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Editing

  • How to copyedit like an expert

    Hands typing on laptop keyboard.

    How to copyedit like an expert

    Let me show you how to copyedit like an expert in 2022. 

    How to get your project ready to go in one efficient process.

    I’m going to share a process with you that I developed after working for 14 years as a professional editor.

    With this process, you’ll find and correct typos, grammar and punctuation errors, and you’ll identify inconsistencies and anything else that’s not right.

    The secret formula: combining two tasks

     To show you how to copyedit like an expert we’re going to combine editing and proofreading into one process.

    Editing is often called copyediting, and it’s done after the writer has finished the writing. It requires a deep and meaningful look at the content, and includes checking sentence structure, grammar and punctuation. Depending on the type of edit, it may also include a copyright check, a fact-check and marking up any design errors.

    Man on a computer learning how to edit like an expert

    Proofreading is completed after the edit. It’s the last stage of the editorial process and requires a comprehensive reading of the edited content. No small details should be left out. Proofing also includes checking any headings, page numbers, URLs, captions and, most importantly, signing off the project.

    Getting started – the essential checklist

    The checklist is our most important tool and it’s best to create it manually – especially if you’re editing onscreen.

    All you’ll need is a notepad and pen. 

    You’re going to write a list of words and terms as you edit onscreen. At the same time, you’ll add things you’ll come back and resolve after the edit.

    The reason you’re writing things up in the checklist to resolve later is that sometimes an issue you spot during the first read resolves itself later in the text.

    Divide the task in two

    Next step is to divide the process in two. 

    The first stage is the edit (the first read), and the second is working through the checklist (the second read).

    There’s one important thing to remember. 

    Girl at desk on laptop next to lamp.

    You can’t do a good job in the second read, unless you create a very good checklist during your edit (first read).

    So take time in your edit to note down anything that isn’t consistent or that lacks clarity.

    The tools you need

    Other tools are needed if you’re going to conduct a quality edit.

    Have your dictionary on a short cut on your desktop, and make sure it’s one that uses local spellings.

    In Australia we use UK spellings and the reference used by publishing professionals is the Macquarie Dictionary.

    Synonym finders such as Related Words  and Thesaurus.com can also be found online and it’s a good idea to have a short cut to one of those as well. 

    When a word is overused, copy it into a good synonym finder, locate a word that means the same thing and substitute it to avoid repetition.

    Find the editorial house style guide

    Find out if there’s an editorial style guide that applies to what you’re editing.

    A style guide can range from a few pages to 25 or more pages in length.

    If you’re writing for a company, ask them if they have a style guide.

    It will contain the preferred spellings and expressions they use. This is especially important for things like lists and capitalisation.

    I always read a client’s style guide before commencing an edit and then refer back to it throughout the process. Every company has its editorial idiosyncrasies and it’s best to know these upfront.

    Often the client will ask you to use a commercial style guide such as the Chicago Manual of Style or, if you’re in Australia, the Government Style Manual. This gives you a reference point for your edit.

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    It’s a good idea to keep your level of interference in check when you’re editing somebody else’s writing.

    Take care not to change the meaning of anything the writer has written and, if in doubt, add a comment or question for the writer rather than arbitrarily change something.

    Work through the edit systematically and add any issues, such as those mentioned below, to your checklist.

    Two hands holding a magnifying glass over a piece of paper observing how to edit like an expert

    It’s better to include more items in your checklist, than have a query in your second read of the document that wasn’t noted in your checklist during your first read.

    As you work through the document write all the abbreviations and acronyms used by the writer in your checklist.

    EXAMPLE – Notice of Meeting (NOM), Annual General Meeting (AGM), Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Australian Taxation Office (ATO)

    Write down any words that are used in unique or unusual ways.

    EXAMPLE – World Health Organization (WHO) – note I’m adding this because we’re retaining the US spelling. (Usually we’d change it to ‘organisation’.) Other examples might be unusual names such as Browne (Brown) and Marc (Mark), and any expressions used that differ from house style.

    Capitalisation is not always straightforward.

    Organisations may differ in their preferences for what is upper case and what is lower case.

    EXAMPLE – Universities often upper case ‘U’ when writing ‘University’ and medical colleges generally upper case ‘C’ in College.

    Write idiosyncrasies like this in your checklist as you edit.

    If you come across anything troubling that you can’t resolve without further research note it in your checklist, but also highlight it on your screen or draw a circle around it in pencil in the document.

    Remember, the answer to your query may reveal itself as you work through your edit. If not, you have it noted to come back to in your second read.

    How are you going? Keep reading and I’ll show you how to copyedit like an expert.

    In any edit, you’re looking for more than typos.

    You’re reading for idea or word repetition, lack of clarity, poorly structured sentences, and grammar and punctuation errors.

    Here are some of the things you need to check for and correct as you edit.

    US spelling in Australian writing

    Girl sitting in chair reading how to edit like an expert

    EXAMPLE – organization, color, licence and journaling.

    Change these to organisation, colour, license (verb, or licence – noun) and journalling.

    Using the same words over and over

    Spot the problem here:

    We couldn’t wait to visit the markets in Tuscany, where we hoped to find fresh ripe tomatoes and fresh ripe peaches.

    Let’s fix it by consulting our synonym finder.

    We couldn’t wait to visit the markets in Tuscany, where we hoped to find fresh ripe tomatoes and juicy peaches.

    Inconsistency of terms

    For abbreviations and acronyms we spell them out in the first instance and then use the shortened form from that point on.

    EXAMPLE – the Australian Tax Office (ATO) is busy doing tax returns this time of year, so when I phoned the ATO they placed me in a queue.

    In longer documents this practice can get messy and that’s why we note it in our checklist.

    Acronyms and abbreviations

    For abbreviations and acronyms we spell them out in the first instance and then use the shortened form from that point on.

    EXAMPLE – the Australian Tax Office (ATO) is busy doing tax returns this time of year, so when I phoned the ATO they placed me in a queue.

    In longer documents this practice can get messy and that’s why we note it in our checklist.

    Don't forget the punctuation

    As you copyedit, check for misplaced commas, semi-colons and sentences that are too long.

    Check more than words

     

    Check the spaces between paragraphs are even.

    Do tables, photos and illustrations have captions?

    Are all the links working?

    Do you know how to copyedit like an expert yet?

    The second read

    After you’ve edited the document, you should have a comprehensive checklist of items to take into your second read.

    To complete the process, you’re going to work through the content again, but this time with your checklist.

    For an optimal result your edited text should be in Word or PDF format.

    In the second read you must do the checklist work manually.

    NEVER use 'Change all'

    Seriously, no matter how short on time you are, don’t use the function on your keyboard that supposedly corrects every example of the error.

    It will quite possibly insert multiple errors into your document because it will misinterpret closely aligned words.

    To check abbreviations and acronyms, work through the items one at a time using the ‘Search’ function on your computer. It should be in the top right-hand corner of your screen.

    Let’s say you’re checking that the Australian Taxation Office is spelled out in the first instance and the acronym (ATO) is used in every instance after that.

    You’ll search throughout the document for ‘Australian Taxation Office’ and change all the long form usages to ‘ATO’ – except for the first instance, of course.

