A Writer’s Grammar for Copyeditors
Writer’s Digest is a venerable print publication for writers. During its 90-year history, it has expanded its offerings to include conferences, training, an interactive website, and its own publishing imprint, Writer’s Digest Books.
Although most of Writer’s Digest’s offerings wouldn’t interest copyeditors (unless they’re making recommendations for their authors), the imprint catalog includes at least one resource of note: Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference by Gary Lutz and Diane Stevenson, both writers by trade.
Their approach is one copyeditors can appreciate. The first section of the book focuses on “macrogrammar,” while the remaining sections focus on “microgrammar.”
The macrogrammar section is the big-picture view, “a systemizing of the often perplexing behaviors of words,” according to the introduction. The first two chapters cover the major parts of speech, outlining, for example, the different tenses and moods of verbs, the definition of modals, and the uses of active and passive voice.
The next two chapters cover phrases and clauses, including how to avoid misplaced and dangling modifiers.
The remaining 25 chapters focus on the finer details of grammar, usage, punctuation, and style—what the authors call “a how-to guide that will help you produce sentences free of the kinds of errors that distract readers.” Topics include faulty comparisons, errors in modifiers, an entire chapter devoted to the hyphen (swoon!), and a glossary of commonly confused words.
Along the way, readers will find Tip and Caution boxes that highlight an important point of a rule or convention. Many of the example sentences come from published works, not, the authors tells us, to play the “gotcha” game but to demonstrate how difficult the craft of writing is and how all writers make mistakes.
One of the things I like best about this grammar is that the authors don’t hand down their rules from on high. They acknowledge that grammar and usage rules are hardly cut-and-dried and that style is so subjective that writers (and their copyeditors) want to pull their hair out.
Instead, they’ve put together a series of rules, conventions, and advice that will produce writing that their audience will be able to sell. They studied “how professional writers and the editorial departments of distinguished newspapers, magazines, and book publishers handle the intricate and sometimes vexatious matters of grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and usage” so that writers can deliver what these publications want.
This means Grammar Desk Reference is heavily influenced by The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook. Its advice will help produce professional, formal writing, with just a whiff of snobbiness about it—as with the advice to keep convince and persuade for separate purposes and the supposed ungrammaticalness of the idiom center around.
This is a solid, reliable reference for professional writers and copyeditors that is written in a straightforward manner. Chapters are broken into numbered sections, making searching with the index and subject appendix easy.
Writer’s Digest sells the paperback version, but you can also purchase an electronic version from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I purchased the print edition and wish I had purchased the e-version. The type is small to my eyes, and being able to enlarge it would make using the book much easier.
Overall, Grammar Desk Reference will answer copyeditors’ questions and help them explain their changes to their authors in understandable English.