An American Editor

August 3, 2015

Numbers in Sentences: Customizing PerfectIt to Find What You Want

by Daniel Heuman

PerfectIt’s test of numbers in sentences generates more questions from customers than any of PerfectIt’s other tests. Here are some (anonymized) questions that users have sent:

“When assessing inconsistencies in how numbers are handled, PerfectIt finds, say, 4 instances, when there are 10 it should have found.”

“My version of PerfectIt isn’t finding numbers. Is there a fix?”

“Why is PerfectIt missing the number ‘2’ in a sentence?”

What do all these queries have in common? They all assume that PerfectIt’s test of numbers in sentences should find every number in a document. But PerfectIt doesn’t work that way. To understand why, it helps to explain the philosophy behind PerfectIt.

How PerfectIt Works

PerfectIt is an add-in for MS Word. It checks documents in one of two ways:

  • It looks for inconsistencies. For example, if the number 3 appears in numerals in one sentence, but the number four is spelled out in another sentence, that’s an inconsistency.
  • It can be set to check user preferences. For example, you can set it to make sure that all numbers over 20 appear in numerals.

By default, PerfectIt checks consistency in three separate groups: 1-10, 11-20, and 21-100. PerfectIt checks for inconsistency within those groups, but not between them. So, for example, it would check if the numbers 1 through 10 appear in numerals and spelled out. It would not compare the appearance of the number 4 to the number 16 since those are in separate groups. Some style guides work 0-9, 10-19, and 20-99, so you can also set PerfectIt to look at those groups instead. In any case, PerfectIt goes through and alerts you to any inconsistencies. It shows each location and suggests one is likely to be wrong (leaving you to decide which).

If you set PerfectIt to enforce a preference, you can set the preference for each of the groups (1-10, 11-20 and 21-100). So, for example, you could set the numbers 0 to 9 to appear spelled out, then the numbers 10 to 19 and 20 to 99 could be set to numerals. PerfectIt will then go through and alert you to any instances that do not conform to that preference (and you can decide which to change). This video explains how to set those preferences.

What PerfectIt Finds

So going back to the users’ questions, the first thing to understand is that PerfectIt tests for numbers in sentences (not numbers in other parts of the document). If you want to find all numbers in a document, you can do that with Word’s wildcards (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: Wildcarding for Dollars). PerfectIt, on the other hand, specifically focuses on numbers in sentences.

So let’s say we set PerfectIt to spell out numbers less than 20. With that preference, how many numbers would you expect PerfectIt to find in this paragraph?

As described in Chapter 4, we started our work in 1996 when we were just 18 years old. Since then, a simple experiment that takes only 7 seconds has been copied by over 3 million people.

What do you think? There are four numbers under 20, so should PerfectIt find all four and suggest spelling them out? The answer is none. PerfectIt doesn’t alert you to numbers in sentences that it “thinks” are intended to be that way. So it won’t check numbers following the word “Chapter.” It won’t check numbers that indicate someone’s age. It won’t check measurements. And it won’t check numbers before the word “million” or “billion.”

Before you write us a letter of complaint (we’ve had several about this), think about the advantages of that functionality. Why should PerfectIt show every number? If that’s what you want, you can do that with Word’s wildcards (the pattern to search for is “<[0-9]{1,}>”). But showing every number would slow users down. More importantly, the more false positives that PerfectIt displays, the more likely it is that users will skip results. So focusing on locations that are most likely to be errors is how good software should work.

Fine-Tuning PerfectIt

Not everyone works the same way. So with all the queries around this test, we decided to change things in PerfectIt 3. PerfectIt 3 gives users the ability to fine-tune the test of numbers in sentences to work in exactly the way the user wants.

The figure below shows the Fine-Tuning tab of PerfectIt’s style sheet editor (double-click on image to enlarge it). It gives four new options for customizing how PerfectIt treats numbers in this test.

PerfectIt Style Sheet Editor

PerfectIt Style Sheet Editor

The four new options are:

  • Skip Numbers Followed By: This is the list of words that PerfectIt will look at after each number. If any of these words appear, then that number will be skipped by PerfectIt. Each word is separated by the “|” symbol (as seen in the image). You can add words, take individual words out or even take all the words out.
  • Skip Numbers Preceded By: This is identical to the list of words after numbers, but it’s the list that PerfectIt will check that appear before numbers.
  • Skip Numbers Joined By: Because numerals are usually used for comparisons and ranges, PerfectIt skips instances such as “between 3 and 4.” It does that based on the word in between the two numbers. You can change, add to, or remove those in-between words.
  • Skip Extra Words Found Preceding Numbers: PerfectIt looks for words like “Chapter” that often precede numbers. It also scans for other words that frequently appear before numbers and attempts to automatically figure out what those words are (even if they are not listed above). Tick this box if you want it to look for similar words; untick it if you don’t.

With these options, you can set PerfectIt to find as many (or as few) matches as you want. But remember, just because you can fine-tune PerfectIt, it doesn’t mean that you have to! These are features that we added for the small minority who want to alter these settings. For everyone else, the best approach is not to even look at these settings. It just helps to understand what PerfectIt will find (and what it won’t).

Learning More

There are lots of other tests that you can customize in PerfectIt, and our series of video tutorials covers all of them.

Daniel Heuman is the founder and CEO of Intelligent Editing, and the author of PerfectIt. If you have a PC with MS Word, you can get a 30-day free trial of PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing.


Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

July 29, 2015

The Business of Editing: Clicking for Profit with Click List

As you know, my mantra is that every second counts and the more seconds I can save by increasing efficiency, the more profitable my editing will be. One drag on time is typing — the more typing I do, the more time is spent doing it and correcting it.

Toggle Word vs. Click List

One way I have decreased the amount of time required to edit was to devise and make extensive use of the Toggle Word macro. Toggle Word lets me replace, for example, an acronym with its full name with a single click. (Time yourself: How long does it take you to change T2D-GENES to Type 2 Diabetes Genetic Exploration by Next-generation sequencing in Ethnic Samples (T2D-GENES)? It takes me the time to select T2D-GENES and mouse click on Toggle Word — about 2 seconds.)

But Toggle Word only changes exact existing text; I can’t put my cursor in a blank space and have Toggle Word insert the correct text nor can I use Toggle Word to change a word or phrase that doesn’t exactly match what is in its dataset (e.g., if the dataset includes “about” but not “About,” Toggle will only change “about”). To remedy this omission, Click List was created. Click List is a complement to Toggle Word: Toggle Word replaces text, Click List inserts text or replaces selected text (see “An Example From a Recent Project” below).

