Tag Archives: language

A finer point: Subject–verb agreement

Rules are often made to be ‘flexible’, and one such case is agreeing subjects with verbs. In this interesting and informative post, Dan Beardshaw breaks it down.

Subject–verb agreement involves matching the singular or plural form of a sentence’s subject (either a noun or a pronoun) with the form of the verb that follows it. The basic rule is that a singular subject takes a singular verb and a plural subject, a plural verb. However, the rules of English rarely come without exceptions, and subject–verb agreement has its fair share of them.

Firstly, some nouns have a singular form but a collective, plural sense and are often used with a plural verb. And, vice versa, plural nouns can have a singular sense and take a singular verb. The linguistic term for such instances is notional agreement. Secondly, the subject of many sentences is a longer noun phrase that includes both singular and plural nouns or pronouns, and choosing which one the verb should agree with is not always straightforward. A common basis for decisions in this kind of sentence involves agreement with the noun positioned nearest to the verb, and is referred to with the terms proximity or attraction.

In this post I will explore these two types of irregular subject–verb agreement and how to approach decisions around them.

Singular nouns with a plural sense

Normal subject–verb agreement simply matches singular and plural verbs with their corresponding nouns.

The meadow is full of wildflowers.

The wildflower meadows are stunning this year.

But certain singular nouns can be used with a collective sense, or ‘notion’. For example, the word team is singular, but we often tend to think of the members who collectively form the team rather than the abstract idea of a single team. Or perhaps we think of both at the same time. Regardless, it’s common to treat singular team as a plural in subject–verb agreement.

The team are performing brilliantly.

The plural notion may also be influenced by context. In the above sentence, it’s the actions of the individual members and the way they work together that are of interest. In other words, the concrete actions of people are the focus rather than the abstract idea of a team. If team is purposely used to focus on that abstract idea, a singular verb might be more appropriate.

Each new team is given a unique name.

Other singular nouns commonly treated as plurals include staff, family, government, army, crowd, majority, number and party (in the political sense). Try forming sentences with some of these singular nouns and they will often sound unnatural with a singular verb – or, at least, plural agreement will sound natural and make intuitive sense.

The family are visiting us next week.

A majority think reducing plastic waste is a priority.

Plural nouns with a singular sense

Certain plural nouns, compounds and noun phrases are commonly treated as notionally singular. One example is things that are quantified or measured and expressed as a unit.

Six hundred pounds was the price she quoted.

Three days isn’t long enough to see all the sights.

Another example is noun phrases that form a single idea, despite featuring plural nouns.

Fewer cars in cities results in reduced pollution and improved public health.

Certain noun phrases using and, despite technically being a two-item list, can be treated as a notionally singular unit.

Fish and chips is the nation’s favourite takeaway.

A similar structure is common for simple mathematical additions expressed in words.

Seven and three is ten.

Six plus two is eight.

And some nouns that appear to be plural, such as politics, news, several academic subjects (economics,mathematics, physics), and certain proper nouns (for example, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Arab Emirates) are usually read as singular and also take a singular verb.

four lightbulbs together and one on its own, about to swing towards the others

The principle of proximity

Sometimes a sentence includes a mixture of singular and plural nouns, such that it could logically agree with either verb form. However, a decision must obviously be made. So on what basis can we make it? One approach, which will often read more naturally, involves the linguistic concept of proximity or attraction. Perhaps proximity is the clearer term as it simply refers to the verb agreeing with the noun it’s closest to in the sentence. This may appear in sentences including either/or or both/and structures. In the following sentence, the verb has eaten would agree with the dog and have eaten would agree with the cats. As the cats is nearest, the plural verb is used.

Either the dog or the cats have eaten my biscuits.

Another common place to find the principle of proximity in use is when a singular noun with a collective sense is paired with a corresponding plural. This type of sentence may involve a dual sense of agreement that references both proximity and the collective notion of the singular noun.

The group of tourists were struggling to communicate in an unfamiliar language.

A number of residents are unhappy about the development plans.

