An American Editor

July 16, 2018

Book Indexes — Part 3: The ABCs of Alphabetizing

Ælfwine Mischler

The alphabetizing I learned in school so many years ago — all before PCs and the Internet, of course — was easy. Go by the first letters — Bincoln, Fincoln, Lincoln, Mincoln — and if they’re all the same, look at the second, then the third, etc. — Lankin, Lanky, Lenkin, Lincoln, Linkin. I rarely had to alphabetize anything outside of school assignments (I did not organize my spices alphabetically), but I had to understand alphabetization to find a word in a dictionary, a name in a phone book, a card in a library catalog, or a folder in a file cabinet. Hunting for an organization or business whose name was just initials or began with initials was sometimes tricky, but I soon learned that if I did not find something interspersed with other entries, I could look at the beginning of that letter.

As an indexer, I have to know the conventions of alphabetizing so I can enter terms in the software program, and like so many other things in editorial work, there are different standards to follow. There are two main systems of alphabetizing — word-by-word and letter-by-letter — with some variations within each system. If you are writing an index or hiring an indexer, you have to know which system the publisher uses. Occasionally an indexer might find, in the midst of a project, that switching to the other system would be better, but this must be cleared with the publisher.

Word by Word

In the word-by-word system, generally used in indexes in Great Britain, alphabetizing proceeds up to the first space and then starts over. According to New Hart’s Rules, 2nd ed., hyphens are treated as spaces except where the first element is a prefix, not a word on its own (p. 384). However, the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., treats hyphenated compounds as one word (sec. 16.60).

Letter by Letter

Most US publishers prefer the letter-by-letter system, in which alphabetizing continues up to the first parenthesis or comma, ignoring spaces, hyphens, and other punctuation.

If you are writing your own index in a word processing program, it will use word-by-word sorting. Dedicated indexing software can use either system along with variations. The following table comparing these systems uses Microsoft Word and SKY Indexing Software with various settings. (The items in the table were chosen to demonstrate how the different systems handle spaces, hyphens, commas, and ampersands. Not all of them would appear in an index. The variations on Erie-Lackawanna, for example, would normally have another word, such as “Rail Road,” following them.)


Entries with Same First Word

In the first edition of New Hart’s Rules, names and terms beginning with the same word were ordered according to a hierarchy: people; places; subjects, concepts, and objects; titles of works. You may see this in older books, and it occasionally comes up in indexers’ discussions. However, the second edition of New Hart’s Rules recognizes that most people do not understand this hierarchy and that alphabetizing this way is more work for the indexer. The second edition (p. 385) recommends retaining the strict alphabetical order created by indexing software.

Numbers Following Names

Names and terms followed by numbers are not ordered strictly alphabetically. These could be rulers or popes, or numbered articles or laws, etc. An indexer with dedicated software can insert coding to force these to sort correctly. If you are writing your own index in a word processor, you will have to sort these manually.

When people of different statuses — saints, popes, rulers (perhaps of more than one country), nobles, commoners — share a name, these have to be sorted hierarchically. See New Hart’s Rules, 2nd ed., section 19.3.2, and Kate Mertes, “Classical and Medieval Names” in Indexing Names, edited by Noeline Bridge.

Numerals and Symbols at the Beginning of Entries

Entries that begin with numerals or symbols may be sorted at the top of the index, before the alphabetical sequence. This is preferred by the International and British Standard, and when there are many such entries in a work. Alternatively, they may be interspersed in alphabetical order as if the numeral or symbol were spelled out, and they may be also be double-posted if they appear at the top of the index.

However, in chemical compounds beginning with a prefix, Greek letter, or numeral, the prefix, Greek letter, or numeral is ignored in the sorting.

Greek letters prefixing chemical terms, star names, etc., are customarily spelled out, without a hyphen (New Hart’s Rules, 2nd ed., p. 389).

If you are writing your own index in a word processing program, you will have to manually sort entries with Greek letters or prefixes to be ignored, and entries beginning with numerals if you do not want them sorted at the top. Dedicated indexing programs can be coded to print but ignore items in sorting, or to sort numerals as if they were spelled out.

That’s Not All, Folks

This is just the beginning of alphabetizing issues that indexers face. While most of the actual alphabetizing is done by the software, indexers have to know many conventions regarding whether names are inverted; how particles in names are handled; how Saint, St., Ste. and Mc, Mac, Mc in surnames are alphabetized (styles vary on those); how to enter names of organizations, places, and geographical features. In addition to checking the books mentioned above, you can learn more about indexing best practices and indexing standards on the American Society for Indexing website and from the National Information Standards Organization.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

June 18, 2018

Book Indexes — Part 2: No Magic Wands

Ælfwine Mischler

I took up indexing several years ago when I wanted to branch out from copyediting. I have found indexing to be more intellectually challenging and, thus, a welcome change from copyediting. I do both as a freelancer, but not on one book at the same time, and enjoy the variety.

Most indexers describe what they do as mapping a book — and it is mapping — but I think of it as looking at the book from a different angle. Think of forest and trees. When I am copyediting, it is like creeping along the forest floor, looking at not just every tree but at every detail. (I have seen that name spelled two different ways; which is correct? Does that comma belong here? This verb does not match the subject, but what is the subject in this twisted sentence? Is there a better word for that?) But when I am indexing, it is like flying over the treetops, seeing a bigger picture. (Here is a section on topic X. Over there, the topic is raised again. And this topic here is related to X. There is a lot of information about this person. How should I break it up and organize it?)

Indexing is a creative process. It is said that no two indexers would produce the same index of a given book. I have software to help me organize what I put into an index, but I am the one who decides what to include and what words to use. Just as you do not open a word processing program and expect it to write a document for you, I do not open my indexing program and expect it to write an index for me. Many people seem to think that I plug the manuscript into some software and out pops the index. (There are some programs that claim to do just that, but indexers in my circles say they cannot rely on them to produce a good index.)

