Editing Course: A Matter of Style

An author’s style can be many things. It can be flowery with long descriptions, which slows the pace down. It can be concise and sharp, which speeds the pace up. The author can use a formal, casual or technical tone. They can write in first, second or third person. And then there’s present or past tense. The voice can be personal or distant. The manuscript could be traditional, classic or modern. All these things contribute to the author’s style and will determine readership.

An editor must look at the author’s style and determine if it is right for the story and if it is right for the publishing house.

Organisations also have their own style. Some may prefer formal looking documents while others will go for casual documents. The style chosen is often the best choice for their needs and what they feel their readers will expect.

No matter what the business, style is a matter of preference.

It is important not to confuse “style” with “sense”. Some writers find it difficult to put words on paper. What they see in their mind makes sense, but the written version doesn’t. The substantive editor will find these troublesome spots and will help the author clarify them.

The copyeditor and proofreader may not have to make sense of something. However, if they find something that doesn’t make sense then they should mark it up by circling the text and placing a question mark (?) in the margin. This alerts the person reviewing the work after them that the text should be checked for sense.

House Style

As already mentioned, style is a matter of preference. It will change from publishing house to publishing house and organisation to organisation.

For example, some organisations spell “copyeditor” as one word, some hyphenate it as “copy-editor” and some spell it as two words, “copy editor”. Some dictionaries spell it as one word, some as two.

Style is not limited to spelling. Other aspects such as capitalisation, punctuation and layout must also be considered.

The internet has not helped. As people have access to more and more information, language has become blurred. The definitions between Australian, British and American English is confusing as they overlap and spell checkers insist on changing “s” to “z” when we know “s” is correct but find ourselves accepting “z” as an alternative.

When editing it is important to know and accept the organisation’s house style. If they prefer “z” to “s” then you do not attempt to change it. In fact, if you do change it the organisation could be offended! What you consider to be right is not right if it goes against the house style for the organisation. For this reason an editor/proofreader must know the preferred style for their clients and, more importantly, must have a system in place to keep track of all the styles.

Style Manuals

In Australia, there is a style manual called Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers which was prepared for use by the Government. This style manual has been adopted by many publishing houses and rejected by a number of others. It is not uncommon for some organisations to refer to the guide but they do not adopt all the styles. It is a house choice.

As a general tip, if the style guide clashes with the Macquarie Dictionary, an editor would follow the dictionary first as it is more widely accepted. However, if your client is a government department then you would follow the style guide first.

Style Guides

If the company or person you are working for has an in-house style then you must know what it is before you start editing their work.

Style Sheets

A style sheet is a list setting out the conventions to follow when editing a document or publication. They can change depending on the document and can be used in conjunction with a style guide. They may include preferred proofreading marks, a list of abbreviations and how they prefer them set out and a list of preferred word spellings.

Always ask a new client if they have a style sheet or word list available. If they don’t, start one of your own so that you know what they prefer the next time they give you something to edit.

It is also advisable to set up your own personal style guide for words and phrases you normally have trouble with.

Remember, when it comes to style, the client is always right.

Editing Course: Introducing Copyediting

First rule to remember: A good copyeditor never relies on spell checkers.

Copyeditors mark up text in between the lines. There is no set process to follow. Each copyeditor develops his or her own system. And it is recommended to have a system, a particular set of rules to work by that works for you, otherwise mistakes will be missed.

Here are some steps to get a new copyeditor started:

Step 1: House Style

Ask the client if they have an in-house style manual or style sheets and refer to them. Set up a style sheet folder.

Step 2: Reading

Each reading of a text is called a “pass”. You would normally make three passes over a text. However, you would not read the text three times in one sitting.

First Pass – A light read to get the feel of the entire document. Correct literals as you go through the text.

Second Pass – This is when you do the real edit. You now look for grammar problems, inconsistencies and formatting errors. This is also when you have to concentrate on details such as language, spelling and punctuation. Read each paragraph carefully and slowly.

Third Pass – This is done after a break, at least overnight is preferred. Check the text one more time and check your mark ups are clear.

Important Note

As a copyeditor, you must be able to sport errors in text, formatting and inconsistencies. But you must also be aware of factual errors, plagiarism and faults in style and vocabulary.