Click List & Click List Manager

Click List and its Manager are found on the EditTools tab (A). Like other, macros in EditTools, it can be assigned to a Hotkey combination either from the EditTools ribbon (B) or by Clicking Setup Hotkey… on the Click List Manager (see #1 in the Overview below).

Click List on the Ribbon

Click List on the Ribbon

Overviews of Click List (#10) and its Manager (#1) are shown in the below image:

The Click List overview

The Click List overview

Like many of the macros in EditTools, Click List can be a general list that you use all of the time or it can be a specialty list, for example, one for a specific project. You either open an existing Click List file or create a new one (#2), just as with Never Spell Word, Toggle, and other EditTools macros. In fact, the Click List Manager works much the same way as the other Managers do, with a few exceptions.

Text is entered in the Text field (#3). However, in addition to the usual text insertions, you can choose to bold or color the text (#4) (for an example of text that is bold and colored, see #7 and #11). (The bolding and coloring are only for display in Click List so that there is a way to make certain items quicker to spot in a long list; the text is not inserted in your document with the formatting.) Your text and your format choices are shown in preview (#5). When you are ready, click Add or Update (#6) to add the text to Click List (#7). Be sure to Save or Save & Close. (Clicking Save saves the file but does not close the Manager.)

When you Save (or Save & Close), Click List (#10) is updated and your addition appears in the display area (#11). Click List remains open by default until you click Cancel (#12). However, you can have it automatically close after each use by dechecking the Keep open checkbox (#12).

Click List enables you to insert items into your document with a single click. It can be a word, a short phrase, or even a paragraph of text. Click List is intended to make editing a document quicker, easier, and more accurate.

You enter the text you want added to Click List in the Text box in the Click List Manager. In the example below, a sentence is being added (#13). When the text is ready to be added to Click List, click Add (#14).

Adding text to Click List via the Manager

Adding text to Click List via the Manager

The text appears in the Manager’s display field as shown below. Here a sentence was added, “You can write whole sentences and have them be part of a click list” (#15). However, to add the sentence to the Click List so that it can be inserted into your document, you need to click either Save or Save & Close (#16). Clicking Save saves the Click List file and makes the new text available in the Click List but also keeps the Manager open so you can add additional text later; clicking Close & Save does the same but closes the Manager. In addition, you can move text up or down the list using the Move buttons (#17); the Manager also tells you how many items there are in your Click List (#18).

Click List Manager

Saving text

As this image shows, the sentence has been added to our Click List (blue arrow) and is ready for use in our documents:

Adding a sentence to Click List

Adding a sentence to Click List

Using Click List While Editing

To see how Click List works, we begin with the below image which shows a portion of a manuscript. Note the location of the cursor.

Note the cursor location

Note the cursor location

A single mouse click on the sentence we added to Click List (#19) inserts the sentence text into our document at the location of the cursor (#20).

Single-click insertion of sentence

Single-click insertion of sentence

As indicated earlier, you can move text up and down the list in Click List by making use of the Move option in the Manager. You may wish to move text so that it is easier to locate or because it is more frequently used, the same reasons why you might use bold or color. The image below shows the movement process. To move our example sentence (#1) up or down, click on the appropriate arrowhead in Move (#2). When the sentence is relocated where you want, click Save or Save & Close (#3) so that the movement is saved to the Click List. Once Save is clicked, the relocation will be shown in the Click List (see #1 in both the Click List and the Manager).

Reordering entries in Click List

Reordering entries in Click List

As we have discussed many times here on AAE, the faster and more accurately we can edit, the more profitable editing can be for us. The more we have to compete for business, the more important speed becomes. The same is true as schedules become increasingly tighter. The key is to be more productive, which means more efficient, which means less typing. The more typing we do, the more errors we can introduce into a document. Consequently, the more automated we can make editing, the more accurate it will be and the greater the profit.

An Example From a Recent Project

A recent project had many peculiarities. But one thing I discovered early in the project is that the author used certain phrases and references repeatedly. (The reference style was “relatively” consistent throughout the text and although it didn’t conform to any established style, because of schedule constraints, the client decided to “follow the author’s reference style but make it consistent.”)

The problem was that the phrases and the references were not Toggle Word candidates because there was almost always an inconsistency or two from a previous use. The image below are samples I extracted from one chapter.

Samples form a Recent Project

Samples form a Recent Project

Correcting these would be time-consuming if not for Click List. What I did was add the correct wording to Click List, as shown here:

Click List with Book References

Click List with Book References

Now to correct the incorrect, all I needed to do was select the incorrect phrasing and click on the correct phrasing in Click List, as shown here:

The Changes

The Changes

By using Click List, I was able to save a significant amount of typing time (and thus increase profitability), but, more importantly, because of the unique styling used, I was able to ensure that each instance of the book and phrase was identical to every other instance. Speed and accuracy are two components of profitability and Click List improves both.

Click List on My Desktop

Click List is one of the three macros I keep open on my desktop as I edit, the other two being Bookmarks and Reference # Order Check.

Click List can save time and can increase accuracy — it is another important tool in the editor’s armory.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays are:


Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

July 22, 2015

The Business of Editing: Using & Managing Bookmarks

When speaking about the editing process with colleagues, I am always amazed that they so rarely use one of the most valuable tools that Microsoft provides — bookmarks. It’s not that I don’t understand why, but rather that because the Microsoft way is so cumbersome, colleagues simply don’t make much use of bookmarks.

Bookmarking is, for me, a valuable way to navigate the long documents I edit. They enable me to pinpoint locations quickly. With EditTools’ new Bookmarks macro, which allows me to make use of easy-to-read and more logical navigation-oriented bookmarks, I make even greater use of bookmarks.

Bookmarks the Microsoft Way

Microsoft (using Word 2010 as the example) requires me to take these steps to use bookmarking:

  1. Switch to the Insert ribbon.
  2. Click Bookmark.
  3. Type a name for the bookmark
  4. Click Insert.

That doesn’t seems so bad unless you want to manage your bookmarks. The first problem is with the bookmark name. I like meaningful names, such as EMMA software 1st use. Try to use that in Word’s system; you can’t because it has spaces and mixes letters and numbers — both unacceptable to Word.

Try moving a bookmark from location A to location B using Word’s system. A bookmark I regularly use is editing stopped here to indicate where I am in a manuscript when I stop because I need to go to another section of the manuscript. I use it to tell me where I was and to give me a method for getting back to that place. In Word’s method, to move the bookmark, I need to delete the bookmark and reenter it.

