An editor’s trinity: Oxford Writers’ Reference

by Anthony Mandal

Having done a fair bit of editing over the last decade, of myself, of others’ contributions and of scholarly editions, it was with unalloyed delight that I recently discovered a trio of invaluable reference books that make the job of handling scholarly writing a great deal easier. These three works—New Hart’s Rules, the New Oxford Spelling Dictionary and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors—are an absolute treasure trove of useful pointers, guidelines and clarifications. Quite a few years ago, I had already encountered the Dictionary for Writers and Editors in an earlier incarnation, and it had served me well as a trustworthy companion in my various encounters with academic prose.

This new set of three books, first published in 2005, represent a leap forward from these beginnings. Each of the volumes complements the others perfectly, so that writers and editors have at their disposal a plethora of abbreviations, tips on style and disambiguations of the most troublesome spellings. Moreover, considering that so much information is packed into each book, they are uniformly formatted to a handy ‘pocket’ size (roughly, 18cm x 12cm), and are minimalistically but elegantly packaged. As well as being published by such an august firm as OUP, each of the volumes has also received the seal of recommendation from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. All three books can be purchased individually or as part of a set (as The Oxford Writers’ Reference Pack) for about £30 online.

New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers provides its readers with all the information needed to write and prepare copy for publication in 20 chapters, which covers aspects such as publishing terminology; rules for punctuation, hyphenation and capitalization; how to lay out headings and titles; citation guidelines for quotations and work titles; foreign-language names and titles; and directions for preparing bibliographies, notes and indexes. The 20 chapters are supported with a table of proofreading marks, a glossary of printing and publishing terms, and a comprehensive index. In addition, full information is provided about scientific data, mathematical formulae and foreign alphabets, as well as various key referencing systems: author/title, Harvard and Vancouver.

The New Oxford Spelling Dictionary: The Writers’ and Editors’ Guide to Spelling and Word Division pretty much does what it says on the tin: it provides clear, authoritative guidance on over 110,000 words and names, fully updated for the 21st century. Enabling consistency and accuracy, both for printed and electronic writing, the volume deals with spelling; word division at line ends; hyphenation of compound terms; italicization of foreign words; British and US preferences for spelling; and clarification on easily confused words. The spellings are based on the Oxford language research programme, the largest in the world, and the Dictionary includes both preferred and secondary breaks for every suitable word, for writers and professionals needing to make relable and consistent decisions relating to line endings.
Perhaps the most useful of the three volumes,

the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors: The Essential A–Z Guide to the Written Word deals with the common difficulties met by writers and editors, including information that isn’t always available in standard dictionaries. For instance, it offers guidance on the spellings of difficult and unusual words; alternative and American forms; clarifications about hyphenation and compounds; capitalization and abbreviation; foreign and specialist terms; proper names; and titles of books and names of fictional characters, as well as brief details about historical figures. Published a hundred years ago as the Authors’ and Printers’ Dictionary, this volume has long been an essential guide for writers and editors, and the new edition has been prepared using the resources of the Oxford dictionaries and with the advice of publishing professionals.

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