Pronouns and determiners

Notional agreement and the proximity principle can be complicated further by certain pronouns when used as the subject of a sentence or clause, or when certain determiners are used to modify the subject. The indefinite pronouns none and each can sometimes be used with singular and plural verbs interchangeably, and some of their related determiners, such as none of and each of, can express a singular or plural sense of their own that modifies the subject in potentially ambiguous ways. The conventions of verb agreement for these pronouns and determiners can be confusingly inconsistent.

None, no and none of

The pronoun none literally means ‘not any’ or ‘not one’, which is hard to pin down as either singular or plural – it raises the philosophical question of how we can define or describe the nature of absence. Nevertheless, it has an obviously useful communicative purpose beyond such musings, and, despite the insistence by some that none is always singular, in common use it’s frequently lent either a singular or plural sense by the context it appears in. For example, the following use of none refers to the singular (uncountable) noun sunshine and takes the singular verb was.

We’ve just had two weeks of sunshine but there was none for most of the summer.

Whereas the following use refers to the plural noun tickets and takes the plural verb were.

I looked everywhere for tickets but none were left.

However, an alternative notional sense may also appear: in the following, the speaker wanted one room but looked in many places, so a plural verb with the pronoun is a logical choice even though the noun it references is technically singular.

I looked everywhere for a hotel room but none were available.

The determiners related to none are no and none of. Simple subject–verb agreement will often not be affected by the use of no. The following sentence uses the singular is in agreement with the singular uncountable milk.

There is no milk left.

Whereas the following uses the plural are in agreement with the plural apples.

There are no apples left.

But ambiguity becomes more likely with the use of none of. Constructions like the following are common, especially in formal writing.

None of the suggestions is suitable.

The question raised is whether the verb should agree with the sense of the determiner (that is, if one sees none of as strictly singular) or the sense of the plural noun it modifies (suggestions) – and if the latter is preferred, the principle of proximity may also come into play.

None of the suggestions are suitable.

Each and each of

Similar dynamics are involved with the different forms of each, despite them having a clearer singular sense in and of themselves. As a determiner, it will usually be used with a singular noun and a corresponding singular verb.

Each episode was more intense than the last.

The pronoun form may refer to a plural noun but still take a singular verb.

There are two set menus, and each is equally delicious.

Like none of, the determiner each of often takes a singular verb when used with a plural subject, especially in formal writing.

Each of the candidates is required to attend two rounds of interviews.

But it can also take a plural verb in notional agreement with a plural subject, as in the following sentence.

Each of the vendors have been asked to tender for contract.

Again, this may be considered more informal, but both the notional sense of the sentence and the principle of proximity make it logically defensible.

Break the rules

Notional agreement and the principle of proximity are good examples of the imperfect logic of language and its simultaneous flexibility in creating intelligible meaning by breaking the rules. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘pure’ logic of grammar in decisions of this kind, but that logic doesn’t always apply neatly to either the form of written language or the ways people think about words and sentences.


Butterfield, J (ed.) (2015). Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press, 30, 557.

New Hart’s Rules (2014). Oxford University Press, 191.

Chicago Manual of Style (2017). 17th edn. University of Chicago Press, 5.138. Online edition: https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/book/ed17/part2/ch05/psec138.html






About Dan Beardshaw

Dan Beardshaw is a development editor, copyeditor and proofreader, specialising in ELT and education publishing. He is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP.



About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
Find out more about:


Photo credits: figures on a wall by geralt on Pixabay, lightbulbs by Rodolfo Clix on Pexels, apples by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.

Posted by Sue McLoughlin, blog assistant.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

A finer point: Redundant words and phrases

For August’s A finer point, Dan Beardshaw takes a closer look at redundancy in writing and how we can improve concision by dealing with superfluous wordage.

‘Redundancy’ in writing refers to using more words than necessary or repeating a meaning across multiple words. Spotting and removing redundancies is a regular editorial task that aims to improve concision. Concise writing is both easier to read and stylistically appealing, and a message can have more impact without the distraction of reading unnecessary words. In this post I will highlight some common redundancies and ways to fix them, as well as cases for recasting or leaving them.

In order to

The phrase in order to can often be replaced with to.

Copyeditors remove redundancies in order to make text more concise.

