Category Archives: proofreading

Can I edit what I am not? Editing outside your direct sphere of knowledge

DictionariesThis year so far, I’ve worked on, among other things, a book about Black history in the UK, incorporating a number of responses in prose, poetry and rap which reflected the spoken norms of inner city youth; a project about (very) experimental architecture; and a book giving advice to gay men on dating and relationships. I’ve transcribed interviews with bands I know nothing about, and I’ve localised texts about items I’m never going to use. As a straight, white woman who is not an experimental architect, doesn’t follow those bands and is unlikely to use a remote-controlled helicopter, should I have engaged with these texts where I was quite clearly the “Other” in the relationship or knew little about the topic? Or should I stick very closely to what I know?

I think it’s fine to edit and otherwise work on texts that are outside your direct experience, as long as you’re flexible, keep the audience in mind, are willing to learn and keep an open mind. I also think that there are limits to what you can work on, and I’ll talk about that, too.

Why I think it’s OK to edit outside your direct experience

It’s my personal opinion that it’s OK to edit texts that are outside your direct experience, as long as you bear a few things in mind.

  • Be flexible. The language of an inner-city rap poet might not be the same as your own casual register, let alone the register you use for formal academic writing. Think about the conventions of what you’re working on, not your own preconceptions, go with the flow and keep things consistent and clear (which is the editor’s mantra anyway)
  • Be open-minded. The advice given in a dating book on apps for hooking up with people might be way beyond your comfort zone as a happily married, middle-aged woman, but that doesn’t mean you’re right and it’s wrong, or bad, it’s just different. Which leads on to …
  • Think of the audience. What will the readers of this book want? Is the relaxed style with all the I’d and should’ve contractions something that they will feel more comfortable with? Leave those in.
  • If you’ve got a good amount of life experience and a solid general knowledge, that will see you a long way into an unfamiliar topic.

Why I think it’s positively GOOD to edit outside your direct experience

The good editors I know are wise in knowing what they don’t know and seeking to expand their knowledge. They love to learn. What teaches you more than grubbing around in the very innards of a text on something you never even knew existed? There are other positives, too.

  • By approaching the text as the “Other” (while retaining a sensible approach to the privileges you might have as someone who is not usually the “other”), you might be able to suggest subtleties or pick up on attitudes that are going too far the other way. Maybe you can help reassure an author and their readers that people outside the core audience DO understand / empathise.
  • More importantly and commonly, the aim of all writing should be to be clear and express its author’s intentions clearly. So if you, as an outsider, don’t understand the text, maybe it does need to be simplified a little. If I don’t understand something on the second or third go, I’ll pop a comment in the margin that this might need to be clarified.
  • I think I have a tendency to edit better and more carefully when I’m working on something slightly unfamiliar. It’s like editing your own writing: if you really know the topic, you tend to see what you expect to read, and may skim over errors. I know I have this propensity, so I work extra hard on texts on known topics, and try not to enjoy the process too much at the expense of doing a good job!
  • You learn all sorts of things that might be useful in your everyday life, the next thing you edit, or even pub quizzes. Your next client will benefit from that extra knowledge (or maybe the one after that – I edited a load of texts on Agile working a few months ago, so can cheerfully say I know all about it when another prospective text comes in).

When I think it’s NOT good to edit outside your direct experience

There are some occasions when I do think a text is best left alone. Complete incomprehension of a technical topic or genre is not going to make for a good editing process. I pass those jobs along to a colleague (and get some co-opetition karma in the process). Examples in my own work of jobs I’ve turned down have included:

  • A book all about optimising your motor vehicle engine use, with lots of diagrams and examples. I know nothing about this, and there was little value I could add to something so technical.
  • A localisation job where I would have had to research European legislation on a topic I knew little about to start off with, and match it up to US legislation. That’s too dangerous to mess with.
  • Editing novels in genres I am not familiar with myself such as romance and science fiction – you do need to know your genres if a book is to be edited to fit into them. I’ve actually pretty well stopped working on fiction apart from the odd thriller for an on-going client, as they are pretty well all in genres where I know someone else will do a better job.
  • Specialised transcription – medical and legal in particular. I’ll cheerfully type about makeup I don’t wear or economic policy that can be checked easily, but I don’t go near the specialised terminology used in medical and legal transcription.

