Don’t leave your editing until the last minute!

In my past life in a communications department, one of the tasks I was regularly given was to do the final checks on magazines and leaflets before they went to press. This activity tended to follow a pattern:

  1. Document written by manager from one department or other (sometimes with input from team, sometimes not, often very last-minute).
  2. Document sent directly to design studio to put into magazine format and ‘prettify’.
  3. Document sent by print team to communications team to proofread before print run of several thousand. (Usually with an impending deadline.)
  4. Enormous email sent back to design studio containing all the corrections to be made before document was suitable to be sent to the public. (This was in the days when you couldn’t annotate Adobe Acrobat Reader PDFs electronically without buying the pro version.)
  5. Disgruntled email received by communications team from design studio, who’d spent a lot of time making the document look nice, asking why there were so many corrections needed. (A classic case of ‘shooting the messenger’?)
  6. Disgruntled email received by communications team from manager who’d originally written the document in question, asking why the design studio were stressing about the changes that needed to be made. (Messenger. Dead.)

My point is this:

Any document going out to the public – whether it be a beautifully printed and bound book, a four-page leaflet or a web page – is a sales pitch for the author, organisation or individual. However beautiful the finished product looks, glaring typos will make many readers question the quality of the service or work provided, as touched upon in my blog entry in November last year, Are spelling mistakes costing you money?

In the publishing world, you’d never get an author submitting their work directly to the typesetter to be laid out ready for print. There will, at the very least, be a diligent copy-editor checking the whole text for

  • correct formatting;
  • spelling and grammar;
  • factual accuracy;
  • internal consistency; and
  • adherence to the house style or style guide.

After the manuscript has been copy-edited it will be typeset (i.e. made to look like an actual book rather than a Word document) and then passed in its typeset form, usually as a PDF document, to a proofreader for a second read-through. The annotated (either on paper or electronically) PDF will then be returned for the typesetter to make the amendments before the book can be approved for print.

So why do people cut corners so often? The case discussed at the beginning of this post was a cash-strapped public body, so perhaps they’d be reluctant to hire a copy-editor or proofreader separately, but all it needed was for the writer of each document in question to send the original, in Word, to the communications team before it went to the design team. That way the errors in the original would have been removed at a sensible point in the process, everyone would have been happier, and a lot of time would have been saved.

Next time you’re writing a document for print or a web page to go on your site, think of this post… (And think of me!)


P.S. As a footnote to the story above, shortly after I left the department, the communications toolkit we’d developed was due to be rolled out to all staff. One of the guidelines was to send all printed publications to somebody in communications to be correctly formatted, edited and proofread before the design stage, and mentioned that perhaps using the style guide set by the organisation (‘conveniently’ located about six mouse clicks away on the Intranet site) would be useful. Hopefully this would also be applied to the website (although I had more doubts about this as it was based on a content management system and the people allowed to write for it varied vastly in their abilities). I wonder if anything has changed in the last four years?

None of us are ‘word-perfect’ – not even the professionals!

Just because I’m a proofreader and editor, it doesn’t mean I can immediately spell any word thrown at me without having to double-check the spelling, or know the answer immediately to any question of grammar or style. I work on documents and manuscripts in a wide number of fields, and am always learning new things to add to my vocabulary list. I see this as on-the-job training.

There are some words that give me pause, and where the correct spelling isn’t instinctive. The English language is tricky – there are so many words that are pronounced the same but spelt two or three different ways (take the BBC News site last week, which confused reign, rein and rain when they described blows ‘reigning down’ on somebody). I also see confusion over their/there/they’re on a regular basis.

And then there are the words that are spelt the same, but don’t rhyme: take cough, bough, hiccough, rough and their ilk.

A lot of people seem to confuse US and British English spellings, which again is understandable. My husband, after working as a programmer since leaving university, has got into the habit of spelling ‘colour’ without the ‘u’ (US spelling) as computer languages use US spellings as standard.

Two things triggered the idea for this week’s post. Firstly, I’m often surprised that it took me so long to get my head round which spelling is which with practice/ practise (noun/verb). Note that this is British English only – US English uses ‘practice’ for both versions. What finally cemented it for me was repeatedly reading Julia Donaldson’s Zog to my children: ‘Zog went off to practise, flying fast and free/He soared and swooped and looped the loop…then crashed into a tree.’

Secondly, there’s tranquillity. One ‘l’ or two? British English uses two, but US English uses just the one. However, I find this illogical – to me the word looks far more tranquil and calm with a single ‘l’. Unfortunately, British English dictionaries beg to differ, so I’ll have to stick with the standard.

