Book Reviews

5 resources to overcome writing challenges

grammarWriting a review is often a long drawn out process for me. It involves searching the book to check I’ve correctly spelled character and place names but also frantically looking for the quote I thought I had noted but now can’t find. I also spend a fair amount of time re-writing because I’m not happy with the flow of a sentence or realise what I’ve written is grammatically incorrect. When inspiration refuses to play ball and I know I need a different expression or word, I’ll turn to my my monster size Chambers Dictionary or Roget’s Thesaurus.

Over the years I’ve found many on line resources that I’ve found helpful. Those I list below are some of the lesser known ones. If you know of some other gems, do tell me about them by posting a comment.

This is a site developed in North America by the Plain Language Action and Information Network. The network is a group of government employees who support the use of clear communication in official documents.  There are some good resources about organising, using plain language writing principles, and writing for the Web. If you work in a corporate environment, take a look at the  word suggestions page where you can find easy to understand alternatives to some of the more cumbersome phrases you’ll probably recognise. The Made up Word list will have you groaning – are there really people who use words like “autoised” or “bloatware”? I hope I never meet them…..


Similar to the Plain English Campaign is a group that believes strongly in clear communication. It was started in 1979 by Chrissie Maher, a grandmother who was frustrated by the quality of government documents she was expected to complete. She took her battle to London where she burned many official documents in Parliament Square, a protest which brought her to the attention of a government minister by the name of Margaret Thatcher.  Their fight against jargon and misleading information has become an international campaign. On their website you’ll find some very easy to understand tips (particularly helpful is one that deals with bullet points) and a downloadable A-Z of Alternative Words. I have a special affection for this group since I worked on a project with them in the mid 80s and met the founder; a more down-to-earth person you could not imagine.

Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)

Purdue OWL comes from the Writing Lab at Purdue University, USA. It covers the mechanics of writing, grammatical issues and how to deal with citations. Particularly helpful are the exercises – even if you’ve been writing for years it’s good to do a refresher now and again.

A Guide to Grammar and Style 

Jack Lynch is a professor of English who has put together a site covering grammatical rules and style. It’s written in a fresh, no nonsense style from a man who says he has writing struggles despite his extensive experience. “I’m not out to make definitive statements about what’s right and what’s wrong, and Lord knows I wouldn’t be qualified even if I tried. I can, however, make suggestions on things that are likely to work” 

World Wide Words

If you’re interested in how vocabulary and language changes over time, this could be the website for you. It contains some discussions of new words as well as the histories of certain words and the oddities and quirks of the English language. Ever wanted to know the origin of the phrase “Gone for a Burton”? or why the expression “methinks” has fallen out of favour? Both are recent discussions on the site.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

15 thoughts on “5 resources to overcome writing challenges

  • I have tried the Purdue Owl website, and it is a handy little reference. Will check out the other links too. I write for my blog, but I also write a lot as part of my job, and in my workplace, we are trying to write as casual and conversational as possible. It’s harder than it sounds.

    • Casual/conversational is hard – the only way I could make that work would be to read each piece aloud

  • I always edit after the pressing the send button. Used to bother me no end that error went out but now I’ve accept the inevitable! Thanks for the resources.

    • I seem to be pretty bad at getting the author’s name spelled correctly and often don’t even notice it until some kind follower points out my silly mistake

  • Love this list. I only about the Jack Lynch one, so will check the others. Must say that I haven’t used my Roget’s for years – I just google, say, explore synonym, and go from there. If I don’t like the options on one site, then I go to the next.

    I spend hours on most of my posts I must say – tweaking, and tweaking, and publish, and then tweak more sometimes because your ALWAYS see something straight after you hit that button!

    (BTW Sorry I’ve been quiet lately – travel, health in family, and then the death of my aunt have really slowed my own blogging down let alone reading those of others.)

    • I’ll use the various synonym/antonym on line tools also but there’s something satisfying about hefting that huge thesaurus from the shelf and pouring over it :). Oh yes I know that feeling of having pressed the ‘send’ button only to see a glaring error a short time later. It’s often the biggest errors that escape notice (like the spelling mistake in a 120point headline on a newspaper I produced about 20 years ago). I’m not kidding when I say I really did have to say Stop the Press. …

      • Haha, I’m glad you were able to Stop the Press, Karen. Yes, I suppose it is satisfying hefting that big thesaurus. It’s a bit of exercise too which is good for us computer-bound people!

  • Thank you for the resources. I think that many people do not realize how much time many book bloggers put into their posts. Sometimes I think I spend more hours than it took to read the book. I often struggle to find just the right word.

    But I feel good when the work is appreciated or when a publisher links to my review on their website. I see it as part of a conversation that I find to be vital because in real life I don’t know people who are passionate about books in the way that I am. The internet is a godsend.

    • thank goodness for those little moments that tell you all that hard work has been recognised. I’ve seen too many sniffy comments from the literary elite that we are just amateurs. It’s true of course since I don’t get paid for my writing but I’ve never claimed to be a professional, just someone who loves reading and sharing thoughts about it. There, I shall get off the soap box now

  • It is great to see a shift towards the demystification of writing and to also create and produce more accessible writing.

    • there are times when I wish I had spent more time in school dealing with the basics so they wouldn’t seem such a mystery today

      • I guess what is also hard is that language evolves and changes constantly. English also differs a lot from region to region and what ‘makes sense’ or seems ‘eloquent’ in one type of English could be confusing and outdated in another.

        • true, it’s constantly evolving as new expressions come in from other languages. I was struck when listening to an audio version of Adam Bede recently that people said Aksk (not ask) and ‘forenoon” whereas now we say Morning. I wonder when those practices began to change?

        • In Australia there is a dialect that still uses Aksk. It seems that the year/s the UK settled in new lands plays a big part on the language and how it developes.

        • I often enjoy a joke with my American colleagues about their mangling of our language. But in many ways they are speaking the English that was common in sixteenth century England whereas we have moved on

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