I’ve just finished a proofread of a collection of short stories and am looking back at the range of tools and sources I used to complete this job. It’s amazing at the amount of reference material needed to accurately check a text and here is just a summary of the tools I use, some regularly, some less so.
New Hart’s Rules
This is a style guide that gives lots of different “rules” for text. Whilst this book may be seen as aimed at non-fiction writing, there’s lots in here for the fiction writer and editor too. When to italicise, how to write times correctly and, crucially, for a recent project I worked on, the differences between American and UK English.
This guide is also packed full of information on punctuation and spelling, hyphenation and all those other niggly little things you need to find out about when editing and proofreading.
New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors
Is it “guideline” or “guide-line”? When is it “lead-in” not “lead in”? You’re “law-abiding” with a hyphen but “lawbreaking” is without. When does “illuminati” need a capital letter? When it is referring to the sixteenth-century Spanish heretics or the Bavarian secret society but not when referring to people who claim to have special knowledge.
All of these special spelling rules are, ahem, spelt out here.
New Oxford Spelling Dictionary
Sometimes, a word just doesn’t fit on a line and you have to break it over two. But, where do you do it? Do you split your jellies anywhere you like? Maybe you’ll do jell-ies, or je-llies, or jelli-es depending on where there’s space, right? Maybe you will. But this handy dictionary doesn’t just tell you how to spell words but where the best place is to break them up.
Jellies, sticking with our example, is best split as jel-lies. Useful.
Like New Hart’s Rules this gives us lots of “rules” for texts. I have more sticky tabs and notes in the margins than I care to admit and frequently turn to this in conjunction with New Hart’s Rules.
There is an excellent review of Butcher’s on the CIEP website here.
Chamber’s Guide to Grammar and Usage
It’s amazing what you can find in charity shops and this, and the next book in my list, were both found in them. This is a really clear guide on how to use words and punctuation correctly and also has a useful guide of easily confused words (affect/effect, etc.) that frequently get misused in writing.
The New Penguin Dictionary of Abbreviations
Some abbreviations are capitalised. Some are lower case. Some with points always, some without them. Abbreviations are used, frequently, by those who know what they mean but for the reader, is it clear? Do those abbreviations need expanding and explaining? This, another charity shop find, has been invaluable when expert authors get a little TLA-heavy!
(TLA = Three Letter Acronym)
These are the books that practically live on my desk they get used so often. But, as an editor and proofreader, I will use a variety of other tools. These include:
Oxford Reference website
This is a great website for searching through all of the Oxford Reference’s library. In the past, I’ve had to use a range of books, from A Dictionary of Buddhism to the Oxford Dictionary of Dance. And, of course, a number of the different English language dictionaries published by Oxford.
All this is included in my local library subscription, so it is well worth checking to see if your library also subscribes. There’s lots to be discovered on Oxford Reference and I’m waiting for the day to use the A-Z of Plastic Surgery!
Barons Court tube station and Baron’s Court Road. Looks wrong, doesn’t it? Spelling and punctuation should be consistent but not in this case. And it’s not just London that randomly uses punctuation, lots of places around the world need to be spelt carefully and accurately and a good, old-fashioned map, tube map or atlas is invaluable when checking.
Chicago Manual of Style
Like New Hart’s Rules and Butcher’s Copy-editing, the Chicago Manual of Style website contains rules and conventions, more specifically aimed at US readers but useful nonetheless.
Specialist manuals and texts
Recently, whilst proofreading a text all about flying, I needed to turn to specialist books in that field. Fortunately, I am also a pilot so know where to get the information but if it had been about sailing or trains, I would be down a research black hole very quickly! There’s so many ways to be sure that what you’re writing is correct and accurate, that it is all to easy to get lost in research and forget what you’re meant to be finding out.
I hope that gives you some idea about what editors and proofreaders are doing when they are reading your words.
And, of course, when all of this doesn’t give us an answer, we’ll ask each other! Someone’s bound to know the answer.
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