Books on Writing
If you can only afford one book, we recommend The Craft of Research. If you can afford two books, get this and The New Oxford Guide to Writing. See capsule descriptions below. Both are inexpensive paperbacks useful for people at all levels but targeted to advanced writers.
Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research, Third Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
This is probably the best book available on how to research, plan, and write a graduate-level (or advanced undergraduate) research paper, thesis, or dissertation. There is an entire section on how to construct an argument, called “making a claim and supporting it,” which is very useful for anyone writing a paper for a college or university course.
Thomas Kane, The New Oxford Guide to Writing (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1994)
This is an excellent guide to writing style: how to craft an effective sentence, paragraph, and essay when writing non-fiction prose.
Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence (New York: Harper Collins, 2011). A good supplement to The New Oxford Guide to Writing, this book discusses in detail the different kinds of sentences and considerations of style in writing an effective sentence — which is the basic unit of thought. The author suggests certain exercises.
Frederick Crews, The Random House Handbook, Sixth Edition (New York: McGraw Hill, 1991)
Basically written for students in freshman English courses, this is a useful elementary guide for undergraduates that covers all aspects of the writing process (such as how to distinguish a topic from a thesis statement, how to construct an outline, and many other topics).
Various earlier editions exist that may be found inexpensively in used copies on amazon.com.
William Strunk and E.B. White, Elements of Style, Fourth Edition (Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2000)
A classic, this is a very concise guide to writing simply and clearly. Available in various editions. Take it with a grain of salt, as not all longer sentences are bad; it depends.
See also, under Guides to Writing in Specific Fields:
A.P. Martinich, Philosophical Writing: An Introduction
T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Argumentation
MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, Third Edition (New York: Modern Language Association of American, 2008)
Used generally in the humanities (such as English, Foreign Languages and Comparative Literature, History, Philosophy, Art History, Classics, Religious Studies, Music, Theater, Dance, and Film Studies). In addition to containing comprehensive information on how to format citations and bibliographies, it contains some general tips on the research and writing process.
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009)
Used generally in the empirical and quantitative social sciences. In addition to containing comprehensive information on how to format citations and bibliographies, it contains general tips on the research and writing process specific to quantitative empirical studies. For qualitative and historical social science studies, see The Craft of Research for tips on the research and writing process.
Chicago Manual of Style, Sixteenth Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010)
This comprehensive manual with numbered paragraphs, well-indexed and available both in print and by subscription online, is the editor’s bible, and it is authoritative for all issues not covered by style guides specific to a set of disciplines such as the MLA and APA.
The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, Nineteenth Edition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Law Review, 2010).
This is the guide to the formatting of legal citations. Law reviews in the US follow the Bluebook, and publishing in other fields also tends to defer to the Bluebook on legal citations. Legal formatting is complicated. If you have a law review paper we are editing, you may save time by having us do it, because we have editors who know the Bluebook. We can also review your citations for accuracy in following the precise rules in each case.
Guides to Developing and Making Good Written Arguments in Philosophy and Generally:
(Recommended for students in all academic fields:)
A.P. Martinich, Philosophical Writing: An Introduction (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2005)
Of the numerous guides available to thinking out and writing a philosophy paper, this book, written by a prominent professor of philosophy at the University of Texas-Austin, is the best we have found. Its usefulness extends beyond the field of philosophy, because the skills used in writing a philosophy paper apply broadly to most papers in both the sciences and humanities. This is particularly true of philosophical writing as it is done and taught in the English-speaking world and in this book. This is not a guide to formal principles of logic or argumentation, but is concerned rather with the uses of writing in the development of ideas and arguments.
Antony Flew, How to Think Straight: An Introduction to Critical Reasoning. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998.
An concise and informally written book by a philosophy professor on various elements of how to make good arguments in writing.
T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Argumentation, Sixth Edition (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2008)
Very useful for philosophy students, and anyone studying for the LSAT, but also of general value to anyone who has to construct an argument, which is everyone writing an academic paper. A chapter on the elements of a good argument is followed by detailed discussion of 60 argumentative fallacies, more than we were able to find in standard texts on logic.
Guides to Writing in Specific Fields
Sylvan Barnet and William E. Cain, A Short Guide to Writing about Literature, Twelfth Edition (New York: Pearson Longman, 2011)
Covers all aspects of the writing process and provides a useful guide to the different types of literature and common elements of literary criticism.
Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing about Art, Tenth Edition (New York: Pearson Longman, 2010)
Similar to A Short Guide to Writing about Literature, but geared for writing about art.
Timothy J. Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing about Film, Seventh Edition (New York: Pearson Longman, 2009)
Similar to A Short Guide to Writing about Literature, but geared for writing about film.
Other books in this series: The Short Guide to Writing about . . . series also includes: History, Science, Social Science, Psychology, Law, Music, Biology, Chemistry, and Criminal Justice. This is an excellent series. These are all elementary guides geared to persons learning to write in this field, but as with most elementary guides they are also handy references.
Bernard F. Dick, Anatomy of Film, Sixth Edition (New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2009).
A useful guide for students analyzing film. Covers the different elements of film in a bit more detail than A Short Guide to Writing about Film. You may also wish to look at Noel Burch, Theory of Film Practice, a short and classical theoretical study with obvious practical implications in terms of analyzing a film by virtue of its formal elements (as distinct from the dramatic and narrational ones of characterization, plot, dramatic conflict, and dialogue).
Dictionaries and Thesauruses
Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009)
Available online by subscription as well as on CD-ROM, this is the authoritative unabridged historical dictionary of the English language in all its variants, including American English. (An unabridged dictionary theoretically contains all of the words in a language and all of their possible meanings in use currently or historically; however, there are also many scientific and technical terms that are not in the OED, that are being invented constantly, and that it is best to search for online).
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008)
Our favorite everyday dictionary. Excellent, clear, and straightforward definitions.
Barbara Ann Kipfer, Roget’s International Thesaurus, Seventh Edition (New York: Harper Collins, 2001)
There are many thesauruses available. A good thesaurus is an invaluable aid to writing when you are searching for the right word or for different words in order to avoid repetition or in order to find a word that conveys the relevant meaning more precisely than a more general “base” word. However, a thesaurus should be used only with a dictionary: since no synonym (a word with the same meaning) is an exact synonym, it is important to know the precise meaning of the word you are using.
Betty Schrampfer Azar, Fundamentals of English Grammar, Third Edition (New York: Pearson, 2002)
Designed as a textbook for adults learning English as a foreign language, this book contains very handy and clear one-page summaries of various points of grammar in table format.
Kate Wendleton, Packaging Yourself: The Targeted Resume (New York: The Five O’Clock Club, 2005)
Wendleton has a set of books on the job search process, possibly the best books on the market. All are very concise and written in a business-like prose, free or anecdotes. In this book, she shows you not just how to write a good resume, but more importantly how to compile the information that goes into it.
Richard H. Beatty, The Perfect Cover Letter (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2004)
This is a very useful guide to the elements of an effective cover letter. Perhaps the best book on the market. We follow it in editing and consulting on cover letters.