Vox pop – September 2008

What’s the most essential reference work on the commercial writer’s bookshelf?

Mike Reed, Reed Words

Mine are largely the obvious ones. As far as dictionaries go, I’ve abandoned print and subscribe to the OED online (http://dictionary.oed.com). It’s the entire dictionary at your fingertips, with all the added ease of searching, clicking, etc. Invaluable. I also have a Roget’s Thesaurus given to me by my dear Grandma decades ago. She was a great word-lover, and it’s great to have this constant, close reminder of her. Allied to the Roget’s is the Visual Thesaurus application, which I know has been mentioned on the message board before now. (http://www.visualthesaurus.com) It’s a brilliant way to search the connections between words. You can buy the Visual Thesaurus software outright, or subscribe to it online. Then of course there’s Fowler, still an essential and surprisingly entertaining read. My motto: Avoid howlers. Check Fowler’s. Beyond the details of language itself, Marty Neumeier’s The Brand Gap and Wally Olins’ latest, The Brand Handbook, both have useful, clear things to say about the business of branding. And The Composition of Scientific Words, which suggests Latin, Greek and other words (or parts of words) for largely standard English words, is very handy for naming projects.

Chas Walton

Let’s assume there’s a Desert-Island-Discs-style ban on dictionaries (an up-to-date copy from all the big names), which brings us to style guides. You need all of them too, but if I had to choose one for my desert-island writer’s bookshelf, it would be New Hart’s Rules. Boring choice, yes, but vital.

Jim Davies, totalcontent

I have a groaning shelf full of dictionaries, thesauri and style guides, some of which get dusted off more than others. The new edition of the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is indispensable, fantastically laid out and easy to use. I find the Collins Wordfinder useful, and occasionally dip into the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. Recent buys include Harold Evans’ Essential English and Bill Bryson’s Troublesome Words, though I’m still getting to grips with them. And I also have my eye on the Chambers Dictionary of Slang which is due out next month.

Nick Asbury, Asbury & Asbury

I’m assuming other people will mention our own John Simmons and his Dark Angels trilogy, which I’d say is one of the few essential reads in this area. The other one is Lindsay Camp’s Can I change your mind? which is full of useful practical tips, all very cheerfully and persuasively argued. I’d love to get hold of the D&AD Copy Book that came out a few years ago, but it seems very hard to track down. But the most frequently thumbed book on my shelf remains the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Beats spellcheck not only for accuracy, but because you stumble across something new and interesting every time you open it up.

Rishi Dastidar

The Economist’s ‘Style Guide’. If you’re going to learn how to write, you should learn from the best.

Tom Lynham


Roger Horberry, Alp Associates

I’m somewhat addicted to wikipedia. Does that make me a bad person?

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