Write like a president.

Oseid Communicators in ChiefThis book is next up on my reading list: Communicators-in-Chief by Julie Oseid, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. In this book, Prof. Oseid examines the writing style and habits of five American presidents, focusing on one quality at which each excelled: Thomas Jefferson (metaphor), James Madison (rigor), Abraham Lincoln (brevity), Ulysses S. Grant (clarity), and Teddy Roosevelt (zeal). For each president, Prof. Oseid offers some biographical background, insights into his writing habits, and some examples of his best writing. There’s also a chapter on the presidents’ reading habits and favorite books.

Books I keep handy

Photo (54) books

Like any lawyer, my office at work has bookshelves full of books. But there are a few books that I refer to so often that I keep them literally within arm’s reach of my desk chair. Why? Because when in doubt, I always look it up. Also, when I have a difference of opinion with a colleague over matters of form or usage, I have an authoritative source handy to resolve it.

I don’t necessarily have the latest edition of some of these references. If a new edition is truly an improvement over the prior edition, I’ll invest in it. But in general, I figure that the important rules don’t change every other year. So I am happy to be a cheapskate and rely on the prior edition as long as it still works. Anyway, here they are. From left to right:

Two citation manuals: The Bluebook (17th ed.) and the ALWD Citation Manual. I use ALWD primarily because I find it better suited for practitioners, and because, where it departs from the Bluebook, I find its rules more sensible. Nevertheless, I keep the Bluebook handy for when I need to cite something so obscure and esoteric that it’s not covered by ALWD.

The Redbook, by Bryan A. Garner. The Redbook is not a citation manual; it is a style manual. Most of its comment reflects generally accepted rules and preferences; on a few points it reflects Garner’s preferences. But Garner is a good judge of these things. And it’s good to have and to follow some style manual, if only for consistency’s sake.

The Chicago Manual of Style (15 ed.). The CMS covers things that Garner doesn’t. It’s written for journalists, but it works well for anyone doing expository writing.

Black's Law Dictionary. Every law student needs one. Every practicing lawyer needs one. Enough said.

Garner's Modern American Usage. If there is another usage dictionary out there for writers of American English, I don’t know of it. Garner’s is thorough, good, and reliable.

Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage. Admittedly, this book overlaps with Garner’s Modern American Usage. But it hits some areas, peculiar to legal writing, that the other doesn’t.

The dictionary on the end. This book was a freebie in my law firm’s supply room. So I picked up a copy and put it with the other handy references. My firm has a subscription to the on-line Oxford English Dictionary, so if I need the most serious English dictionary on the planet, I have it on my computer. But often, I just want to look up a spelling, or I just want to confirm that my idea of what a word means is what everyone else thinks it means. For those purposes, this is a serviceable dictionary.  (At home, I have Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and The New Oxford American Dictionary.)

What I don’t have in my office, but probably should, is a handy grammar reference. I like A Grammar Book for You and I ... Oops, Me!, by Ed Good, but that is more a book to read cover-to-cover and learn from than to pull off the shelf when you need to look up something in 30 seconds. So if anyone knows of a solid, user-friendly grammar reference book, please leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

p.s. Spock and the tribble are lousy bookends. But they do frame the real bookends nicely.