Copyediting: Challenges and Complexities

If you’ve taken one of my courses, you’ll know that I use exercises and handouts written by Margaret Aherne, who took the Publishing Scotland courses until 2019. This is the latest PDF book from Margaret, released in January 2021. I include it in my resource list for Further Copyediting with Publishing Scotland because it’s based on Margaret’s Advanced Copyediting course for the Publishing Training Centre which is a little more involved than the Further course. It joins her Proofreading Practice: Exercises with Model Answers and Commentary and Copy-editing: A Guide for Proofreaders, both of which I’d also recommend.

This newest book covers the copyeditor’s brief, multi-author works, creating a table, complexities in linguistics, assessing and assigning structure, working with authors whose first language isn’t English, how to work with reprints and new editions, problematic sentences and grammatical pitfalls, and how to diagnose and repair what Margaret calls ‘howlers’ – mistakes that, if published, would inspire hilarity (in the reader) and probable embarrassment (in the author). The chapters are based around a structure of introductory text, an exercise to complete, and then the answer and some discussion, so reading the book feels like taking a course.

When we copyedit, we most often work with authors, publishers, typesetters and readers, and Margaret encourages us to keep these people (or groups) in mind throughout the book, identifying in the introduction which chapters are most pertinent to each of them. In terms of what’s most pertinent to you, if you’re a former delegate of my Introduction to Copyediting, Further Copyediting or Editing for Better Communications courses:

  • The ‘Multi-Author Works’ chapter contains a more complex version of the Introduction to Copyediting course’s Heading Hierarchy exercise and similar learning points to those in Further Copyediting’s Complex Copy exercise, including a really useful expanded checklist. We talk about working with multiple authors in the Editing for Better Communications course. If you’re producing long booklets or brochures that use elements like notes, illustrations and references, this chapter will help.
  • If you want to extend what we learn about tables in the Introduction to Copyediting course, visit the ‘Creating a Table’ chapter.
  • ‘Assessing and Assigning Structure’ develops what we learn about structure in the Introduction to Copyediting and Editing for Better Communications​ courses, and encourages the copyeditor to take a considered view of the text, with the reader always at the centre of the thought process, in order to decide the best approach.
  • The ‘Working with Non-Native English Speakers’ chapter covers what we discuss in the Further Copyediting course in more detail, and if you’ve been a delegate on this course and work with authors whose first language isn’t English you may well find the notes and tips at the beginning of the chapter invaluable – more useful than the exercise, perhaps. However, there are further tips in the discussion in the exercise’s answer, so be sure to check those out even if you don’t complete the exercise.
  • The ‘Howler Diagnosis and Repair’ chapter was my favourite part of the book, because it was so ‘Margaret’. I enjoyed chuckling through the examples, but it was harder to explain exactly why they were wrong. Margaret provides a diagnosis and treatment for each – why it needs to change, and a suggestion to reword it better – which is a useful template for querying an author, making it useful for all delegates.
  • ‘How Should They Have Said It?’ contains gems for all delegates, too, as it covers writing in plain English, preserving author voice, grammar and punctuation and inclusive language.

 In terms of the other chapters, the ‘Briefs: Written and Implied’ chapter will be useful whether you create briefs for copyeditors or you’re a copyeditor receiving a brief. ‘What’s New: Reprints and New Editions’ is particularly relevant if you work in-house on books that are reprinted, as it contains points from which you can create a useful checklist every time you start working on a reprint. The ‘Linguistics’ chapter is ostensibly about briefing the typesetter, but its main purpose is to remind us that when we’re presented with a page made up of elements we don’t understand, we actually know more than we think we do. Phew!

I found this book a treat to read, and if you can’t take a course with Margaret it’s the next best thing as it contains so much of her wisdom, rigour and humour, which makes it a complete bargain at £25. CIEP members get a £5 discount, as do former delegates of Introduction to Copyediting and Further Copyediting. Simply contact Margaret with your name and the date of the course you attended.

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