In summary … in my opinion, it’s good to stretch the boundaries of the areas you work on and to edit and otherwise work with texts on topics that are unfamiliar, unless the level of technical or specialist content is high enough that you are floundering and uncomprehending. In that case, there’s always someone who  knows more about the topic that you can pass it on to. Happy learning!

What are your thoughts on the subject?


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What is a style sheet? For people using editors

DictionariesIf you work with a proofreader or editor on any project, either for a publisher or working independently or as a student, you might receive a Style Sheet from them with your corrected work. This article explains what a style sheet is, the purpose of a style sheet, and what might be included on it. I’ve also written this article to send to my clients so they understand what the document I’ve sent them is – so if you’re one of my clients, hello!

To make this article easier to read, I will refer to the person who has worked on your document as your “editor” – although I might refer to proofreaders in some places, too.

If you’re an editor or proofreader who wants to find out more about style sheets, I’ve written an article just for you, too.

What is a style sheet?

A style sheet is a list setting out the decisions that your editor has made on aspects of the layout and language of your document, in order to keep the document consistent.

It might include notes on what font is used, whether the text is left or fully justified, how particular words are capitalised or hyphenated, how much indent your indented quotations have, what is put in italics, etc. We’ll have a look at an example later on, but that’s a very short summary.

Why use a style sheet?

Especially if you’ve learned English as a second or other language, you will know that the English language is not consistent, and it doesn’t even have proper rules for some things! This can be really frustrating, as two people might do things in two different ways, BOTH of which are correct.

For example, in English …

  • we can use -s- spellings or -z- spellings in words like “organisation”
  • we can capitalise or not capitalise words like Chapter 1 or experiment 2
  • we can use orient or orientate
  • we can hyphenate or not hyphenate pairs of words like policy-maker

And that’s before you get to decisions like …

  • are you going to use 20%, 20 per cent or twenty per cent?
  • are you going to describe America as America, the United States, the US, the USA, the U.S. etc. etc.?
  • are you going to use double inverted commas for quotations and single inverted commas for concepts, or vice versa?
  • are you going to refer to other research as (Brown, 2003; Green and Jones, 2005, p. 23) or (Brown 2003, Green & Jones 2005:23) or any other variant

Now, the important thing with all of these is to keep it consistent.

Some of these rules might be set down in a style guide or referencing guide (see below). But whether you and your editor are working to a style guide or not, it’s useful to have these decisions written down in one place for you both to refer to.

What’s the difference between a style guide, a referencing guide and a style sheet?

A style guide is a specific guide to how to deal with things like the above decisions – famous ones include Oxford Style in the UK, APA Style and Chicago Manual of Style and AP Stylebook in the US.

A referencing guide is a specific way of writing out references to work you are talking about in your dissertation or book – an example is Harvard referencing.

Some universities and many publishers and marketing agencies etc. will have their own guides which documents published under their name or submitted to them will have to have.

In this case, I could do without a style sheet and just refer my client to … well, a massive website or a giant book. Maybe not. In that case, I’ll note which style guide or referencing system I’ve used and still write out any important points which will impact the document in question.

Please note that I (and I imagine most editors) have favourite style decisions – I prefer orientate to orient, for example, and where there is no clear preference in the text, I will go for my preferred option. If, however, the text itself has 33 orients and 2 orientates, I will go with the majority.

This also means that some parts of the following examples might jar with any editors reading this – they are only examples!

What does a style sheet look like?

Here’s an example style sheet with some of the decisions I might make …

style sheet 1

This is a standard style sheet – I tend to go from the general (the whole layout, all quotations, the tenses used) down to the particular …

style sheet 2

What should I do with the style sheet my editor has sent to me?

Good question – now you understand why your editor has sent you a style sheet and what it’s for … well, why does it matter and what should you do with it?

