Useful websites

Some of these are fairly obvious and well-known, but I hope it will be useful to have them listed in one place. I’ll be adding to this as more come to light, or as I remember them. Let me know if you have any favourite reference sites too!

Being a writer (in Scotland)

Scottish Book Trust 
A wonderful resource full of advice and encouragement. A great place for beginning writers, published writers, storytellers, teachers, publishers – anyone interested in books. I often refer people to their pages about submitting your manuscript to an agent or publisher. They have a good newsletter too.

Publishing Scotland
Offers a lively, active insight into the publishing world, what’s going on and what you can join in with, whether it’s training, conferences or special events for writers. Has a useful list of publishers in Scotland and additional websites for writers.

The Scottish Writers’ Centre
A resource run by and for authors offering interesting events and some good support. Also on Facebook.

The Scottish Storytelling Centre
Based in Edinburgh, this is a lovely place, and good website, for anyone who loves stories, whether prose, poetry, written or (primarily) spoken and performed. They occasionally run interesting courses too, and sometimes host sociable publishing- and writing-related events. Worth signing up to their newsletter to keep up to date with what's on.

Creative Scotland
This is ‘the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries’. Among other things, their site has useful information about grants and funding, which is always worth checking out.

Creative Arts Business Network (CABN) 
A lively hub of information and activity for creative people based in the Borders. Useful newsletter rounding up information and opportunities, some of which applies Scotland-wide.

The Society of Authors
For authors everywhere, this organisation offers invaluable support and advice, including the legal variety. You do need to be a writer, illustrator or literary translator of some description, but it's worth checking your eligibility, as they are very inclusive. 

Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)
Whether or not you are Scotland-based, this association offers helpful advice and support for self-publishers.

Dictionaries and thesauruses

Dictionaries are very helpful not only for checking spellings, but also to check meaning (it’s surprising how often a word turns out not to mean exactly what you thought – a common mix-up, for instance, is ‘reticent’, often mistaken for ‘reluctant’). Many online dictionaries also have a thesaurus as part of the site, and as you will know, these can be invaluable when you find yourself frequently using the same word, or derivations of it. Many of these sites often include handy usage and grammar notes too, and will tell you, for instance, whether a verb is transitive (needs an object) or not. Here are a few I use regularly:

Chambers
I worked at Chambers – who in 1867 produced the world’s first single-volume etymological English dictionary – when I first started in publishing, and always enjoyed the dictionary’s often witty definitions. The online version is a more modern and less idiosyncratic version of their ‘Twentieth-century Dictionary’, but its etymologies (origins of words) are still a particularly interesting feature. You can use wildcards in the search box to take the place of missing letters, for spellings you're unsure of or words you can't fully remember – also useful for finding rhyming words – I think this is quite unique among online dictionaries.

Oxford Dictionaries 
A comprehensive destination for all your questions; includes a handy grammar section and lots of example sentences. >Update: in June 2019 the UK English and Spanish dictionaries were moved to Lexico.com, according to Wikipedia 'a collaboration between OUP and Dictionary.com. The Oxford Living Dictionaries in other languages and the subscription content of Oxford Dictionaries are still offered under oxforddictionaries.com'. 

OED (Oxford English Dictionary)
From the same publisher as the site above, this is the famous tome in a handy online format. Particularly good for checking historic uses and spellings. If you have a library card, you can access it in full for free.

Websters
American dictionary, very useful for checking current spelling and usage in the States. Includes enjoyable articles for those of us who simply enjoy words, such as https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play.

Dictionary of the Scots Language
The vivid, down-to-earth language of the Scots is so much fun to read (and, if you can find the rhythm and the words, to write) – and this dictionary will help you find what you need. You can find out a bit more about Scots writing and use at the National Library of Scotland’s Wee Windaes site (for those with a particular interest in the language, the Library also runs a two-yearly Scots Scriever residency).

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB)
Helpful for a quick check on any of, apparently, more than 60,000 ‘men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century’. As with the OED above, you can access this for free if you have a library card.

Grammar

Oxford Dictionaries
As mentioned above, this site has a good and accessible section on grammar, with handy tips on punctuation and usage as well. Very helpful if you’re unsure about apostrophes, colons, commas and hyphens, or mystified by dangling participles, subjects, objects and verbs. There’s also a useful section on spelling, which includes a good post about the vexed question of when to double a consonant when a verb changes tense: you’ll learn why the past tense of ‘focus’ is ‘focused’, but the past tense of ‘travel’ is ‘travelled’. In British English, anyway!

Grammarly
Well-known and useful grammar-checker, with good spelling and punctuation sections.

Grammar Girl
This is now ‘Quickanddirtytips’ and useful for non-writers too. Accessible, interesting and helpful.

Grammar.com
A good alternative to Grammarly.

Stack Exchange
The English language and usage branch of this question-and-answer forum can be quite useful, and also allows you to contribute. A word of warning: the answers are not always complete, and as always with this type of site, not always authoritative/correct either! But it can offer a helpful second opinion.

Capitalisation

This can be tricky in headings, and in ‘people titles’ (Sir or sir? President or president?) Most publishers and publications have a house style or refer to a standard style such as MLA (Modern Language Association of America) or CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style). To keep things tidy and avoid distracting your readers, it is best to make a style decision regarding capitalisation and stick to it.

Capitalize my title (for headings)
This helpful site describes two different styles for headings (title case and sentence case) and offers a handy tool into which you can paste your title/heading and choose from a list of styles for it to check/convert to (e.g. CMOS, MLA, etc.)

Plain English Campaign
The site has a section with useful guides, including a concise guide to using capital letters. Bearing in mind that PEC aims to keep presentation as simple as possible, their advice may not always be suitable – but it is a useful starting point.

Keep an eye open for a forthcoming short blog from me about standard capitalisation rules that appear in many house styles, to help clarify whether to use a capital for words like president, government and king, why Church and State are sometimes capitalised and sometimes not, and when Mum and Dad need an initial capital too.

I’ll be adding more useful sites to this list over time – this is just getting started! And as suggested at the start, do get in touch if you have any comments or further suggestions to add to this list.

2 thoughts on “Useful websites

  1. […] spelling tips? After all, there are spellcheckers and dictionaries galore out there (see my blog on useful sites for a list of some good online English dictionaries for some examples). But even these useful tools […]

  2. […] are spellcheckers and dictionaries galore out there (see my blog on useful sites for a list of some good online English dictionaries for some […]

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