Technical Editing: Modern Standard Usage

In this unit, you explore reference works for usage topics, research a usage topic, and summarize your findings here in a link at the bottom of this page.

All about Usage Reference Works

Whether you are writer or an editor—but especially if you are an editor—you should know about usage reference books. These help you decide whether "data" is a plural or singular noun, whether it is safe to end a clause with a preposition, and other such scary issues. Some of the standard English usage reference books are:

Fowler's book is a lot of fun, and you should browse around in it. He immortalized Churchill's famous quip about ending sentences with a preposition. The Thistlebottom and Grammar Girl books are fun too, but limited compared to Garner's book, which is the ultimate usage reference.

While grammar is the fundamental physics of a language, usage is its abritrary rules. For example, grammatically ain't is no problem; whereas in terms of usage it is. Some group of people somewhere maybe a hundred years ago decided is was wrong—more specifically, socially unacceptable. The same kind of arbitrariness is going on with the distinctions between lie and lay, further and farther, and affect and effect. It is also at work in rules such as not ending a clause with a preposition and not splitting an infinitive.

Usage Topics

To familiarize yourself with usage reference books, have my random-assigner program select a usage problem for you, then explore that issue in Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage, which is available online$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:159240/one via the ACC library.

It is also available in the reference section of these ACC libraries: Cypress Campus, South Austin Campus, Riverside Campus. The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style is not what you want—not nearly as much fun!

Here are the kinds of things we are looking for:

If you are not sure what the issue is with any of these, get in touch. If you don't like what gets chosen for you, get in touch.

Randomly Select a Usage Topic

Click this link to select a usage topic:

Randomly select a usage topic

Summarize Your Findings

Research your usage topic in Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage and summarize your finding using the link below. No special documentation style is necessary; just indicate the reference work something like this: "According to Garner's Modern American Usage (1998), split infinitives are... ."

View assigned usage topics and owners
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