The longer version is commonly used and may be considered more formal, but using to instead doesn’t imply informality when used in a formal context, and there’s no clear distinction in meaning between the two forms. The to that in order to can substitute will always be part of a verb in the ‘infinitive of purpose’ form. This use of to means ‘for the purpose of’ just as in order to does.

How in order to is used can affect any decision to change it. For example, fronted to-infinitive clauses are correct but less common, and may read more naturally with in order to.

To make text more concise, copyeditors remove redundancies.

In order to make text more concise, copyeditors remove redundancies.

In the event that

The same sense can be expressed here by the simple conjunction if.

In the event that If the train is cancelled, a replacement bus will be provided.

This phrase may, like in order to, be considered more formal. But if isn’t necessarily informal here either. Some might consider the longer form more polite – in the above example, it could imply a sense that everything possible will be done to avoid the inconvenient outcome. But if a message of that kind is essential, it may be better recast and expressed directly instead of expecting readers to infer it from a wordy form of if.

Due to the fact that

Similar to the previous entry, due to the fact that inflates a conjunction – in this case because.

Redundancies are removed due to the fact that because they make the reader work harder.

Considering the frequency of a word like because, word count could grow considerably over the course of a manuscript with habitual use of the wordier version. And again, there isn’t a clear case for the simple conjunction being less formal.

While we’re on the subject of this redundancy niche, it’s worth mentioning another commonly inflated conjunction: despite the fact that can be replaced with although, as can its six-worded synonym in spite of the fact that.

The reason why

At first glance, this might appear to be an obvious redundancy, and why can usually be cut.

The collapse of the economy was the reason why they lost the election.

But the case for treating it as a redundancy is less clear. In a related post, Patricia T O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman argue that the why in this phrase is a conjunction comparable to for which:

In this expression, “why” is a conjunction and means “for which” or “on account of which,” according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).

The noun “reason” in this usage means “cause” or “the thing that makes some fact intelligible,” Merriam-Webster’s says.

“Reason” in this sense, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is commonly used with “why,” “that,” “for,” or an infinitive. So all of these uses are correct:

(1) “The reason we left early …”

(2) “The reason why we left early …”

(3) “The reason that we left early …”

(4) “Our reason for leaving early …”

(5) “The reason to leave early …”

The authors’ case illustrates how this potential redundancy differs in form to most others – the ‘extra’ word why here adds an optional part of speech that isn’t strictly tautological and wouldn’t be considered extraneous in equivalent cases, such as that in option 3. The post also notes the longevity of the usage, dating back as far as 1484.

a gift-wrapped box

Free gift

Gifts are always free, so the free in free gift is clearly redundant. This is a common category of redundancy in which a word or phrase directly duplicates the meaning of another. This kind of tautology might be considered a more precise definition of redundancy.

Brief summary

Following the flawed logic of free gift, the adjective brief repeats a meaning already contained in the noun it describes. The same could be said of brief moment.

Personal opinion

The redundancy here is that the sense of ‘personal’ is already implied by the pronoun that opinion will usually be joined to when referring to an individual. My/Your/Her/His/Their opinion all tell us who the opinion belongs to, so personal adds nothing to the meaning. Distinction from shared opinions isn’t necessary, either, as that would be similarly indicated by, for example, the board’s opinion or simply consensus. A related redundancy here is consensus of opinionof opinion can be discarded.

Absolutely essential

In this case, an adverb duplicates the meaning of the adjective it describes. An author may have intended to add emphasis, but essential is already an emphatic adjective with an unmodifiable meaning – absolutely essential makes no more sense than slightly essential.

In conclusion

Redundancies are commonplace across most genres of writing. Removing redundancies can enhance the style, clarity and readability of a text. But it’s worth determining any specific reason the author may have for using one and, if there is a good reason, considering the options of either recasting to avoid the unnecessary words or leaving as is.





Butterfield, J (ed.) (2015). Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 693.

About Dan Beardshaw

Dan Beardshaw

Dan Beardshaw is a development editor, copyeditor and proofreader, specialising in ELT and education publishing. He is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP.



About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
Find out more about:


Photo credits: rubbish bin by Cup of Couple; gift by Kim Stiver, both on Pexels.

