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Books for the Business Writer’s Bookshelf

The other day my friend Joanne wrote to ask me how to render the word “by laws.” She said Google had suggested “by laws,” and a legal website had offered “by-laws.”

“Which is correct?” she asked.

Neither. That is why it is important to check respected expert sources. I let Joanne know that four of my highly reputable, up-to-date guides to usage recommend bylaws.”

Do current reference books fill your bookshelves or exist on your desktop? They should. Google is not an expert on correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Neither are websites whose authors don’t consult the experts.

In the current issue of Better Writing at Work, I offer my list of recommended books for the business writer’s bookshelf. For details about the books, subscribe to my free monthly e-newsletter here.

These are my recommendations:

  • Garner’s Modern American Usage, Third Edition
  • The Gregg Reference Manual, Tribute 11th Edition
  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition
  • The Associated Press 2010 Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law
  • The American Heritage College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Copyright 2010
  • Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Second Edition
  • Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, Copyright 2009
  • Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint: How to Sell Yourself and Your Ideas, by Christopher Witt
  • Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Dan and Chip Heath
  • Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, and Jon Warshawsky
  • Clarity, Conciseness, Zing, and More: 262 Ways to Take Business Writing Beyond the Basics, written by me

As a writer, do you consult other treasured resources? If so, please share them.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

8 comments on “Books for the Business Writer’s Bookshelf”

  • Thanks for the recommendations, Lynn. For what it’s worth, in education I’ve long heard that Merriam-Webster’s is the most respected dictionary, and Chicago Manual of Style is perhaps the most used resource by publishers in general. Garner’s I’m not yet familiar with, nor with the last four on your list. Again, thanks.

  • Hi the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) states:

    by-law (also bye-law) noun
    1 British a regulation made by a local authority or corporation.
    2 a rule made by a company or society to control the actions of its members.

    Middle English: probably from obsolete byrlaw ‘local law or custom’, from Old Norse býjar, genitive singular of býr ‘town’, but associated with by

    I hope that helps to show standard correct UK usage.

  • Thanks, Tim. I am sure you looked closely to confirm the hyphen. In my “Merriam Webster’s” I had thought “by-laws” was the preferred rendering, until I realized the hyphen was merely a dot indicating a syllable break.

    According to the “Canadian Oxford Dictionary,” “bylaw” is correct. But apparently the UK prefers the hyphen.

    I appreciate your input.


  • Lynn,
    What a helpful comment —

    “Google is not an expert on correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling…”

    Thanks for the reminder that prominence on the Web doesn’t bestow automatic ‘grammar authority’ to the source.

    It’s very helpful to have your list of authoritative sources for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

    And thanks for answering my question, too.


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