The other thing I like to do is rename a bookmark. Renaming bookmarks lets me use bookmarks to track whether figures and tables are called out in order and whether I have edited a figure or table legend. In Word’s system, renaming can only be done by going to the location of the bookmark, deleting the existing bookmark, and adding a new-name bookmark in its place.

Another problem with Word’s system is that to resume editing of my document, the bookmark dialog has to be closed. To make any change to any bookmark — whether that means adding, deleting, renaming, or moving — I have to open and close the dialog. Not only does that take time, but it makes for poor management efficiency for someone who likes to use bookmarks.

Basically, Microsoft is costing me money because every second counts in editing for profit. EditTools’ new Bookmarks macro makes bookmarking much more efficient and less time-consuming, which means more profit.

EditTools’ Bookmarks

As I said, I make extensive use of bookmarks. I bookmark every figure and table, for example. Not the in-text callouts, but the located-at-the-end-of-the-document figure legends and tables that I need to edit. If a document has five figures, then I have five figure bookmarks: figure 1, figure 2, etc. Same with tables. And as I edit I add bookmarks to things I think I might need to return to from later in the chapter, such as a formula, an acronym, a particular “term of art,” or a name, whether of a person or a study. I sometimes have 50 or more bookmarks in a document — now that I have EditTools’ Bookmarks macro and can use easy-to-read-and-meaningful names.

The Bookmarks dialog looks like this (click on images to enlarge):

EditTools Bookmarks

EditTools Bookmarks

The Bookmarks dialog shows a list of already inserted bookmarks in a document. When you open a document in Word and then open Bookmarks, Bookmarks will populate itself (#3) and list whatever bookmarks are already in the document. You can either keep them, delete specific ones, or click Delete All to delete bookmarks from the document — and it doesn’t matter whether it was you or someone else who originally inserted the bookmarks.

Inserting a bookmark

To insert a bookmark, enter its name in the Bookmark Name field (#1). As shown (#3), you can use spaces and mix letters and numbers; a name can be up to 30 characters long. After entering the name, click Add (#2) to add the bookmark to your document and to the list of bookmarks (#3).

Before editing, I go through a document and insert the “primary” bookmarks, that is, one for each figure and table legend, and one for where I want the “refs” bookmark used by Never Spell Word and other macros located. “Secondary” bookmarks are added as I edit. For example, if the author calls a software program EMMA, when I first come across it, I will insert a bookmark such as EMMA software 1st use. If I discover later that the author defines the EMMA acronym, I can easily move the definition to the first-use location. If the document is fiction, I might bookmark Jason blue eyes or Konowitz 1st use or Katydid Gorylla spelling.

Moving a bookmark

Moving a bookmark from page 3 to page 55 is easy — just two mouse clicks: select the bookmark to be moved and click Move Here (#4); the bookmark will be moved from wherever it is in the document to where your cursor is currently located in the document. Unlike with Word’s system, there is no need to delete the bookmark and retype the name and add it again. This is particularly useful for my editing stopped here bookmark. I use that bookmark to indicate my current location in the document when I need to go to another location, for example, to table 5: I move the editing stopped here bookmark to my current location, select the table 5 bookmark, and click Go To. When I am ready to return to where I had been in the document before going to table 5, I select my editing stopped here bookmark and click Go To. (A bookmarking tip: I have learned that the best way to number tables and figures is to use two digits, such as table 05, rather than the single digit shown in the image. The reason is that if there are 10 or more figures or tables, using the leading zero ensures that the tables and figures are listed in number order.)

PerfectIt users

If you are a PerfectIt user, Bookmarks offers you an easy way to set the area that PerfectIt should check: beginning and ending bookmarks (#6). Click on PSTART to insert a bookmark where PerfectIt should begin and PEND to insert an ending bookmark. When you run PerfectIt, it will search and report on the text between the two bookmarks. For more information, see PerfectIts’ Help files.

Keeping the dialog open

Another features of EditTools’ Bookmarks is the ability to keep the dialog open (#5). In Word, the bookmark dialog closes automatically. In EditTools, you have a choice (#5). I like keeping the dialog open because I am constantly accessing bookmarks (I keep the Bookmarks, Click List, and Reference # Order Check dialogs open; they fit side-by-side on my portrait-oriented monitor). But if you prefer closing and reopening the dialog as needed, you have two choices: You can click Bookmarks on the EditTools tab (black arrow below) or you can assign Bookmarks to a “hotkey” combination by clicking Hotkeys on the EditTools tab (red arrow).

Bookmarks on the EditTools Ribbon

Bookmarks on the EditTools Ribbon

Renaming a bookmark

I use bookmarks to track callouts of figures and tables (and anything else that needs special attention, such as formulas). With Word’s bookmark system, this was doable but time-consuming and prone to error. Of course, another way to do it is the old-fashioned paper-and-pen method, but Bookmarks is much more efficient and reduces the chance of error.

As mentioned earlier, I assign a bookmark to each figure and table legend before I begin editing. When I come to the first callout for table 1, for example, my procedure is as follows:

Renaming a Bookmark

Renaming a Bookmark



  1. I move (or insert if it hasn’t been previously created) my editing stopped here bookmark (green arrow) at the location of the callout in the text.
  2. Next, I select the appropriate preassigned bookmark, table 1 (red arrow), and click Go To (blue arrow) to take me to table 1.
  3. I edit table 1.
  4. When I am done editing table 1, I select the table 1 bookmark (red arrow) and click Rename (black arrow) to open the Rename dialog, shown here:


Changing the Name

Changing the Name

The Rename dialog shows the current name (#1) and includes that name in the To: (or rename) field (#2). I have chosen for the name to reappear in the To: field by choosing No (#3). If I had chosen Yes as my default, then the To: field would be blank.

After editing table 1, I want to rename the bookmark so that I know (a) I have edited it and (b) it has already been called out in the document. However, I may need to look at the table again, so I want table 1 to keep a bookmark. Consequently, what I do is add an x as a prefix to the current name, as shown here (#4); however, the bookmark’s renaming is not limited to the x I use — it can be anything that works for you:


The New Name

The New Name

When I click OK (#5), the bookmark remains in place in the document but is renamed to x table 1 as shown in the image below (blue arrow). The bookmark now moves to the end of the list and from looking at the Bookmarks dialog, I can tell that table 1 has been called out in the text and has been edited, and that the next table callout in the text should be for table 2.


In the Bookmarks dialog

In the Bookmarks dialog

To return to where I was in the document before going to table 1, I select editing stopped here (black arrow) and click Go To (#6).

For a better idea of how I make use of the Bookmarks macro, look at the image below. I can see that the next table callout should be for table 3 (#1), that tables 1 and 2 (#2) and figures 1 to 3 (#4) have been edited and called out, and that figure 4 (#3) and tables 3 to 8 (#1) have yet to be called out.