No, folks, writing an index is not that easy. I actually read the book, cover to cover. I sometimes wish I had a magic wand that could do it for me — “Indexify!” — but I have to read everything.

“So do you read a page and put in all the A words, then all the B words, then all the C words?” asked a friend.

“No, I put in the words and the software alphabetizes them.”

She still seemed a bit stumped.

“Do you read the whole book first?” asked a nephew.

“No, there is not enough time to do that. I have to index from the start.”

Working from a PDF file of a book’s second proofs (usually), I read the foreword, preface, and introduction to get an idea of the importance of the book, the topics covered, and the book’s organization. From the table of contents, I often index the chapter titles and section headings to form the basic structure of the index. Each chapter title becomes a main entry, and the section headings form subentries. I will then break out most of those subentries to form their own main entries as well. (See Part 1 of this series)

I often have to change the chapter titles or section headings to make them suitable for index entries. If the book does not have section headings, I have the more-difficult task of skimming the text for verbal clues to a change of topic.

Then I go back over the chapters and pick up more details within each section. If the entry has a long page range, I look for some logical way to break it down into smaller ranges; that is, create subentries. Also, if a particular name or concept has many different locators, I look for some way to break them into subentries. I also look for related concepts and write see also cross-references.

What to call a given entry is not always obvious. If nothing comes to me quickly, I use tools within the software — color coding to remind myself to come back to it later, and hidden text with a few words about the topic. Often after reading a few more pages, the answer comes to me.

One of the things that makes indexing so mentally challenging is that I have to keep so many things in my head at one time. If I indexed concept Z as term Z′, I have to continue to keep an eye open for Z throughout the book and remember to call it Z′ and not something else — all the while doing this for concepts A, B, C, etc. My indexing software can help me to use Z′ and not something else, but it cannot help me to remember to pick it out from the book. If I later realize that I have missed some cases of Z, I can attempt to search for a word in the PDF file to find it, but in most cases, there is no exact word or phrase that will take me to Z. The words in an index are often not found in the book, which is another reason why automatic computer indexing cannot produce a good index.

Names often present challenges to me and other indexers. In school years ago, I learned to look for names in an index under the surname — Abraham Lincoln under Lincoln — but not all cultures invert names, and parts of names such as de, von, la, Abu, and Ibn can be problematic. Medieval names and names of nobility and royalty have their own conventions. The first book I indexed for hire contained the whole range of problems: ancient Egyptian, ancient Greek and Roman, medieval, and royal names; pre-modern and modern Arabic names (which follow different conventions); European names with particles; nobility titles (from various countries, no less!); and saints, too!

Fortunately, I had a very understanding managing editor who knew this was my first paid index and was willing to help me with the difficult names. Not all indexers are so fortunate in their clients. (For more information about the complexities of indexing names, see Indexing, edited by Noeline Bridge, and occasional articles in The Indexer.)

What did I have to learn in my indexing course? In addition to conventions about names, there are conventions for wording entries (for example, use plural nouns, don’t use adjectives alone, use prepositions or conjunctions at the beginning of subentries in run-in style), different ways to alphabetize (handled by the software options), and guidelines for whether to index a given item — a topic for another day. The course I took from the University of California at Berkeley Extension also required us to sample the three major indexing software programs — Macrex, Cindex, and Sky — which all do the same things but are different in their interfaces. Online courses are also available from the American Society for Indexing and the Society of Indexers.

Now I leave you so I can sail over the trees of another book.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

May 21, 2018

Book Indexes — Part 1: Basic Vocabulary

Filed under: Contributor Article,Editorial Matters,indexing — americaneditor @ 9:08 am

Ælfwine Mischler

When I tell people that I am a copyeditor and indexer, they usually have some idea of what an editor is (if not specifically a copyeditor), but they ask what an indexer is. I am not alone here; most indexers have the same problem. This series is about book indexes (print and ebooks), but there are also indexes for databases, websites, archives, and journals.

An index is an alphabetized list of keywords with (usually) page numbers to guide the reader to the information in the book (whether that be a single-volume or multi-volume text). An index is usually at the back of a book, but for a multi-volume text, it may be in a separate volume.

What an index is not is a concordance. An index does not list every occurrence of every name or word in the text.

If you are an author or editor looking to hire an indexer, it helps if you are all speaking the same language. Here are some basic terms that will pop up in a conversation about your index.


Indexers use locator rather than page number. While the locators are page numbers in most books, in a multivolume work, locators are volume and page numbers. Locators might be numbered sections or paragraphs in a reference book, map and grid numbers in an atlas, or product numbers in a catalog. Locator can also refer to a range to indicate that the topic is discussed on adjacent pages; thus, 23–25 indicates that a discussion is on three pages but is one locator. A string is three or more locators for the same main entry or subentry.

Type of Index Based on Arrangement

One of the first questions an indexer will ask you is whether you want your index to be run-in or indented. This refers to how the subentries are arranged relative to the main entry.

Run-in indexes are usually found in scholarly books where a lot of details are indexed. They take up less space, but are harder to scan with the eye. Indented indexes, which are easier to scan, are usually found in trade and children’s books.

Each box contains one entry. This entry has the main entry, tomb(s), followed by 11 subentries. Each subentry is followed by one or more locators. I have labeled the string of four locators after plundering, and the page range after in Tura. The subentry Montemhet has a gloss (TT 34) that further identifies the tomb as Theban Tomb 34. In this case the gloss was given in the text by the author. Indexers occasionally add glosses where clarification is needed — for example, to differentiate between two people with the same name.

This one entry has 11 subentries and 20 locators — each page or page range is a locator. In my indexing file, there are 20 records for this one entry, one record for each locator. It is important to understand this meaning of entry because in some types of indexes, the indexer is paid by the number of entries (rather than by the more usual page count or word count). If that were the case here, I would consider the text in the illustration to be 20 entries, not one, and the client and I probably would disagree. If you are writing or commissioning an index that will be paid by the number of entries, make sure that the two parties fully understand and agree on what an entry is before work begins.

