The Best Writing References for the First Year of College

Published: February 16, 2015

So you're in your first year of college and you're understandably a little freaked out.  Don't worry!  This list contains, in my opinion, the very best books to help a new student write the best papers ever.  These books provide help in all the areas first year students struggle when it comes to writing: grammar, research, making a good argument, and citations.

  1. English Grammar for Dummies by Geraldine Woods

    Informative without putting you to sleep, this is the best grammar handbook out there.  Some people may be put off for the "for Dummies" label, but it really just means that things are explained in a way that's easy to grasp.  Grammar is important because having good grammar is a great way to make a good first impression, not only in college but later when you're trying to get a job.

  2. Grammar: 1,001 Practice Questions for Dummies by Geraldine Woods

    This book takes you beyond simple grammar.  The practice questions in this book give you hands on experience beyond your English comp class. 

  3. Cite Right, Second Edition: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles--MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) by Charles Lipson

    Every freshman should come out of their first year knowing how to use at least one citation style.  Which citation style depends on your school, the professor, or even the subject of your research paper.  This book covers all the most common citation styles.

  4. Research Papers for Dummies by Geraldine Woods

    Another book by Geraldine Woods.  I know.  But this list was not created by Geraldine Woods, I promise!  Woods just happens to be a super star at writing books that explain the basics of writing in a way that is accessible to just about anyone.  This book is an all in one tool for planning, researching, and writing a research paper.

  5. "They Say / I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

    Need to argue for or against something?  Critique an article?  Prepare for a debate?  Graff and Birkenstein have you covered.  Beyond explaining how to make an argument, this book also gives you templates to get you started.

  6. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

    When you've got the basics down, you move on to this book.  This book will teach you how to take your writing from a B to an A+!  This is a classic that will help you in college and beyond.

  7. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

    Another classic (currently in it's 30th Anniversary Edition), this is a valuable text for anyone who needs to write anything at all, from a research paper to an email to their boss.  Though Zinsser focuses on specific types of writing, he gives great advice that can be generally applied to just about any situation.

  8. Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing by Claire Kehrwald Cook

    So you've researched your paper, you've written your first draft, and you're confident your grammar would withstand even the most stringent grammarian.  What do you do next?  This book will help you make sure you're saying what you want to say, without anything extra that will send your professor straight to sleep while still clutching his or her red pen.

  9. Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know about Writing by Patricia T O'Conner

    Still not feeling confident in your writing after you've read all the books listed above?  O'Conner's follow up to Woe is I (a book I considered for the grammar section of this list, but I felt Woods' book was more comprehensive), Words Fail Me is packed full of examples that help you understand all of the rules of writing-- and which ones you can toss out the window.

  10. You Send Me: Getting It Right When You Write Online by Patricia T O'Conner

    Finally, online students (or students in hybrid classes) should consider this book a manual for how to handle online communication.  Just because you're an online student doesn't mean that using "text talk" or bad grammar is even remotely a good idea.  O'Conner helps you communicate clearly and coherently, something that should set you at the front of your online class.

Your first year of college is hard enough, without the worry of being a hesitant or, even, downright bad writer.  The texts on this list provide you with the support you need to write great papers, impress your professors, and get the A you deserve.