Using Bookmarks to track

Using Bookmarks to track

If the next callout I encounter is for table 5, I can see at a glance that table 5 is not being called out in number order, which allows me to renumber or query, depending on my client’s instructions. If I renumber, I can move or rename the bookmarks.

As you can see, EditTools’ Bookmarks makes bookmarking easy. Because it is an efficient way to use bookmarks, I can make more and better use of a valuable editing and navigating tool. Most importantly, because it is efficient and a timesaver, Bookmarks saves me time, which means enhanced profitability. Bookmarks is one of the three macros I keep open on my desktop as I edit, the other two being Click List and Reference # Order Check.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Related An American Editor essays are:


Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

July 16, 2015

Worth Noting: New Macros, New Version — EditTools 6.2 Released

EditTools 6.2 has been released.

The new release has a much speedier Journals macro (thanks to a suggestion from Shmuel Gerber). Recall that in The Business of Editing: Cite Work Can Be Profitable, I mentioned how I had just finished working on a reference list of 1,827 that took the Journals macro, with my then dataset of 78,000 entries, not quite 4 hours to complete. With the improvement suggested by Mr. Gerber, it took less than 2 hours with a dataset of 98,000 entries. A more typical reference list of about 75 references takes a little less than a minute to check against the dataset.

Version 6.2 also has several new macros and one significantly improved macro.

The new macros are Bookmarks, Click List, Comment Editor, and Reference # Order Check. The Insert Query macro has received a great new addition called Categories. Categories lets you organize your standard comments for quicker access. Each macro is described at the EditTools website and will be the subject of an upcoming in-depth essay here at AAE. The AAE essays will discuss not only how the macros work but how they can increase your profitability.

The Bookmarks macro has one additional feature aimed at PerfectIt users. It provide a quick-and-easy way to insert special bookmarks in a Word document that tell PerfectIt what text you want checked.

EditTools 6.2 is a free upgrade for registered users. Go to the downloads page to obtain your copy. If you aren’t using EditTools, try it. Go to the downloads page and download the trial version.

(NOTE: EditTools 6.2 requires 32-bit Word 2007 or newer. If you are currently running EditTools 6.x, you can run version 6.2.)

Rich Adin, An American Editor

July 13, 2015

The Keys to High-Quality Editing

The one thing every professional editor strives to produce is a high-quality edit. This is more difficult today than it was 30 years ago; client demands have made production of high-quality editing increasingly difficult.

Yet there are “keys” to producing high-quality editing.

Accept or reject a project

The keys begin with the decision whether to take on a particular project. A few days ago, I turned on my computer to find five job offers waiting for me. I only accepted one. The one I accepted came with much less onerous demands than the others, which means that I will be able to provide a high-quality edit.

The job I accepted asked me to suggest a schedule based on what the client wanted and the manuscript needed; the others gave me a fixed schedule. After reviewing the manuscript for the accepted job, I suggested that a nine-week schedule was reasonable. The other jobs were for much shorter manuscripts but still required at least a two-week and more likely a three-week schedule; the schedule on offer was one week with no flexibility.

However, there were still problems that had to be addressed with what ultimately became the accepted job. For example, the references and how they were to be formatted. The author used what is for me a rarely seen style for the references: American Chemical Society style. If the manuscript had a handful of references, changing them to Harvard style would not be a problem, but the manuscript has a lot of references and there are a lot of stylistic differences between Harvard and ACS. The client wants the manuscript sooner rather than later, and so it was decided that because the author was consistent, we would use ACS style for the references.

In contrast, a couple of the manuscripts that I rejected didn’t have a single reference style, but the predominant style would have required many hours of work to restyle to conform to the client’s style. Yet the client was unwilling to compromise.

The keys to high-quality editing begin with the decision whether to take on a project or not. Many editors are simply thankful to be offered work and accept jobs without vetting them. This approach leads to a low effective hourly rate and questionable editing quality because it can be a struggle to meet short schedules — especially if the manuscript is not well written.

Effective hourly rate

Another key is ensuring that a project leads to a decent effective hourly rate and a profit. I have noted over the years that many colleagues take on a new project expecting it to go smoothly only to find that it does not. And when it does not, they are faced with the dilemma of ensuring a decent effective hourly rate versus the high quality of editing they prefer to provide. This is the eternal struggle — what to do when the compensation is inadequate.

Of course, it is difficult to know in advance, even if you sample a manuscript, how easy or hard a manuscript will be to edit. But there are certain things one can look for as clues. I have found that authors who very inconsistent and sloppy with references are often the same with the main text, which means more editing work. I have also found that if I see a lot of Word’s squiggly red lines, which indicate possible misspellings, that a manuscript may be problematic. In this case, however, because much of what I edit is medical, I recognize that the built-in spellchecker will mischaracterize a word, indicating it is misspelled when it isn’t. This clue requires familiarity with the subject matter.

Subject-matter familiarity

Which brings us to yet another key: knowledge of the subject matter. It is not that the editor needs to be an expert in the subject matter, it is that the editor needs to be comfortable with the subject matter. In my case, for example, I stopped editing fiction after about 6 months of editing — more than 31 years ago. I stopped for several reasons, including to provide a high-quality edit I had to be able to keep a sharp focus on the novel’s text. What I found was that when faced with a poorly written manuscript, my focus would begin drifting and I would have to reread the same paragraphs perhaps multiple times. I also discovered that for me, nonfiction was both more interesting and more profitable.

Fiction editing is difficult because it requires familiarity with a wide range of topics that I am not normally either interested in nor familiar with. I have never been particularly interested, for example, whether Bucharest’s weather is closer to that of London or New York City, but that could bin important in a novel whose action takes place in Bucharest. As a fiction editor, it was my responsibility to know whether or not the author’s description of Bucharest was plausible (actually, accurate). My fiction reading has always been limited; I tend to read vast amounts of nonfiction. Consequently, I was better “educated” about things that the nonfiction I was editing was concerned with than the fiction editing needed.

Pattern recognition

The ability to recognize writing patterns is another key. Every author has a writing pattern and in a group of collaborating authors, one pattern dominates. Identifying early in the editing process this pattern leads to greater consistency and accuracy in editing, which can lead to higher-quality editing. When you can identify these patterns, you can take advantage of tools such as EditTools. These types of tools, if properly used, lead to higher-quality editing.