Number of Levels of Subheads

An indexer will also ask you how many levels of subheads you will allow. The publishers I work for most often allow only one level, as shown in the above example, but occasionally they allow two. Some kinds of specialized indexing require many levels of subheads. The number of levels affects how the information is organized.

Undifferentiated Locators

If there are more than a given number of locators in a string (usually five to seven), it is best to differentiate them by creating subheads. A long string of locators is next to useless for the reader. Some publishers are strict about limiting the number of locators in a string, and this must be communicated to the indexer at the beginning of the project.

Sometimes publishers do not leave an adequate number of pages for the index so there is insufficient space for subheads. This is often seen in trade books, but unfortunately it is becoming more common in scholarly books. If space is short, the indexer will have to create longer strings of undifferentiated locators.

Cross References

The two most common types of cross references in indexes are See and See also. Indexers use See cross references when there is more than one term for a concept, or more than one name for a person. These tell the readers which word to look up to find the information. In this example, readers who go to Arab Spring are told to go to Revolution of 2011, which is the term the author uses.

Indexers use See also cross references to guide the readers to other topics related to the current one. In this example, page 115 explains how the misnomer “solar boat” came to be used. Under Khufu Boat Museum, readers will find more information about the boat itself and its preservation.

See also cross references can go before or after the locators. As the author, you must communicate that preference to the indexer.

One more term to understand is double post. If there is more than one term for a concept (so that a See cross-reference would be expected for one of them) and only a very few locators for it, indexers might list the locators under both terms rather than using a See cross-reference. This is considered good practice because the reader does not have to flip from one page to another, and it might actually take less space to print the locators than the other term. In this example, the double post does, in fact, take less space than the See cross reference.

Indexers also use double posting to create multiple access points for the reader. All or some of the names and terms that are subentries in one place become their own main entries elsewhere. This is called breaking out and is good practice. In the first example in this essay, all of the subentries become main entries elsewhere. Note that plundering and restorations have their own subentries, and Tura has an additional locator that is not related to tombs and thus did not appear when Tura was a subentry under tomb(s).

If space is limited, indexers use less double posting. For example, if space were limited in this case, I would make separate entries for the tombs of Bakenrenef, Horemheb, Maja, Montemhet (TT 34), Sekhemkhet, and Thery, but not include them as subentries under tombs. I would add See also tombs of individuals under their names.

Just the Beginning

You now have some basic vocabulary so you can communicate with an indexer about your book. In other segments, I explain how we create indexes (Hint: We don’t use magic wands, and the computer does not do it for us) and what you can expect in an index.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

April 16, 2018

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 7: Style Guides for Islamic Texts

Ælfwine Mischler

Much of my early editing experience was in trade books on Islamic topics. Later, I started working for a large Islamic website, where I was asked to write a style guide and eventually became the head of the copyediting unit. Recently, I heard that an Islamic institute that produces videos and podcasts wanted to move into book production and was looking for editors. A perfect match! But when they offered me a book project, I had to reply with “Yes, but . . .” followed by a list of questions for them to answer before I — or anyone — could copyedit for them.

My questions were about author guidelines — that is, a style guide.

What Is a Style Guide?

If you have ever written a research paper, thesis, company report, or book, you most likely were given a style guide to follow. A style guide is a list of preferences for how things should appear in print. It includes such things as when to write numbers as words or numerals; when to use single or double quotation marks; when to use italics; how to cite sources.

Style guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style, New Hart’s New Rules, APA, MLA, and Turabian are quite general. There are more-specialized style guides for science, music, medicine, computer science, and Christian books, etc. While I have seen author guidelines from publishers of Islamic materials, I have not seen a larger style guide for Islamic topics. It should be enough to tell authors or editors to follow Chicago or Hart’s with the addition of paragraphs addressing the style questions below (and perhaps others that arise).

Much of what I have written here is specific to Islamic books, but many items can be adapted to other special subjects. If you are writing a style guide for a publishing house, this essay presents some items you need to decide on. If you are an author, you might have guidelines from your publisher, but I raise some questions that you should consider as a writer.

Style Guides for Special Subjects

Many of the author guidelines provided by publishers who deal with Islam or the Middle East are for academic books, and they deal mostly with how (or whether) to transcribe Arabic names and terms. Pious formulae, honorifics, and common expressions in Arabic are not likely to appear in such books.

But for Muslim authors writing trade books about Islam for either Muslim or non-Muslim audiences, pious formulae, honorifics, and common Arabic expressions often appear, and style issues arise about their use.


I have written a lot about this in parts 1 through 4 of this series. For Arabic, some of the choices to be made are whether to use diacritics and:

  • how to represent Arabic letters, especially those that have no equivalent in English (Part 1 and Part 2)
  • whether or when to show assimilation with the article al- (lam shamsiya) (Part 3)
  • how the a in al- will be dealt with when there is elision (Part 3)
  • whether or when to omit or capitalize the article, and how to alphabetize names beginning with the article (Part 4).

Part 5 and Part 6 show how to insert special characters in Word.

Keep your audience in mind when you make style decisions. If you are writing an introductory text, do you really need to use diacritics? Readers unfamiliar with Arabic will probably find diacritics off-putting and meaningless.

Names of the Deity

Will you use Allah or God? Your decision might depend on the intended audience. Allah has 99 names. If you use any of them, will you use only the transcribed Arabic, only the English translation, or both? If you are writing a style guide, standardize the translation for use in all of your publications.


