Friday, October 5, 2012


Having good reference books handy while writing is essential, so I thought I would spend some time talking about them. A dictionary is an obvious place to start.

These days you can find dictionaries online, embedded in word-processing software, and as stand-alone apps for smart phones and tablets. Many of them are quite good. I use the dictionary bundled with my operating system (this is a Mac OS thing, folks, I don’t believe Windows has this feature). I also refer to a dictionary app on my phone.

But even with abundance of dictionary software, I still refer to a hard cover dictionary now and again. I do this because when one source or another does not have the word I want, I need to confirm that the word I’m thinking of is not a word or is perhaps two words and not one.

This happens because Word will flag a word or phrase it wants me to change. I never accept Word’s suggested revision without external verification that it is correct. That’s when I go to my other sources.

I know people who think a paper dictionary is obsolete and see no point in having one. That’s their choice, of course. If you aren’t one of those people, then I suggest the classic Webster’s Dictionary is a good reference book to own. I don’t recommend buying more than one dictionary, however, because the books don’t always agree on spelling or hyphenation of words and can confuse you more than help you.

So pick a dictionary — be it a web site, phone app or other — and stick with it. Use it whenever you have a question about a word’s spelling or meaning. If you can't find a word, check another source, but remember, some dictionaries leave out words to save space, so try to find a source that is as complete as possible.

And above all, keep writing.

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