Here are some important uses of the style sheet:

  1. It will help you to understand some of the changes your editor has made.
  2. If your editor has just edited one chapter, they might send you the style sheet with that chapter and ask you to look through it and check you agree with everything on it. They might even send over some queries – if it’s not clear which option my client prefers, I will highlight the choice and ask them to look at it. If you don’t agree, let them know straight away, then they might change it if it’s not a rule of grammar that can’t be flexible.
  3. If your work is going to be edited by more than one person, they will share a style sheet to make sure it is edited consistently.
  4. If you are planning to add to the document, you can make sure that any additional text you write is consistent with the text that your editor has already checked.
  5. If you have been through edits and your document is going to be proofread, send the style sheet to your proofreader, then they will know what choices the editor has made, and will be able to look out for any errors much more easily.


In this article, we’ve learned what a style sheet is, why it’s used, how a style sheet is different from a style guide and referencing guide, but backs them up, and what to do with a style sheet when you’ve been sent one, as well as seeing an example of one. I hope this helps you: do comment and/or share this article using the sharing buttons below if you’ve found it useful!

Other relevant posts on this blog

Style sheets for editors and proofreaders


Posted by on January 14, 2016 in Copyediting, proofreading, Students, Writing


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On completion of your edit, will my manuscript be ready for publication?

On completion of your edit, will my manuscript be ready for publication?
I was asked this question by a prospective client recently, and it seemed like a good opportunity to share the answer with the wider world.
So, if you send your novel or non-fiction book.article or chapter to your editor for copyediting (fiction writers might know this as line editing), is it going to be ready for publication once they have gone through it?
Well, to be honest, probably not. What you will receive from your editor is a document marked up with suggested changes and comments. You will need to go through all of these and undoubtedly action some comments or questions that they’ve given.

Going through your editor’s comments

Once your editor has gone through your document, it will come back with a range of different comments and suggestions.
To break these down, they might include all of some of the following:
  • Vital textual changes – you will need to go through these but will probably accept most of them – they will be based on grammatical, punctuation etc. rules, or will be picking up typos.
  • Suggested textual changes – Your editor should be striving to retain your ‘voice’ and to help you get across your points, ideas or story, and they might well suggest rearrangements of sentences, changes in word choices, etc. Some of these you might not accept, for example I have a client who doesn’t like semi colons, so I know they will reject any I add (of course I just don’t add them now!). Some might be a matter of style but will make the piece consistent (e.g. use of capitalisation and hyphens which is often inconsistent in texts I work on).
  • Style sheet questions – your editor should send you the style sheet they’ve built up while editing your work, which will list all of the choices that they’ve made (where there’s a choice to be made) in a separate document, alongside any terminology that they’ve made consistent, etc. This might, however, include questions – for example, if you have used “the chapter” and “the article” interchangeably and an equal number of times in your short piece, your editor might not know what its eventual destination is, and might leave a question in the style sheet for you to answer (that’s how I do it) – then you will need to make that terminology consistent
  • Comments and questions – there will be points at which your editor may suggest, for example, moving a section to a different chapter, saying something in a different way to make it more clear, or even marking a section that they find unclear and then suggesting that you rewrite it. You will then need to action those points yourself, moving or rewriting sections as necessary.

What happens next?

Once that’s all done, if you haven’t done so before, I suggest that you get some people to beta-read the book to give you their reactions and suggestions to the content, now that consistencies and the most obvious issues have been ironed out. You may need to do a bit of rewriting on the basis of their comments.
If the rewriting is substantial, it’s a good idea to have your editor look over either the whole document or just the sections that have been changed (I usually ask my clients to highlight the bits they want me to check in the whole document, so I can see where they sit in the work as a whole). And then you will need to go through the above process again.
Once that’s done, before you publish the manuscript, you will need to have it proofread to check that no additional errors have crept in and to ensure that it’s going to look good in publication (if you’re doing a print book, the proofreader will need to see a pdf of the final version, if an e-book, a Word document is often OK). This person shouldn’t be the original editor, because they would be too close to the contents, and you should send them your editor’s style sheet so that they know how certain things should be and don’t waste time changing them to their preference.

