Manuals of style are the ultimate freelance writer reference tools. We recommend familiarizing yourself with several, as different clients will have different requirements. There is no need to memorize the rules of a particular style guide cover to cover. Make a point of understanding the most important 20% of each and be aware of the major differences amongst guides.
Many freelance writers pick and choose rules from different style guides; what is important is that you stick to rules consistently in your own writing. It would be very odd for you to only use Oxford commas at random points of time.
The major guides with which we recommend familiarizing yourself include:
- The Associated Press Stylebook: Considered the standard for writers working within news and PR industries
- The AMA Manual of Style: Specifically designed for medical and scientific authors and editors
- The MLA Style Manual: The go-to choice for those working within academia- specifically the humanities and liberal arts
- The Chicago Manual of Style: One of the most comprehensive style guides and prevalent amongst authors, magazine writers, and those who publish in academic journals
The style guides listed below are popular, but certainly not the only style guides to which writers are expected to adhere. Visit Online Stylebooks to explore a more extensive list of style guides belonging to language associations and private organizations alike.
If you specialize within a very specific niche (e.g. just academic writing focused on the humanities), by all means stick to just one guide. For help on quickly familiarizing yourself with a style guide, refer to this helpful (and humorous) guide to learning a style guide in 10 days.
Should you wish to discuss english usage with other writers, stop by alt.english.usage, a great forum for language discussion.
Freelance Writing Reference Points
As you embark on your career as a freelance writer, you may not know where to start with regard to charging rates, proving your skills, executing tricky tasks, and signing contracts. The following tools can serve as helpful reference points:
- Common editorial rates: A helpful chart assembled by the Editorial Freelancers Association based on member experience and industry references (also see the EFA's guide to setting, negotiating, and charging fees)
- Freelancer-client relations: Also provided by the Editorial Freelancers Association, this guide includes definitions of common types of work done by freelance writers (such as project management, proofreading, etc.)
- Guidelines for project terms: The EFA's guide to schedules, estimates, scope, location, subcontracting, credit, and complimentary copies
- Guidance on contracts and disputes: More sage advice assembled by the EFA on agreements, contract creation, and conflict resolution
- The Journalist's Toolbox: A brilliant reference point presented by the Society of Professional Journalists that recommends tools to help you with everything from social media verification to copyediting
- Freelance Writing's Writers Guidelines Database: A collection of different publication's guidelines and rates organized by subject area
Word Processing Tools
As a freelance writer, you must create text-based documents, and ideally you will compose your writing using powerful tools. If you don't have the money required to buy an expensive software suite, worry not. Great solutions cannot only be downloaded, but also accessed directly through your web browser.
Should you want to download software that addresses your freelance writing needs, Apache OpenOffice is one of your best free options. In addition to word processing capabilities, OpenOffice offers spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, formula editing, and database management applications. Files created using other software programs (e.g. Microsoft Office) can be opened using OpenOffice, and it works on all major operating systems.
There is no free document creation and management software that is as powerful and easy to use as Google Docs. In addition to using Google Docs to create word documents, presentations, forms, spreadsheets, and drawings, you can very easily share documents with colleagues and clients. Shared documents can be set as view-only, opened up for comments (should you want to garner feedback), or opened up to collaborative editing and creation.
Documents created using Google Docs can be downloaded or emailed directly to clients as HTML, Open Documents (for OpenOffice), PDFs, rich text, plain text, or Microsoft Word documents.
What's more, Google Docs are stored in your Google Drive account, which can be accessed from any computer and even your smartphone, plus used to share other types of files, such as videos and photos, with clients.
Tools for Managing Contracts
Docracy offers a collection of open legal documents you can customize to suit your individual needs and electronically sign. You can even use the platform to negotiate and revise contracts with clients before garnering final signatures.
Should most clients expect you to create the initial contract, and should you do the same types of jobs over and over again, we recommend creating a couple of templates on Docracy (modified from open legal documents from their collection) that you can quickly customize on a case-by-case basis.
As a starting point, we recommend perusing Docracy's top legal documents for freelancers.
Want a different contract creation path? Consider using the contract creator tool offered by the Freelancers Union.
You might also refer to the Editorial Freelancer's Association's sample letters of agreement, which, in addition to a sample contract, includes an accompanying letter. Should you be negotiating contracts with clients over the phone, swing by the National Writers Union's guide to phone-facilitated contract negotiation.
Tools for Editing Your Work
One of the best ways to edit your work is to read it back to yourself. Of course, the problem with our brains is that they have a knack for correcting written mistakes without even realizing it. This is why text-to-voice readers can be very helpful for freelance writers. They enable you to hear your work read back to you and catch errors that you might otherwise miss during visual reviews.
Popular free text-to-speech tools include:
- NaturalReader: Offers free downloadable software for both PCs and macs that can read any text aloud at various speeds and in different voices
- SpokenText: Available as both a Firefox and Chrome extensions that make snagging and reading text aloud exceedingly convenient
- SpeakIt!: Another well-reviewed Chrome extension that reads text aloud
- ReadTheWords: Will read the text of a given webpage when a URL is submitted (among many, many other actions that go above and beyond basic text-to-speech programs)
- UltraHal Text-to-Speech Reader: Can write recorded readings of your text to Windows .wav files in addition to reading text (not to mention incoming messages- the reader is compatible with the AOL, AIM, ICQ, and MSN Messenger clients)
- Panopreter Basic: Can read text aloud and write recordings to both .wav and .mp3 files
- DSpeech: Offers multiple voices (that can even be combined) as well as a wide variety of export options: .wav, .mp3, .aac, .wma, and .ogg
- ClipSpeak: A lightweight option that enables you to play text copied to the clipboard with the use of convenient keyboard shortcuts
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