Writers are too close to their work. They read what they meant to say, not what is actually written. The copyeditor must fix these errors but should never change anything that does not need to be changed. You are the copyeditor, not the writer.

Editing Course: Standard & Comparative Proofreading

Yesterday I completed the second half of the practical exercises in topic 2, which I wrote about on Tuesday. This morning I did two more topics, so now I’m back on track.

Below are the notes from the theory side of the two topics:

3: Standard Proofreading

Standard proofreading uses margin marks (as does comparative proofreading). If there are only a small number of corrections all marks are placed in the right-hand margin. However, if there are a lot of corrections then both the left-hand and right-hand margins are used.

The standard proofreading technique is to imagine a line down the centre of the page. All errors on the left-hand side of that imaginary line would be marked up in the left-hand margin. All errors on the right-hand side would have their marks placed in the right-hand margin. However, never split the marks for a single word between both margins, always keep them together. So if a word in the middle of the page needs two or more corrections, group the mark ups together in one margin (it doesn’t matter which margin is used).

A proofreader always works from left to right and the person correcting the work should look at the mark ups in the same way. In other words, the margin marks will correspond to the text marks when read left to right, despite which margin is used.

4: Comparative Proofreading

Comparative proofreading is usually done when the copy has already been edited by a copyeditor or proofreader and has been returned to the typesetter who will make the changes required. When the live copy comes back it will be checked against the dead copy (original version).

The proofreader does not look for new corrections. The idea of comparative proofreading is to check to make sure all corrected errors have been changed by the proofreader. This is the proof and it is usually done in one of the last stages prior to going to print.

What if an unmarked error is spotted by the proofreader? The proofreader marks it up as usual but must bring the error to the attention of the copyeditor, as the error may be intentional. It will be up to the copyeditor to say if the error is corrected or not.

Most publishers cannot afford to have a document/manuscript proofread two or three times, so errors will be found in the printed work unless extra care is taken in the initial proofread.

Editing Course: Proofreading Marks

Although today’s post is going to be short, the actual topic for today was extremely long. It is so long, in fact, that I’ve had to split it over two days. Yet that isn’t going to show in the notes as the topic is mostly practical exercises as I learn new marks for proofreading (which I will not go into here).

Unit 2, Topic 2: Proofreading Marks

Proofreading marks have been fine-tuned and simplified over the years. They didn’t start out as simple strikes and inserts.

It is important when you are marking up to have legible marks. Indecipherable marks only cause frustration, delays and further errors. Ways to avoid this is to use the separator mark (/) to define corrections and the circle for small punctuation characters.

When making corrections to typeset copy, they must be placed in the right-hand margin. However, if there are too many errors to correct and not enough space in the right-hand margin, then you would place some corrections in the left-hand margin also. The marks placed in the body of the text are called “text marks” and the marks placed in the margin(s) are “margin marks”.

If there are no corrections on an entire page, you need to place a slash (/) at the bottom of the page. This means there are no corrections and the author and/or typesetter know you haven’t missed the page when editing. This applies to stand alone passages on a single page too, i.e. newspaper or magazine articles. If one or all need no corrections you need to place a slash at the end of each article indicating this.

A standard convention in proofreading is to circle the instruction mark you place in the margin. Instruction marks let the typesetter know what you want done. For example, “bold” circled means to change the marked text to bold rather than insert the word “bold”. The exception to the rule is when you want the typesetter to insert a full stop (.), a comma (,), a semi-colon (;) or a colon (:). As these punctuation marks are small, the proofreader circles them to bring them to the typesetter attention.

Course: Processes, Conventions and Practices

As discussed previously the editor, copyeditor and proofreader use the same marks but in a slightly different way.

The three jobs are separate but are often overlapped.

1. The editor works with the author to make substantive changes to the manuscript (ie changes to characters, chapters, scenes, etc). This is NOT done so that the words are those of the editor’s. It is done to find weak scenes, bad grammar and inconsistencies within the story. It is also done so that the manuscript conforms to the publisher’s editorial styles. The marks are placed within the double-spaced lines.