    If you want to ensure ‘Browne’ is spelled correctly, you’ll search for the incorrect spelling – Brown.

    Man writing notes on how to edit like an expert

    To standardise capitalisation throughout the document, you should check every instance manually, unless you have a search function that will isolate upper case and lower case searches.

    For example, if you’re checking that ‘University’ is upper case all the way through, type in ‘university’ and check every instance.

    This might sound tedious, but you pick up speed and get through it quickly.

    Use the search function to check for double spaces by hitting your space bar twice in the search bar.

    Check commas are correctly spaced by hitting your space bar once followed by a comma. 

    Do the same to check for spaces before full stops.

    You’ll find a vast array of things you can check using the search function, and the more you use it, the faster and more efficient you’ll be.

    Copyedit like an expert – you've done it!

    After checking and resolving every item on the checklist you should now have a well-edited document.

    My checklist method enables the copyeditor to see the document with fresh eyes and to focus on the small, important details.

    When a proofreader works through a document simply by reading it from beginning to end, they can miss errors in lengthy, dense or complex text. This process is the best way I know to conduct a comprehensive edit that picks up all the errors and inconsistencies.

    It really is how to copyedit like an expert!

    You probably thought you couldn't afford a copyeditor

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    Before you go

    Still want to learn how copyedit like an expert? You might also enjoy How to become a copyeditor.

    Check you’re not making common mistakes in your writing in 9 common errors every writer should know about.

    If you want to improve your blog writing take a look at How to write a smashing blog post.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.
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    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

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  • Which is that pronoun

    Overhead view of two cute kittens looking up at camera.

    Which is that pronoun

    By Sharon Lapkin

    Do you worry about using which and that incorrectly? Have you asked yourself: Which is that pronoun?

    Perhaps you’ve thrown your arms up in the air and decided to use both which and that interchangeably?

    Don’t worry, there are likely a lot of people who have done that. 

    Let’s look at it here with examples.

    Which and that can both function as relative pronouns (please don’t lose interest because I used a grammatical term).

    Stay with me and I’ll show you the difference between these two words.

    But first, let’s break it down and look at what a clause is and what a sentence is.

    There are four types of clauses – but there are two things they all have in common.

    They all contain a subject and a verb.

    A subject is the person, or thing, being described or doing the action.

    The  verb is a ‘doing word’ that expresses the physical action, a state of being or a mental action.

    A sentence is a group of words that has a complete meaning within itself.

    It typically contains a subject and a predicate and it conveys a statement,

    command, exclamation or exclamation.

    The sentence contains a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses.

    *A predicate is the part of the sentence that contains the verb saying something about the subject.

    Watch this explanation about when to use which and that

    Socratica (2015). English grammar basics: That vs. which.

    Two scenarios to consider

    When you have to ask: ‘Which is that pronoun?’ there are two scenarios to consider.

    You need to work out whether the relative pronoun – which or that – is introducing a non-essential relative clause or an essential clause.

    1. What makes it essential (that)?

    An essential relative clause is one that is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    If we take the essential relative clause out the sentence it will be affected.

    In fact, the sentence won’t make sense or be complete without it.

    For example – The passenger boarded the bus that was filled with tourists and suitcases.

    In the sentence above ‘that’ is introducing the essential relative clause.

    It contains essential information about the noun that precedes it.

    So if we remove ‘that was filled with tourists and suitcases’,  the sentence won’t be complete or make sense.

    This is how we know to use ‘that’ and not ‘which’ – the information after ‘that’ is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    ‘That’ is an important indicator of an essential clause because it introduces important details to the sentence.

    The computer that Jack left at the sports shop turned up at his house today.

    What makes it non-essential (which)?

    Let’s ask again: Which is that pronoun?

    We can answer this by looking at non-essential relative clauses and the role of ‘which’.

    Non-essential relative clauses contain added information that can be left out without affecting the meaning of the sentence because it’s considered decorative and non-defining.

    For example – I noticed the garden was full of pastel-coloured roses, which were perfumed and lovely.

    If we leave out ‘which were perfumed and lovely’, the sentence still makes sense. It might not contain as much information, but it still functions as a sentence. 

    Sometimes the non-essential clause is in the middle of a sentence, and not the end of it.

    For example – I went to see A Star is Born, which starred Lady Gaga, and I thought it was great.

    In this sentence ‘which starred Lady Gaga’ is the non-essential relative clause.

    It can easily be left out of the sentence without affecting the completeness or the meaning.

    Sure it leaves out some interesting information – but it still functions as a sentence.

    This is how we know it is a non-essential relative clause and we should use ‘which’ not ‘that’.

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    The all-important comma

    There is one vital detail that we should consider when using ‘which’ for non-essential clauses in sentences.

    A comma always precedes ‘which’ unless it is preceded by a preposition (in, to, on, after, for, with, under etc). 

    For example – The church, which was being rebuilt, was not open for visitors.

    Note: it is also okay to use spaced en dashes instead of commas.

    For example – The church – which was being rebuilt – was not open for visitors.

     A sentence with a non-essential clause will have either two commas framing it or one comma and a full stop.

    Today I walked to the market, which was five blocks from my apartment.

    Today I walked to the market, which was five blocks from my apartment, to buy some mangos.

    Which is that pronoun? Some tips to help you decide

    If you’re trying to work out whether to use which or that, try inserting a comma before ‘which’, and if it doesn’t make sense you know to use ‘that’ instead.

    The Prime Minister was in a meeting, which required the attendance of the Minister for Health. (Incorrect)

    Or try this – The Prime Minister was in a meeting that required the attendance of the Minister for Health. (Correct)

    Inserting a comma before ‘which’ shows us that we’re using the wrong word, but if you substitute which for that the sentence doesn’t require the comma and is more meaningful.

    Illustration of man and woman asking 'Which is that pronoun?'

    Remember, if you insert a comma before ‘which’  does the sentence still make sense?

    If it doesn’t, it means you should replace ‘which’ with ‘that’.

    For example – The shop that sells fresh flowers is always preferable to one which sells chocolates. (Incorrect)

    Or this version – The shop that sells fresh flowers is always preferable to one that sells chocolates. (Correct)

    Using which or that incorrectly can change the meaning of a sentence

    The Australian Government Style Manual provides the following examples to demonstrate how using which or that incorrectly can change the intended meaning of a sentence.

    The research findings that were likely to cause embarrassment were never circulated.

    This sentence makes it clear that the research findings not circulated were the ones likely to cause embarrassment.

    The research findings which were likely to cause embarrassment were never circulated.

    This sentence is ambiguous – were all the findings withheld or just the embarrassing ones?

    The research findings, which were likely to cause embarrassment, were never circulated.

    It’s obvious that none of the recommendations were circulated.

    In the first example, the use of ‘that’ makes it a defining or essential relative clause – so it provides defining, essential information that defines the subject.

    But the second example is ambiguous and you shouldn’t write sentences like this.

    The third example, with the pair of commas framing the clause, is a non-essential relative clause.

    Note the information inside the commas is decorative and not essential to the main point.