The final key to be discussed in this essay is resources. Having the right resources available is important. For example, knowing that Garner’s Modern American Usage is the leading usage guide for American English is not enough; you need to have it available. Similarly, being told to follow a particular style manual by the client is of little use is you are not familiar with it and have it readily available. It does no good for a client to ask you to follow AMA style if the only style guide you can access and are familiar with is Chicago.

It should be clear that many things go into producing a high-quality edit; consequently, a lot of things need to come together. Yet an editor’s skill is not just objective things such as available resources; the skillset an editor needs to meet client limitations and still produce high-quality editing is sharpened over years of education and editing. Knowing one’s current limitations is an important part of providing high-quality editing. The professional editor works diligently to minimize those limitations, and one way to do so is to knowingly evaluate an offered job by the keys to high-quality editing.

What do you think?

Rich Adin, An American Editor

July 2, 2015

Worth Noting: Fowler’s 4th Is Here

I know that many of my colleagues swear by Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 3rd edition. Although I own it and occasionally use it, the number 1 usage book for American English is Garner’s Modern American Usage, Third Edition.

But, as of this past June 1, Garner’s has some new competition — the updated fourth edition of Fowler: Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage edited by Jeremy Butterfield, or Fowler’s 4th.

I received my copy yesterday, so I am not yet ready to give an opinion, but I plan to use it each time I use my Garner’s 3rd. One of the things I like about Garner’s, which is lacking in Fowler’s 4th, is the “Language-Change Index,” which gives me a clue as to how usage is trending.

Both books are published by Oxford, so I suspect a new edition of Garner’s may be in process.

For those of you who are like me and “collect” usage guides, it is interesting not only to compare entries in current versions of the guides, but also to look at past editions and see how usage has evolved.

In any event, it is important for professional editors to remember that these are guides. Their opinion should weigh in your decision-making process, but should not dictate your decision. See, for example, “Editors & “Professional” Resources: A Questionable Reliance” and “The Makings of an Unprofessional Editor” for additional discussion.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

July 1, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Fiction Editors’ Resource Kit (Part II)

by Carolyn Haley

In Part I of this essay, I list the reference books in my resource kit for editing fiction. Part II discusses the balance of the resource kit: software,­ a luxury unknown to editors of an earlier era; specialty resources that help editors address story structure and verify details across diverse subjects; and links to editorial groups and information for professional development and support.


Three applications form the core of my quality-control tools: Editor’s ToolKit, EditTools, and PerfectIt. Followers of this blog will recognize these names because they are mentioned often here, and their designers are part of the American Editor tribe. I learned of the tools through this association and now depend on them for fine-tuning the mechanical side of an editing job and checking my own work.

Editor’s ToolKit contains an assortment of consistency checkers, search/replace aids, converters, fixers, and macros. These program add-ins are available individually, as well. I most often use FileCleaner as a preflight tool to tidy up manuscript elements such as double spaces, incorrect dashes, and the like. Starting with a clean manuscript helps me see content with less distraction, thereby making editing time more focused and efficient.

Also for preflight, I use EditTools, which is a collection of macros designed to save time and money while improving accuracy. Although initially intended for medical and academic editing, it can be customized to serve fiction. I use the Never Spell Word feature, for instance, to build a list of terms I frequently misread (led vs. lead, woman vs. women, form vs. from, etc.), which the application flags in the manuscript. I can then pick them off as I go or review the manuscript for just these highlighted words, either way reducing my error rate. The package includes other useful tools ranging from deleting unused styles (thank you!) to removing all highlighting to changing case to inserting queries and doing a wildcard find and replace.

At the end of a job, I run PerfectIt. This is a consistency checker, constantly being updated and refined, that catches tricky details like hyphenated compounds, inconsistent capitalizations, and spelling deviations. It is easily customizable for which tasks it performs and alternative style sheet criteria, in variants of English (U.S., U.K., Canadian).

The Editor’s ToolKit/EditTools/PerfectIt software suite offers more capability than I have yet plumbed the depths of. Even barely scratching the surface, I have found each profoundly helpful and time-saving. The trio combined is affordable to people on tight budgets (offered here as a set as Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate) and pays for itself promptly by making one more accurate and efficient, which leads to happy clients, which leads to more and better work.

Most of the suite’s tools are macros in some form or other, bundled into easy-to-use packages. The nature of fiction, however, is its unpredictable variability, so there’s always something new that it would be useful to have a macro for if you don’t want to create them yourself. Many such situations are covered by Paul Beverley in his publicly available macro collection, Computer Tools for Editors. The book includes the actual macro steps, which editors can copy and install. Of these, I use ProperNounAlyse to form the basis of my style sheet before starting an edit, because it identifies place and people names, variant spellings thereof, unusual terms, and common terms with capitalization changes (e.g., Captain, which might appear in the manuscript as a both a direct address [cap] and a generic [lower case], thus reminding me to include it on the style sheet). It also picks up any words capped at the beginning of a sentence, so some manual grooming is required.

To use any of these tools effectively, one must have a solid grasp of one’s editing software, which for most of us is Microsoft Word. Almost every manuscript presents a fresh problem to solve, or pushes one to master a trick one stumbled through the first time it arose. So I keep within reach a quartet of my colleagues’ foundation works: Jack Lyon’s Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and Macro Cookbook, Hilary Powers’ Making Word Work for You, and Geoff Hart’s Effective Onscreen Editing. Between them I’ve learned to operate Word at a higher level, including searches that find missing, inverted, and straight quotation marks and apostrophes, and missing or incorrect punctuation inside quotes — a boon for dialogue-heavy novels. Links to these books can be found at The Editorium.

Word contains its own spelling checker (and grammar checker, too, which I ignore). I run spellcheck last thing before delivering a manuscript; and for all its quirks and inadequacies, it always finds something that saves me from professional embarrassment. I’m prone to missing errors like “the the” and “assesssment” which most other tools don’t catch. Someday, I hope, one of the macro gurus will find a way to catch duplicate phrases like “in the in the,” which I’m prone to overlooking, too.

Specialty References

There’s no anticipating what facts or figures will need to be verified in a novel, so the best plan is to have a broad library in your office, including at least one encyclopedia set, as well as to find reliable, accurate sites on the Internet. The novels I work on routinely need checking in weights and measures; biblical references; guns and ammunition; vehicles (including boats and aircraft); people and place names and historical events, so I’m forever collecting resources to cover these. A sampling: for weights and measures, Gun Grammar and Gun Digest for firearm info, Bible Hub for access to different versions of the Bible, The Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft, along with the Jane’s recognition guides, plus Merriam-Webster’s Biographical Dictionary and Geographical Dictionary.

