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Grammatical sleuthing: Best resources for searching in print and online

The JCR recently reached out to NCRA’s Proofreading Advisory Council for recommendations on references for spelling, grammar, and language. Council members shared their favorite print and online resources as well as their best online research tips. The following members shared their responses:

  • Aimee Suhie, RPR, a freelancer in New Fairfield, Conn.
  • Patricia Miller, CRI, CPE, an instructor in Middletown, Del.
  • Francesca Ivy, RPR, a freelancer in Metairie, La.
  • Kathy McHugh, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in Audubon, N.J.

In addition, Kathy McHugh shared a response from Lisa Inverso, who she uses as a scopist.

  1. Which print books/references do you use or like the most for spelling, grammar, language, etc.?

Aimee Suhie: Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated? and her Fairly Familiar Phrases.

Pat Miller: Most use in print and for a spectacular saver of time: Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated? I add to, correct, update the book as I go. I may also make a note or two, highlight words I need to see in print over and over again, and put some words on the front inside cover just because. It is way faster to use this book than to use the internet, which is full of just plain wrong information a lot when it comes to spelling that includes punctuation. If, after the five seconds it takes to use this print reference, I don’t find my answer, then I go to the internet.

When I really need print book guidance for grammar and usage, I use a few books. My favorite for a couple of years has been one recommended by an English professor. It’s wonderful and has a summary of MLA and APA style manuals in the back: Rules for Writers, Seventh Edition, by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers, published by Bedford/St. Martin’s.

I use Gregg and Morson as appropriate and for inspiration.

Francesca Ivy: Of course, first and foremost would be Morson’s English Guide for Court Reporters. I keep a copy of my English book from school that is also useful from time to time by Mary A. Bogle called Rowe College Business English. As a freelance reporter taking depositions, I find that it helps to have some local phone books to consult for surname spellings. I also keep a few really old phone books to search for spellings of closed-down businesses from pre-internet days. Over the years, my print books have been reduced substantially because of the internet, but the ones that I still keep handy tend to be on specific subjects that I don’t know a lot about or find easier to consult than searching online; for example, an electronics dictionary, a chemical dictionary, a world atlas, a medical dictionary, the Illustrated Dictionary of Building Materials and Techniques by Paul Bianchina, and The Barnhart Abbreviations Dictionary. I have purchased some of these over the years by perusing used book sales in the references section.

  1. Which online references do you use or like the most?

PM: The three I use the most are:

I also have regulars, frequents, reliable specialties, and so on.

FI: I use Merriam-Webster a lot, my state bar association for attorneys’ names and email addresses, and the state board of medical examiners for doctors’ names. I like for medication names because they have an index in which you can search by the first letter of the drug and have all the names come up and then choose the best match and check for what it is used for to confirm if it is the right one. LinkedIn is great, and Facebook can be helpful, too.

Lisa Inverso: One reference I would add is using as an online reference source. It gives explanations and the proper usage of many words in the English language that are a sound alike or confusing sometimes.

Also, sometimes I will put the spelling that I think it might be into Google search, which will ask: “Did you mean…” and give me a different spelling of the word. Then I check if Google’s suggestion is the word I want. It saves me time when I don’t know the spelling.

  1. What is your best tip for researching online?

AS: When I Google a drug or proper name, I never take the first spelling but check multiple sources below that first one to be sure I get the correct one. How easy it is today to check spellings at midnight when in “the olden days” I would call the pharmacy (only when open) and the reference desk at the library with a question like, “Can you find the name of a city in Puerto Rico that sounds like x and maybe has a waterfall?” And, of course, that had to be during daytime hours!

PM: Tip 1 is “best” specific: LinkedIn is da bomb for people and companies, with worldwide participants.

Tip 2 is “best” general: Follow a link. Don’t accept the search engine summaries. Check that what appears in the search summary is also in the linked page, article, or reference (or many times not followed through in the link). Check that the source is reliable.

FI: I also do not just trust what comes up first on a Google search page. I check more thoroughly. I definitely don’t trust Wikipedia since what is on there could be written by anyone. I keep a folder in my favorites titled “Research,” and when I stumble upon a good site for researching a particular subject, I add it in that folder so that I can find it again. I also have a binder with A to Z index pages. When I have a hard time finding something online and finally have success, I jot the word down and keep it there for next time so I won’t have to go through the pain again. I also keep frequently occurring words or company names in there that are no longer around; for instance, companies that made asbestos products.

Kathy McHugh: My best search tip online is putting in some context as well as the word I’m specifically looking for. I’ll put the surrounding words that the attorney or witness used and that generally helps me find what I’m looking for.