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  • How to copyedit like an expert

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    How to copyedit like an expert

    ✻ By Sharon Lapkin

    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 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.

    Looking for an experienced copyeditor?


    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.

    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.

  • 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


    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?


    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

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    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.

    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.

  • 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


    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.

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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.