Dec 2014 3You might think that I get enough editing and thinking about words in my day job as an editor, proofreader, transcriber and localiser, but in fact I’m always up for a good and interesting book on topics around editing, small businesses, language, words, etc. So reading this book on the business of editing was certainly not a chore and I learned something from it, too!

Steve Dunham – “The Editor’s Companion”

I understand this useful book to be intended as a guide for new editors or people who are assigned editing work in their organisation but might not have a full understanding of what this involves.

It helpfully defines and is then divided into chapters on editing for content, focus, precise language and grammar, with a section on typography and layout which will be very useful for proofreaders and a good section on editorial relationships. There’s a chapter titled “A Few Tips” which looks at some commonly misused words, homophones, etc., although this is a larger subject than can be treated in a short chapter.

A chapter on “The Editor’s Tools” includes a very useful checklist for editors, and points out the use of keeping a list of incorrect but “real” words, which Dunham charmingly calls his “Bad Words list” (asses, theses, form, etc.) to run a final search on. These are good, real-world and applicable tools which I’ve not seen in other books of this kind.

Dunham’s background is in working as an in-house editor, so there’s not much in the book about freelancing, although most of the general information in the book can be applied to freelancers and those who work on contract for publishers, for example. His general principles are very sound: here are two of them

If you have something worth saying, then care about communicating it (p. 17)

If you need to read something twice to understand it, then it needs editing (p. 58)

We can all learn something from even the most basic of guides, and I certainly picked up some pointers in this book. I usually work in Word with style suggestions turned off, so I didn’t know that you could set Word to pick up gender-specific terms in your document, which could be very useful (I’m planning to blog about this with screen shots soon!). I also found a good explanation of why you don’t hyphenate words ending in -ly (the hyphen shows you which words are connected, e.g. “best-known artist” (best known) vs. “best known artist” (best artist); a -ly word can only link to the verb, e.g. “barely known artist” (barely artist doesn’t work)).

It’s worth noting that the book and its author are American – this is certainly not a deal-breaker, but should be kept in mind when reading the sections on language use and also on style guides. For example, it mentions the Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press Stylebook but not Oxford style. But mentioning style guides at all and pointing to their existence means the UK reader will soon work out which guides they should be using when dealing with UK content, and it’s useful for those who work with US English, too (I can’t be the only person to have a shelf of UK and US style guides).

All of the examples of errors and their editing are drawn from real life, including the author’s leisure reading on occasion, and this intensifies towards the end of the book which features “Ones That Got Away”. I tend to feel a little uncomfortable about criticisms of “bloopers”, but I appreciate that this is informed by my client base, which includes many non-native speakers and people who have issues with their production of English: the examples here are apparently all drawn from texts which should have been edited properly in the first place, and the tone is not particularly snarky. I can see the value of using real examples, especially for newer editors who may not be sure what to look out for; the problems are explained in detail and the solutions presented. Non-specialists will find something to amuse here, too.

Overall, it’s a practical and useful book for those considering a career in or newly in an editorial position or, indeed, for giving to people who wonder loud and often about what we actually do all day in this editing job.

This book is published in January 2015 in the UK and is out now in the US – here’s the page for it and the page and you can also visit Steve’s website for more information.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of this book by the publisher after being contacted by the author. My work is quoted in the book and appears in the reference list and index. I did not allow this to influence my view of the book (I hope!). We did a review swap, and I write about Steve’s review of my book here.