    I hope you no longer need to ask: Which is that pronoun?

    Think of it like the two cups of coffee in this photo. 

    They appear to be the same, but there are subtle differences that could get you into trouble.

    Overhead shot of two cups of coffee used as a model for the grammar question 'Which is that pronoun?'

    If you drink your coffee out of the cup on the right, you might be bargaining for more than you can manage.

    Which is that pronoun?

    Relative pronouns were a bugbear of mine when I was studying to be an editor. It can be one of those language conundrums that are difficult to grasp.

    But once you’ve got it, you never forget it.

    Before you leave

    If you’re interested in good grammar, you might also enjoy reading Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly.

    What to pack a punch with your writing? Check out How to make your writing more powerful.

    And find out what errors to avoid in 9 common errors every writers should know about.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.
    textshop

    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

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  • How to become a copyeditor

    A stack of books with a cup of tea on top to demonstrate the topic: how to become a copyeditor.

    How to become a copyeditor

    By Sharon Lapkin

    If you’re wondering about how to become a copyeditor, there are a few important things to know. You need a razor sharp eye and an ability to focus on consistency from the beginning to end of a document or manuscript.

    It’s an exciting career if you love writing (especially other people’s writing).

    You need to love it so much that you’re happy to spend your days correcting grammar, syntax and structure. Even if that means you sometimes have to justify those corrections to the writer.

    There are many different types of editors, but there are common characteristics shared by all of them. Or, we might start off as one type of editor and end up another.

    Yellow check fabric divider

    Copyeditors have a comprehensive knowledge and  understanding of the following editorial skills:

    Good grammar and punctuation

    Tone and voice

    Copyright

    Author–editor relationships

    Legal and ethical issues

    Word styles, track changes, formatting

    Grammar rules

    Good sentence and paragraph structure

    Fact-checking skills

    Editorial mark-up

    Cultural sensitivity

    Discriminatory language

    Yellow check fabric divider

    In my editorial career, I worked as a subeditor, copyeditor, senior editor, coordinating editor, project editor, developmental editor, supervising editor and managing editor.

    This provided me with a broad base of knowledge and experience across all aspects of the editorial process. 

    What does an copyeditor do?

    Let’s focus on how to become a copywriter, which is the most popular type of editor.

    Copyeditors edit a page line by line for sense, formatting, grammar and punctuation.

    They also align the text on the page with the agreed editorial style. This is generally the house style or, if there isn’t a house style, they might rely on the Australian Government Style Manual or the Chicago Manual of Style.

    When a document requires more than a line-by-line edit, we call this a structural edit.

    Then the copyeditor digs deeper and edits for meaning, flow and sense. They may go back to the client and suggest that particular sentences or paragraphs be moved or rewritten, or they may have questions about the tone or accuracy of the text. 

    Copyeditors review and correct content in all types of projects. You can find them working on projects such as newspaper and book articles, annual reports, white papers, website content and book manuscripts.

    Do you still want to learn how to become  a copywriter? Great! Let’s keep going.

    Looking for an experienced copyeditor?

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    The home of professional editors

    Most professional editors in Australia belong to the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd).

    Logo for Institute of Professional Editors, an organisation that knows how to become a copyeditor.

    Editors in other countries have their own organisations, and these are important because they oversee and maintain editorial standards.

    Editors must satisfy formal entry requirements and work as a professional editor to qualify for IPEd membership.

    When hiring a copyeditor, make sure they’re a professional member of this industry organisation.

    Good copyeditors develop close working relationships with their authors and clients. They consult with them about any intended changes beyond grammar and punctuation.

    If they don’t have direct access to the writer, then they’ll be working from an editorial brief.

    What does a copyeditor do about legal and ethical issues? The Australian Standards for Editing Practice defines the core standards that professional editors should meet.

    These standards set out the knowledge and skills for good editorial practice, including legal and ethical obligations, as well as substance and structural tasks.

    What does a proofreader do?

    If you want to know how to become a copyeditor then, by default, you’ll learn how to be a proofreader.

    Proofreading is the final task in the editorial process. 

    The proofreader should be the last person to make changes to the content. 

    Their role is to check the text for typos, grammatical errors, punctuation, page numbers and editorial style. 

    They’ll also check captions, images, headings and the table of content.

    Girl sitting on stool with a laptop researching how to become a copyeditor

    Proofreaders focus on those things that might be overlooked by the writer and copyeditor before them.

    Outside traditional publishing, people often don’t differentiate between copyediting and proofreading. 

    But to a copyeditor and proofreader they’re two distinct processes. This is why it’s important to establish exactly what’s needed before employing a copyeditor.

    Legal and ethical matters

    Copyeditors are trained to recognise content that appears to be written by a person who’s not the writer they’re working with.

    We spot the change of voice in the text. To us, it’s like finding an avocado in a banana smoothie.

    Often people don’t realise they’re plagiarising and, once it’s pointed out, it’s a quick and easy fix.

    We can look into obtaining permission to republish content if it’s intrinsic to the project.

    Or we might summarise or paraphrase text from other sources while always acknowledging the original source.

    Applying for copyright permission is usually a straightforward process. People are often flattered that you want to use their content.

    It’s also good manners to acknowledge content created by somebody else. Think about using a backlink if you can. This helps their SEO as well as yours.

    Permission may not always be needed, but acknowledgement is always required. If you want to use content from another source, check their terms and conditions on their website first. 

    A website’s terms and conditions are generally located at the bottom of their homepage (left). 

    Cultural sensitivity and discriminatory language

    Take care not to convey explicit or implicit judgements about other people’s cultural differences. 

    Context is important when looking at this type of content and common sense is paramount.

    What does a copyeditor do about offensive content? They’ll alert the writer to the problem. If they’ve worked in-house, they’ll generally know a lawyer, or somebody with legal training, who can provide an informed opinion.

    Keep an eye out because discriminatory language or meaning can appear in content unintentionally.

    References to age, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, accent or disability that are not relevant to the story can be examples of discriminatory language.

    Good copyeditors identify any issues they encounter and suggest alternative text.

    Design and formatting

    Copyeditors who have worked in publishing environments are used to marking up corrections for graphic designers.

    We don’t design pages, but we do look at all the text-based elements on a page and identify any parts of it that aren’t working optimally.

    Copyeditors and designers work together to create high-quality content. They go back and forth marking up the content and taking in the corrections until the page is perfect.

    The relationship between the copyeditor and the designer is essential to the quality of the work.

    How to develop an editorial mindset

    When I was a trainee editor, I’d imagine that a page in a book I was working on was a room in a house. 

    The headings, graphics, images and all the other elements on the page were furniture in the room.

    These elements had to come together in a cohesive, aesthetic way for the page to function.

    Want to know how to become a copyeditor? Here's a list of things you'll see including text, tables, graphics and photos.

    The design had to support the text and not inhibit or misrepresent its meaning.

    Editors call this process ‘page-fitting’, but the house idea worked for me.

    Still want to know how to become a copyditor? Yay! Good to hear it.

    Can you really rely on a spellchecker?

    Spellcheckers regularly get things wrong.

    To start with, you may be checking UK (Australian) English through a US spellchecker.

