The Editor’s Toolbox
The tools that editors and excellent writers use was mentioned in the discussion of a previous post. I wanted to summarize and give you links (not affiliate links, these go straight to the source) to help you build your own Editor's Toolbox. Purchasing these materials is in no way required to be a good writer or get a good rating, but using them can help your writing skill.
First off, there are quite a few excellent resources for grammar advice and rule refreshers. I personally like Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, which I mentioned in my original post. For a fresher, more personal look at grammar, check out Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips. Her daily newsletter drops a quick grammar fix to your inbox every day. Her books adorn our shelves in the office and I was lucky enough to meet her at a signing.
General tips and strategies for good style, tone and phrasing can be found with the classic “Elements of Style” by Strunk & White. Most of the book can be found online, but picking up a paper copy may help some of you.
The dictionary is your friend. Do not be embarrassed to use it. I usedictionary.com, other editors prefer merriam-webster.com.
Dictionaries can help you with spelling, plurals, and whether the word you're typing is actually the word you want. If you have an article requesting UK English, refer to theCambridge Leaner's Dictionary.
A thesaurus is equally helpful, especially for certain types of articles. The classic is Roget's Thesaurus (not searchable online) or thesaurus.com.
For style matters, including why we ask that periods and commas be placed inside quotations, check out the AP Stylebook. The website has an extensive “Ask the Editor” section. The paper book includes much more information and is easier to use. We currently use the 2008 edition, but any edition from this decade is fine. If you pick up a 2002 edition at your used bookstore, the rules will be the same, but you may miss Internet-related updates.
One book I used in elementary school to learn sentence-building and variation techniques was “Tap the Deck.” I'm not sure if it was the bright yellow cover or the exercises asking me to re-write the same sentence different ways, but this book was etched into my young memory.
Finally, read good writing. Pick up the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal every once in a while. USA Today is a decent paper as well. For level two and three writers, try to emulate USA Today. When you've got that down, pick up the Times. Try a good biography or non-fiction work. Consider reading some of the Nobel literature prize winners. Don't let the fancy prize put you off, but take it as a challenge. When you read, don't passively just enjoy the plot. Examine why you want to continue to read. How does the author draw you in? How do they describe their characters? Think about what they're doing to enliven their work and try to apply it to your own. Good luck!