There are four books that should be within arm’s reach of anyone who writes for a living.
That’s right, I said books. Actual, physical, printed-on-paper, and bound books.
Before I get into why I think you should have physical books, let’s look at my four recommendations. They are:
- A good dictionary. I use Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Why this dictionary? It’s the official dictionary of the Associated Press Stylebook (more about that later), and it’s the dictionary I have seen in every newsroom I have ever been in. It’s available in hardback and paperback.
- A thesaurus. My thesaurus of choice is Webster’s New World Roget’s A-Z Thesaurus. I chose this version for now other reason than that the jacket looks like my Webster’s New World Dictionary. They look good next to each other on the shelf.
- The Associated Press Stylebook. If you are writing press releases, articles, or anything else that could appear anywhere other than your won website, follow the AP Stylebook. Most of it is common sense and it will help you make sure your copy is easy to read and understand.
- The Elements of Style. You may have loved E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web when you were a kid but it turns out that he and William Strunk Jr. wrote a pretty good book about writing in plain English to communicate more effectively. There’s a lot of writing wisdom in this little book and a copy of it should be on every shelf.
Why A Book Instead Of Online? The Answer is Focused Discovery
Now you may be asking yourself “Why a real book? Isn’t this information all available online?”
Yes, it is available online but there is something you get with a hard-copy reference book that you can’t get online. I call it “focused discovery.”
Focused discovery is when you are deliberately looking for one piece of information but stumble on other related pieces of information. Related is the keyword there. When you search for the meaning of a word in a printed dictionary, for example, your eye may drift to other words on the page, but you are still looping at words. You might just see something that will inspire you.
That’s different from an online experience. Go to an online dictionary to look up a word and you are likely to see targeted display ads aimed at you and your interests. When I looked up the word “focused,” for example, I was greeted by an ad inviting me to take a look at the 2021 lineup of Volkswagen automobiles. It’s a rabbit hole I do not need to climb into.
Hard-copy books can help keep you focused. Online references can be a recipe for wasting time unless you are an extremely disciplined person. That’s why I recommend printed books.
A Bonus Fifth Book
If you are writing about healthcare or for the healthcare industry, you should also have a good medical dictionary on your bookshelf. There are a lot of good ones out there, including Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary that would look great next to my New World dictionary and thesaurus.
But I don’t use that one. I use Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary instead. Why? Because my wife is a nurse and it’s the one she used in college. It’s also the medical dictionary she gave to me when I started working in the healthcare industry.
There are a lot of good choices out there when it comes to choosing a dictionary and thesaurus. No matter which you choose, do yourself a favor and get yourself copies of these basic reference books. Then use them.
Note: There are no affiliate links in this post and I have not received any compensation from anyone for the content of this post. These are purely my personal recommendations based on my experience and preferences.