    So the Australian spelling ‘specialisation’ will be marked up as an error because the spellchecker thinks it should be the US spelling ‘specialization’.

    Spellcheckers check if words are spelled correctly, not whether they’re used correctly.

    So a sentence such as ‘Witch one was rite?’ could be assessed as correct.

    Similarly, homophones are troublesome for spellcheckers. So ‘heir’ and ‘air’ could be substituted and missed. So could ‘bare’ and ‘bear’.

    According to Oxford Dictionaries, a spellchecker might not know the difference between ‘socialite’ and ‘socialist’, or ‘definitely’ and ‘defiantly’. It may also confuse ‘public’ with ‘pubic’. That could be embarrassing!

    Yellow check fabric divider

    Grammar and punctuation

    When subject matter experts write, they focus on the meaning and structure of the content, not relative pronouns, commas or other constructions.

    It’s difficult to explain complex concepts or review academic research while trying to be word perfect. In these situations, an editor is a writer’s best friend.

    A good writer–editor relationship is invaluable, and copyeditors are trained to use a friendly tone when marking up corrections.

    Have you noticed how best-selling authors often talk about their editors in affectionate terms? That’s because they understand each other and are, pun intended, always on the same page.

    Grammar evolves and editors keep up with changes

    What does a copyeditor do about grammar that’s continually evolving?

    With every new edition of a dictionary words become extinct and new words are invented. These new words, called neologisms, can be challenging to keep up with. Lucky that editors, in general, love words.

    Words start being used as compounds (e.g. well-being) and hyphens are inserted between them. Then compounds lose their hyphens (e.g. wellbeing) and become singular words. An editor keeps track of all these evolutionary changes.

    It’s a big job knowing a dictionary back to front, but an editor will generally know common usage without referring to the dictionary. They probably even have a shortcut on their screen to locate a current usage within a minute.

    An editor will know when to use ‘which’ and ‘that’ and you’ll find this knowledge is the difference between amateur and professional content.

    Some people avoid punctuation because they’d rather have an absence of it than an error. If that’s you, consider this sentence:

    “Let’s eat Evelyn,” versus “Let’s eat, Evelyn.”

    If you want to be clearly understood there’s no way around it. You have to learn punctuation rules or hire an editor.

    You probably thought you couldn't afford a copyeditor

    Take a minute to email me now

    Why you should worry about editorial style

    When you’re learning how to become a copyeditor, always remember that editorial style ensures consistency.

    Suppose a medical college uses upper case ‘C’ in ‘College’ in all instances. That style needs to be consistent throughout the College’s content or its readers may become distracted.

    It’s also about saying the same thing in the same way throughout a document. For example, Jacaranda University shouldn’t be shortened to ‘Jacaranda uni’ in the same piece of content.

    You wouldn’t use ‘and’ and an ampersand ‘&’ in the same document (unless it were in a company name). You’d also punctuate lists in the same way throughout a project.

    Consistency is important because it builds reader confidence and reduces distractions in the text.

    It demonstrates clearly that the content has been created by professionals, which is exactly what you want. Readers will find it difficult to trust content that’s plagued by errors and inconsistencies.

    Even if writers are highly qualified in their field, errors can devalue their authority and make them look less professional.

    A good style guide clearly defines an organisation’s tone and voice. It lets us know the differences between the brand’s usage and common usage.

    The style guide also lists those instances where the organisation might divert from popular usage, such as the upper-case ‘C’ in College.

    Your list of good editorial style guides

    The Australian Government Style Manual was recently updated and is essential for anybody writing or editing Australian Government content.

    The Melbourne University Law Review publishes the Australian Guide to Legal Citation and it’s free to download.

    APA (American Psychological Association) Style is used by many academic and professional organisations. Explore it here.

    The ABC Style Guide is extensive and available to the public.

    For guidance on Indigenous terminology, you might like Textshop’s Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology.

    Yellow check fabric divider

    Learning how to become a copyeditor is a serious career decision. It involves lifelong learning as editorial standards are always evolving and good writing requires consistency.

    We might be applying house rules and styles to writing, but we’re also working from the perspective of the reader and analysing how they’ll approach and process the text we’re editing.

    The important thing to remember is that any type of editing is a journey. You never know it all – even when you become an expert.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.
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    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

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  • How to edit an annual report

    One hand on a calculator and the other on a keyboard

    How to edit an annual report

    By Sharon Lapkin

    Will you edit an annual report this year?

    If the answer is yes, hold on because I’m about to share some guidelines and pointers that will help you do a great job.

    After copyediting and proofreading annual reports for years, I developed a simple checklist process that picks up often-missed errors.

    I can’t wait to tell you about it.

    Annual reports should be easy to read

    If you’ve worked on an annual report, you’ll know that multiple writers are involved in creating content.

    These writers can be subject matter experts, content writers and in-house staff, and each one of them has a distinct writing style and tone of voice.

    As an editor, one of your jobs is to pull all of these different styles and voices into one writing style with a single voice.

    If done well, this uniformity helps increase clarity, consistency and ease of reading.

    It's raining acronyms and abbreviations

    Woman flying through letters of the alphabet trying to work out how to edit an annual report.

    One of the challenges when you edit an annual report is managing acronyms and abbreviations.

    When multiple  writers are working on a report, they can insert the same acronyms and

    abbreviations that have already been added by their colleagues. This creates problems because there’s no one writer managing the long and short versions of the same acronym or abbreviation.

    Readers then stumble upon the short forms (e.g. PHN) and don’t  know what they mean.

    If there’s no glossary, they have to search back through the pages to locate the first time the acronym was expanded. 

    Frustrating right?

    Let me show you how I manage this problem when I edit an annual report.

    I keep a notepad on hand and, as I edit, I list every abbreviation and acronym in the report.

    After I’ve completed the edit, I use the ‘Search’ function in Word (or PDF) to locate and check that every acronym and abbreviation is written out in full in the first instance.

    Then I do the reverse, and search for the written-out forms and convert these to abbreviations and acronyms.

    Remember that the acronym or abbreviation following the written-out form should be enclosed in brackets on the first instance only.

    For example: Sustainable Responsible Investment (SRI). From that point on use the acronym or abbreviation only.

    TIP: When searching for a group of words in the search function bar, place double quotation marks around the entire group of words. For example: “Key Performance Indicators”.

    The all-important question

    How often should I write out the acronym or abbreviation (e.g. Investment Committee (IC)) so readers know what it means?

    There are two ways to approach this question.

    First, if there’s a glossary in the annual report add all the acronyms and abbreviations to it. Then write the acronym or abbreviation out in full the first time only.

    For example: The new Chair of the Investment Committee (IC) was previously a member of the IC. 

    Second, if there’s no glossary – and I strongly advise you to suggest one be included for reading ease – write out the acronym or abbreviation when it first appears in every section. If the sections are short, you can get away with refreshing readers’ memories every couple of sections.

    Invest in a copyeditor and make your annual report shine

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    Why a glossary is essential

    Readers can get lost in the text if they’re reading an annual report that doesn’t include a glossary.

