Thursday, 05 December 2019 12:57

Your editorial armoury

Written by John Linnegar

Pile of open books

John Linnegar answers a question that often arises in the mind of the new entrant to the world of editing: Which reference works should I have at my disposal if I’m to edit professionally?

To be truly professional – and well organized and consistent – you should first consult the client’s house style for their preferences; then ascertain which dictionary (and which English, UK or US) they are wedded to. Then develop a sensitivity to particular disciplines’ preferences for spellings, capitalization/lowercase, hyphenation or not, use of italics, and so on. Once you’ve taken cognizance of these non-negotiables, it’s up to you to impose correctness and consistency on the documents your intervention will improve. Any edition of the publications listed below will be invaluable aids, but if you can obtain – and afford – the latest, they tend to reflect current trends and wisdom, and now also the most up-to-date technologies. The ‘starter kit’ is a fairly basic, but nevertheless an essential one. Begin with a mid-range dictionary for the language in which you typically edit. In English, you could choose between:

  • Collins English Dictionary
  • Concise Oxford Dictionary
  • Cambridge English Dictionary
  • Any of the Advanced Learner’s or Cobuild dictionaries

Word lists
Some word lists are available online, some free of charge (eg the Oxford Dictionary); others are available on CD for easy electronic access (eg Concise Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM; Collins English Dictionary on CD-ROM). Then, in addition, you’ll want to have access to word lists that help writers and editors specifically (they’re filled with the kind of quirky words that only we wordsmiths fuss over):

  • Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting it Right (Broadway Books 2004)
  • Martin H Manser Collins Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Collins 2006)
  • New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (2014 or earlier)

Subject-specific references
For the internationally recognized conventions that apply in a variety of disciplines, you’ll be well advised to consult references such as:

  • New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors (2014 or earlier)
  • The New Oxford Dictionary for Science Writers and Editors is but one of a range of many mini-dictionaries dedicated to specific subject areas
  • Penguin has also published a range of specialist dictionaries (eg Electronics, Geography, History, Physics, Psychology) that are really worth investing in
  • The latest edition of Oxford’s Concise Colour Medical Dictionary (5 ed 2010, with links) is a gem of a reference for wordsmiths working in this field

Style guides
To ensure consistency of spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, the use of numbers, and so on, there are a number of style guides to consider:

  • Australian Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers (6 revised ed, Wiley, 2011)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • Joseph Gibaldi MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (Modern Language Association 2003) (US)
  • Cheryl Iverson AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors (OUP 2007) (US)
  • The Oxford Manual of Style
  • William Strunk and EB White The Elements of Style 

Words, words, words
Sometimes, a thesaurus comes to the rescue when we’re at a loss for words. The classic is Roget’s Thesaurus (published under various imprints), but there are also reverse dictionaries (Reader’s Digest, Oxford, for example) that are enormously helpful. A dictionary of quotations can often also be helpful, specifically to check that quotations the authors include in their manuscripts are in fact accurately reproduced and correctly attributed: Penguin and Oxford have both published general and modern collections of quotations.

Grammar gurus
If your grammar’s rusty or the 'rules' are simply a bugbear to you, then find yourself a useful book on grammar/punctuation that covers the basics, possibly more. Some examples:

  • Joy Burrough-Boenisch Righting English That’s Gone Dutch (Kemper Conseil 2013)
  • James Cochrane Between You and I: A Little Book of Bad English (Icon 2005)
  • GV Carey Mind the Stop (Penguin 1980)
  • Marion Field Improve your Punctuation and Grammar (howtobooks 2003)
  • Fowler’s Modern English Usage (OUP, various editions)
  • Garner's Modern English Usage (OUP 2016)
  • Good Punctuation: The One-stop Punctuation Problem Solver (Collins 2004)
  • Sir Ernest Gowers The Complete Plain Words (various editions)
  • John Kahn (ed) The Right Word at the Right Time (Reader’s Digest 1985)
  • Noah Lukeman The Art of Punctuation (OUP 2007)
  • Elizabeth Manning Murphy Effective Writing: Plain English at Work (Lacuna 2014)
  • Eric Partridge You Have a Point There: A Guide to Punctuation and its Allies (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Eric Partridge Usage and Abusage (Hamish Hamilton)
  • John Seely Oxford A to Z of Grammar and Punctuation (OUP 2013)
  • RL Trask Penguin Guide to Punctuation (Penguin Reference 1997)
  • HA Treble & GH Vallins An ABC of English Usage (Oxford/Clarendon Press 1936)
  • Ben Yagoda When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse (Broadway Books 2007)

For help with styling citations and reference lists or bibliographies, the following titles are useful guides:

  • Marlene Burger Bibliographical Style and Reference Techniques (Unisa Press 2010)
  • Joseph Gibaldi MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (Modern Language Association 6 ed, 2003)
  • Charles Lipson Cite Right (University of Chicago Press 2009)

Sage guidance on editing
Finally, for sage guidance on all matters editorial in general:

  • Judith Butcher, Caroline Blake & Maureen Leach Butcher’s Copy Editing (Cambridge University Press 2007 – or any earlier edition of this classic)
  • WAM Carstens & Kris Van de Poel Teksredaksie (SunMedia 2010)
  • Gill Davies & Richard Balkwill The Professionals’ Guide to Publishing: A Practical Introduction to Working in the Publishing Industry (Kogan Page 2011)
  • Amy Einsohn The Copy-editor’s Handbook (University of California Press 2000, 2005)
  • Elizabeth Flann, Beryl Hill & Lan Wang The Australian Editing Handbook (John Wiley 3 ed, 2014 — or any earlier edition)
  • Janet Mackenzie The Editor’s Companion (Cambridge University Press 2004)
  • Janet Mackenzie (ed) At the Typeface: Selections from the Newsletter of the Victorian Society of Editors (Victorian Society of Editors 2005)
  • Elizabeth Manning Murphy Working Words (Canberra Society of Editors 2011)
  • Scott Norton Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors and Publishers (University of Chicago Press 2011)
  • Carol Fisher Saller The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago
  • Kris Van de Poel, WAM Carstens & John Linnegar Text Editing: A Handbook for Students and Practitioners (UPA, 2012)

Of course, you do not have to stock your personal library with all of the tools of the trade included here – publishers’ and public libraries will usually have them available to consult as and when the need arises. You’ll be the best judge of those genres and titles you will most need to have as stalwart, regular aids – as investments in your professionalism those will be worth their weight in gold.

This article was originally published in eSense 41 (2016).

Read 1633 times Last modified on Saturday, 21 August 2021 23:01

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