Will you capitalize pronouns referring to Allah/God? When I was in Catholic primary school in the 1960s, we were taught to capitalize all pronouns referring to God and Jesus, but the preferred style in most circles now is to lowercase the pronouns. However, many Christian and Muslim writers prefer to capitalize the pronouns (although Muslims lowercase pronouns referring to Jesus). If you do capitalize pronouns, remember to also capitalize relative pronouns who, whom, and whose when they refer to God.

What about throne, hands, eyes, etc. when referring to Allah’s? Many Muslim writers want to capitalize them.

Citing Qur’an 

Will you cite Qur’an verses by the name of the sura or by its number? If you choose to use the name, will you transcribe it or translate it? The sura names vary from one translation to another, and some suras have more than one Arabic name, so if you choose to use the name, it is best to also provide the sura number. Standardize the names of the suras of the Qur’an across your publications.

Most Islamic publishers allow quotations only from published translations. Which translation will you use?

Honorifics and Common Expressions in Arabic

Will you include honorifics, pious formulae, and common Arabic expressions? If so, will you write them in English or transcribed Arabic?

Some examples of these and their translations (taken from the Style Guide of the Islamic Foundation and Kube Publishing) are:

  • ʿazza wa jall = Mighty and Majestic (used after Allah)
  • bismillah al-rahman al-rahim = In the name of God/Allah, most Compassionate, most Merciful
  • insha’Allah = if God/Allah wills


The Qur’an instructs Muslims to extend prayers for Allah’s blessing and peace (ṣalawāt) on the Prophet, but whether ṣalawāt has to be in print is another matter. Academic books outside Islamic studies do not use it.

Islamic publishers may have different styles. In academic texts within Islamic studies proper, Islamic Foundation and Kube, for example, place ṣalawāt in the foreword or introduction with a note to Muslim readers to “to assume its use elsewhere in the text.”

Ṣalawāt is more accepted in devotional texts, but publishers might restrict its use to after Muhammad, the Prophet, Messenger (of Allah/God), disallowing it in genitive constructions and after pronouns.

If you will use ṣalawāt in your book, will you write it in transcribed Arabic, translate it to English, abbreviate it (usually as pbuh for “peace be upon him” or ṣaw for the Arabic “ṣallallahu ʿalayhi wa-sallam”), or use an Arabic script glyph?

A word to the wise: If you use ṣalawāt spelled out, you are going to run up your word count. Write a code that will count as one word instead, for example [pbuh]. The copyeditor can still check whether the code is properly placed, and you can use Find and Replace at the end to change it to the form you want.

Technical Terms

Remember your audience. If you’re writing an introductory-level book, keep foreign technical terms to a minimum.

When you do introduce a technical term in the text, will you write the Arabic transcription or the English translation first? Will you put the translation in double quotation marks, single quotation marks (a common practice in linguistics), parentheses, or parentheses and quotation marks? Will you also show the Arabic script? After the initial use, will you use the Arabic term or the English translation? If the former, will you italicize the word only on the first use or on all uses? Will you put a glossary in the back of your book?

Create a list of words that have been accepted into English and that will not be treated as foreign words (that is, not written with diacritics or italics).


Obviously, questions about ṣalawāt are specific to Islamic books, but if you are writing about other religions or other cultures, you can adapt many of the questions about styling technical and foreign terms and expressions to your subject. Keep your audience in mind when making your decisions. Make things easy for your readers.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

April 2, 2018

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 6: Using AutoCorrect and FRedit for Special Characters

Ælfwine Mischler

As an editor and indexer, I often deal with texts that use diacritics to transcribe Arabic. In parts 1 through 4 of this series (Romanized Arabic in English Texts, Part 1 — Sources of Variations; Romanized Arabic in English Texts, Part 2 — Other Challenges for EditorsRomanized Arabic in English Texts, Part  3 — Spelling the Definite ArticleRomanized Arabic in English Texts, Part 4 — Omitting, Capitalizing, and Alphabetizing the Definite Article), I often mention the use of special characters, but until now I have not explained how to put them in your Word document. In Part 5, Romanizing Arabic in English Texts — Part 5: Inserting Symbols and Creating Shortcuts, I discuss how to insert symbols and create keyboard shortcuts. In this part, I discuss how to use AutoCorrect and FRedit for special characters.


Thanks to Geoff Hart and his Effective Onscreen Editing, for this method (and I highly recommend his book for all editors and writers).

  1. Go to the Insert tab and Symbol menu.

  1. Choose the font and subset.
  2. Find and select the character you need.

  1. Click on AutoCorrect in the lower left.

  1. In the Replace box, type some combination of keystrokes that will be easy to remember — usually best encased in some form of brackets — and then click on OK.

Now every time you type that combination, it will change to the special character you want. In my example, I chose [n-] to AutoCorrect to ñ (Unicode 00F1). If you don’t want the keystroke combination to change in a particular instance, just type Ctrl + Z (Undo). You can repeat this with all the special characters you need. In the screenshot, you can see some of the other AutoCorrect combinations I have created for the work I do.

It is sometimes difficult to find the characters you need in the Symbols table. If you have the Unicode values of the characters you need from your publisher or another source, you can also access AutoCorrect from the Word Options dialog box.

First, collect all the symbols you need and their Unicode values, either in another document or in your current document. I have collected all the Unicode characters that I use in one file, with their Unicode values, and the AutoCorrect coding that I use.

  1. If you are working in Word 2010 or a later version, go to the File tab > Options > Proofing > AutoCorrect Options. If you are working in Word 2007, use the Office button to get to Word Options.

  1. Then follow the steps above to create AutoCorrect codes for each character, using copy-paste to put the character in the With box.

Identifying a Character: More than One Way to Stick a Macron on a Letter

Another useful trick I learned from Geoff Hart’s book is how to identify a special character in a document that I am editing. Put your cursor immediately after a letter and hit Alt + X. The letter will change to its Unicode value. Hit Alt + X again and the character will appear again.