    Every time readers forget what an acronym or abbreviation stands for, they have to flick back through the pages and search for the first or last time it was written out.

    Annoying right? 

    Now ask yourself how readers feel after decoding a report full of acronyms and abbreviations. It’s likely they’re frustrated by all the interruptions to their reading.

    A good editor thinks constantly about the reader’s perspective. After all, the purpose of editing and proofreading is to eliminate errors and improve readability.

    This includes asking why and how people read annual reports. We know readers are often looking for specific information and don’t read reports from front to back.

    So, it’s not difficult to see that annual reports benefit from having a glossary.

    If a glossary is out of the question, introduce the written-out form with the acronym or abbreviation in brackets after it (i.e. Investment Committee (IC)). Then ensure it’s written out again when it first appears in a new section.

    Did you know the first modern corporate annual report was published almost 120 years ago?

    In 1903, American company United States Steel Corporation published an annual report that included financial pages certified by Price, Waterhouse & Co.

    If you’d like to take a look at this historic document, you can download it here.

    US Steel Annual Report example of how to proofread an annual report

    How to edit legislation

    Almost every annual report mentions or discusses some form of legislation. 

    There’s a correct way to introduce legislation and here’s what to look out for when you edit an annual report.

    You’ll see phrases such as ‘to the extent permitted under the Corporations Act 2001‘ and ‘as required by the Corporations Act’.

    From an editorial perspective both of these are incorrect if they’re introduced into the report in this way.

    Use the formal name of the Act, including the jurisdiction, when writing legislation for the first time. 

    So it would be ‘to the extent permitted under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth)’, and note the jurisdiction (Cth) isn’t italicised.

    After writing the legislation out in full on its first mention, shorten it to ‘Corporations Act’ from that point on, but don’t italicise it unless it’s written in full.

    The Australian Government Style Manual has been revised recently, and if you’re writing or editing a report for a government department you’ll want to check it out.

    You’ll see that it differs from what I’ve recommended here, and that’s because I prefer a more precise editorial convention.

     As the editor, your first preference for editorial style should be the company’s own style guide.

    What about the financials?

    Accountants prepare the section of the annual report known as ‘the financials’.

    Edit this section with a light touch and don’t edit the columns or rows of numbers. If something looks wrong, flag it for the in-house accountant or a subject matter expert to check. 

    Check table, figure and graph headings. Then edit the text in tables, bullet lists and footnotes.

    Lastly, take a wide-angle look at the financials. A correctly formatted financial report will have symmetry.

    Rows and columns will align and footnotes and table notes will run sequentially.

    Don’t be afraid to flag anything for the accountant that looks incorrect or out of place. 

    Capitalisation doesn't need to be a headache

    Will I use upper case or lower case? Believe me you’ll ask this question a hundred times if you don’t have a process in place.

    Most companies have a style guide explaining their capitalisation preferences. You can also refer to the company’s most recent annual report on their website.

    As you work through your proofread, you’ll see that writers use capitalisation differently. For example, one writer might write ‘risk management framework’ and another will write ‘Risk Management Framework’. 

    Making capitalisation consistent is a tricky job when there are dozens of industry-specific words that are both upper case and lower case throughout the report.

    This is where I use my  checklist process again.

    Get out your trusty notepad and write down every capitalised word you see as you proofread. When you spot a lower-case word that looks wrong, write that down too. 

    After you’re done, it’s time to make decisions. Make an informed call on capitalisations using the resources already discussed. 

    Now repeat the process you used for acronyms and abbreviations. Search the entire report in either Word or PDF for the word or term, and ensure each one is consistently lower case or capitalised.

    This type of search function enables you to do a perfect edit on capitalised terms.

    Man with headache when he's going to proofread an annual report

    Capitalisation in director bios

    A common mistake when editing annual reports is the capitalisation of former titles in directors’ biographies.

    Use this rule to ensure you never get it wrong:

    Capitalise current titles and lower case former titles. 

     

    Read carefully to ensure you’re identifying former and current roles in the bios. Following is an example.

    Jane Smith joined the Board as a Non-executive Director in 2020. Her past roles include director of XYZ, chairperson of the PQR Foundation and partner in X&M.

    Eliminate these words from the report

    Two words are red flags when you edit an annual report. They are ‘above’ and ‘below’.

    Writers will often refer to a table, or a point they’ve made previously, with directives such as ‘see the table below’ or ‘as explained above’.

    You’re probably wondering why this is a problem.

    After the designer lays out the report, these words or the item they’re referring to can end up on another page.  Neither the writer nor the editor knows where the page breaks will fall when they’re writing or proofing the report. 

    The ‘table below’ may not be below any longer – but at the top the next page. 

    So when you eliminate these words you’re avoiding  potential errors.

    You’ve likely seen this yourself in published material. It’s a common error in publications with tight deadlines.

    There’s a simple fix for this. Substitute above and below for words such as ‘following’ and ‘previous’. Even ‘here’ can work.

    For example: ‘See the following table,’ and ‘where mentioned previously’ work because it doesn’t matter whether content has flowed onto the next page.

    Textshop Content sets the standard

    Check out these websites for more information on annual reports

    Read CPA [Chartered Practising Accountants] Australia on Understanding Annual Reports.

    See the Australian Government’s Annual reports for Commonwealth companies for guidelines on writing and publishing annual reports, plus templates to help.

    Check out the design experts at  Twelve Creative for all your annual report needs.

    Want to know more?

    Are you after more information on writing or editing annual reports? Great! Check out my blog post: 6 annual report writing tips from a professional editor.

    If you want to read about blogs for business Does my business need a blog is a great place to start.

    Or, if you’ve been thinking about implementing an SEO strategy, read Is SEO really needed first.

    If your annual report needs work or a thorough edit, I’m here for you! Just press the black button below.

    Your business is important

    Let's find the right words for your brand.
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    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

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  • Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    Delicate pastel-coloured Indigenous dot painting

    Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    By Sharon Lapkin

    This Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology reflects the culture and beliefs of First Nations Australians.

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have unique languages, knowledge systems and beliefs, and these understandings vary between groups.

    Currently, there are more than 500 different communities or nations across Australia and, in 2019, more than 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were being spoken at home.

    While non-Indigenous writers and editors can find it difficult to identify appropriate terminology, it’s important to know there’s no single culture in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations and communities.

    What’s defined as appropriate usage depends on the preferences of different groups of people.

    This Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology is based on my 14 years experience in educational publishing. It also includes research from Reconciliation Australia, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and Common Ground.

    I was privileged to work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia when I was researching my Masters of Education thesis, and throughout my publishing career.

    This Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology was last updated on 11 July 2021.

    Aborigine or Aboriginal

    Aborigine is a noun meaning one of the first inhabitants of a country.

    However, in Australia the term ‘Aborigine’ is increasingly considered outdated and inappropriate because it has racist connotations from Australia’s colonial past.

    Many Aboriginal people have called for the word to be dropped. 

    Some publications, such as The Australian newspaper, still use this term, but it’s best not to join them.

    Aboriginal is an adjective that  people sometimes use as a noun.

    It’s appropriate to use terms such as Aboriginal person, Aboriginal people and Aboriginal community.

