March 6, 2013 – We’ve all had those moments: you’re sitting at your computer, reviewing your own or another’s writing, softly reading aloud to yourself. “Am I supposed to use a comma or a semicolon here? Hmm…” Though you think you have the answer, you’re not quite as confident as you’d like to be. What do you do? A quick Google search might provide an answer, but who wants to wade through search results for an authoritative resource? To help you cut to the chase, I have reviewed five great websites where you can find answers to your burning grammar and writing questions.
OWL Purdue Writing Lab
The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University provides resources for students, faculty, and the public.
Pros: Offers subject-specific writing resources (academic, creative, journalistic, writing for the field of nursing, engineering, etc.); information on APA, MLA, and Chicago Style formatting; and tips for job search writing. Has a great site map.
Cons: Focuses more on style and less on grammar.
Best Use: Answering formatting questions in APA, MLA, or Chicago Style; researching subject-specific writing genres; obtaining worksheets, handouts, or presentations on grammar and style. Before printing or copying worksheets, be sure to check OWL’s permissive use policy.
Elizabeth Schutz is a library assistant at Davis & Kuelthau, Milwaukee. She recently graduated from U.W.-Milwaukee with a coordinated master’s degree in English and Library & Information Science.
Guide to Grammar and Writing
Sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation, the Guide to Grammar and Writing site provides assistance for writers at various stages of composition – from sentence level organization to overall structure and writing process.
Pros: Well organized content, extensive index (more than 400 entries!) for quick reference.
Cons: Layout of the site is a little dated. When I tried to use the site-wide search engine, I got an error message.
Best Use: Good information available for all types of use – quick reference seekers can consult the index, those looking for practice can use the quizzes, and the truly zealous can review some of the entertaining PowerPoint presentations.
Grammarbook.com was created by the author of The Blue Book of Grammar, Jane Straus. The blog on is updated frequently. You may browse entries by subject – entries go back to 2006.
Pros: Good site-wide search feature, video segments add value to lessons, lots of examples. The “Helpful Links” tab has links for online writers’ workshops, vocabulary improvement, help for kids, ESL students, and teachers.
Cons: Ads for Jane Straus’s book, must subscribe to site to get full content.
Best Use: A quick resource for correcting common errors, enhancing understanding of rules with quizzes, reading examples, watching videos.
AIS Writing Tips
Penn State’s Administrative Information Services publishes the AIS Newsletter every month. From the homepage, you can select the drop box arrow and scroll through archived articles. Not all content is grammar based: there are some tips on pronunciation, style suggestions (how to format lists, etc.), and fun with ordinal numbers.
Pros: Easy-to-read entries, wide range of topics covered.
Cons: Some examples are buried within the blog entries.
Best Use: Brushing up on usage, staying on top of current trends.
In addition to electronic versions of countless works of classic literature, Bartleby.com also provides access to some essential reference works. Here you’ll find books of quotations, dictionaries, thesauruses, and classic works on the English language like William Strunk Jr.’s The Elements of Style.
Pros: Offers access to resources that are rarely found outside of a library (i.e. Frank’s A Dictionary of Similes, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable), authoritative collections of proverbs and quotes.
Cons: Material is older, not much available for specific grammar help.
Best Use: Bartleby is a great resource if you’re looking for inspiration, quotations, or historical resources.
There are countless resources available to the public from universities, nonprofit organizations, and those rare individuals that are truly passionate about writing well. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good starting point for those looking for a little help.