You can also use this method to insert a special character. Type the code and then Alt + X. If your special character is to come immediately after a numeral (such as if you are inserting a degree symbol), insert a space after the numeral, then delete the space after you insert the special character. Allen Wyatt gives more details on this in his Word Tips.

Being able to identify a character this way is handy if you come across an odd-looking character, or if you want to check whether your author has used the correct characters. There are various similar-looking characters to represent Arabic ayn and hamza, and I often have to check them. I can use the FRedit macro to highlight either the correct or incorrect characters as I find the need.

FRedit Macro

FRedit is a free macro available from Paul Beverley at Archive Publications. The FR is for Find-Replace. Paul has also provided videos to show you how to use this and other macros he has written.

You can use FRedit to replace your codes with special characters, similar to the way you would do it with AutoCorrect. The difference is that in using FRedit, your codes can be case-sensitive and your changes will not be made immediately as you type but later, when you run the macro. Collect all the special characters and your codes in one Word document to be used any time with FRedit.

When I have used editing software to check for inconsistencies, it did not recognize the difference between a plain letter and the same letter with a diacritic on it. I told Daniel Heuman of Intelligent Editing Ltd., creators of PerfectIt, about this, and sent him a sample file and a list of Unicode characters that I use for Arabic. He recently wrote to me to say that they had fixed the bug that caused this problem. I have tested it briefly and it is not quite right, but I will work with Daniel on this. With a combination of PerfectIt and FRedit, you should be able to catch most inconsistencies in files with special characters.

If you are editing rather than writing, you can use FRedit to automatically highlight — or, if you prefer, change to a different color — all of the special characters in a document. I find this useful because it draws my attention to the characters and makes it easier to see if a word is spelled once with a diacritic and once without, or if a different character was used.

If you are already familiar with FRedit, this image from the macro library will be understandable. This macro highlights all of these characters in yellow. I added the ones I needed to the ones provided by Paul. You could write similar macros that would highlight all of the single open quotation marks (sometimes used for ayn) in a second color and all of the apostrophes (sometimes used for hamza) in a third color — but note that it will also highlight these characters when they are used for other purposes.

Remember that I said there is more than one way to stick a macron on a letter? I was editing a document with a lot of transcribed Arabic titles at the time I was learning to use FRedit. I used the macro to highlight the Unicode special characters of my choice and was surprised that some letters that clearly had macrons were not highlighted. Using the Alt + X trick, I discovered why: A different character — a macron alone — had been used on those letters. They had to be changed to the correct Unicode character. FRedit made it easy to see which characters needed fixing because they were left unhighlighted.

You should now find it easier to use special characters in Word. In Part 5, I explained how to insert special characters by using the Insert Symbol feature and by creating keyboard shortcuts, which are suitable if you do not need a lot of different characters. In this part, I have explained two methods to use when you need a lot of different special characters. With AutoCorrect, you create codes that change to the desired special characters as you type. With FRedit, you create codes that change to the desired special characters when you run the macro (at the end or periodically as you work on a long file). You can also use a FRedit macro to highlight special characters so you can spot inconsistencies more easily in spelling and see any characters that look like the ones you want, but are in fact something else.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

March 26, 2018

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 5: Inserting Symbols and Creating Shortcuts

 Ælfwine Mischler

As an editor and indexer, I often deal with texts that use diacritics to transcribe Arabic. In parts 1 through 4 of this series (Romanized Arabic in English Texts, Part 1 — Sources of Variations; Romanized Arabic in English Texts, Part 2 — Other Challenges for EditorsRomanized Arabic in English Texts, Part  3 — Spelling the Definite ArticleRomanized Arabic in English Texts, Part 4 — Omitting, Capitalizing, and Alphabetizing the Definite Article), I often mention the use of special characters, but until now, I have not explained how to put them in your Word document. In this part, I discuss how to insert symbols and create keyboard shortcuts. In part 6, I discuss how to use AutoCorrect and FRedit for special characters.

Insert Symbol

If you only need to insert a few special characters in a Word document, you can use this method.

  1. Go to the Insert tab and click on Symbol. You will bring up a box with up to 20 of the most recently inserted symbols.
  2. If what you want is not there, click on More Symbols at the bottom.
  3. Another window will pop up. (You can click and drag on the little triangle at the bottom to enlarge it if you want.) Choose the font and subset that you want.

  1. Find and click on the character you want in the table.
  2. Click on Insert, then Close. The next time you open the Symbols menu, that character will appear in the box that opens first, so you don’t have to search for it again.

Note that not all characters are available in all fonts, but the most common ones should be available in popular fonts. Your publisher might require you to use a particular font or even provide one for you to download and use. For Arabic, in Times New Roman, I find the letters with macrons under Latin Extended A; the letters with dots are under Latin Extended Additional.

Under the table of letters, on the right, you will see the character code (circled in red in the screen shot). I have selected the Unicode (hex) code from the drop-down list to the right of that, since most publishers require Unicode characters. If your publisher has provided you with a list of Unicode characters to use, check that the code for the character you have selected from the table matches the one from your publisher, since some characters look similar but are different.

The method above is fine if you only have to use it a few times, but if you have to do this many times, you will want another method. You can create keyboard shortcuts (discussed below) if you only have a few different characters to insert, but if you have to use many different characters in a text (as I do with Arabic), use AutoCorrect or the FRedit macro (discussed in part 6).

Create Keyboard Shortcuts

  1. Go to the Insert tab and the Symbols menu.
  2. Find and select the character you want, but instead of clicking on Insert, click on Shortcut Key at the bottom left. A new window pops up.

  1. Type in the shortcut you want — usually Alt + something or Alt + Shift + something. Word will warn you if the key combination is already assigned to something else, in which case you can override (not a good idea if it’s a function) or choose another key combination.
  2. Click on Assign.

Note that the lowercase and uppercase versions of the same character have different character codes, so if you need both versions, you will have to repeat these steps and use a different key combination for each.

