Look it up: Five online resources for grammar
As professional communicators, we often get questions from colleagues or clients about grammar and punctuation. For the most part, their questions about spelling can be answered on websites like Dictionary.com or Merriam-Webster.com, or their related apps. I’ve even used the speech function on the Merriam-Webster app to sound out a word and get the correct spelling.
However, those sites aren’t always helpful for answering questions like “Should I use a comma or semicolon here?” or “Do you ‘home in on’ or ‘hone in on’ something?”
Veteran writers and editors might crack open their hard copies of The Elements of Style or The Associated Press Stylebook, but those with internet access might find it quicker and easier to consult online resources.
Below are five websites I’ve often consulted to help answer questions related to writing, grammar and punctuation.
- AP Stylebook Online – This subscription-based service gives you online access to the industry-standard stylebook while adding digital functionality, search capability and online-only features. It fills in the gaps between the annual print editions with new entries updated regularly. I’ve even posted a question on the site and received an official response in a timely manner. Keep in mind that this resource is geared toward journalists, and will offer rules and guidelines that may differ from The Chicago Manual of Style and other stylebooks.
- Common Errors in English – I’ve been consulting this site for over a decade. Compiled by Professor Paul Brians of Washington State University, this site provides alphabetical listings of common errors. It even has an interesting section on “eggcorns” – misheard or misinterpreted words and phrases like “udderly” instead of “utterly.”
- GrammarBook.com – Although it’s mainly a plug for The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, this site does offer rules for grammar and punctuation, videos, online quizzes, a grammar blog, and a weekly e-newsletter.
- Grammarly Handbook – I don’t use the Grammarly automated proofreader and grammar checker, but I have consulted Grammarly’s writing guide found within its blog section. In addition to providing explanations and tips on grammar and punctuation, this guide also addresses mechanics, technique and style. You’ll have to deal with the occasional promotional popup, but you can usually “X” those out and continue on to the content.
- Grammar Girl – More of a collection of tips and archived articles from “Grammar Girl” Mignon Fogarty, this site housed within QuickandDirtyTips.com also offers a weekly e-newsletter, RSS feed, podcast and various related social media channels. When I Google a grammar question, I often see content from this site at the top of my search results. I also recommend the Grammar Girl’s Guide to AP Style online course, which I found well worth the time and money invested. I did notice that it has not been updated for 2017, however.
These resources should serve you well, but remember that language and grammar rules evolve and change over time. For example, it wasn’t long ago that the Associated Press wanted you to write out “Web site” as two words with a capital “W.” Now, the simple “website” is preferred.
Your overall objective should always be comprehension. That is, does your audience understand what you’re trying to convey to them? If so, then mission accomplished!