Posted by Sue McLoughlin, blog assistant.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Creating style sheets for fiction

Creating a style sheet is an essential part of the editing process, but what you might include in your style sheet depends on what kind of text you’re editing. Jane Hammett looks at some of the topics to consider if you’re working on fiction.

It’s easy to get carried away and create a style sheet that’s several pages long, but this might not be helpful for the client. Always keep your client in mind: how will they benefit from the style sheet you are lovingly compiling for their work? You could think in terms of why, what and how. Let’s take these one by one.

Why compile a style sheet?

A style sheet will be useful to the author – it shows them the spellings and style conventions you have used, and it ensures that their novel is consistent throughout, so James is not allergic to gluten in Chapter 1 but in Chapter 2 he’s happily eating a sandwich. Consistency helps the reader to enjoy the reading experience more – and reduces the risk of negative reviews for authors.

A style sheet is also useful to other editorial professionals who see the text after you, such as a proofreader. If they have a query, they should be able to search your style sheet and find an answer.

It will help the typesetter (TS): your style sheet should include a list of any silent changes you have made to the manuscript (ie those made without tracked changes switched on), a list of text features (see the list below), and any instructions you have given the TS in the edited manuscript (such as <TS: please set as handwritten letter in magical swirly handwriting>).

Choose your words: fiction style sheet

What could your style sheet include?

All style sheets should include information about how language and SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) are used in the manuscript, such as:

  • the form of English used (British, US, Indian, Canadian …)
  • -ise or -ize forms for verbs such as recognise, organise, etc.
  • the use (or not) of the serial (Oxford) comma
  • single or double quotes
  • parentheses: en rules and/or ellipses
  • the treatment of numbers in the text
  • the use of italic and bold.

Each style sheet should also contain a separate word list – this is essential for every job. If you come across a word on page 5 that has a variant spelling, how will you remember how it was spelled when you come across it again on page 505 if you don’t make a note of it in your style sheet?

As well as consistency in SPaG, a fiction editor has to keep an eye on the following:

  • Tense: is the book written in first-person present or third-person past tense, for example?
  • Point of view (POV) (the subject of many blogs posts all by itself): who has POV? One character or more?
  • A story’s characters (and descriptions of them): you might find it helpful to keep a list of all characters with a brief note of how they relate to each other. A character description might look like:

Skye (age 14 at end of Book 1, born May 2009). Appearance: short dark brown hair, 5 foot 4, scar over right eye, brown eyes. Character: feisty, brave, adventurous. Background: born in London; her parents are divorced. Family: Alana (mother), Cameron (father), Isla (sister).

  • Timeline: with all fiction, a timeline is important, but especially if you’re working on a text that is not linear: for example, a text that contains flashbacks or that jumps around in time depending on who has POV.
  • Plot: keeping a note of what happens in each chapter is really useful – for the author as well as you!
  • Plot threads: are they all tied off by the end of the book?

You might decide to list all these things in one style sheet, or you might prefer to create a separate document for each.

If you’re working on a specialist genre, there will be other things to consider. For example, in science fiction and fantasy worldbuilding is important, so you will need to include details about the fictional world the author has created, and a list of the words the author has invented for this world. This could include rules (‘Only certain characters can time travel. The time-travel portal is hidden in London’s Waterloo Station’). It could also include geography: you might find it useful to make notes about the setting, especially when this differs from the real world. You could also include a list of place names, road names and building names that are mentioned.

If you’re working on a style sheet for the first book in a series, think about what the author and readers will need to know for subsequent books: where is the book set? Do any characters die in the first book? If so, which? (You don’t want them being accidentally resurrected in Book 2 …) Character descriptions and events in the first book are also important. If you were asked to create a series style sheet, you could continue Skye’s description as follows:

In Book 1 Skye achieved her aim of finding the treasure. At the end of Book 1, she, Elise and Rohan are talking about finding the magical amulet – they need to find it before the evil king does. Pls check this happens in Book 2.

This style sheet is a work in progress: it will be amended and added to by the publisher, proofreader and editor for each book in the series.

Noting all these things helps authors maintain continuity in a series, especially when they may have a break of several months in between writing each book.

How should you compile a style sheet?

