Writing Resources

Below you will find links and reviews for some writing guides and research accessories for your home or work office.  I list several writing guides first, so if you are interested in the office accessories, please scroll down to the bottom.

All of the images are clickable and will take you to the store websites.  I’ll be adding to this page soon.


Quick Links on This Page:

Academic Writing Guides

Research Software

Writing & Research Accessories


 

Academic Writing Guides


Click image for
more info and
current prices.

APA Manual

If you are writing in a discipline that follows APA (psychology, social work, education, policy, linguistics, and other social sciences), the current version of the manual is the sixth edition.

I recommend the spiral-bound version because it sits flat on your desk (personally I find it really annoying when I have to hold the book open while trying to write or type). The spiral-bound copy costs less than the hardcover but more than the paperback copy.

One thing that I like about the APA manual is that it is straightforward in its explanations. Even if you don’t have much knowledge of punctuation and grammar, it is quite easy to understand. You don’t have to get every detail perfectly in sync with APA guidelines when writing, but if you do try to follow the guidelines (especially for conciseness, clarity, and smoothness of expression, which are all covered), your writing will improve noticeably.

Another benefit–which a lot of people don’t realize–is that the manual goes through what type of material should be included in each section of a manuscript. This is especially helpful if you are still in your program of study or have only published a couple of articles so far.

Cover Image of APA Electronic References Style Guide 6th ed.
Click image for
more info and current prices.

APA Style Guide for Electronic References

This is a cheap but good one. The examples for electronic sources are quite limited in the main APA Manual, but this supplement covers everything from how to cite a white paper in APA style to policy briefs, fact sheets, conference papers, ERIC documents, etc.

I would get the Kindle version because it allows you to search quickly and jump around the document with the clickable table of contents. (Note to Windows 8 users, if you’re using the new Kindle app for PC, you cannot search the content of a book or resize the screen, so you can revert to the old Kindle for PC, which is better in my opinion anyway. See instructions in those links). Plus the Kindle version is cheaper.

Because so many of our references are accessed online these days, this guide is essential if you work in APA style.

Click image for
more info and current prices

The Chicago Manual

The Chicago Manual of Style is currently in the 16th edition (light blue cover).  CMOS is often preferred in economic, history, philosophy, international relations, and many other disciplines in the humanities and arts.

CMOS is much larger than the APA Manual. Something that many people do not realize is that, even if you write in a field that prefers APA, you should still have the Chicago manual because it goes into detail that APA doesn’t cover in many instances. If you write in an APA-governed field, you would still prioritize APA’s preferences (e.g., for number expression, specificity in word usage), but CMOS will help you answer questions that APA does not. For example, what exactly is the difference between “as well as” and “and,” and why is the former incorrect in many cases? APA doesn’t quite go that far into detail, but CMOS does and will resolve many doubts. There is a reason that the subtitle of CMOS is “The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers.” It is an invaluable resource.

One other thing that I like about CMOS is that the sections are very short. You won’t feel bogged down in grammatical theory; rather, CMOS presents the guideline and then several examples to illustrate. I like the examples because, even if you don’t follow some of the discussion, you can usually infer the rules from the examples themselves.

This manual comes in hardcover and is pretty big (a couple inches thick)!

Also, CMOS has the added benefit of an active forum community to answer your questions, and you get forum access when you purchase an annual subscription to the manual. Actually you might be able to get a discount if you purchase both the hard copy of the manual and electronic access, so check that out before you buy the hard copy. Electronic access can be purchased on an annual basis on the CMOS website. I am an active contributor on the forums.

Click image for
more info and current prices.

The Turabian Manual

The Turabian guide is put out by the same publishers as the Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press). So what is the difference between the Chicago Manual and the Turabian Manual?

Whereas CMOS covers a broad range of issues, the Turabian Manual is geared specifically to students writing the types of documents mentioned in the book’s title (research papers, theses, and dissertations). The guide covers several formatting issues that are not addressed (or at least not in detail) in the Chicago Manual. If you are writing class papers or a thesis or dissertation in these areas, this might apply to you (if you’re not sure, check your school’s style guidelines or ask your chair, committee members, or professor).