    You can call an Aboriginal person an Aboriginal, but keep in mind that it isn’t yet accepted by the Macquarie Dictionary.

    Indigenous drawing of a lizard for Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    Acknowledgements

    The ‘Welcome to Country’ is not formally an acknowledgement and can be found further down this A–Z page.

    Welcome to Country is delivered by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples; whereas, the following acknowledgements can be delivered by them as well as non-Indigenous people.

    Indigenous painting of a circle for Guidelines for Indigenous Australian terminology

    Acknowledgement of Country

    The ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ is delivered to show respect for the Traditional Owners and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their connection to the land you are living and working on.

    It’s usually delivered at the beginning of a meeting, speech or other formal occasion. The acknowledgement can be adapted for printing in books and on websites, as shown in ‘Other acknowledgements’.

    For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, ‘country’ means more than owning land or being connected to it.

    In the words of Professor Mick Dodson, it means the “values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations” associated with the area being acknowledged.

    There is no set protocol or wording for an Acknowledgement of Country, but Reconciliation Australia recommends the two following versions.

    General: I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today. I would also like to pay my respects to Elders past and present.

    Specific: I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the (people) of the (nation) and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

    Other acknowledgements

    To include an Acknowledgement of Country in a printed document such as a book, report, or website and email, Creative Spirits recommends the following practices.

    In printed publications, if possible, place the acknowledgement in a significant place on the inside front cover. 

    For websites and emails place a more concise acknowledgement that references your business or organisations’ respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are the Traditional Owners of the land on which you live and work.

    Beliefs

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ beliefs should never be referred to as ‘myth’, ‘folklore’ or ‘legend’.

    Black, blackfella

    Don’t call a First Nations person a Black. You might hear them using the term among themselves, but don’t use it yourself.

    Many of them consider it highly offensive when a non-Indigenous person uses this term. Colonial books were littered with these references.

    Blackfella is another informal term used among First Nations peoples but, again, it’s not appropriate for non-Indigenous people to use this word – even if they’re a whitefella.

    You may have heard Black and blackfella used in friendly ways by First Nations peoples, but context is everything. 

    Be aware that our inferences can miss nuances we can’t see, or aren’t aware of, as non-Indigenous people.

    Copyright problems for First Nations stories

    First Nations peoples’ Dreaming stories and teachings have been told by word-of-mouth for thousands of years. 

    Some of these stories are sacred and fiercely guarded. They are stories that connect the people to their community, their land and their survival.

    Modern copyright laws don’t protect oral First Nations peoples’ stories from being rewritten or retold inappropriately or even inaccurately.

    There is no legal requirement to obtain consent to publish a story owned by a community.

    The takeaway here is not to rewrite or retell First Nations peoples’ stories without prior consent from the community that owns the story.

    If you don’t know anybody from the community, seek advice from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or one of their representative organisations.

    Indigenous drawing of a kangaroo

    Dreaming/Dreamtime

    ‘Dreaming’ can refer to a system of spiritual beliefs and is capitalised when used in this way. 

    ‘Dreamtime’ is diminishing in use, as it is believed to refer to the past.

    First nations

    First Nations is always capitalised. It refers to the collective of individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations within Australia.

    It is also used when referring to some of those nations.

    First Nations languages

    Words and names from First Nations’ languages are Australian languages. Don’t italicise them as you would foreign words and names.

    First Peoples/First Nations Australians

    The name First Peoples is preferred to the term ‘Indigenous people’.

    ‘First Nations Australians’ is used as a synonym for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    However, due to the diversity within these two groups, any use of specific terminology should be discussed with the communities concerned.

    Indigenous and non-Indigenous people

    Be aware that referring to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples as Indigenous isn’t okay with everybody.

    Many people and organisations accept it as a broad term synonymous with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    The federal government has also embedded the term into its policies and literature.

    Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, regularly also uses the ‘Indigenous’.

    But not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are happy to be referred to as Indigenous.

    For a long time, ‘Indigenous’ was a scientific term used to categorise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as part of the fauna and flora of Australia.

    People who aren’t Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders are referred to as non-Indigenous.

    Replace ‘Indigenous’ with First Nations Australians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

    Indigenous drawing of a lizard for Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    Indigenous content warnings – how to write them

    Bereavement practices (also known as ‘sorry business’) vary between communities, but there is a common rule that first names, images and voice recordings of deceased First Nation’s peoples are not permitted to be seen or heard.

    The practice is very old and is based on the belief that saying a dead person’s first name, seeing their image or hearing their voice after death would recall and disturb their spirit.

    This can be challenging if you work in publishing because it can be difficult, for example, to determine whether any deceased people are in a group photo included in a book, magazine or article.

    In these situations, we should do our best to ensure all people depicted in an image or recorded in an audio are living.

    Permission can be sought from the deceased person’s family to publish their name, image or voice.

    Because it can be difficult to confirm whether people have passed away, we insert an ‘Indigenous warning’ at the front of written and recorded content such as books, journals, online articles, video recordings and television shows.

    Particular care should be taken to use appropriate First Nations peoples’ terminology in an Indigenous warning.

    EXAMPLES of INDIGENOUS WARNINGS

    Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.

    – AIATSIS (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies)

    WARNING: Readers are notified that this publication may contain names or images of deceased persons.

    – ANU Press

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images, names and voices of deceased persons.

    – Australian Government, Anzac Portal

    Indigenous drawing of two turtles

    Languages

    There are hundreds of First Nations languages and many are still in use today.

     Languages that are not currently in use are referred to as ‘sleeping’ not ‘extinct’.

    Leaders or Elders?

    A leader is not an Elder.

    Take care not to nominate somebody who is speaking to you on behalf of others in their community as a leader.

    Also, don’t assume that an elderly First Nations’ person is an Elder.

    In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Elders are not powerful or privileged.

    They’re people who are held in high esteem and respected within their families or communities.

    Elders are often referred to in their communities as Aunty or Uncle.

    While hundreds of different groups, communities, organisations and nations live in Australia, there isn’t one person who speaks on behalf of them all. 

    Local names for people from particular regions across Australia

    When writing about a specific group, it’s more respectful to use their nation, community or island name.

    The Guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology advises you to check with a local group or organisation before using the following terms. 

    Anangu are people from South-West Central Australia – the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, Nyangatjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra Nations.

    Koorie are people from NSW and Victoria, and some parts of Tasmania.

    Murrie are people from Queensland and some parts of NSW.

    Nunga are people from the southern region of South Australia.

    Noongar are people from the South-West region of WA.

    Palawa are people from Tasmania.

    People or peoples

    The most appropriate term to use for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    It’s peoples because it’s two nations of people.

    Don’t assume that all First Nations peoples living in Australia are Aboriginal, and that you can use that term when referring specifically to mainland people. In the 2011 Census, 52,616 people living in Australia identified as being of Torres Strait Islander origin.

    Do not abbreviate to ATSI or TSI. Always write these in full.

    Don’t use ‘Australian Indigenous peoples’ or ‘our Aboriginal peoples’ as both imply ownership.

    I use the term Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples. It’s a lengthy term if repeated more than once in a paragraph, but it’s the appropriate way to refer to First Nations Australians.