2. The copyeditor works on the edited copy of the manuscript. It is usually still double-spaced so the marks are again placed between the lines instead of in the margin. The copyeditor does NOT make substantive suggestions, it is not their job to do so. It is their job to ensure all editing is changed from the previous copy and to ensure the best words are used. They also check for grammar, spelling, literals and inconsistencies in regard to style. Again, they do not make suggestions on how to improve the writing.

3. The proofreader must find and correct errors. All markups are done in the margin as the copy is now single-spaced. The proofreader is looking for errors that may have been missed by the author, editor and copyeditor. They are also making sure marked-up errors in the dead copy have been corrected in the live copy.


Processes are the steps taken to complete a task. In publishing, a publisher will have a preferred set of steps that will take a book from being a manuscript through to the final print.


Conventions are simply accepted standards of use that have been agreed upon across the industry. For instance, the proofreading marks used to mark up a manuscript is a globally accepted convention.

Conventions also include legal and moral conventions, such as copyright, privacy laws, authors’ moral rights and industry standards.

Within publishing there is a law that states every published book must include the publisher’s name and address in the front matter, traditionally on the reverse page of the title page.

Also, every work that is published for commercial sale must be lodged with the National Library and also with the relevant state library.

Legal conventions can be a minefield and it’s up to the publisher to know what is expected of them.


The term “practices” refers to the usual way in which things are done, the manner in which a task is undertaken. For instance, the preferred colour of pen used when editing, copyediting or proofreading.

Practices are often preferences developed by a person, a group of people or an organisation.

Editing Course Update

In case you’re wondering, I have still been working on my course unit. However, the last few topics are all practical (which I’m not going to write posts on).

Now I’ve finished the study matter for the first unit and have moved on to revision before I start the assignment. The unit has been fun. I’ve learned a few new things but more importantly I have discovered a couple of areas where I’ve been doing the wrong thing!

As I move into the final edit phase of “Cat’s Paw” I will put these newly found skills to the test. I’m looking forward to that as it will mean the final product will be much improved.

Anyway, there will be no more “course” posts until I start Unit 2.

Editing Course: Wordplay I

When I opened my tutorial to today’s topic, I thought I’d breeze through it. I was wrong! In fact, I discovered I’ve developed some bad habits over the years, which means more self-retraining for me. I have identified three problem areas: 1) I have never used the word “farther” in my life, which means I have been using the wrong word in all of my manuscripts as I confused the meaning of “further”, 2) I nearly always use the word “alright” when correct grammar means I should have been using “all right”, and, 3) although I knew “a while” and “awhile” meant the same thing, I didn’t know that when you contract “for a while” to “awhile” the “for” becomes implicit and is dropped.

With that large admission out of the way, let’s move on to the tutorial.

9: Wordplay I

Many people confuse certain words that sound the same but have completely different meanings.

Which word is right?

Accept means “to receive” or “to agree”. Example: Dillan refused to accept the present.
Except means “all but” or “other than”. Example: Everyone drank coffee except Tanya.

Advise means “to recommend, suggest or give counsel”. Example: I advise you to be careful when going out alone.
Advice means “an opinion or recommendation about what could or should be done”. Example: Peter asked for advice from his father.
Hint: If you can substitute the work with “inform” and the sentence still makes sense then the word you should be using is “advise”.

Farther relates to “distance”. Example: The shop was farther than I thought.
Further means “more than”. Example: I don’t want to discuss this matter further.

Which means you are including additional information that the sentence does not need.
That means the information you are including is important to the sentence.

Example: The computer that Jane was using at the time was too slow for the work she was doing.

If we change “that” for “which” then we have to insert commas:

The computer, which Jane was using at the time, was too slow for the work she was doing.

In the second sentence we are telling the reader that the “which” clause can be removed. If we remove the clause we’ll have:

The computer was too slow for the work she was doing.

Although this reads well, it is unclear as we don’t know who “she” is. Therefore, the words “that Jane was using at the time” are essential for clarity so “that” should be used. If you read the two sentences out loud you’ll discover the first sentence using “that” sounds better.

One word or two?

Over time the English language has changed. At one time “alone” was actually “all one” but this change is accepted as it’s been this way for a couple of centuries.

However, other words that are commonly joined, such as “all right” and “all ready”, are still not acceptable in certain uses.