As a general source for you-never-know-what, there’s Project Gutenberg, which offers downloadable public domain works of literature and reference. For names and data about consumer products, I head to the manufacturer’s website. Wikipedia is also a convenient starting point for diverse lookups.

Writing Craft How-To’s

Editors do not have to be writers themselves, and indeed many prefer not to be. But novel editors need to be conversant in the lingo of storycraft, and to be able to recommend educational aids to their authors. I point many to Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer for its nuts-and-bolts approach to constructing a novel; along with Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. This book is part of the Writers’ Digest Elements of Fiction Writing series, which covers primary components of novel writing (such as dialogue, plot, scene, and structure) one at a time. The series is one of several that have come and gone over time, including the Howdunit Series for mysteries and thrillers. I refer to Armed and Dangerous: A Writer’s Guide to Weapons and Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons and hope eventually to have the complete set in my library.

Genre-specific websites like those for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and Romance Writers of America also offer how-to information, although in the latter case you have to join to gain access to the writing resources.


An invaluable resource is the hive mind formed by the editorial community. I learned about most of my tools there, along with tricks and techniques; and I learn something new every day from staying in contact. The groups I interact with most are Copyediting-L, Project Wombat (formerly Stumpers), and the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) (must be a member). These are populated with editors, writers, proofreaders, indexers, designers, and reference librarians happy to share their knowledge and who enjoy chasing down answers to obscure or difficult questions. They also provide “virtual water-cooler” company for editors working solo from home.

Many editors from these organizations are also active on Facebook (for instance, Editors’ Association of Earth. Questions pertaining to fiction editing are often discussed here. One colleague active on almost all platforms is Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, who maintains The Copyeditor’s Knowledge Base on her website. I’ve found multiple resources there, along with a rich selection of others yet to be explored.

Finally, a terrific way to learn how to work more efficiently in general and edit fiction in particular is to interact with peers in person. For that, editors gather in annual conferences hosted by the American Copy Editors Society, Editors’ Association of Canada, and Communication Central. These organizations offer classes, seminars, and webinars, as well, as does the EFA.

This lengthy list forms a drop in the proverbial bucket of what’s available to aid in fiction editing. Since every editor has their favorites, and most of us shift around as we find better or more-relevant tools, please share your own favorites through the comments feature of this blog, along with a reason why it is among your favorites.

Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

Related An American Editor Essays:


June 29, 2015

Lyonizing Word: The Easy Way, Not So Easy

by Jack Lyon

After publishing my last article, Lyonizing Word: We Can Do This the Easy Way, or . . ., Rich Adin, An American Editor, wrote:

As written, your wildcard find and replace reduces four names to three if “et al:” is the ending characteristic. How do you write it so that it can handle any number of names, say up to seven?

Good question, and a nice challenge for a wildcard search. Let’s say we have citations with strings of names like this:

Lyon J, Adin R, Carter TO, Jackson TT, Doe J, Smith K, Winger W, et al: blah blah blah

That’s seven names, but let’s see if we can make a wildcard string that will find any number of names and cut them down to three. My first impression is that this might be difficult or even impossible. But let’s try the following wildcard string:

([!^013]@, ){3}([!^013]@, ){1,}(et al:)

Here’s what that means:

Find any character except a carriage return: [!^013]
repeated any number of times: @
followed by a comma
followed by a space
and enclosed in parentheses to form a “group.”
Do that three times in a row: {3}
Find using the same group: ([!^013]@, )
if it occurs once or more (as indicated by the comma): {1,}
followed by “et al:” in parentheses to form a group.

There’s just one problem: It doesn’t work. And that’s how it often is with wildcards — sometimes you have to fiddle around to get the result you want; trial and error are key. So let’s see if we can find just three instances of text using our group:

([!^013]@, ){3}

That doesn’t work either. What in the world is going on here? Let’s try using the group three times in a row:

([!^013]@, )([!^013]@, )([!^013]@, )

That does work. So why not this?

([!^013]@, ){3}

Could it be that {3} doesn’t apply to the wildcard pattern ([!^013]@, ) itself but to the first instance of text that pattern finds? In other words, would that wildcard string  find the first three names in a citation like the following?

Lyon J, Lyon J, Lyon J, Lyon J, Lyon J, Lyon J, Lyon J, et al: blah blah blah

Sure enough, that works! So we’ve just learned something new about wildcard searches. For clarity, I’ll restate it here:

Specifying how many times to find something (using {3}, for example) doesn’t apply to the wildcard pattern it follows but to the first instance of text that pattern finds.

Unfortunately, that means we need to work out a different approach to our original problem. How about this?

([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, )([!^013]@, ){1,}(et al:)

Here’s what that means:

Find any character except a carriage return: [!^013]
repeated any number of times: @
followed by a comma
followed by a space
repeated three times
and enclosed in parentheses to form a “group.”
Find using the same group: ([!^013]@, )
if it occurs once or more (as indicated by the comma): {1,}
followed by “et al:” in parentheses to form a group.

But no, that doesn’t work either! Why not? Oh, yeah, because of that {1,}. As we discovered earlier:

Specifying how many times to find something (using {3}, for example) doesn’t apply to the wildcard pattern it follows but to the first instance of text that pattern finds.

Well, okay, then. We’ll stop using numbers (such as {1,}) to specify how many times a pattern should be repeated (at least for our current purposes). Let’s try this instead:

([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, )[!^013]@(et al:)

Here’s what that means:

Find any characters except a carriage return: [!^013]
repeated any number of times: @
followed by a comma
followed by a space
repeated three times
and enclosed in parentheses to form a “group.”
Then find any character except a carriage return: [!^013]
repeated any number of times: @
followed by “et al:” in parentheses to form a group.

Well, son of a gun; that actually works. So now we can use the following in the “Replace With” box:


Here’s what that means:

Replace everything that was found
with the text represented by group 1: \1
followed by the text represented by group 2: \2

Group 1, you’ll remember, was this:

([!^013]@, [!^013]@, [!^013]@, )

It finds the first three names in our citations. And group 2 was this:

(et al:)

It finds the end of our citations.

And so, finally, we’ve succeeded in fulfilling Rich’s original request:

As written, your wildcard find and replace reduces four names to three if “et al:” is the ending characteristic. How do you write it so that it can handle any number of names, say up to seven?

Sometimes the easy way isn’t so easy. Nevertheless, it’s almost always worth pursuing. In Rich’s case, it reduced his editing time from hours (removing extraneous names by hand) to minutes (removing the names with a wildcard find and replace). It also gave Rich a wildcard search that he can save in his fabulous EditTools software for use with future projects. And it provided a deeper and clearer understanding of how to use wildcard searches.