I have created shortcuts for characters that I use frequently: Alt + A for Æ [00C6] (the first letter in my name) and Alt + V for P (a check mark in Wingdings 2).

As I said, this method is OK if you need only a few special characters, but if you need many, such as I do for transcribing Arabic, you will run out of possible key combinations. Instead, use AutoCorrect or the FRedit macro, which I discuss in part 6.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

February 19, 2018

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 4: Omitting, Capitalizing, and Alphabetizing the Definite Article

AElfwine Mischler

As an editor and indexer in Cairo, I often work on materials containing Arabic terms and names. The Arabic definite article, usually romanized as al-, although such a small word — only two letters, alif lam — often presents problems for writers and editors of English texts.

In Part 3, I talked about:

  • assimilating with the following letter
  • merging the article
  • elliding the vowel

In this part, I talk about more difficulties with the definite article:

  • dropping the article in names
  • capitalizing
  • alphabetizing

Dropping the Article in Names

Most newspapers and trade books drop the article from surnames when the surname alone is used on subsequent mention of a person. For example, Bashar al-Assad on first mention, and Assad on subsequent mention. If this is the style of the publisher for whom you are writing or editing, be consistent, but note that in scholarly works, styles often call for the article to not be dropped. In those instances, Bashar al-Assad is al-Assad on subsequent mention.

My Egyptian colleagues have often complained to me about styles that drop the definite article from names. They feel that the article is an integral part of their names. One colleague said that her family name El-Naggar was a Muslim family name and that Naggar was a Christian family name. Dropping the article was changing her identity. Some contemporary people spell their family name as one word without the hyphen (sometimes with camel capping, as Nobel Prize–winner Mohamed ElBaradei spells his surname) and thus ensure that the article is not dropped.


My Egyptian colleagues also were adamant that the definite article in their names be capitalized, even when it was hyphenated to the main part of their name. However, most styles of romanization do not capitalize al- at the beginning of a name unless it comes at the beginning of a sentence or bibliography entry. Some styles capitalize al- only at the beginning of a sentence and not elsewhere.

When the definite article comes at the beginning of a book or journal title, styles vary. Some publishers lowercase the article in all cases, even when it comes at the beginning of a citation. Others capitalize the article if it is the first word in a title, but not elsewhere in the title.

For that matter, capitalization of other words in titles also varies among publishers. Some capitalize only the first word and proper nouns within the title, but not adjectives derived from proper nouns. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., for example, uses sentence style: “Capitalize only the first word and any proper nouns. This practice applies to titles of works as well as to names of journals and organizations” (Sec. 11.80). The International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES) says to follow English capitalization rules, which I would interpret to include capitalization of adjectives derived from proper nouns.

Once again, my advice to authors and copyeditors is to know what the publisher wants, be meticulous in creating your style sheet, and keep a sharp eye out for inconsistencies.


Arabic names beginning with the definite article are conventionally alphabetized by ignoring the definite article. Thus, for example, al-Nahhas is alphabetized under N. How the article is handled in alphabetical lists again varies from one publisher to another. Some will keep the article in its place but ignore it (a style often preferred by indexers), while others will detach it and add it at the end preceded by a comma: Nahhas, Mustafa al-. Indexes containing Arabic names should carry a note to that effect at the beginning to direct readers, especially in trade books. The convention is well known in scholarly circles, but a note is still useful for nonspecialist readers who might search the index.

Perhaps I have a streak of rebelliousness in me, or I am just influenced by my Egyptian colleagues who consider the article in their surnames to be integral to their identities. As more Arabs write their surnames as one unhyphenated unit, will the convention of ignoring the article in alphabetizing change? When I index a book with modern Arabic names, I itch to alphabetize all the names beginning with an article — whether it is attached or not — under A or E, depending on how the person spells his or her name. Otherwise, how will index users know (or remember if they have already read the book) that So-and-so spells his name as one word but What’s-her-name does not? Although it resulted in a long list of names under A in the index, I was quite pleased when the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Arab Novelistic Traditions requested that I not discount the article in names. However, book titles beginning with Al- had the article moved to the end of the entry.

One final note. The word for “clan,” Āl, is often written without the macron in trade books and newspapers, and might be confused for the definite article and wrongly attached to the following word with a hyphen. It appears in the name of the ruling family of Qatar, Āl Thānī, and also in the name of one sura of the Qur’an, Āl ʿImrān. If you should come upon such a name, it should be alphabetized under Al.*

*Heather Hedden, “Arabic Names,” in Indexing Names, ed. Noeline Bridge (Medford, NJ: Information Today, 2012).

Ælfwine Mischler ( is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

January 15, 2018

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 3: Spelling the Definite Article

by Ælfwine Mischler

As an editor and indexer in Cairo, I often work on materials containing Arabic terms and names. The Arabic definite article is usually romanized as al-, but the vowel is sometimes written as e (especially common in Egyptian names) or u. Although it is such a small word — only two letters, alif lam — it often presents problems for writers and editors of English texts.

In this essay, I talk about these elements:

  • assimilating with the following letter
  • merging the article
  • elliding the vowel

In Part 4, I will discuss these difficulties:

  • dropping the article in names
  • capitalizing the article
  • alphabetizing names and words with the article

Assimilating with the Following Letter

Years ago when I joined the staff of a large Islamic website, it did not have a style guide, so I set out to write one in consultation with the heads of several departments. It was not easy because the website had a broad range of intended audiences and levels of formality between departments, and for technical reasons we could not use diacritics (which I felt were inappropriate for most of the audiences anyway). The Arabic definite article was the source of many arguments, which I lost. The books I now work on use the style that I prefer, so I am not constantly cringing as I edit.

