Guest Post: Adventures in Copy Editing

Today’s guest blog post comes to us courtesy of Jessie Hale, a Toronto-based editor and “certified word nerd.” Jessie shares some of the wisdom she’s gained working with the English language, and offers valuable advice to writers.

ImageAs a trained, experienced copy editor, I’m excited to guest blog at The Word On The Street Toronto so that I can answer some common questions people have about spelling, grammar, and other matters of writing style. There are a lot of rules, but once you have a basic grasp of the fundamentals, you can confidently tackle the job of self-editing. Here are some of the questions I’m frequently asked.

Q: Is it spelled practice or practise?

A: It depends.

Q: Should you put a comma after short, prepositional phrases, like “Three years ago” and “In Toronto”?

A: It depends.

Q: Should dashes be open — like this — or closed­­—like this?

A: It depends.

Q: Should foreign words be italicized?

A: It depends.

Q: Do you need to hyphenate compound adjectives, like “well-dressed” and “brown-haired”?

A: It depends.

Was that helpful? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Before I took my first copy editing course, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of grammar rules. Ok, I’ll be honest. I thought I had an exceptionally good grasp of grammar rules. I was fastidious about conjugation, even in emails and texts to friends. I sneered snobbishly at people who didn’t know the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” I hooted with derision when I came across a typo in a published book.

Then I decided to pursue a career in grammar correction, and I realized that, to quote a certain popular TV show and series of books, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

The English language has an astonishing amount of rules, many of which aren’t even rules at all — just options to choose from. Yes, some things are simple: you’re always going to go over there, never over their. But if everything were that easy, the Chicago Manual of Style wouldn’t be 1,026 pages long.

All this is to say that, even if you have a good natural grasp of English, don’t rely on self-editing your most important works. Professionally trained copy editors don’t have all the answers, but they at least know where to find them­­.

Jessie Hale is a freelance editor who has worked on everything from children’s fiction to M.A. dissertations. Jessie’s experiences in the publishing industry include working as a bookseller, a copywriter, a publicity assistant, an editorial assistant, a marketing manager, and a social media manager. She also makes great lemon cookies and can put together an A+ party playlist. Visit Jessie at Marginalia Editorial Services.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger for The Word On The Street? Pitch us your ideas by emailing cailin@thewordonthestreet.ca.

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