Welcome to the Conservation Writing Pro’s Recommended Resources
Explore resources to help environmental scientists who write in a regulatory context develop professionally as writers. This page is updated frequently, so please bookmark it and check back often. If you notice any broken links or inaccuracies, please let me know. And I’d love to hear your suggestions. If it worked for you, it will probably work for your peers! Finally, this page contains some links to Amazon products. I earn a small commission on any sales made through these links.
Dictionaries are indispensable reference tools for writers, and not because they offer spelling suggestions. (MS Word does that, and it’s not on this list.) Dictionaries help you distinguish between commonly confused words; explain finer shades of meaning; and provide etymologies, or word histories, that help to explain certain connotations or relationships.
Google is not a replacement for a dictionary. Any word, correct or not, can be found through a Google search. And free online dictionaries are of zero professional assistance because they operate the same way as Google: They use automated search functions to crawl the web, find the word, and add it to their database.You need a dictionary that has been professionally edited by a board of language experts. For this reason, I recommend Merriam-Webster. They have a robust online presence as well as apps available for both iPhone and Android platforms. And their editorial board is top notch.
Reference works are not intended to be read cover to cover, and grammar handbooks are no exception. Instead, you need a grammar handbook to cross reference words you will find in dictionaries and style guides. A good grammar handbook will provide definitions, rules, and examples not only of the parts of speech and their functions in a sentence but also of such brainteasers as split infinitives and dangling participles.
While all languages change over time, English grammar has remained relatively stable for centuries (since the 1500s, in fact). Therefore, you should not invest heavily in a grammar handbook. Newer ones use a more familiar terminology and have examples that are more relatable. But newer, in this case, extends to the 1980s–1990s.I highly recommend Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference. It is well established and widely assigned as a college textbook, meaning used copies are plentiful. Many features make it user friendly: spiral binding, a color-coded table of contents printed on both sets of end papers, corresponding chunky plastic tabs, and realistic examples.
Grammar constitutes the “rules” of language: subject-verb agreement, proper syntax, certain types of punctuation, etc. However, much of our language use is guided by personal preferences, commonly called style. The universe of styles ranges from creative fiction writers—such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Truman Capote, and Hunter S. Thompson—to nonfiction prose writers—including H.L. Mencken, George Orwell, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rachel Carson.
As you can see, the range is staggering. Thus, organizations and disciplines produce style guides to create consistency. This guidance constitutes the “voice” of an agency. For federal government writers, that voice is regulated by the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual.
This helpful reference work provides clear-cut answers to many commonly asked and variously answered questions:
·Should I use a figure for the number or spell it out?
·Do I use the Oxford comma or omit it?
·Should the word “federal” be capitalized?
·Should the word “federally” be hyphenated in phrases such as “federally authorized plan”?
·Is “policy maker” spelled as two words, one word, or a hyphenate?You may not agree with the answers, but it’s certainly comforting to know that there IS an answer.
Words, phrases, parts of speech, and even punctuation can carry shades of meaning we may not even be aware of. Their "correctness" depends upon our context. Clear, thoughtful explanations--such as those offered in usage manuals--help us make good choices among the universe of possibilities.
Usage manuals range from the prim and proper to the mildly amusing to the downright irreverent. The latter two categories are fine for your own personal edification. But as an environmental scientist working in a regulatory environment, you should opt for the Emily Post version: Garner’s Modern American Usage.Bryan Garner has a lengthy and well-respected CV. Nevertheless, he consulted more than 100 subject matter experts to compile the Usage. The tome contains miniature (and some not-so miniature) essays on thousands of words, phrases, and parts of speech whose usages are commonly mangled, including “decimate”, “affect”/”effect”/”impact” and “lay”/”lie”/”laid”/”lain”. The book is wWell worth the investment for the serious writer.