By Julie Oseid and Randall Tietjen

Three conventional dictionaries

  1. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition)
  2. The Oxford English Dictionary (5th edition)
  3. The American Heritage Dictionary (6th edition)

Various dictionaries can define the same word differently. Having multiple sources can help lawyers and judges who are urging that a particular meaning should be used.

One legal dictionary

  1. Black’s Law Dictionary (10th edition)

Lawyer and lexicographer Bryan Garner entirely rewrote this old standby to great improvement. A lawyer or judge can confidently cite it.

Two English usage books

  1. Modern English Usage by H.W. Fowler
  2. Garner’s Modern English Usage

One legal usage book

  1. Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage

Especially good are the definition sections for “Opinions, Judicial” and “Law Reviewese.”

Three style guides

  1. The Chicago Manual of Style. Good advice on punctuation and style, plus handy information about copyright and fair use.
  2. The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style by Bryan Garner
  3. Plain English for Lawyers by Richard Wydick

Beyond the reference books

Some of the titles listed here (and some above) represent types of books (e.g., a guide to vocabulary and pronunciation) that are essential, but other fine books can be found that cover the same ground.

  1. Elements of Style by Strunk & White. This book has likely been on your bookshelf since college, but it is well worth revisiting with some regularity.
  2. On Writing Well by William Zinsser. This book will make you want to be a better writer.
  3. On Writing by Stephen King. Yes, that Stephen King.
  4. The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
  5. 30 Days to Better English by Norman Lewis. Good for improving your vocabulary.
  6. Typography for Lawyers by Matthew Butterick. It explains how effective communication depends on document design, including how words look on a page.

Julie Oseid is a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis who has taught judicial writing for The National Judicial College. Randall Tietjen is a partner at Robins Kaplan LLP in Minneapolis and chair of the firm’s professional-responsibility committee.