September 2003

Look it up: books with all the answers

By Joseph Gibaldi
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Not all questions can be put to rest with a Google search. While Internet advances have led many reference publishers to put parts of their guides on the web, there's a certainty to looking something up in a nice, heavy book the answer just seems to have more weight. This fall brings important updates to some of the reference industry's biggest contenders.

A matter of style

The University of Chicago Press has just released a new edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, the book that sets style guidelines for writers across America. For the first time, the editors of the manual consulted a panel of advisors, including editors at other university presses, launching detailed debates over even the most minute formatting questions. The result is the most extensive revision of the Chicago Manual in 20 years, and only the 15th in the guide's 97-year history. The new edition includes complete information on how to format journals, press releases and electronic publications (previous editions focused mainly on the traditional book), as well as a comprehensive chapter on English grammar. Other shocking developments: the preferred abbreviation for state names is now the two-letter postal code (e.g., AL) instead of the longer traditional abbreviations (e.g., Ala.), and the date format has changed from day-month-year to the much more prevalent month-day-year.

Documentation counts

Joseph Gibaldi and Phyllis Franklin's MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is a time-tested resource for documenting sources. This year, the publication aimed at high school and college students releases its sixth edition. In addition to the usual updates of citation examples, the new edition offers a chapter on plagiarism, including advice on how to avoid unwittingly committing this offense (a section some of today's top authors may need to consult). There's also expanded information on the ever-changing field of electronic publications and a revised punctuation section.

For dictionary devotees

Those with a thirst for words will drink up Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. This 11th edition of America's best-selling dictionary has been 10 years in the making. Paired with a CD-ROM for easy use while working on a computer, the 11th edition contains 10,000 new entries, including "phat," "Botox," "psyops," "comb-over" and other words culled from our modern vernacular. Need additional proof that this isn't your grandma's dictionary? Each Collegiate Dictionary purchased includes a user code granting a one-year subscription to the online version of the dictionary. The thoughtfully designed site allows users to look up words, bookmark them for future reference and e-mail definitions to friends. It even includes pronunciation for more difficult entries. At last the ease of the Internet combined with the authority of a trusted name in reference.

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