Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hiking trial

A hiking trial? Sounds like a grueling hike. This caption was in the Fredericksburg, Virginia, Free Lance–Star on Feb. 23, 2017.

Don’t let this happen to you: Maintain a list of “bad words”—words that probably shouldn’t be in your documents but that a spellchecker won’t catch. Search for these words as part of copyediting. Trail happens to be in my own list but in reverse: that is, trial is more likely to appear in the work I edit, and trail is more likely to be a typo.


Be nice to authors has a new post, “The 3 Essential Elements of Author Queries” (the elements are tone, specificity, and tact). It’s well worth reading. As an editor and author I still have room for improvement. I often edit pieces that are missing important information, but I also sometimes leave out important information myself. For example, I wrote a piece for the company newsletter about women’s history and, after referring to Clara Barton’s local connection, noted that March is also Red Cross month. The corporate communications guy politely pointed out that I never mentioned that March is women’s history month. He suggested a correction, and I give him A’s for tone, specificity, and tact.

In my book The Editor’s Companion, I quoted Liz Dexter’s post on being edited on her LibroEditing blog. Her main points:

  1. Try to build trust first of all
  2. Remain kind
  3. Understand that when the client asks a question, sometimes they just need reassurance that they’re not stupid or rubbish at writing
  4. Make sure I praise as well as criticise

I noted that I was still working on those things. I still am, though I hope I’ve gotten better. I highly recommend reading her whole post.

Backing up tracked changes

Sometimes I want to see the tracked changes in Microsoft Word even when the author doesn’t. One writer has high confidence in my copy editing and wants to see only the changes that could alter the meaning from what he intended. He doesn’t want me to track my corrections of his punctuation, subject-verb agreement, or spelling.

However, sometimes I want to see those changes, especially if the document comes back revised. I may want to see where I corrected a name because I looked it up or where I made changes for consistency. Also, sometimes I do make errors in editing, and I want to go back and look at the editing and find out where I went wrong.

My solution is to work with a file that I label “markup.” It has all my tracked content changes. I save it for future reference, and then I save it with “edit” instead of “markup” in the file name. In the “edit” file, I go through and accept all the changes the author doesn’t want to see, leaving only the queries and the edits that could affect the meaning.

This method is acceptable, but if you have a better one, please post a comment and tell us about it.

What it takes to be an editor

Certainly, to be an editor, you must be good at English or whatever language you’re editing. Also, you must care. Be a perfectionist. No one else involved in publishing a document, whether it’s a blog post or a book, may be attuned to the nuances of words and punctuation. The editor may have to compromise or be overruled, but striving for excellence is essential.

Also, pay attention to the details but don’t get mired in them. John McIntyre, copy editor for the Baltimore Sun, wrote on his You Don’t Say blog that some people in publishing think that copy editors are “comma jockeys”; he pointed out that by careful attention to content, copy editors had prevented the paper from publishing libel and plagiarized writing. Be aware of the content: is it coherent and complete? Also, unless someone else is doing the fact checking, I recommend verifying anything you can. This takes time and patience, but the alternative—getting names, numbers, and titles wrong—is worse.

One choice for editors is to specialize in certain subjects. For example, Katharine O’Moore Klopf, who maintains the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base website, is a medical editor. Adrienne Montgomerie, a major contributor to, edits scientific works. has a lot of articles to assist freelancers, and Liz Dexter’s Libro Editing blog has, besides lots of helpful information for editors, a continuing series of interviews with small business owners. Her book How I Survived My First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment: Going It Alone at 40 is available at Liz Broomfield Books. I reviewed it on my website.

Slow as Manasses

In the Virginia Railway Express Ride magazine, November 2016, the chart says both “Manassas” (the correct spelling) and “Manasses.” (Maybe they meant “molasses”?)

Don’t let this happen to you: First, run a spellcheck. My copy of Microsoft Word recognizes Manassas but flags Manasses as misspelled. Second, check repeated information—and here we have the name of a city repeated twice but spelled two ways.

Who owns that photo?

Authors sometimes provide photos that they found on the Web. The photos may be in an open source (that is, publicly available) but not in the public domain (publicly owned). Photos in the public domain (just about all government photos) may be freely used, but we should still give credit.

If you work for a book or magazine publisher, you probably have an author contract specifying that the author has the right to all content submitted: the author is providing original material and has permission to use anything else submitted for publication.

If you are working for a company or nonprofit organization, your writers may be fellow employees who have only vague, and possibly wrong, ideas about photo use. They may supply photos they found online and not know where they got them. After you read these writers the riot act, letting them know that all content is protected by copyright from the time of its creation, you still may need to know where a photo came from and whether you are free to use it.

I discovered (actually, my manager showed me) that Google’s image search can look for a specific photo. Put your cursor over the little camera icon and you’ll see a popup message that says, “Search by image.” One of the choices is “Upload an image.” Choose an image from your computer and upload it, and Google will instantly give you results showing where the image, or something similar, is found online.

(If the photo the author supplied is embedded in a document, you can usually right-click on it and get an option to save the picture somewhere on your computer. Then you can upload it for the Google image search.)

I’ve used this a few times with excellent results. If an author found a photo on the web, then Google can usually find it too. Often I find that the photo has appeared on many websites, often uncredited, but a bit of clicking usually has led me to a site where the photo source is given. For example, one piece I edited recently included a photo that had appeared on someone’s blog, and the writer had credited that blog as the source of the photo. There was nothing on the blog, however, to indicate that the blog author had taken the photo. Google, however, showed that the photo had appeared on a newspaper website too, and there the photo was credited to the Associated Press. I was able to tell the author that the photo was owned by the Associated Press and could be used only after obtaining permission and paying for it.

This function in the Google image search is great for identifying the actual sources of photos that authors found and assumed were free.

Separated by a Common Language

Separated by a Common Language is a useful, interesting, and entertaining blog by Lynne Murphy, an American linguist (“Lynneguist”) who has been living and teaching in England for more than a decade. The blog’s name comes from a statement attributed to George Bernard Shaw: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” The blog explores the differences between British and U.S. usage, and the readers’ comments expand the discussion of the English language to the variants in their own countries, often chiming in from Ireland, Canada, Australia and other places separated by our common language.

One fascinating revelation I received from reading the blog is that there are countless variations in spelling, pronunciation, and usage within Britain and within the United States. I learned too that some places in the United States, such as Pennsylvania and Appalachia, have preserved some speech patterns brought with them by early British settlers.

As an editor, I find the wealth of information presented on the blog to be tremendously helpful. If you’re an editor, a writer, or just interested in words, I think you’ll enjoy Separated by a Common Language.

I discovered it in Katharine O’Moore Klopf’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base, which I browse now and then to see what new resources have been added. The Knowledge Base has been listed in my favorite resources since I started the blog in late 2014. Now it’s joined by Separated by a Common Language.

A word of reassurance: Lynne’s daughter isn’t really named Grover. “Grover” is a kind of screen name. However, I had read many of Lynne’s posts before discovering this, and I’d been wondering whether Grover is a girl’s name in Britain.

And a word of caution: sometimes the posts and comments get a little raunchy, partly because some words that are innocuous in Britain are considered rude in America and vice versa; this information can be helpful if you are traveling.