    Indigenous drawing of a lizard for Guide to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    Using appropriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology

    First Nations languages

    Aboriginal person/people

    Torres Strait Islander person/people

    Creation/Dreaming stories

    First Nations peoples

    spirituality

    Aboriginal nations

    language groups

    First Nations Australians

    the Dreaming/s

    teachings

    First Nations

    gone missing (not walkabout)

    Aboriginal communities

    Stolen Generation 

    Traditional Owner 

    Custodian 

    Elder 

    Aunty/Uncle 

    legends (Torres Strait Islander People only)

    Welcome to Country

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been welcoming visitors to Country for thousands of years.

    The welcome is delivered by Traditional Owners or First Nations peoples who have permission from the Traditional Owners.

    It is delivered at the beginning of formal events and can be a speech, smoking ceremony, song or a dance.

    References and links

    Arts Council of Australia – Protocols for producing Indigenous Australian writing

    Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies – Ethical publishing guidelines

     Australians Together –  Language and Terminology Guide

    Reconciliation Australia –Share our pride

    The Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) website

     Guidance on communication with First Nations peoples – AIATSIS Ethical Research Guidelines

    A note from me

    If you’d like to contribute to these Guidelines on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology, or discuss any of the topics here, please don’t hesitate to contact me on the button below. 

    The Australian Government Style Manual has recently been updated with a new section on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. If you’re writing for a government department, the terminology in the style manual is mandatory.

    You might also be interested in reading How to make your writing more powerful.

    Last updated 10 July 2021.

    Textshop respectfully acknowledges the past and present Traditional Custodians of this land, and respects their culture and identity, which have been intrinsically connected to the land and sea for thousands of years. 

  • Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly

    Hands on laptop typing Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly.

    Why you should never hyphenate adverbs ending in ly

    By Sharon Lapkin

    Have you noticed that online news sites and mainstream media regularly hyphenate adverbs ending in ly? 

    Even our national broadcaster, the ABC, is inserting hyphens where they don’t belong. 

    From ‘newly-minted’ to ‘hotly-anticipated’ and ‘locally-acquired’, our useful little line (-) is being overplayed and overworked. Can you see the problem here? 

    If our news outlets hyphenate adverbs ending in ly, then it becomes commonplace. Students, teachers, writers and others start copying the trend and, before you know it, a lot of people think it’s correct.

    We rely on our media to get it right, and when they slip up it’s not just a betrayal of correct grammar and punctuation, but of every reader who incorporates that error into their own writing because they think ‘If the ABC does it, I should too.’

    Brown gingham strip of fabric
    Middle-aged man looking at his mobile to see if he needs a hyphen in the adverb ending in ly.

    But I like my hyphen

    Some grammarians call it a hypercorrection. The Australian Government Style Manual simply says don’t do it.

    What they’re referring to is the practice of inserting a hyphen between an adverb ending in ly and the participle that follows it – ending in ‘ed’ or ‘ing’.

    The Chicago Manual of Style applies this rule to both adverbs and participles:

    ‘Compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective or participle (such as largely irrelevant or smartly dressed) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun.’

    But why can't I write that my cat is 'visually-impaired'?

    The purpose of hyphenation is to increase clarity. Inserting a hyphen where it’s not needed is like adding an exclamation mark when there’s no interjection or exclamation. It’s not an oversight, it’s an error.

    Following are examples of adverbs ending in ly that don’t require hyphens. Notice the words following the adverbs are either participles or adjectives.

    – the rapidly declining number

    – a badly worded sentence

    – a fully loaded syringe

    – the terrifyingly large dog

    – most heavily populated city

    – a closely watched procedure

    – it was about locally acquired Covid-19

    – a newly minted necklace

    – the dimly lit library

    – the highly regarded professor

    – John’s barely worn suit

    – a rarely used car

    What about 'ly' words that aren't adverbs?

    Not all words ending in ly are adverbs and for these words the no-hyphen rule doesn’t apply.

    For example:

    – a family-oriented workplace

    – their only-begotten child

    – supply-side economics.

    Brown gingham strip of fabric

    What is a hyphen and what does it do?

    Hyphens connect parts of words (such as pre, non, re and co) or whole words to form new words or compound words.

    So you might use a hyphen to connect ‘co’ to ‘conspirator’ and create ‘co-conspirator’.

    However, words evolve over time and hyphens sometimes become redundant as the prefix and word merge into one.

    For example: co-ordinate eventually became ‘coordinate’.

    To check if you need to insert a hyphen, consult a good online dictionary for current usage.

    Hyphens are also used to connect the words that form compound nouns, verbs and adjectives.

    For example: 

    – I took Apollo to the pet-friendly cafe.

    – The well-known actor was in a built-for-purpose boat.

    – The six-year-old boy was eating a lentil burger.

    Remember that some compounds revert to singular words if the sentence is restructured, and there’s no need for hyphens.

    For example:

    – The cafe was pet friendly.

    – The boy, who was six years old, was eating a lentil burger.

    A hyphen and two types of dashes

    A hyphen is only used to connect parts of words or whole words.

    When it comes to connecting groups of words, such as phrases, sentences and paragraphs, we use either en dashes or em dashes.

    An en dash is half the width of the font height and an em dash is the same width as the font height.

    En dashes are also used to connect words of equal value.

    For example:

    South–East Asia,  Guillain–Barre syndrome, the Melbourne–Sydney flight

    To connect groups of words the current editorial style is spaced en dashes.

    Use un-spaced en dashes in number spans such as 2019–2021 and 11–19 years of age.

    Em dashes are rarely used, but can be utilised for some of the same purposes as en dashes.

    A popular use of the en dash is to replace commas around non-essential information within sentences.

    For example: 

    The annual general meeting  – originally planned for Tuesday – went ahead on Friday, but arrangements were made for it to be run online.

    Brown gingham strip of fabric

    Tips about adverbs ending in ly

    If you don’t have time to check grammar and punctuation rules every time you write, then follow these simple rules:

    Don’t insert a hyphen after a word ending in ly unless you’re positive it’s not an adverb.

     

    Two hands holding a magnifying glass over a piece of paper observing how to edit like an expert

    Remember we don’t hyphenate adverbs ending in ly.

    Only use hyphens inside individual words or compounds.

    You can read more about hyphens in 9 common errors every writer should know about.

    A note from us

    At Textshop, we’re obsessed about good grammar and punctuation. Understanding grammar is an essential skill if you want quality online content.

    You can seriously damage your brand by publishing content with errors. And there’s no need for you to take that risk when you have an editor available to copyedit or proofread your content before you share it with others.

    Click the button below to schedule a chat with Sharon.

    You probably thought you couldn't afford a copyeditor

    Take a minute to email me now

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    About Sharon Lapkin

    Sharon is a content writer and award-winning editor. After acquiring two masters degrees (one in education and one in editing and comms) she worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years. A number of major publishing accomplishments came her way, including the eighth edition of Cookery the Australian Way (more than a million copies sold across its eight editions), before she moved into corporate publishing.