I own the paperback version and the Kindle edition.  Personally I like having both as an editor, but I doubt you’ll need both.  Unlike many other writing reference books, the Kindle version of the Turabian manual is indexed with hyperlinks, so it’s easy to navigate around (and it is cheap).

The Turabian manual is currently in its 7th edition.

Click image for
more info and current prices.

The MLA Handbook

The MLA handbook is commonly used for course papers in the areas of literature, rhetoric, and sometimes history. There is some overlap with CMOS so check with your professor first if you aren’t sure.

I only recommend this guide if you are sure that you are required to write in MLA style (otherwise, CMOS is much more informative).  The guide is fairly thin, and personally I find the explanations of various issues, including the citation style, pretty light.

If you are required to use MLA but are serious about your writing, you would probably want to get the Chicago manual in addition to the MLA handbook.  The good news is that the MLA handbook is pretty cheap, and when you buy the paperback version, you get free access to their online version. You don’t have to buy through MLA’s site to get access (you get a scratch-off code inside the back cover), so you can get the cheaper price from Amazon or wherever you like to buy your books.

The MLA handbook is currently in its 7th edition.

Click image for
more info and current prices.

Garner’s Modern American Usage

Garner’s MAU is formatted differently from the other manuals above. This manual is organized like a dictionary, so you can just flip through to entries for specific words.  The guide explains differences between similar words, common writing mistakes, and clarifies long-standing debates.

For example, should we say “with respect to,” “in regard to,” “regarding,” or something else? What exactly is the difference between Argentine and Argentinian anyway? Any time I’m stumped while writing or editing, I flip to the page and there is almost always an entry to help me make a decision on what the best word or phrase would be. Inevitably I get lost flipping through various pages because your eyes catch words that you might not have thought about.

Garner’s is one of the most useful guides I own for writing.  The discussions for each term are written concisely and straight to the point. I like this because I don’t want a long-winded essay on why one word is more correct than another.  I want to know the reason in terms that I can understand. As a bonus, each entry gives examples (usually multiple examples) of correct or incorrect usage.

The subtitle of this manual is The Authority on Grammar, Usage, and Style (emphasis added).  In other words, this is where you go when you aren’t sure and can’t find an answer elsewhere.

(Note: If your first language is not English, this is the book that will answer many of your questions about why sometimes we use one word but not another, even though they seem the same. Even if your first language is English, you will have similar questions, but it is very useful if you’re curious about subtle distinctions between similar words.)

Garner’s MAU is currently in the 3rd edition. I own the hardcover version of the book (no paperback version was available that I could see, although I would get hardcover for both anyway because they are thick books. Kindle and Nook editions are available but please see the warning below.).

Warning: I have intentionally not linked to the Kindle or Nook versions of this book because neither version has hyperlinks in the index or within individual entries, so you can’t click around to navigate the electronic book. For important reference books, this basically makes the electronic versions worthless in my opinion. I am glad I read the customer reviews before buying. Perhaps the publisher will update the indexing on later versions, but at least for now I’d stick with the print copy. Plus, I like having the print copy because when I’m flipping through, I often see other words that catch my attention. I’ve learned quite a bit from just browsing around in this way.

Click image for
more info and current prices.

HBR’s Guide to Better Business Writing

This one is also written by Garner, although, as opposed to his Modern American Usage (which is excellent as a reference tome), the Guide to Better Business Writing is short and accessible. The chapters are just a few pages long, and the descriptions and examples are clear. You can begin applying the tips in the book right away, and you will quickly see an improvement in your writing.

 

Research Software


Click image for
more info and current prices.

Endnote X7

I don’t think this page would be complete without a review of EndNote.  I have mixed feelings about EndNote and other documentation software (e.g., Zotero) so I’ll share the pros and cons with you.