I asked other editors, proofreaders and publishing professionals on LinkedIn if there were any words they struggled with, and had some interesting responses. More importantly, I also got some great tips from other pros about how they remember some of the trickier common words in the English language. So here goes…

Words with accepted variant spellings

-ize and -ise endings: The ‘-ize’ ending that many think of as exclusive to American English can be used interchangeably with the ‘–ise’ ending in British English (and indeed is the preferred ending in the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors [ODWE]). It doesn’t, however, apply to ‘-yse’ endings like it does in the US (such as ‘paralyse’), so be careful! The key is consistency within the document, or set of documents, that you are working on.

Other examples of spellings that have no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ form include flier/flyer, focusing/focussing, benefiting/benefitting and busing/bussing.

Judgement vs. judgment is a possible exception. In the UK, you would traditionally see judgement used in any context except legally, where convention dictates the use of the latter form (although it is used more and more often without the second ‘e’ in all contexts). In the US, ‘judgment’ is more usual, although ‘judgement’ can also be used in non-legal contexts. So it’s not incorrect to use ‘judgment’ in general everyday use in Britain, but it’s more usual to see it with the extra ‘e’.

Some tricky words (and tips for remembering them)

Some words the pros reported struggling with were:

Embarrass: John Finegold at Keyline Consultancy suggested some great mnemonics to help with spelling various words, including Really Red Shiny Skin (embaRRaSS) to remember this one!

Flies/flys: In just about all cases, the former is correct. (Unless you’re using the historical term in British English to refer to a one-horse hackney carriage, in which case the plural is ‘flys’.)

Forest: One respondent made me laugh when he said ‘”Forrest Gump” has screwed me up on “forest” forever.’

Mediterranean: It helps me to think of ‘terrain’ and the French terre, meaning ‘earth’.

Other words that came up were aficionado, broccoli, bureaucracy, Caribbean, entrepreneur, gauge (‘I always want to spell it “guage”), harass, ophthalmologist, perseverance, privilege, questionnaire, and subtle and subtlety (‘they just don’t look right because they’re spelled terribly for the way they sound’).

It sounds different to how it’s pronounced

As I mentioned above, there are quite a few words in the English language that aren’t pronounced how they’re written. People reported difficulties with these kind of words, including:

Beautiful: One pro said he finally learnt as a child how to spell ‘beautiful’ when he learnt the word ‘beau’ in French.

Conscience/conscious: from the Latin scire (to know).

Diarrhoea (US diarrhea); not ‘dire rear’, however tempting it may be to write it!

Fuchsia: These flowers are named after a man named Fuchs, so if you can remember that, you’ll no longer struggle with the word. One editor said it helped her to think of it as ‘f***sia’ and substitute the ‘k’ for an ‘h’. I studied German at university, and Fuchs is the German for ‘fox’, so this one doesn’t trip me up.

Gonorrhoea (US gonorrhea)

Haemorrhage (US haemorrhage)

Haemorrhoid (US hemorrhoid)

Separate (pronounced ‘seperate’)

Paraphernalia (because it sounds like ‘fuh’ in the middle, not ‘fer’)


And then there are those pesky words where it’s very easy to accidentally switch the letters when typing. Examples included:




These sort of mistakes can often be picked up by setting macros (see penultimate section) in Word.

Homonyms and similar-sounding words

Affect vs. effect: This was mentioned by a couple of people. Usually ‘affect’ is a verb (to affect something) and ‘effect’ is a noun. However, there are times when this is not the case. ‘Affect’ can be a noun in the following cases: to describe a feeling or emotion in psychology or an emotional response in psychiatry. Just to confuse matters, you can use ‘effect’ as a verb to mean ‘cause something to happen’.

Appraise (assess someone/something) vs. apprise (inform someone of something).

Complimentary (praising or approving; something given free of charge) vs. complementary (combined with something else to emphasize/enhance its qualities; alternative medicine).

Continuous vs. continual: These have some overlap in meaning, but cannot be used interchangeably. The embedded links to the Oxford English Dictionary definitions are worth a read if you’re not sure.

Dependant (in British English, a person relying on another for financial support – but is also interchangeable with ‘dependent’, just to confuse you further!) vs. dependent (determined by; unable to do without; subordinate to another phrase or clause). In American English, ‘-ent’ is the only ending used.

Descendent (descending from an ancestor) vs. descendant (person, plant or animal descending from a particular ancestor; something that has developed from a more rudimentary, earlier version). According to the OED, 15 per cent of all citations in the English corpus – that is, all work published in English – use these terms incorrectly. (This is totally understandable!)

License vs. licence (license only in the US): the ‘s’ denotes the verb and the ‘c’ the noun.

Personal (e.g. mine, yours) vs. personnel (employees).

