A Writing Handbook


Most writing handbooks try to cover every conceivable aspect of composition, style, grammar, and punctuation. This handbook has more modest goals and a more strategic focus.

This online handbook only covers the topics I typically need to review for my college writing students. So the advice offered here principally applies to those learning to write formal, academic essays. Moreover, I don’t cover the few topics I do discuss comprehensively. There are, for example, many rules for using commas. I deal with only a handful of them because those are the comma issues my students encounter most often and find most puzzling. In short, the scope and depth of this handbook matches the needs of a very specific audience: college students in English and Composition classes.

Recommended Writing Resources

Anyone serious about the craft of writing will, of course, need more comprehensive guides to composing correct and elegant prose than the one provided here. If you want more (and better) help with your writing, here are some resources I both recommend and use myself.

William Strunk and E. B. White’s The Elements of Style is a classic and deservedly so. Unlike most writing handbooks it’s so brief you can easily read it cover-to-cover. (And if you want to improve your writing, you probably should.)

Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) is an excellent web source for writing help; they offer brief, sensible advice on just about any topic a college writer might have questions on.

Diana Hacker’s The Bedford Handbook (now in its 9th edition) is probably the best writing handbook available for college students.

The most comprehensive reference work on contemporary American grammar and usage is Garner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner’s superb, definitive guide to writing proper English.

If you want to make your prose not merely correct but truly elegant, read Joseph M. Williams & Gregory C. Colomb’s Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace and Francis-Noël Thomas & Mark Turner’s Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose. (Thomas & Turner also have a helpful—but poorly-designed—website on writing classic prose.)

Page Last Updated: 20 August 2016