Recommended books for writers and editors

Recommended books for proofreaders and editors (and writers)At a recent meeting of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) West Surrey and North Hampshire local group, we spent a couple of hours talking about our favourite resources: those books and websites we turn to first when we are working. Here are some of the books I would recommend to proofreaders and editors, and to writers – and the good news is you may be able to try them all out before deciding to spend your hard-earned money.

New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide (Oxford University Press, 2014)

New Hart’s is a handy little style guide, primarily for conventions within UK publishing. It’s thorough and straightforward, and it gives plenty of helpful examples. I used it a lot when I started out and I still have it within easy reach now. If you have a UK library card, you may be able to access New Hart’s for free (use this link and look for the PREMIUM tab).

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2017)

CMOS is probably one of the best-known style guides. It’s a treasure trove if you are working with US English and need to know US-publishing conventions. The print copy is a beast but, fortunately, you can access the same information – in a searchable format – online (a subscription is required but there is a free trial available).

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation, R.L. Trask (Penguin Reference Books, 1997)

Don’t be put off by the publication date on this one – it’s still the best book on punctuation I have come across. Trask provides clear, simple explanations, and does not assume prior knowledge. If you are worried about how to use semicolons, or don’t know a hyphen from a dash, this book is for you. You can access an online version of the guide for free via the University of Sussex (thank you to Etty of Elegant Words for that tip-off!).

New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors: The Essential A–Z Guide to the Written Word (Oxford University Press, 2014)

This isn’t your standard dictionary – it focuses on those words and names that may cause an editor or writer difficulty. NODWE is designed with us in mind. Not sure about a spelling variation? Wondering if that term should be hyphenated? NODWE is the book you need. As with New Hart’s, it is available free online to many UK library-card holders.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, ed. J. Butterfield (Oxford University Press, 2015)

I love Fowler’s. It is eminently sensible – there’s no nonsensical pedantry here. Its advice is easy to understand and international in scope. This respected authority on English usage is a bit of a tome, so if you’d like to get a sense of the book, a ‘pocket’ version is available alongside New Hart’s and NODWE.


For a slightly different take on some of my favourite work-related books and websites, check out my blog post on the resources I use as guides to style and usage.

The Black Cat monthly round-up: June 2019

Black Cat Editorial Services_ June round-upI almost can’t believe we are halfway through the year already – where does the time go? I’m pleased that my workload has remained steady, and that I managed to find some time to enjoy the much-improved weather at the end of the month.

One of my June highlights was being asked to approve the typeset version of the review I wrote of On Editing – I’m not ashamed to say I was quite excited to see my words nearly ready for print! I think the review will feature in the July/August edition of Editing Matters.

What I’ve been working on

I finished off the fantasy-romance edit I started in May. The author was delightful to work with and I hope she finds great success with her novel. I also completed the second part of the short-story collection I began in May – it was great to see the themes coming together and the realisation of the direction of the piece as a whole.

I was then on to two fiction proofreads. One a modern-day revenge thriller and the other an action thriller set during the Second World War. I followed these with the proofread of a long and complex non-fiction book on how our brains absorb visual information. It’s good to do something different every now and then, but this project reminded me how much I prefer to work on fiction.

What I read for fun

I managed one book this month: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. It has a great concept and the story rolls along nicely. It did make me think, however, about the art of using punctuation. The correct use of punctuation is, of course, important, but I think those little marks need to be wielded with style and sensitivity. For example, if the reader has to stop and re-read the sentence to make sense of what the dashes are doing, that’s a problem. If the reader (I admit this may be specific to me) is thinking about how ugly the punctuation combinations are, they aren’t absorbed in the story anymore. The punctuation should help the words flow by, should clarify and reinforce meaning, and all while being unobtrusive.

Looking ahead

Early July sees another SfEP local group meeting. We’ll be talking about our favourite books and other resources when we are working or training. I have a few go-tos (hello, newly re-branded Lexico) and it will be interesting to find out what other editors recommend.

Simple fixes: how to solve four common punctuation problems

Black Cat simple fixes_ four common punctuation problems(1)Punctuation can be a tricky beast. There are so many potential pitfalls and rules that should be followed, but there are some easy wins, some minor tweaks you can make that will elevate the standard of your writing. Here are four easily rectified errors I come across a lot. And they are errors to watch out for even if you are going to work with a copy-editor – or perhaps I should say especially if you are going to work with a copy-editor. If I look through a manuscript and see I don’t have to make these corrections all the way through, I’m going to charge less. So, let’s grab that low-hanging and money-saving fruit.

Ellipses that aren’t

EllipsisEllipses are the ‘three little dots’ that are used to indicate an omission or a trailing away of speech. In typeset text an ellipsis is not usually represented by three separate full stops – an ellipsis is a single symbol.* (You can see in the example image that the spacing is different.) When you are typing in Word, the software will probably autocorrect your three full stops to the ellipsis symbol. If it doesn’t, you should insert the symbol yourself (Windows users can press and hold the ALT key and then type in 0133). The main reason for doing this is to make sure that the dots don’t get split up over two lines; we want the three dots to be next to each other, or it’s going to look really weird. I frequently find that four full stops have been keyed in, which leaves us with an ellipsis and an extraneous full stop. Sometimes I’m faced with two full stops, and I have to decide if an ellipsis was intended, or query it with the author – which is time we could both spend on more important things.

*Some styles do represent an ellipsis using three full stops, but they are joined by non-breaking spaces – which means they operate like a single symbol but are more fiddly to insert.

‘Reversed’ apostrophes

Reverse apostropheApostrophes are used to mark omissions or indicate a possessive; I’m sure you know that. But I see ‘reversed’ apostrophes in nearly every manuscript I work on – in fact, I expect to see them. Reversed apostrophes often occur in the case of omissions, particularly things like rock ‘n’ roll or ’tis. It’s so common, you might not even realise it is an error (look at rock ’n’ roll again). Apostrophes are only one way round – the reversed apostrophe is actually an opening single quote mark. It can be hard to spot this error, and I’d recommend being alert to it as you are typing. Do not trust Word to know whether you wanted an apostrophe or an opening quote mark.

Please note, however, that there are some marks that look like reversed apostrophes but are not. You’re likely to run into these when using Arabic, Greek and Hebrew names and phrases, so do double-check if in doubt.

Hyphens used as dashes

Hyphen and dashes(1)Hyphens connect words and bits of words together. They are not a substitute for a dash. I often see a hyphen in number ranges (like this: 15-20) and used as a parenthetical dash (like this: the cat-the one with a bushy tail-was on the mat). En rules are used between elements that form a range (like this: 15–20). En rules (with a space either side) or em rules (without a space either side) are used as parenthetical dashes (like this: the cat – the one with the bushy tail – was on the mat. Or this: the cat—the one with the bushy tail—was on the mat). Word will often autocorrect spaced hyphens to spaced en rules, but lots of them slip through. The ALT code for an en rule is 0150 and the code for an em rule is 0151.

Double quote marks inside double quote marks or single quote marks inside single quote marks

It doesn’t really matter which style of quote mark you use – single or double – but it does matter that you don’t use the same style for quoted text within quoted text. If you have, for example, a character quoting someone else, the quote marks should be used like this:

Single and double quotes

Applying these simple fixes

Ideally you will have read this post before your novel reached 80,000 words, you’ve completed your edits, and you are about to show your manuscript to someone, but life is not ideal. Make use of Word’s Find function – but be wary when using Find and Replace. Check each change before you make it and resist the temptation to hit ‘Replace all’.