The first thing to note is that the X in the version number stands for the number 10, so the current version of EndNote is 17.  If you decide to buy it, make sure you get X7 and not 7.0. The vendors change from time to time so here is a link to the current EndNote X7 vendors.

So, the good thing about EndNote is that if you enter your sources accurately and keep up with your library, it can be a great time saver (the same can be said for Zotero, which is free).  Basically the program lets you keep a library of sources, and you can paste those into your document (both the citations in the text and a references list, bibliography, or works cited at the end of the paper). The program supports a ton of styles, ranging from the most well known (APA, Chicago, MLA) to styles used in the UK to obscure styles preferred by single medical journals or other sources.

However, the problem with EndNote, Zotero, and other documentation software is that the output isn’t perfect, and you have to go through and check your references list manually.  I would say that that defeats the purpose, but you can view EndNote as getting you anywhere from 50% to 90% of the way there, and then you have to clean up the rest.  For a while I couldn’t even get EndNote to spit out the correct capitalization for a Chicago bibliography or references list (they are different), but that issue seems to be fixed in recent versions. Also, I was working in Harvard Style at one point and the output was nowhere near close. I ended up combining two different styles and wasting a lot of time getting the list into shape.

In any case, in defense of EndNote, a lot of the error in the output comes from incorrect user input. That means that, if you aren’t really careful when entering your sources, the program will output your errors into the citations and references. So, for instance, if you are citing a conference proceeding, don’t categorize it as a dissertation in the EndNote software and expect the program to read your mind and figure it out. If you are good about entering the information, you will save a lot of time.  Of course, even with perfect user entry, EndNote still might output some minor errors, so you still have to check your list, but again it’s much faster to skim through and fix some minor issues than to do everything from scratch.  If you plan to write in the same line of literature over and over, this is a good tool.

Now we come to the issue of price.  On the official EndNote site, EndNote X7 costs $250 for the digital download and $300 if you want a physical copy of the program mailed to you. If you shop on Amazon you can usually find a vendor who will sell you the digital copy for half that.

Office 2013

Click image for
more info and current prices.

Microsoft Office 2013 (1 PC Version)

I’ve just upgraded to Office 2013, and despite some of the negative reviews out there, I actually like it a lot. For starters, in Word, Merram-Webster’s dictionary is loaded right into the program (via a free app). So when you right click on a word and choose Define, the M-W definition shows up in the right panel of the screen. You can click through to the online version for more details, but the short-and-sweet version is right there for me, which I really like. Note that Merriam-Webster is the dictionary of choice for APA, Chicago, MLA, AMA, and many other U.S. writing styles.

Another new feature that I like is how the tracked changes and comments display. It’s much cleaner. When you choose “Simple Markup” from the display options, the comments are shrunk down to little bubbles that you can click on (instead of showing the full comments), which unclutters the screen. You can also “reply” to comments in discussion format within the bubbles. If you work with group partners or other authors on your documents, this is a nice feature.

The drawback to Office 2013 is that it is now only for 1 PC (before I think you were allowed to use it on 3 PCs, although I don’t know if I ever tested that). So, the short story is that if you are sure you will be using your same PC for 3 or more years, you can get the 1 PC version. If you think you will be changing computers in less than 3 years, then it probably makes more sense to go for Office 365, which you can have on up to 5 computers (Mac and PC) and is kept up to date. The downside is that it costs $100 per year, but then again you will probably pay more if you buy the programs separately.

 

 

Typing and Research Accessories


Click image for
more info and current prices.

Document Holder

This is also sometimes called an adjustable easel, a copy holder, or a paper holder.

I wouldn’t call this a necessity, but I just find it helpful.  If you tend to keep your written notes or print copies of articles or papers at your side while typing, it’s annoying to have to look down at your desk all the time.

This is basically a little stand that lets you place your notes or papers upright next to your computer so that you can easily look at them while typing. It holds about 15 sheets of paper.