Once the proofreader’s comments come back, it would be very unusual if you didn’t have something to change. So, you will need to make those changes – and this might affect your book design, so you might have to have your book designer look over the whole thing again.

Then you might just be able to consider it ready for publication!

Related articles on this blog

Do I need editing or proofreading?

Dealing with Track Changes in a document

My work is being proofread – why do I need to use Spell Check?


Posted by on February 26, 2015 in Copyediting, proofreading, Word, Writing


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Is this editor weird? or, It’s all about the books (am I allowed to use that phrase?)

Pile of style guides and dictionariesIt’s my birthday today, and I’m anxiously listening for the doorbell. I’m expecting a delivery … of a style book for an editing style I don’t use very often, but is the style being used for a large project I’m working on. I know that there are online dictionaries and guides to editing styles (although in fact the one for this particular guide is a bit tricky to access), but I just prefer to work with a printed work.

Is this editor weird for doing that, though?

I’ve talked about using paper for keeping records before now, over on my more personal blog (which started off as a record of going full time and is now more of a book review blog). I do my tax returns online, and I keep financial records on spreadsheets and using my accountant’s online software, but I like to note down the work I do for my clients in a book. I star and filter emails that have jobs to do in my email inbox, and have a Gantt Chart to help me work out my deadlines and priorities, but I write a list of jobs and a daily to-do list in a physical book, using a fountain pen.

So, I obviously like printed and paper materials and records.

I have a nice wide-screen monitor on my PC, on which I can fit two A4 pages comfortably. But, I like one of those to be the job I’m working on, and one to be my own style sheet (because even if you’re using a set style, there are always details you need to keep noted down to send to the client with the job or to go to anyone working on the document after you). So it suits me to have a book on my side desk, ready for consultation.

I make sure that I keep my editions up to date, which is pretty easy to do when you swim in a sea of lovely editorial colleagues, and I buy the new ones when they come out. If there’s something not in the editions, I might do an online search (or ask my colleagues), I certainly check Google for which use of a word is more common / Wikipedia (for the basics and links), Library of Congress and other sources for facts, etc., and when I’m doing other jobs such as transcribing or even localising, I look up online as I go along – but when I’m doing straight editing or proofreading, I like to use my books.

The funny thing is, I edit almost exclusively online. I’ve done thousands of jobs, and only two of them have been on paper (and one of those was a pro bono project, and the other was for someone who didn’t want me to use the standard proofing markup!). I wonder if I’d happily use an online source if I did more paper editing … I think not, actually.

Am I weird? Am I behind the times? Or do others of you eagerly await a lovely, shiny new style guide to pop through your door, even if it’s not coinciding with your birthday?


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How do I display my horizontal scroll bar in Word?

I was innocently using Word one day when I discovered that my horizontal scroll bar had disappeared. This was annoying, because I had a document open at the time at the side of another document, and wanted to navigate around it. Where had my scroll bar gone? This is how I got it back …

How do I display my horizontal scroll bar?

You do this in Word Options.

In Word 2007, click the Home button at the top left, and choose Word Options from the box that opens:

Accessing Word Options Word 2007

In Word 2010 and 2013 click on File at the top left and then Options

Accessing Word Options Word 2010 and 2013


Once you are in Word Options, go to Advanced options, then Display:

Word Options - advanced - display

Make sure that you tick Show horizontal scroll bar, and there you are:

horizontal scroll bar is displayed

Please note, these hints work with versions of Microsoft Word currently in use – Word 2007, Word 2010 and Word 2013 all for PC. Mac compatible versions of Word should have similar options. Always save a copy of your document before manipulating it. I bear no responsibility for any pickles you might get yourself into!

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents. Find all the short cuts here

Related posts on this blog:

How do I display the rulers in Word?

How do I hide the taskbars in Word?


Posted by on December 3, 2014 in proofreading, Short cuts, Word


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How do I tell Word not to spell-check certain paragraphs?

This topic came up after someone commented on one of my other Word-related posts: he had a document that included programming code and he wanted to exclude that from the spell check because a) it wasted time and b) when displaying spelling errors, the red wiggly lines distracted him. He had used an easy method to exclude these in Word 2003 (highlight, click spell check, tick “do not check spelling and grammar”) but had got stuck with Word 2010.

