Reference Tools

The range of writing-related reference tools available online continues to grow. Here are some of the most helpful:

  • The Oxford English Dictionary is the biggest and most inclusive guide to the ways words are actually used in written English. It quotes excerpts from printed material over the centuries to show how meanings have developed. This second edition (1933) is excellent for the student of literature or for anyone interested in the ways language works; not the place for quick definitions or up-to-date information.
  • The Hypertext Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides a somewhat more efficient (though less interesting) way of looking up words and then navigating around synonyms and alternatives.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, is now available in full online to all U of T students and faculty with a valid UTORid. This authoritative reference work will tell you everything you want to know about the Notes/Bibliography documentation format, and also set out (and explain, as far as possible) the rules for capitalization, punctuation, and short forms, as well as show you just how to set up the pages of your essay or dissertation.
  • You can get an edition of Roget’s Thesaurus online. It will give you lists of related words. (But don’t expect it to tell you which is the best word for your specific purposes. You will still have to judge what’s suitable—maybe by going back to a dictionary.) For a more up-to-date alternative to Roget, try Power Thesaurus.
  • Another kind of thesaurus is being put together for NASA (presumably for the scientists on the ground). If you’re deep into technical writing, you can start with one technical term and get lists of related ones from the NASA Thesaurus, Volume 1 and Volume 2.
  • If you need to inspire yourself with a famous quotation or saying, look up some of the classics in the online Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (1901).
  • E.B. White, editor of the New Yorker magazine and author of Charlotte’s Web, so much admired a little handbook by his old college professor that he rewrote it as The Elements of Style, still recommended by many professors. The original 1918 version by William Strunk, Jr. is available online.