Practise vs. practice (my old friend!): Sally Asnicar of Full Proofreading Services had this great tip:

One of the best tips I read for remembering practice/practise (if you are struggling with the verb/noun issue) is to imagine the word is advice/advise and say it aloud. For example, ‘I always practise good manners at the table’ would also sound okay if you said, ‘I always advise good manners at the table’ (but not ‘advice’) and ‘A doctor’s practice’ could be ‘A doctor’s advice’ (but not ‘advise’).

According to one proofreader, the Macquarie Dictionary in Australia has another good aide-memoire for this kind of word:

Practice and advice are the noun versions that also have another noun in the words: ice.

Or this method of remembering:

practice is a noun; practise is a verb. So just as n (for noun) comes before v (for verb) in the alphabet, so c in practice comes before s in practise.

Principal (adjective meaning ‘main or most important’ or noun meaning ‘the most senior person in a group or organization’, such as a school principal) vs. principle (basis of a system or thought or belief): John Finegold has the following suggestion: a for ‘academic’; e for ‘ethics’.

Prophesy vs. prophecy: See practise/practice.

Stationery (stuff you use in an office or sell in a stationer’s) vs. stationary (still): Useful tips for remembering this one were:

I learned the difference between stationery and stationary by remembering that you buy stationERy from a stationER. Since there is no such thing as a stationar, I could always work out which word I wanted. (ELT writing professional)

Also, you can think of the weather term stationAry front and remember that second a for Air. (Assistant editor)

I remember that there are stationers and confectioners, hence the stationer’s stationery and confectioner’s confectionery. (Editor)

I use the following memory jerker:

Stationery is ER as in Elizabeth Regina (stamps, envelopes, etc.) (proofreader)

John Finegold suggested simply remembering stationery as being ‘e’ for ‘envelope’.

Double-letter combinations

Accommodate: If you can remember there are two double-letter combos in this word, you’re most of the way there.

Millennium: This is often seen spelt wrong, which adds to the confusion (and the Mazda Millenia didn’t do anyone any favours on this front)! One copy-editor said it helped her to link it to the word ‘perennial’ to remember the double ‘n’, although this won’t help if you can’t spell ‘perennial’ either!

Necessary: One writing, editing and publishing professional said:

When I was a kid, to remember how to spell ‘necessary’ with the ‘c’ and the double ‘s’ the right way round, I used to say it in my head as if it were ‘neckessary’. Since a ‘c’ can sometimes have a ‘k’ sound but an ‘s’ can’t, I knew that the ‘c’ came first. Then, by elimination, the double ‘s’ came after it.

From another editor:

I always get mixed up with occasion – does it have 2 Cs and 1 S or the other way round…

How using macros can help you

Richard Adin, writer of the An American Editor blog, recommended using macros, as did a couple of other people. A macro is something you can set up to pick up words you might consistently misspell, particularly if you find yourself often substituting two letters to create a word that exists but isn’t the right word (see ‘Switcheroos’ above). The ‘Dummies’ website has a useful and simple guide to setting up macros.

Richard’s response is worth quoting in detail:

This is where using certain software tools can greatly help. For example, I have found that there are certain medical terms that authors consistently misspell – so often that I have to make a conscious effort to watch for them. So I have added the words to my basic Never Spell Word dataset in my EditTools software. One of the first things I do with a new document is run the NSW macro. By having added the words to the NSW dataset, if the one of the words is misspelled in the document, it is automatically correct with tracking on.

I have two options: I can include both words in my exclude dictionary, which means that every appearance of either word will be squiggly underlined. But I have learned that it is still easy to miss the word. So, instead, I have both of them in my NSW dataset and marked to be highlighted in red – a color difficult to ignore – and so when I run the NSW macro, it highlights each instance of casual and causal in red, forcing me to stop and make sure the right word is used.

In the case of British versus American spelling, I use the Language macro in EditTools. I have created a dataset of British spelled words that need to be Americanized. I run the macro and it makes the corrections (with tracking on so I can see what was changed and I can undo what should be undone). The macro is language neutral, so changes that it makes depend on the dataset I load. I can go British to American, American to British, or any language to any other language. All I need to do is create the dataset.

Looking for love?

And finally, remember this: if you’re currently dating, good spelling could make all the difference! Lorrie Beauchamp of Marketing, My Ass! relates the following:

I remember a writer once saying that he’d marry any woman who knew how to spell ‘occurrence.’

So there you have it.

Busy, busy, busy!

After a few days off over Christmas, I’m back on the work wagon with a vengeance: there’s a short novel to copy-edit by the end of the month, a medium-sized one due in early February, and a book on feminism to put the finishing touches to before 27 January. I’ve been told to expect some transcripts of interviews to edit during February, too, and I have a couple of ideas for generating extra work that I plan to chase up once things quieten down a little.