This article will tell you …

  • How to exclude text in your document from being spell checked
  • How to only spell check a particular section of your document

How do I tell Spell Check not to check particular paragraphs in Word 2003?

So, in Word 2003, Spell Check is on the toolbar and you can highlight the text you don’t want to check, click spell check and tick “do not check spelling and grammar”. it’s actually very similar in Word 2007, 2010 and 2013 – here’s my hint for the easiest and quickest way to do this.

How do I tell Spell Check not to check particular paragraphs in Word 2007, 2010 and 2013?

First of all, highlight the paragraph (or paragraphs, holding down the control key) that you want to exclude from Spell Check.

Then you have two ways of telling Word not to spell check these sections:

1. The quick way: click on the language at the bottom of your screen:

Select text to exclude from spell check

If the editing language is not showing at the bottom of the screen, left-click on the bottom tool bar and choose to display language. If that doesn’t work, see this post).

2. The official way: on the Review tab, select Language and then Set Proofing Language (note: don’t click on Spelling and Grammar, as that will spell check the highlighted text, exactly opposite to what you want to happen):

Word language setting

Both of these options will display the Language Selection dialogue box:

Language selection dialogue box

Once you have the language choices displaying, tick your language and tick “Do not check grammar and spelling“. That should mark all of the text you highlighted such that the spell checker avoids it. I hope that works for you and takes less than 5 minutes – do let me know!

How do I just spell check one paragraph or section of my document in Word?

Allied to this is the question of how you just check a particular part of your text. Here’s how:

Highlight the text you want to check.

Press the Spell Check button, which you can find in the Review tab:

Spell check one section of a document

Word will spell check only that highlighted paragraph (or word, if you so choose) and will helpfully ask you if you’d like to continue checking everything else:

Continue spell check?

I hope you’ve found these hints helpful! Do share or pop a comment on this post if I’ve helped you learn something new or solved a tricky problem for you, and do explore the rest of my blog if this is your first visit!

Please note, these hints work with versions of Microsoft Word currently in use – Word 2007, Word 2010 and Word 2013 all for PC. Mac compatible versions of Word should have similar options. Always save a copy of your document before manipulating it. I bear no responsibility for any pickles you might get yourself into!

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents. Find all the short cuts here

Related posts on this blog:

How do I use Spell Check in Word 2007 and 2010?

How do I use Spell Check in Word 2013?

How do I change the editing language of my document?

Why do I need to use Spell Check if my work is being edited?


Posted by on November 19, 2014 in proofreading, Short cuts, Word


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My work is being proofread – why do I need to use Spell Check?

Spell check buttonI recently posted a how-to article about using Spell Check (well, one for Word 2007/2010 and one for Word 2013, actually). Today I want to talk about why you should use Spell Check, even if you’re using an editor or proofreader of the human variety to check your work.

Using Spell Check before you send your work to your editor

So, you’re using an editor to check your work: why on earth should you need to run a spell check first?

I’m not talking about going through your document with a big pile of style guides and dictionaries by your side. I’m talking about taking maybe half an hour to press the spell check button and go through your manuscript removing the obvious errors. You know, the ones where you spell it obvis errrors.

As an editor, it can get a bit frustrating when you’re picking away at typos (form for from, fried for friend) which are composed of ‘real’ words (which obviously a spell checker program won’t notice) and then you find a load of fromms or frends which a spell check would have eliminated. And here’s the thing: we’re human. If we’re concentrating on picking up your incorrect spellings and non-existent words, we’re less likely to be able to concentrate in detail on what we’re supposed to be doing: making your language express your thoughts and meaning as clearly as possible.

Yes, we can run a spell check for you, and if I spot more than the odd error that this would eliminate, I will do that myself. But it’s time-consuming. And that’s another thing: time-consuming. Some editors charge by the time spent, some by the word. I’m a charge-by-the-word woman myself, but if you’re paying for someone’s time, why pay them to do something you can do yourself?

