Focus On Editing

Whether you need help with grammar, spelling or usage, there are plenty of free, online resources available.

Five Common Grammar Errors as Illustrated by Zombies from Fictionmatters is just what it sounds like. Dangling participles, subject-verb disagreements, separating subjects and verbs with commas and more are illustrated with examples drawn from the zombie oeuvre. Bonus: cute picture of a Lego zombie.

In keeping with the "five" theme, Copyblogger offers Five Easy Steps to Editing Your Own Work. This article isn’t about the specifics of grammar or spelling rules, it’s about more general strategies for helping you see the errors that you’d normally miss.

Common Errors In English is an exhaustive online glossary of frequently misused words. Based on Paul Brians’ book, Common Errors In English Usage, the glossary is presented alphabetically, with clickable links to jump to each section of the glossary.

Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty is no slouch herself when it comes to clarifying word misuse problems, but that’s just the beginning. She can also explain the differences between Abbreviations, Acronyms and Initialisms, tell you when to use Dashes Versus Colons, and much more. Bonus: most of Grammar Girl’s site content is available in podcast form. 

If spelling is your problem area, try Look Way Up. This online dictionary/thesaurus doesn’t require you to spell the word you’re searching for correctly—it will suggest options—, and it will return not only the correct spelling of your word and the word’s definition, but synonyms, antonyms and related terms as well. Bonus: French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Dutch translations offered too!

The Spelling Center, a sub-site of The Free Dictionary, is another great stop for the spelling-challenged. The front page features a constantly updated list of the most frequently misspelled words as reported by users of Bonuses: free hangman and spelling bee games on the front page of!

On his My Writing Life blog, Todd D. Severin provides his Ten Point Revision Strategy series of posts, beginning with Resist the Urge to Explain. Bonus: two additional points (Kill the Clunkers and The Final Readthrough)!

Are overused words and cliches your achilles heels? Check out Precise Edit’s list of 10 Overused Words in Writing, and Cliche Web. Bonus: Cliche Web’s huge database of cliches is searchable by simple lookup or by category (i.e., animal cliches, food and drink cliches, etc.)!

Confusing Words is the site to visit when you’re not sure which of two or three words is correct for your sentence (i.e., affect vs. effect, there vs. their vs. they’re). Bonus: when you look up a confusing word, you’re given the correct spelling and definition of the word you looked up, plus related words that are commonly substituted for your word, plus usage examples to clarify which word is best for your purposes!

Finally, Jeff Chapman’s Self-Editing Checklist is a keeper. Print it out and refer to it frequently as you review your drafts.