Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ask your editor: A dictionary is invaluable

It occurred to me today as I was editing a client’s book that I could offer some very simple but very good advice for anyone who writes things for others to read.

If you write
  • Books
  • Newsletters
  • Papers
  • Articles
  • Letters
  • E-mails
then this post applies to you.

What's my advice? Use a dictionary. Preferably Merriam-Webster’s (if you are writing in US English). Webster’s is available for free online and it’s a very user-friendly dictionary.

You might be surprised to know how many times I look things up on Webster’s through the course of a day. I’m often surprised how many times I use it, and I think often how lost I’d be without it.

I access it for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I just have a brain cramp and need to double-check a spelling. Sometimes, I’m not sure if I need the open version or the hyphenated version of a word, such as double-check in the previous sentence. Double check is a noun. Double-check is a verb. I’ve looked it up before, but I double-checked it just now to be sure I used the right one.

Sometimes I access Webster’s when I’m not sure if I need a hyphen between a prefix and its root. Sometimes I check on capitalization. (A client recently used “promised land,” and I wanted to see if it should be capitalized or not. Curious about the answer? Look it up!)

Webster’s is really helpful and it provides sentence examples for most of its entries as well. Play around on it to see how useful and friendly it is. If you care about your writing and can’t hire an editor to check your work, Webster’s could be your new best friend. 

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