After all these years of editing, wildcard searching is the tool I rely on the most. I encourage you to invest the time needed to learn to use this tool, which will repay your efforts many times over. A good place to start is my free paper “Advanced Find and Replace in Microsoft Word.”

I hope you’ll also watch for my forthcoming Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word. I’m still trying to find more real-life examples for the book, so if you have some particularly sticky problems that might be solved using a wildcard search, I hope you’ll send them my way. Maybe I can save you some work and at the same time figure out solutions that will help others in the future. Thanks for your help!

Jack Lyon ( owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.


Looking for a Deal?

You can buy EditTools in a package with PerfectIt and Editor’s Toolkit at a special savings of $78 off the price if bought individually. To purchase the package at the special deal price, click Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.

June 24, 2015

The Proofreader’s Corner: Using StyleWriter4 Professional as a Proofreading Tool

by Louise Harnby

This month I’d like to share my experiences with StyleWriter4 Professional, a piece of software I purchased some months ago. I use this as a proofreading tool, though that’s not solely what the developers designed it for.

It complements the work I do with my eyes, increasing (1) the efficiency with which I work and (2) the quality of my output. Efficiency increases keep me happy because I can do certain tasks more quickly, thus improving my hourly rate; improvements in output quality keep my clients happy because they want as high a “hit” rate as possible.

What is StyleWriter4?

Essentially, StyleWriter4 is software that aims to help users with proofreading, editing, and plain-English writing. It comes in three versions:

  • Starter: the “cut-down” edition for those on a budget. It concentrates on plain-English proofreading and editing, searching the text, line by line, for long sentences, passive voice, and potential spelling errors. Style categories can be selected that enable the writer or editor to amend complex words, overwriting, abstract phrases or foreign words.
  • Standard: All the features of the Starter edition with additional functions to aid written communication, including identification of “high glue” and “high bog” sentences. (“High glue” sentences contain words that hold a sentence together, for example, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns. “High bog” sentences contain words that detract from a comfortable reading experience.) There are options for customization such as the ability to create categories for words or phrases that you want to ban or suggest.
  • Professional: All the features from Starter and Standard, plus the Editor’s List. This includes lists of all full words (alphabetically sorted), word frequency, spelling (unknown, questionable, or unusual words), bog (specialist words or words that may detract from readability), wordy (including passive verbs and word phrases), jargon (including abbreviations and jargon words), and pep (unusual or interesting words, and names).

A caveat on this proofreader’s usage

I bought StyleWriter4 because I wanted quick and easy access to the information in the Editor’s List – that, and nothing more. It’s important that I emphasize this straight away.

I’m not an editor, so I’m not in the business of worrying about passive voice, sentence length, overwriting, or overall style. Even though the Professional Edition enables me to use the tools to make amendments in relation to these issues, I’m not interested in them (because that’s not what my clients are paying me for) and I haven’t used the functions. I therefore can’t comment on the degree to which the software is effective in its claims to address these issues effectively.

So, what’s so great about the Editor’s List?

Why I use the Editor’s List

Sometimes we see what we want to see rather than what’s actually on the page. Being an experienced and professionally trained proofreader doesn’t make me immune to this problem. Rather, my experience and my professional training have made me alert to it.  That’s why I always generate a word list to flag up potential inconsistencies that my weary eyes might have passed over. Such a list allows me to make sure I check spelling errors (e.g., poofreader), consistency issues (e.g., Francois and François), context-dependent errors (e.g., behaviour and behavior). Not every issue will need to be attended to, but it will need to be checked. This is where the Editor’s List comes to the fore.

Running StyleWriter4 Professional on a Word document quickly and cleanly generates lists of words that I can use to spot potential problems I want to check, prior to reading the text line by line with my eyes. Generating word lists is all about spotting possible serious snags (e.g., inconsistent spelling of character or cited-author names) before the in-context proofreading starts. Looking through such lists gives me piece of mind and allows me, later, to focus my attention on context and layout.

Step-by-step summary

The following is a step-by-step summary of how I generate the information I need from the Editor’s List:

  1. Create a Word document. If I’ve been contracted to work directly in Word by my client, I’m good to go. If I have a PDF, I copy the text from the PDF proof and paste it into a Word file. (I choose not to use Acrobat’s built-in conversion tool because I’ve found it leads to problems with text flow, and I have to devote even more time to fixing these before I run any Word-based tools, such as macros. However, this is a personal choice.) I remove unnecessary word breaks from the document by using Word’s Find and Replace tool (find “-^p” then “- ^p” then “ -^p”); always leave the replace box blank. You may have a macro that does this for you more efficiently.
  2. Go to the Add-Ins tab and click on the StyleWriter icon. (Click on images to enlarge them.)
Word Menu with StyleWriter

Word Menu with StyleWriter

  1. Click on the arrow next to the Editor’s List icon: that’s the little picture of the chap wearing Men-in-Black shades!
StyleWriter Menu

StyleWriter Menu

  1. Select the list you want to look at. The lists I usually focus on are “All” (which includes the following separate lists of interest to me: “All words” and “Odds and ends”); and “Spelling” (which includes the following separate lists of interest to me: “Unknown words,” “Questionable words,” and “Unusual words”).

In the image below, I’ve highlighted the tabs of interest as they appear in the Editor’s List window, and the option at the bottom of the window to order the chosen word lists alphabetically or by frequency.

Editor's List Sample

Editor’s List Sample

I then scroll through the lists at my leisure, checking any problems I detect. In the image above, I’ve highlighted an inconsistent spelling issue that I’d need to check (behaviour/behaviour) in order to identify whether there is an error in the text. If I was working for a client directly in Word, I could use the “Trace in Text View” button highlighted at the bottom of the window. If I was working on hardcopy or PDF, I’d search for the problem in the PDF and then mark up on paper or on screen, as per the client’s wishes.

Why not use TextSTAT?

I used to use TextSTAT for creation of word lists for my proofreading work. I loved this software. I still love it! See “Revisiting an old favorite: TextSTAT, word lists, and the proofreader,” for more information about how I’ve used this tool in an almost identical way.

And TextSTAT is free, whereas StyleWriter4 Professional costs US$190 (or £123).

So, before buying, I decided to do a cost­-to-benefit analysis. If I was going to spend over a hundred quid on software, I needed to know how quickly I would get a return on my investment. I compared how long it took me to work through all the little bits and necessary to generate full-word and spelling lists using TextSTAT and StyleWriter4 Professional.

With StyleWriter, the process is a one-stop shop. I open and run the software in the Word file. I then click on Editor’s List and choose what I want to look at.

