I can’t emphasise enough the importance of a good style guide for serious writers. Style guides should be kept in close proximity to your writing station, along with the dictionary and thesaurus. I have a number of style guides and reference manuals, but the ones I use most are:
- Style manual for authors, editors and printers, 6th edition, 2002, published by John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd. The first edition of this manual was published by the Australian Commonwealth Printing Office in 1966 and is still the first style manual recommended to Australian authors. It covers publication planning, writing and editing, designing and illustrating, legal aspects of publishing, and electronic production.
- The Editor’s Companion by Janet Mackenzie, Cambridge University Press. This book, which emphasises the use of the Australian Standards for Editing Practice, is essential for the editing phase and covers the publishing process, as well as proofreading and editing methods
- The Gregg Reference Manual: A manual of style, grammar, usage, and formatting, tenth edition, by William A. Sabin, published by McGraw-Hill Irwin. A comprehensive guide to writing, editing and publishing. It covers everything to do with writing and editing and is one of the best manuals available.
It might seem like overkill to have so many reference guides for the rules of writing, and mostly my collection was established during the four years I worked as a manuscript writer/editor in a research centre of a tertiary hospital where I needed to have a working knowledge of the regional differences in grammar, spelling, style and publishing procedures. My philosophy is that one style guide is good, two is better.
I am not aware of any free online style guides, but there are a number of sites that deal with grammar and punctuation.