So, there are two points to bear in mind here:

  1. If your work isn’t spell checked, your editor will be concentrating on those issues and less able to go deeper into their work
  2. If you’re paying by the hour, you’ll be paying extra needlessly

I have to add here that it can seem a little impolite, too, to not run a spell check before you send the manuscript in to your editor. A little bit as if you’re the creative person with the big ideas and you’re sending it off to the paid help who will sort out things you’re too important to do. I’m pretty sure that this is NOT the case for the majority of authors, but it’s always best to avoid that impression if at all possible. See the caveats below …

What if I don’t know whether spell check is correct?

That’s fine. We’re the experts, you’re the creative one. If you’re not sure of your spelling and which word is correct, you can always either leave a note in the margin or let us know you ran a spell check but you’re not sure of a few things. In fact, spell check itself isn’t always correct (see below). All I’m saying here is that the fewer avoidable mistakes there are in your manuscript, the better the job that I’m able to do for you.

Times when pre-spell-checking isn’t appropriate

I’m not a monster and I’m not inflexible – nor are the other editors I know. We’re a kind and helpful bunch. If you have issues with your spelling, dyslexia or any other special situations, of course we’re not going to reprimand you over issues in the spelling in your document. Also, if you’re using voice recognition software, I’m not actually sure how the spell-checker works in that situation (if someone who uses such software wants to comment, that will be very so useful and I’ll include your notes in an update).

However, it is important to let your editor know if you have any special issues like these. It will help us to do a better job for you, and perhaps even to explain our choices and changes in a way that’s easiest for you. Also, we can look out for particular artefacts that might arise in your manuscript because of the way in which you’ve written it (voice recognition software is notorious for inserting homophones into the texts it produces). As I said, we’re an understanding and helpful bunch, and we want to help you in the best way possible.

Using Spell Check when you’ve received your work back from your editor

No – I don’t mean right away! Well, if you find a load of legitimate errors  you might want to speak to your editor (although nobody’s perfect and no editor I know can do 100% perfect work: we’re human). But, most of the time, your manuscript is going to come back to you either in Word with Track Changes turned on or in an annotated PDF which you then need to update. In both of those cases, you doing the corrections can allow errors to creep in. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just what happens.

I learned this the hard way when I received my last manuscript back from my editor. I accepted changed as I went along and did one final Accept all changes once I’d reviewed the document, but some oddities had crept in, especially in the spacing around punctuation. Luckily, I noticed in time, ran a quick spell check and got it all sorted out – but if someone who’s an editor herself can manage to introduce errors when dealing with her editor’s edits (sorry!), I’m going to assume that anyone can manage to do that!

Beware: Spell Check is not always right (gasp!)

There is a caveat here.

Much of English grammar is not totally prescriptive. There are often two ways of going about doing something, especially when you look at hyphenation and capitalisation. This means that when you’re spell-checking after the edit, you should bear in mind the style sheet that your editor’s sent you. If they’ve chosen a particular word form to make things consistent in your manuscript, I’d consider keeping it even if the automated spell check says it’s wrong (in its opinion). Microsoft software appears to use something called the “Microsoft Manual of Style“, but obviously if you’re working to a particular style guide such as Oxford or Chicago Manual of Style, they will over-ride Microsoft if there’s a clash. A classic example of this is “proofreader” – that’s the accepted way of writing the word in most of the major style guides, but Word Spell Check does like to change it to proof-reader. I’d kind of assume your editor knows how to (not) hyphenate that one, but do bear this in mind when you’re doing that final check.

Also, if you’re writing creatively, your editor might have left something in which is correct, but creative, while spell check (even without grammar check) might take issue with it. A classic example I find is spell check trying to change they’re to their, irrespective of the actual correct use of the word. So beware on grammar or word form choice issues like that – you can always check back with your editor or consult a style guide if you’re not sure.

This article has talked about why writers should use spell check even if they have an editor. If you’ve got an opinion on this, or a good reason NOT to use spell check, do please post a comment below! And if you’ve enjoyed this post or found it useful, please do share it using the share buttons!

Related posts on this blog:

Using Spell Check in Word 2007 and 2010

Using Spell Check in Word 2013



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