A certain husband is also turning 40 towards the end of the month, so there are things to be organised on that front as well. I didn’t say it wasn’t going to be challenging achieving the resolutions I set a couple of weeks ago! (If anyone has discovered the secret of making time magically expand, please let me know. I’m serious.)

Getting fitter and healthier – so far, so good…

So far (I know it’s early days, but if I write it here it will hopefully make me feel guilty if I’m tempted to slack) I’m managing to keep my resolution about getting fitter and healthier in 2015. I’ve been swimming a few times and attended two TRX suspension training classes so far (plus a taster just before Christmas). Although I feel stiff and creaky at the moment, I love the variety within the classes, and it also gives me more incentive to avoid eating loads of chocolate as I know it’ll negate the workout I’ve paid for (in cash and in hard graft).

I’ve also got a grand plan to involve the children in my exercise plan – basically, they can join me after school in learning all about burpees and planks. Of course, they’ll think it’s fun and easy while I collapse crying in a heap on the floor, but once I’m fitter I’ll be the one laughing…I think.

On a blog topic-related note, I’ll leave you with a link to Allie Brosh’s brilliant rant on her site Hyperbole and a Half about the common usage of the non-word ‘alot’. I may have shared this before – apologies to those who’ve seen it before – but it’s such a classic I feel it’s worth mentioning again.

Apostrophe or no apostrophe? That is the question…

As I mentioned last week, one of my 2015 resolutions is to read up more on grammar, and I thought I’d share some tips/thoughts every now and again.

I thought I’d start small, with the humble apostrophe.

Why do I still see so many people and companies – both big and small – opting to precede their ‘s’ with an apostrophe when pluralizing? Why are people still struggling with ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? I thought I’d try and clear up a couple of issues with this week’s post.

It’s vs. Its: a simple question.

It helps to remember that ‘it’s’ is just a contraction of ‘it is’. So simply write down a sentence including ‘it’s’, then insert ‘it is’ in its place. If the sentence doesn’t make sense, you should most likely be using ‘its’- or else another word entirely!

Another way to look at it is this: his means ‘belonging to him’ and hers means ‘belonging to her’; therefore its means ‘belonging to it’. For example: She looked up at the building. Its windows were lit up.

Grocer’s apostrophes*


I’m sure a lot of you will have seen this cartoon already, but it’s so good I thought I’d share it again…

Wherever I go, it seems like more and more people are falling in love with the grocer’s apostrophe. I’m pretty sure that when I was at school (not that long ago – and grammar certainly hasn’t changed that much since!) we were taught that to create most plurals you simply add the letter ‘s’ to the end of a word.

You might have seen my tweets before about misuse of these little fellows (Lidl’s ‘Grocers Case Clementine’s’ and the card in Tesco proclaiming ‘Birthday’s Rock’ being cases in point), but they are everywhere. The OxfordWords blog quotes from the Guardian in 2002:

The apostrophe, it sometimes seems, is like an insect – an apostrofly – over the dining table, alighting where it will.

It really rankles every time I see a ‘Brian’s Taxi’s’ cab drive past. Perhaps it’ll bother me less if I imagine one of those pesky apostroflies has come to a sticky end on the side of the cab.

I can kind of understand wanting to use an apostrophe in an abbreviation (such as signs reading Not suitable for HGV’s, garages offering MOT’s or an old Island Records poster mentioning CD’s) or to refer to years (e.g. ‘1980’s); although it’s still incorrect, it doesn’t look as odd. Or perhaps I’ve just become so accustomed to it that it doesn’t stand out as much.

The good old Oxford English Dictionary points out that there are instances where you can use an apostrophe before a plural ‘s’:

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single letters:

I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.

Find all the p’s in appear.

  • you can use an apostrophe to show the plurals of single numbers:

Find all the number 7’s.

They then go on to use bold type, which shows how strongly they feel about the matter:

remember that an apostrophe should never be used to form the plural of ordinary nouns, names, abbreviations, or numerical dates.

There are a couple other uses of the apostrophe that I could go into in more detail, but I’d suggest heading over to the OED’s website, where you can find more detail on how to use the apostrophe in the following contexts:

  • possession (as in ‘its’ above, and also when dealing with nouns and proper nouns ending in ‘s’); and
  • to denote omission (as in ‘it’s’, for example).

To end off, let me quote verbatim from a sign I saw recently:

We are looking for a professional person to join our successful team, the hour’s will be 10 or more, the job will include bar work, kitchen work, and to help set up conference’s, and holiday relief in general dutie’s.

The apostroflies have landed again.

Until next week…

* My husband just suggested I insert a grocer’s apostrophe into the title as a joke, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.