The arguments were about what to do with lam, the letter that is usually written as l in English. Half the letters in Arabic are shamsiya letters (“solar” letters) and half are qamariya (“lunar” letters). If lam comes before a solar letter, it is assimilated to the letter following and is known as lam shamsiya (“solar lam”). “The sun” in Arabic, al-shams, is actually pronounced ash-shams. If lam comes before a lunar letter, it is pronounced as usual and is known as lam qamariya (“lunar lam”). “The moon,” al-qamar, is pronounced as it is spelled.

Most scholarly books and trade books ignore the lam shamsiya and do not show assimilation. To my mind, this is best for the average reader, who will perhaps recognize al- as a morpheme but be confused by its variants. The assimilation should be shown when the correct pronunciation is important, such as in transcribing poetry, prayers, or Qur’an. Authors of Islamic books might insist on showing the assimilation in all cases. If you are an author, you should, of course, check the publisher’s guidelines and discuss them with your editor if you have any disagreement. If you are a copyeditor and your author has shown assimilation of lam and the managing editor is OK with it, be sure it is done consistently.

In romanization, the l of the definite article assimilates with the following letters, with or without diacritics: t or th, d or dh, s or sh, z, r, l, n.

Merging the Article

The article is usually romanized as al- in scholarly texts, but individuals may write the vowel differently in their names, and the article may merge with the preceding word. A common Arabic male name consists of Abd (or ʿAbd) [ʿ 02bf] (slave) plus one of the names of God: for example Abd al-Aziz (or ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz) [ʿ 02bf, ī 012b] “slave of the Almighty.” An individual with such a name might spell it with Abdal or (more often) Abdul or Abdel as the first part, and the second part might be attached to the first with a hyphen or closed up. Thus, someone named Abd al-Aziz might spell his name Abdal-Aziz, Abdal Aziz, AbdalAziz, Abdalaziz, Abdul Aziz, Abdul-Aziz, AbdulAziz, Abdulaziz, Abd el-Aziz, Abdel Aziz, Abdel-Aziz, AbdelAziz, or Abdelaziz. The name Abdallah (or Abdullah) “slave of Allah” is often spelled as one name.

My experience has been that people with Arabic names who grow up in a country that uses the Latin alphabet are consistent in spelling their names, but people who grow up in a country that uses the Arabic alphabet are often inconsistent in romanizing their names. This can be a problem for researchers — those who publish under multiple spellings will not get all the credit they should, and those who are looking for a particular person have to search multiple spellings.

Your job as an editor is to check that the spelling of an individual’s name is consistent, even if two people with the same Arabic name spell their names differently. A carefully prepared style sheet is essential for this. As I mentioned in Part 1, your task is easier when editing scholarly works that use diacritics (where ʿAbd al-[name] is used for historical names), but, depending on the style guide, names of people from recent centuries may or may not be transcribed using those rules and thus may be variously romanized.

Elliding the Vowel of the Article

In Arabic script, some conjunctions and prepositions are inseparable from the following word, and in most transcription systems these are shown with a hyphen: bi-, wa-, li-, la-, etc. The vowel of the definite article is not pronounced. Whether and how this ellision is shown in transcription varies from one system to another, giving writers and editors one more thing to watch for.

The International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES) gives the following examples in its guidelines: “fī al-ʿirāq wa-miṣr” (in Iraq and Egypt; is not an inseparable prefix in Arabic script) but “fī miṣr wa-l-ʿirāq” (in Egypt and Iraq). However, the Brill Encyclopaedia of Islam 3 differentiates between prefixes that keep the alif or delete it in Arabic script, and gives these examples in its Instructions for Authors: “wa-l-kitāb, fī l-masjid, Muḥyī l-Dīn, bi-l-kitāb, but lil-masjid.” Yet another transcription system shows the ellision with an apostrophe: wa-’l-kitāb, fī ’l-masjid. In this case, the author and copyeditor must also ensure that the symbol for hamza (ʾ) is not used where an apostrophe should be.

Part 1 of this series discusses the reasons for various spellings of Arabic names and terms, and Part 2 discusses some other challenges that authors and copyeditors might have. Part 4 will provide more discussion of the definite article.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

January 8, 2018

A New Year — and a New Era for An American Editor

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Happy new year to all subscribers and contributors to An American Editor! As most of you know, blog founder Rich Adin has done me the great honor of handing off “editorship” of An American Editor. I’m both thrilled and intimidated by this responsibility — Rich created big shoes to fill, so to speak. The response to our announcements of this change from colleagues has been downright heart-warming, and I appreciate all of your generous comments in various forums. I hope to live up to his — and all of your — confidence in me.

While Rich and I have been editing professionally for almost the same amount of time, we work on very different kinds of projects, so my take on this profession will be unlike his. He routinely works on huge projects, usually in the medical field; even one of my biggest projects would probably make only a chapter in one of Rich’s usual manuscripts. He also functions as a company, with people who work for him, while I’m happily a sole proprietor, occasionally working with colleagues but mostly on my own. However, we share similar opinions about many aspects of editing today. We both care about quality and excellence, and are concerned about consolidation in publishing, outsourcing, and professionalism in the field. We notice many of the same things about how editors approach their work, how independent editors manage their businesses, and what clients expect or demand from editors at all levels.

Rich is also far more technologically and technically ept than I will ever be, but I’ll do my best to enhance my skills in that area on behalf of our subscribers.

Because I’m new to blogging on my own, I probably will not post quite as often as Rich has been doing, so please do not be concerned or disappointed if it takes awhile for me to work up to a three-posts/week schedule.

I’m glad to report that several of our columnists still plan to be involved with An American Editor and continue to share their perspectives on editing: Jack Lyon, of macro fame; Carolyn Haley, fiction editor (and author; a double threat!); and AElfwine Mischler, indexer (who also covers working in Arabic). We are open to new columns, either occasional or regular ones, from new contributors. If you would like to contribute essays to An American Editor, contact me with your ideas at

No one (including me) gets paid, so all posts you see here or would consider writing are labors of love — love of our profession, of quality, and — if this doesn’t seem too touchy-feely — of colleagues.

