Reference Books and Resources
The size and contents of your reference shelf will depend on the types of material you copyedit, but there are four books (or their CD-ROM equivalents) that should always be at your fingertips when you are copyediting: a dictionary, a copy of the publisher's preferred style manual, a thesaurus, and a usage guide. In this chapter we'll look at these basic reference books and then at various types of specialized books and nonbook resources.
A copyeditor must have a recent edition of a good dictionary—and must always keep this volume within easy reach. The most popular dictionaries are Merriam-Webster's Collegiate, American Heritage College, Random House Webster's College, and Webster's New World. In the publishing industry, these are called college (or collegiate) dictionaries; they are hardbound, roughly seven-by-ten inches, and about a thousand pages. A paperback dictionary simply won't do for copyediting. Nor can you depend on the dictionary that you received for high school or college graduation unless you are a recent graduate. Hundreds of words enter the language each year, and preferences regarding spelling, hyphenation, plurals, and other issues change from edition to edition.
For editors in corporate communications, one of the collegiate dictionaries is usually sufficient. But copyeditors working for book and journal publishers must also have access to an unabridged dictionary. Webster's Third New International, Random House Unabridged, and American Heritage Dictionary