Lovely Rita, internet maid: Handy website tools for writing and work

The internet is my tremendously reliable personal assistant. No matter my question or confusion, the internet — let's call her Rita, for no reason at all — is always willing to lend a hand. Rita is an endlessly good sport, tireless in bringing up the same oft-used resources over and over, or in finding me new resources when I have needs I haven't come across before. Daily, Rita makes my work, and my life, easier. 

Over time, Rita has shown me a handful of websites that I use on a fairly regular basis for writing or work. And in the event you haven't experienced the particular joys of some of these, I thought I'd share them with you today. 

Writing tools:

  • TitleCase: Ever Get Confused about Which Words Need to Be Capitalized in a Heading or Sub-heading? Yep, Me Too. Sometimes I'm Writing a Headline and I Think to Myself, What about That Word? It's so Tiny. Does It Really Need a Capital Letter? It May. It All Depends on the Rules of Title Case, Which Are Easy to Mix Up. So to Avoid Looking like a Dolt, I Use TitleCase to Check Myself Every Damn Time. (P.S. Thank you to TitleCase for ensuring proper title-case capitalization for this entry. It's got a copy function that makes life so easy.)

  • Can't think of another way to say "provide" when you have to use some form of that word's meaning four times in the space of two sentences? is like my work best friend., Rita, and I hang out all the freaking time. We have inside jokes and afternoon dance parties, and we make fun of each other constantly but in a nice, well-intentioned way. helps me remember to vary the words I use, avoid jargon, and get slightly more creative with my descriptions. She also keeps me in check, using clever color coding to separate the better options from the so-so options. She's also got antonyms (opposites) at the ready, should I be feeling suddenly contrary.

  • Chicago Manual of Style Q&A: Have a grammar, punctuation, or usage question? It's a fairly good bet someone else has had the same question already and posted it on the Chicago Manual of Style's Q&A page. Their browsable Q&A page is a great place to start if you want to be assured of an accurate answer to your question. (I mean, can you really trust all those self-righteous bloggers out there? ;) ) For those non-word-nerds out there, the venerable Chicago Manual of Style is a widely respected authority on all such questions. There's also The Associated Press Stylebook, of course, but I'm afraid the AP's insistence on dropping Oxford commas has always irked me. So for me, Chicago it is.

  • Reverse Dictionary: Are you trying to think of a specific word that describes a certain concept, but it's stuck slightly beyond the tip of your tongue? Instead of interrupting your co-worker's chain of thought, asking your blithely uninterested wife, or stopping your very confused postman to ask his opinion, try the Reverse Dictionary. You can type in whatever words are already in your head — you know, the ones you'd say when you were asking someone else, "Hey what's the word that means when you ____________?" — and the Reverse Dictionary will try to help you figure out what that dang word is.

  • Acronyms and Abbrevations: The Free Dictionary maintains a fairly exhaustive list of the world's acronyms (e.g., DKNY, FDIC, S&M, EBIDTA, HBO). If someone is speaking to you in confusing acronyms, here's a life preserver. At minimum, it can give you some good fodder for further research.

  • Brians' Common Errors: Having a moment of confusion about some aspect of English usage? While I've never met Professor Paul Brians of Washington State University, I have a feeling we'd get along, because Professor Brians has dedicated a sizable portion of his time to cataloguing and remedying some of the most common errors in the English language. His list is truly impressive in its length and breadth. Also, his explanations tend to be MUCH shorter than mine.

Other tools: 

  • Planning a call or a meeting across time zones?'s Meeting Planner tool is an absolute gem. Give them your locations and they spit out a color-coded grid neatly displaying your options. Green means it's in business hours for all locations, yellow means it's on the edge of business hours for one or more locations, and red means you should try to be a reasonable human and leave them alone at that time. The website can also tell you what time it is anywhere in the world, of course.

  • Country Calling Codes: Calling a foreign country? Along with its adorably antiquated web design, the Country Calling Codes site has the best, clearest, easiest-to-use interface I've seen for helping you understand what to expect and which numbers you'll need to dial. Avoid being late for that important call and plan ahead.

  • bitly: Need to send out a link but it's too damn long for public viewing? Use bitly, the clever little link shortener. While most people under the age of 40 already know bitly, there's a portion of my blog's audience (hi guys!) that may not. So for those folks: Check it out. It even saves all the links you create over time.

Got a favorite website tool that you'd like to share? Please feel welcome to do so in a comment.