If there are topics you would like to see addressed here, please feel free to let me know at

Again, my thanks to all of you for your support of An American Editor to date, and from this point onward. Here’s wishing a productive and profitable new year for all.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and the new editor-in-chief of An American Editor.

December 18, 2017

Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 2: Other Challenges for Editors

By Ælfwine Mischler

I have edited many articles and books with Arabic names and terms. Because of my language skills, I can often answer questions about romanized Arabic that colleagues ask in e-groups or to me directly. For example, a copyeditor once complained about the variant spellings her author was using, such as Kamal and Kamel, and asked which way she should fix them. Editor, beware! There are a lot of pairs or triplets of Arabic names that you might think are the author’s careless spelling when in fact they are different names. Don’t be too quick to correct, but do query.

Kamal and Kamel (or Kamil) are different names, Kamāl and Kāmil, respectively. Another common pair is Salah and Saleh (or Salih), which are Ṣalāḥ and Ṣāliḥ, respectively. There are several names romanized with a-m-r in English, but not all are from the same root: Amr or ʿAmr; Ammar or ʿAmmar; Amir or Ameer; Aamir or Amir (see image below). The last is rare but I came upon it while doing a quality control edit: there was a caliph known as al-Aamir. That one is hard to spell without diacritics; the double a is ugly, but Aamir and Amir have different meanings and should be distinguished.

Arabic names

And be aware that in addition to there being multiple ways to spell Muhammad, there is another name that you might think is a typo but is not: Muhannad.

What Does All This Mean for a Copyeditor?

If the text is academic English, romanization with diacritics will eliminate the ambiguities between similar names and terms. However, you do have to keep a careful watch for mistaken variants, such as an author forgetting a macron or a dot under a letter. In my experience, software to catch inconsistencies does not catch them if they involve special characters with diacritics.

Whether or not the author uses diacritics, keep a detailed style sheet — which you should do in any case. Record the first instance of every romanized name or term, and check every subsequent instance of it against your record. If there is any variation, correct it if you know enough Arabic to check it and do so, or else just flag it for the author to check and put the variant spelling on the style sheet. There is always the possibility that there are in fact two different but similar names or terms.

Dealing with terms and with names from the classical era of Islam is easier in that there should not be variation within a text. A name such as Yūsuf might be spelled Yusuf without diacritics, but if there are multiple people with the same name in the text, the name should be spelled the same way for all of them.

However, the same name from the current or recent centuries might have various spellings for the reasons I gave in Part 1. Without diacritics, Yūsuf could be spelled, for example, Yusef, Youssef, Yousef, or Yousuf. Of course, if there is a common or preferred spelling of a particular person’s name — especially if that person wrote his or her name in the Latin alphabet — that is the spelling that should be used.

When you are editing, if the variant spellings of a name are clearly referring to the same person but you do not know which spelling is correct or preferred, keep a record of them and query the author. If they are not referring to the same person, the “variants” might in fact be two different names, as I noted above. If you are editing a memoir, history, or other material where there are several people with the same name but different spellings, make a note in your style sheet to identify each person (“sister of the author,” “financial minister,” etc.).

Names with Abu

Another source of apparent inconsistency is names that in Arabic change the final vowel in the genitive. Many names are formed with Abu (Abū) plus another name, for example Abu Bakr (Abū Bakr) and Abu Taleb (Abū Ṭālib). In Arabic, the nominative Abū changes to Abī in the genitive, but in English the nominative ending u/ū should be retained. Untrained translators often keep the Arabic genitive ending i/ī when the name follows a preposition — for example, “She gave the money to Abi Bakr” rather than “to Abu Bakr” — but I correct Abi to Abu.

In most transcriptions an exception is made when Abu is preceded by ibn (“son”) or bint (“daughter”). Then the genitive is kept because the full name in Arabic will always have the genitive: Asma’ bint Abi Bakr, Ali ibn Abi Taleb. If you see bint Abi [something] or ibn Abi [something], you can keep Abi. If your author has consistently kept Abu after ibn or bint, query it. Some publishers might prefer to keep the nominative form of the name in all cases.

Virgules in Transcriptions

Another colleague asked about the use of a virgule in a transcription. Her author had followed the translation of a term with the romanized Arabic term followed by a virgule and more romanized Arabic. What did it mean and what should she do with it? For example, the author had written “companion (ṣāḥib/aṣḥāb)” and “word (kalimah/-āt).”

Fortunately for the editor, she did not have to do anything. The author was presenting the singular and plural forms of the words. Arabic has more than ten plural forms, so this is often necessary. In the first case the word has a broken plural in which letters are inserted, and in the second case the word has a regular feminine plural and only the ending is shown. This would be understood by the book’s intended audience. If you see a similar use of virgules when you are editing, it should not worry you.

Splitting Headaches

When you are proofreading, keep an eye out for Arabic names and terms that are split and hyphenated at the end of a line. It is best to not divide them except after the definite article al- or ibn. The letter pairs dh, gh, kh, sh, and th can represent the end of one syllable and the beginning of another, or they can be digraphs (two letters representing one sound), in which case they must not be split. If either letter of the above pairs has a dot or other diacritic, the word can be divided between the letters if necessary, according to New Hart’s Style, but The Chicago Manual of Style says the word can be divided only if both letters have a dot. Vowel digraphs (ou, oo, ee, aa) and diphthongs (ai, ay, aw, au) must never be split, and words must not be split before or after hamza, which is represented by an apostrophe or ʾ.

In Part 3: Spelling the Definite Article and Part 4: More on the Definite Article, I discuss some of the editing questions raised by al-, the Arabic definite article.

(For the first essay in this series, see: Romanized Arabic in English Texts — Part 1: Sources of Variations.)

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

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