With TextSTAT, things are more fiddly. I have to upload the Word document, create full-word list, export the list into Excel, copy the Excel version into Word, alphabetize and check. Then I run a separate macro to generate possible list of potential spelling errors.

Using StyleWriter4 Professional saved me only five minutes for a 150,000-word file. However, when it comes to productivity in editorial work, marginal gains always count.

  • Cost: £123 (US$190)
  • Value of five minutes of my time based on my average hourly rate 2014/15 financial year = £3.34 (US$5.19) per job
  • On average, I do five large proofreading jobs a month = 5 × £3.34 (US$5.19) = £16.70 (US$25.95)
  • £123 (US$190)/£16.70 (US$25.95) = just over 7 months to pay for itself
  • I decided to buy StyleWriter4 Professional purely for the Editor’s List and haven’t regretted it. The choice for me was about the speed of the functionality, and its fit with my particular business model.

Considerations before you buy

Use the trial version before you buy. The website currently doesn’t indicate which version is available for download. It’s therefore worth emailing the developers to check which edition you’ll be experimenting with. If you’re a proofreader like me, and are considering the software primarily to access the Editor’s List, you’ll need to trial the Professional version.

View the video demos on the StyleWriter4 website, so you can see how the various features work.

Cost – it’s not free. If you are using alternative free software (such as TextSTAT) to generate checkable full-word and spelling lists, do your own cost-to-benefit analysis so that you can work out whether and when you will earn a return on your investment. You’ll need to know the value you place on X minutes of your time in order to do this. You may recoup your investment in a shorter or longer period of time than me because there are differences in our hourly rates, our fee structures, the services we offer, the speed at which we use alternative software, how many separate jobs we do per month, the word count in the files, and so on.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

June 22, 2015

Thinking Fiction: Fiction Editors’ Resource Kit (Part I)

by Carolyn Haley

Folks like me, who are copy and line editors, spend much of their billable time checking manuscript details for accuracy and consistency. The tasks are the same whether editing fiction or nonfiction; however, novels present a colorful and sometimes bizarre mix of language and subject irregularities that require an editor to have a big library.

But if I owned all the books needed, my house would collapse under the library’s weight! So I take advantage of the Internet to augment my print references. It lets me keep them to a manageable number while eliminating the travel to city and university libraries that once was vital. Although it takes time to determine which websites are accurate and reliable, I’ve been able to build a suite of online bookmarks for regular consultation and search for items unique to a story.

The two combined make a powerful toolkit. Here are the resources I have compiled for working on novels. The list is a work in process, illustrating the scope and specifics that equip an editor to operate in this field.


Many core reference books now come in both print and electronic form. I acquired several of mine before a nonpaper option came along, so I stick with them. But I’ve learned that using the electronic form can be faster, such as when looking up words in the dictionary — which I might do several hundred times for a given project. The difference between manual and electronic lookup may only be seconds, but seconds add up to minutes then hours, which can influence whether one breaks even, makes a profit, or takes a loss on a job.


The American English dictionary used by most traditional fiction publishers is Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (MW), followed by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD). I keep The Concise Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler’s Modern English Usage as launch points when working with British English, along with lesser-known texts such as British/American Language Dictionary and British English A to Zed. Canada and Australia have their own version of the language, so I’ve acquired the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and Editing Canadian English. I’ve not yet had to work with Australian English, but toward that eventuality I’ve bookmarked the online Australian English Glossary from A to Zed.

I work mainly with American English, so I stick with MW for consistency’s sake. And I’ll adhere to first spelling with any words that have variants, unless the author shows a strong preference (leapt vs. leaped seems to be popular). The majority of authors I work with are willing to have their spelling corrected without query; thus I only deviate from MW when I need to crosscheck something. Then I’ll sample the online AHD and/or, The Free Dictionary, and the Urban Dictionary. This last is particularly helpful with contemporary novels. For vintage terms, I’ll check vintage MW and do a Google search for other sources.

When it comes to foreign words, I rely mostly on the Internet, because no language has appeared often enough in my clients’ novels to justify overloading my bookshelves. But being monolingual, I must check every non-English word, if only to know whether to italicize it or if accent marks are used correctly. Many foreign words and phrases have been absorbed into American English and are listed in MW. If not, I’ll check a dictionary of the language in question if I own it, or go online, or both. While at it, I confirm the word’s definition, because I add all foreign terms and their meanings to my style sheet. I need to skip around between online translators; they vary in thoroughness and reliability and I’ve not yet settled on one as a standard (suggestions welcome).

Same with slang and idiom, which appear frequently in novels. Google is really helpful here, as are the dictionaries mentioned above and others dedicated to idiom and slang. On the grand scale, there’s the Dictionary of American Regional English (aka “the DARE”) — five volumes in print plus an online version by subscription, all heftily priced. Investment in the DARE parallels that in the Oxford English Dictionary, which is available in book and print and sometimes through one’s local library.

Style Guides

As with dictionaries, there are multiple style guide options, and some publishers or authors will specify their preference. The generally accepted standard for fiction is The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), now up to the 16th edition. Some editors supplement it with Words into Type (WIT), but that hasn’t been updated since 1974. CMS comes as a big, fat tome or CMS online by subscription. WIT exists in book form only, stopping at the 3rd edition, though there seems to be a phantom 4th floating around online whose existence I can’t verify.

Numerous other style guides are out there, but I have yet to need them for novels. Still, it’s good to have as many in your library as you can get ahold of, both to track down details not offered in CMS/WIT, or to resolve contradictory issues, or to be able to say “yes” to a job that requires something nonstandard.

Publishers hiring freelancers to copy/line edit usually state their style guide preference. They also tend to have a house style, which takes priority over any “official” industry style guide when they conflict. Independent authors often don’t know or care about style guides, leaving editors free to select their own. If an author specifies a preference, however, you of course accommodate it unless there’s a good reason not to.

Grammar/Usage Guides

A host of options here, too. I’ve recently added Garner’s Modern American Usage to expand upon the grammar/usage sections of CMS and WIT. For quick online lookups, I’ve done well with Grammar Girl and posting queries on editorial lists and forums.

Most often I need to check phrases that include prepositions, so I use CMS’s and WIT’s sections pertaining thereto plus a quick check of online preposition lists (e.g., The English Club) when I just need to confirm which prepositions to capitalize in chapter names or publication titles.

These books will get you through the language aspect of editing most novels. The rest of the job involves story structure and quality control. Part II of this essay discusses editorial software, writing-craft resources, and continuing education. For now, please share any reference books I’ve missed that you use to make editing fiction easier, more accurate, and thorough.

Carolyn Haley lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books.

Related An American Editor Essays:

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