What is an editor?

Editors play an intrinsic role in the quality assurance process for published content. My clients benefit from having an experienced and qualified editor (yes me) to burnish their spelling, grammar, punctuation, tone, voice, content and structure.

A good editor picks up other things too – things some people might not even notice – such as spelling inconsistencies, misplaced commas and even small errors like incorrectly sized dashes.

Damn those dashes

Did you know, for example, that we have hyphens (-), en dashes (–) and em dashes(––), and they all serve different purposes within your writing? You may think that focusing on such small errors sounds pedantic, but they actually reflect the difference between run-of-the-mill writing and top-notch professional content. Having the correct dash in the right place is one of the small signs of expert writing – and everybody wants to look like an expert right!

Throw away your spellchecker

Another thing a good editor never uses is a spellchecker.

What would you say if I said I was frightened of them? It’s true. I am.

Running a spellchecker over a report or key document could ultimately cause you embarrassment because those algorithms often miss contextual errors that a good human editor would spot immediately.

Spellcheckers don’t pick up subtleties or nuances in text and, even worse, they don’t understand what you want to say when you can’t find the right word for the right context. An editor’s job is to work out what you want to say and to help you say it in the best way possible.

What is editorial style?

Well basically, it’s consistency. It’s about spelling, or treating, the same word in the same way throughout a document or project.

For example, when multiple writers contribute to a document, such as an annual report, they each bring their own spelling and punctuation preferences and habits. This results in a lot of inconsistencies and distractions, and the published report ends up looking unprofessional.

If all the writers use the same editorial style guide, then it’s more likely it will be consistent and at a professional publishing standard.

Some examples of the types of inconsistencies we encounter when style guides are not used are below.

Should we write travelling or traveling?

That depends on whether you’re in the Australia or the US.

Should an ellipsis have a space before it? Like this …? Or not like this…?

You might be surprised to hear that the former is an English convention that is used in Australia, and the latter is a U.S. convention that a lot of people mistakenly use in Australia.

Do we use a possessive apostrophe on Mother’s Day or not?

That depends on current editorial convention, which at the moment says we do. You might be interested to hear that style changes over time – but there’s no need to be concerned because good editors are all over style changes.

Do we use that or which?

That depends on whether the information is essential or non-essential to the meaning of the clause. Sound complicated? Don’t worry this is one of my bugbears and I’m an expert spotter!

The importance of consistency

The Textshop Digital Style Guide is available as a free download on the Textshop website. Check the home page for a link.

I mentioned the importance of consistency. That’s why for Australian content I use the latest edition of the online Macquarie Dictionary for all word spellings.

My editorial style decisions are based on the Australian Government Style Manual (sixth edition) – except where decisions for online content have been based on my digital experience.

For overseas content I use the editorial style that is aligned with that area of the world. For example, for U.S. content I use U.S spelling and editorial conventions. I am well-practised in working in this way when required.

Some of my clients have their own editorial style guides, and I’m happy to adhere to them. In fact, I love to because it means I’m more closely aligned with the way they want their content to read and look.