    Sharon worked in senior roles in medical colleges and educational organisations until 2017. Then she left her role as editorial services manager for the corporate arm of a university and founded Textshop Content – a content writing and copyediting agency that provides services to Australia’s leading universities and companies.

  • 9 common errors every writer should know about

    Woman reacting with shock to common errors every writer should know about

    9 common errors every writer should know about

    By Sharon Lakin

    Hitting the wrong key can explain away a typo, but using the wrong word can damage your credibility as a writer.

    Here are nine common errors every writer should know about.

    Unfortunately, I come across them regularly in my work as a professional editor.

    You’ll find explanations and examples to help you use the correct words from here forth!

    1. Do I use 'I' or 'me'?

    This is one of the most common errors in English usage.

    TIP – A pronoun is a word used instead of a noun. For example – using she instead of the name, Louise.

    RULE – If the pronoun is the object of the sentence, then use I – otherwise, use me.

    EXAMPLE – Could you join Louise and me for dinner?

    TEST  How do I tell if the example above is correct? Simple. Take Louise out of the sentence and it reads – Could you join me for dinner? It wouldn’t have worked as ‘Could you join I for dinner would it? That’s because I is never the object of a sentence.

    2. Who or that

    Another common mistake is using who when that should be used – and vice versa. It’s an easy error to make, but once I demonstrate why it’s wrong you won’t do it again.

    If we’re writing about a person such as your sister, a teacher or any other human, then you would not use that.

    We use who when we’re writing about a human.

    Remember who = human.

    EXAMPLE  The actor, who was my sister’s friend, said he would help raise money.

    TEST  Ask yourself: Is the actor a human or an object?

    If we’re writing about an object, such as a car, tree or office building, then who is not the word you should be using. 

    We use that when we’re talking about an object.

    Remember that = object.

    EXAMPLE – The car was a bright colour that I loved.

    TEST  Ask yourself: Is the car a human or an object?

    Ready for more common errors every writer should know about? Great! Keep going.

    3. Between or among

    The general rule is that between is used when comparing two distinct items, people or events.

    EXAMPLE – Two days elapsed between his arrival and his departure.

    TEST – How many days elapsed? Two? Good.

    The rule is that among is used when there are more than two people,  items or events.

    EXAMPLE – The choice was made from among four qualified candidates.

    TEST – Were there more than two candidates?

    4. Affect or effect

    These two words function both as nouns and as verbs. They’re also commonly confused because they’re so similar.

    To simplify matters there’s a simple rule of thumb that can be used to avoid most errors.

    Affect as a verb has two meanings.

    The more common use of affect is to exert an influence, have impact or bring about change through an action.

    EXAMPLE – Rising interest rates affected the company’s bottom line.

    In other words, the rise in interest rates had an impact on the financial position of the company.

    The second meaning of affect is to simulate or fake an attitude or behaviour.

    EXAMPLE – For this particular role, the actor affected an Oxbridge accent.

    By contrast, you should generally use effect with an e as a noun to signify the thing that was impacted, influenced or changed.

    Returning to our example we used above, we would say ‘the company’s lower profits are the effect of increased interest rates.’

    5. Practice or practise

    Don’t let the US  spellings confuse you. Americans use practice as both a noun and a verb.

    U.S. EXAMPLE – Doctor James practices medicine at his medical practice in New York.

    In Australia and the UK there are different spellings for the noun and the verb.

    AUSTRALIAN EXAMPLE – Doctor James practises medicine at his medical practice on Phillip Island.

    Practice is a noun and practise is a verb.

    6. Using i.e. and e.g.

    Both i.e. and e.g. are Latin abbreviations that are often confused.

    We write i.e. to mean that is.

    EXAMPLE – I am a vegetarian, i.e. I do not eat meat.

    By contrast e.g. means for example.

    EXAMPLE – Citrus comes in many forms, e.g. oranges, lemons and limes.

    Note: These two abbreviations are not generally used in sentences, but are used in tables, captions and brackets.

    7. Insure, assure or ensure

    These three words have one thing in common, but they’re not interchangeable.

    What is it that they all share? It’s ‘making an outcome sure’.

    To insure means to guarantee against harm or loss.

    EXAMPLE – My partner and I will insure our house.

    To assure means to earnestly declare or promise something.

    EXAMPLE – I assure you she’s going to arrive on time.

    To ensure means to make sure or certain something will come.

    EXAMPLEEnsure the papers are posted please.

    8. Compliment or complement

     It’s surprising how often you see these two words written incorrectly.

    It’s probably more accurate to say that some people use compliment to mean both compliment and complement. 

    Let me explain the difference between the two.

    Compliment is a commonly used word that is used as both a noun and a verb. It can be used as an expression of praise, and also to praise or express admiration for somebody.

    EXAMPLE (Noun) – Penny paid me a compliment when she said my hair looked nice.

    EXAMPLE (Verb) – Nick complimented the chef on the meal.

    On the other hand, complement means something else that completes something, or makes it perfect.

    EXAMPLE (Noun) – My mother used complementary medicine for her allergy.

    EXAMPLE (Verb) – The two colours complement each other.

    9. En dash or hyphen

    This is one of my bugbears.

    If you want your writing to look truly professional, learn the difference between a hyphen and an en dash.

    There are three types of strokes and dashes – hyphens (-), en dashes (–) and em dashes (––). Let’s forget the em dash because it’s rarely used these days.

    A hyphen is a short stroke that’s used within words that are divided.

    EXAMPLE – My ex-husband was wearing a suit.

    A hyphen is also used between words that make up compounds.

    EXAMPLE – Her manager asked for a one-on-one chat.

    Note: Over time hyphenated words become established and the hyphen can disappear.

    EXAMPLE – We used to write co-ordinate, but now we write coordinate.

    En dashes are the length of an N and are also versatile punctuation marks. They’re used in the following examples in text.

    En dashes are used in number spans in numerals, time and distance.

    EXAMPLES: 

    The date was 13–15 May this year.

    Kate arrived at 5–5.30 pm.

    The road was about 20–25 kilometres long.

    En dashes are also used to demonstrate an association between words that retain their separate entities.

    EXAMPLES:

    They performed a cost–benefit analysis.

    He was holidaying in the Asia–Pacific.

    You can use a set of en dashes in sentences to replace the commas around non-essential clauses.

    EXAMPLE: 

    The street was closed – which seemed strange – so I took a shortcut through the park.

    That’s it, all nine of them! It wasn’t a conclusive list of common errors every writer should know about, but it was a good start!

    Where to go for extra help

    Dictionaries offer great guidance on grammar and sentence structure.

    The Macquarie Dictionary is used by publishers, newspapers, magazines and journals  across Australia. They also have a great blog.

    The Australian Government Style Manual has the most recent styles and usages, as well as comprehensive explanations.

    If you’re after an American style guide, you can’t go past the Chicago Manual of Style.

    Are you done with common errors every writer should know about?

    We hope this list will be useful in your writing.

    You might also enjoy reading Which is that pronoun.

    Have an annual report coming up? Read our 6 annual report writing tips from a professional editor.

    Please don’t hesitate to contact me if Textshop Content Writing Services can help you with your writing or editing.