All ready means “to be prepared for something”. Example: The family were all ready to go to the party.
Already is an expression of time. Example: Tim was surprised to discover his car had already been fixed.

All right and alright share the same meaning. “All right” is the formal spelling and should be used most of the time depending on context and readership.

All together means “to be grouped together”. Example: All together the restaurant bill came to $452.
Altogether means “entirely, wholly or completely”. Example: Jenny’s whining sparked an altogether different outcome.
Hint: If you can insert the word “completely” and the sentence still makes sense, then you should be using the word “altogether”.

Any one refers to “any one thing in a group”. Example: Any one of the students could fail the test.
Anyone means “any person at all”. Example: Anyone can fail tests if they don’t study.

Every one means “each person”. Example: Every one of us has an opinion.
Everyone means “any person at all”. Example: Everyone has an opinion.

Any way means “any particular course, direction or manner”. Example: Any way Peter looked at it the problem was unresolved.
Anyway means “in any case” or “nonetheless”. Example: Jan didn’t need a new bag, but she bought one anyway.

May be is used to “express the possibility of something”. Example: This may be the only chance I have to change my life.
Maybe means “perhaps”. Example: Maybe we should wait until we have some money before buying a new car.

A while and awhile mean “a short period of time”. However, they are easily confused. Consider this example:

Won’t you stay with me awhile?

Although the above example is acceptable, the correct use is as follows:

Won’t you stay with me for a while?

You should never write: Won’t you stay with me for awhile?

When you contract “for a while” to “awhile” the “for” becomes implicit in “awhile” and so drops off.

Editing Course: Good Grammarian I

Before I get started on this topic I must admit that this area of writing is my weakness, especially passive writing (which isn’t covered here but will be covered later in the course). Yesterday I wrote a short post on Editor and Proofreader’s Tools but I strongly believe one item is missing from that list. Every writer and editor should have a really good (localised) grammar reference book. This is something I don’t have (oh, I have books on the topic but nothing localised) and I need to rectify this oversight. Can anyone recommend an Australian grammar reference book please?

8: Good Grammarian I

No matter why you write — author, journalist, business person, student — and no matter why you may be checking another person’s writing — editor, copyeditor, proofreader — you need to understand grammar.

Grammar is language, it’s words and how they are used, it’s sentences and how they are arranged. As a writer or editor you need good grammar skills.

A Person or People

A person can’t help their birth.

-William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1848)

Apparently, over the years there’s been a lot of debate about how this one sentence should have been worded.

Some say he should have written:

A person cannot help his or her birth.

Others say:

People cannot help their birth.

Since the twelfth century dozens of famous authors have chosen use words such as “them”, “theirs” and “they” as single, gender-unspecific words. However from a grammar point of view all these are wrong. The correct useage are those in bold above.

I or Me

Often people use “me” when the correct grammar requires the word “I”. The best way to check which word should be used is to remove the other person.

Example: Me and my friend watched a movie.

When we take out the other person we get:

Me watched a movie.

Obviously this is incorrect so the correct word to use is “I”.

I and my friend watched a movie.

As awkward as this sounds, it is correct grammar, but it sounds better to put the friend first.

My friend and I watched a movie.

Can a thing “see”?

It has become a trend to have non-living things “see”.

Example: The company will see a change of policy next year.

However, the company is not a person and cannot see so the sentence is incorrect. The only way to correct the sentence is to reword it.

The company will have a change of policy next year.


Now this is a difficult one!

An “infinitive” is regarded as a single word.

Example: to go

A split-infinitive is when an adverb is added which separates the infinitive.

Example: to quickly go

From a grammarian’s point of view “to quickly go” is incorrect. However, writers steadfastly claim that split-infinitives are rhetorical faults that can effect writing styles.

There is no actual rule on this one.

Most people have heard of the following:

To boldly go where no man has gone before.

To write this same sentence and have it grammatically correct, it would read:

To go boldly where no man has gone before.

Incorrect or not, the first sentence is the much better choice as it has much more punch.

From an editing point of view, split-infinitives are wrong but an editor should never override the author. The best policy is to avoid them (split-infinitives, not authors) as much as possible, but if it is the clearest and best way to go, use it.