books that help me in my daily mission to effectively deliver high-quality documents. Among the numerous dictionaries, grammar handbooks, and style guides that I have encountered so far, there are those that I consult every time I have concerns with regard to spelling, grammar, punctuation, style, and readability. These works not only help me fine-tune my craft but also enhance my editing knowledge. Here are the top 5 reference books that I highly recommend for people like me who handle various types of editing work.

1. The Elements of Style (4th Edition) by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White

Named in 2011 by Time as one of the 100 best and influential books written in English since 1923, this little book “aims to give in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style.” It was originally composed by William Strunk, Jr., in 1918 and published by Harcourt in 1920, and was greatly expanded and revised by E. B. White for publication by McMillan in 1959. The 4th edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is composed of six chapters: (1) Introductory, (2) Elementary Rules of Usage, (3) Elementary Principles in Composition, (4) A Few Matters of Form, (5) Words and Expressions Commonly Misused, and (6) Words Often Misspelled.

*Recommended for improving the style of written texts to make them clearer and more coherent

2. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Edition)

Introduced in 1898 as a compact and convenient reference intended to meet the needs of readers, most especially those of college students, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary sets a high standard for future desk reference. The 11th edition of this best-selling dictionary features 225,000 definitions; 42,000 examples of word use; and more than 7,500 phrases and idioms.

*Recommended not only for checking the meaning of words but also for ensuring accuracy in the spelling and casing of terms

3. The Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition)

Considered as “one of the most widely used and respected style guides in the United States,” The Chicago Manual of Style is an authoritative, trusted source that writers, editors, and publishers turn to for guidance on style and process. It was first published in 1906 by the University of Chicago Press and has, since then, offered clear, well-considered style and usage advice. The 16th edition of this manual reconsiders every aspect of coverage to reflect how publishing professionals work today, making it an invaluable resource in this rapidly changing world.

*Recommended for editing works that do not have a specific style guide to follow; consult most especially for questions with regard to punctuation, capitalization, and formatting

4. New Oxford Style Manual (3rd Edition)

Prepared in consultation with professionals and endorsed by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, the New Oxford Style Manual is an essential handbook for writers and editors alike. It gives expert advice on writing and preparing copy as well as on the spelling of words, hyphenation, US vs. UK usage, capitalization, and indexing, among others. In March 2016, the Oxford University Press published the 3rd edition of this manual, which was updated and revised to reflect current practice, online publication, and the continuous evolution of the publishing industry.

*Recommended for editing works that do not have a specific style guide to follow; consult most especially for questions with regard to spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and sentence structure

5. Butcher’s Copy-Editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-Editors, and Proofreaders (4th Edition) by Judith Butcher, Caroline Drake, and Maureen Leach

Since its first publication in 1975, Butcher’s Copy-Editing has firmly established itself as a classic reference guide for editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. It covers all aspects of the editorial process—from the basics of preparing texts and illustrations for designers and typesetters, to the reading and correction of proofs. The 4th edition of this handbook, which has been extensively revised to consider the fact that most authors and copy editors nowadays work electronically, thereby giving them less in-house support and less contact with designers and production departments, highlights the importance of written guidelines.

*Consult for questions with regard to spelling, punctuation, and style

There you go—the top 5 reference books that I highly recommend for editors! Whether you have editing as your job or just polishing your own work, it would not hurt to get a little help from a few good reference books. So go ahead, check out these books, browse their pages, and learn a thing or two (or even more) on how you can deliver the best version of your documents.