I own the Sparco version, which is made out of lightweight plastic.  I haven’t had any problems with durability over the past year and a half. It has a clip at the top, which you can adjust higher for taller paper.  There is also a sliding plastic piece that lets you clip the papers in place.

I haven’t tried the other companies’ versions so I can’t speak to them, but you can compare them here.


Click image for
more info and current prices.

Bookstand

This is similar to a document holder, but it’s larger and can hold books. I have a few bookstands (including the one shown below), but this Accto Adjustable version is my newest addition and has performed wonderfully. I can fit small to relatively large-sized books on this because the plastic page holders move quite far out. You can also adjust the tilt so that you have an optimal viewing angle for your office setup.

Click image for
more info and current prices.

Book Holder for Reading While Typing

This thing is so useful and cheap I can’t recommend it enough.  This is basically the same as the document holder above, BUT this is meant for books, not loose paper.

It is basically a little folding apparatus that lets you have a small to medium-sized guide or book open and upright next to you while you are typing.

The picture to the left is a little misleading (sorry, it’s the only one available from the product owner at the moment, I’ll take one of my own soon).  This is not big enough for a dictionary, and you also won’t be able to fit CMOS or Garner’s on this little guy.  It is, however, great for the APA Manual, the MLA manual, and paperback or hardback books of up to about 500 pages.  For instance, I can fit my Words into Type hardback manual (just under 600 pages) comfortably on this. And by the way, if you don’t have WIT, you can get a free copy on Scribd or of course if you want the print version you can get one here.

The book holder comes assembled and there is nothing to do except unfold it and put your book on it.

Important Note: If you need a book holder/bookstand for larger hardbacks, such as law books or for the CMOS or Garner’s manual above, the cheapest option is probably the Mighty Bright Book Holder. There is another product called Easy Reader Reading Stand, but I haven’t used this or the Might Brite stand personally. From looking at the pictures, I’m probably going to get the Mighty Brite stand because there are little feet that probably hold the pages in place. I will update this once I make a decision and test it out./td>

Image of Brother Smart Business Series All-in-one PrinterClick image for
more info and current prices.

My Recommendation for Office or Home Printer

This one won’t apply to everyone, as most people are either in an office or already have a printer; however, I’m mentioning it because I have used several multifunction printers over the years (Lexmark, two Canons, HP, and now Brother) and have finally found a reliable one.

At first I loved my Canon, but after it stopped working and the second one broke shortly after, I switched to the Brother MFC series (mine is a 490cw but I’ve had it for so long now that Brother has moved forward. The current models are the Business Smart Series pictured to the left, which is what I would get if I had a need to update, but happily mine is still going strong).

If you haven’t used one of these before, basically you’re getting a printer, scanner, copier, and fax all in one. I haven’t used the fax feature but everything else works smoothly. The software that comes with the printer is user friendly (so scanning is an easy task).

You can actually set the printer up to communicate wirelessly with all of your computers but I never bothered because I just keep it by my desk, but the option is pretty neat if you’re using your laptop around the house.

The Business Smart Series is supposed to be pretty light and compact (the only downside to my old model is that it is a bit heavy and bulky, but that does not seem to be an issue anymore).

In any case, I’m going on 4 years and haven’t had a problem. For ink, I have always gotten discount cartridges even though the manual tells you not to (they make their money on ink, not so much on the printers themselves). I’ve used Carot Ink and 123inkJets and I prefer the latter. There is always a little deal and for $50 you get free shipping and enough black and color ink to last you a couple years.

 

 

Note to readers of this page: Please note that if you click through a product link on this page and make a purchase, I may receive a commission from the seller (for some links, I receive no commission). The commission is usually very small and does not affect your purchase price. I only list resources that (a) I have personally used, (b) I like, (c) that I think will be useful to others, and (d) that I would refer to a loved one or anyone else I care about. Please see my privacy policy for more information.

Note to Potential Advertisers: I am not currently accepting outside promotions on this page.  I have personally used and evaluated everything above.

Leave a Reply