It’s sensible to keep a master style sheet and save a copy of this for each new job. Remember to give it a file name that includes the job title, the author’s name, your initials and the date – don’t just name it ‘style sheet’! I highlight everything in my style sheet for a job, then when I come across a feature in a manuscript, I note how the author has styled it and remove the highlighting for this issue from my style sheet. At the end of an edit, if any items are still highlighted, they haven’t come up in the job and can be deleted from my style sheet.

And finally … some text features to look out for

How to style all the text features you might come across in a work of fiction comes up over and over again on the CIEP forums. Style guides such as New Hart’s Rules cover how to deal with text features such as figures and tables, but are silent on how to handle many of the features that crop up in fiction, such as:

  • characters’ thoughts
  • text messages
  • telepathic communication
  • words remembered or imagined
  • words spoken by an alien/non-human character
  • inscriptions or lettering on signs
  • flashbacks
  • emojis
  • handwritten notes
  • maps
  • newspaper headlines and articles.

Should these be displayed? In a different typeface? In italic, or in roman with single quotes? You could spend a lot of time thinking about this … I keep a note of text features I see – in manuscripts I edit and published books I read – and how they’re set. Letters and extracts from newspaper articles tend to be displayed and in a different typeface, while thoughts and words remembered are often in italic, to differentiate them from the narrative. It’s sensible to make a list of text features in your style sheet, and add an example of each from the text. In the text, you could add coding or a Word style to each feature, depending what your brief says to do, so the typesetter can find each feature easily and decide how to style it.

This blog post has been a quick guide to what you might include in a fiction style sheet. I hope it has answered any questions you might have – or inspired you to make some changes to your master style sheet!

If you’d like to find out more about fiction style sheets, then you might like to check out Amy Schneider’s The Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction (University of Chicago Press, 2023), the CIEP’s guide Getting Started in Fiction Editing by Katherine Trail, and Louise Harnby’s resources on style sheets.

About Jane Hammett

Jane Hammett is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP and a tutor on the CIEP’s proofreading and editing courses. She’s also a Partner Member of the Alliance of Independent Authors. Jane works with publishers and self-publishing authors on fiction for adults and children.


About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
Find out more about:


Photo credits: header image by Caio on Pexels, choose your words by Brett Jordan on Unsplash, book and potions by RDNE Stock project on Pexels.

Posted by Belinda Hodder, blog assistant.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Resources round-up: Style

Welcome to this round-up of resources compiled by the CIEP. This time, we look at style – specifically, style sheets and style guides. We have divided our picks into:

  • General advice on style
  • CIEP guides
  • From style sheet to language guide
  • Academic publishing
  • Faith-based publishing
  • Fiction
  • Non-traditional publishing
  • Changing styles

General advice on style

If you possess a general handbook about editing, it’s a good place to start when considering style. Chapter 6 of Butcher’s Copy-editing (Cambridge University Press, 2014) covers house style; Part II of Einsohn and Schwartz’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook (University of California Press, 2019) is dedicated to editorial style, and style sheets are covered in its section on basic procedures. If you’d like to consider style in a more holistic way, it’s covered sensibly by Carol Fisher Saller, who was chief copyeditor of the Chicago Manual of Style’s 16th edition, in her essay ‘What copyeditors do’ (in What Editors Do, edited by Peter Ginna, Chicago University Press, 2017), and in her own book The Subversive Copy Editor (Chicago University Press, 2016).

CIEP guides

Style is a thread that runs through editing and proofreading, which is why it’s covered in many CIEP guides. Editing Scientific and Medical Research Articles dedicates a chapter to scientific style, from terminology to capitalisation and abbreviation. The chapter on copyediting in Getting Started in Fiction Editing covers style sheets and the importance of consistency. How to Edit Cookery Books is a great illustration of how defining style is integral to editing specialist texts: in cookery books, for example, keeping to one style for measurements is particularly important. Editing for Communications Professionals, on editing for businesses and other organisations, gives tips on defining a house style, and the Your House Style guide is entirely dedicated to creating a house style. Remember, if you’re a CIEP member you can access these guides for free.

From style sheet to language guide

Certain key style guides have become widely used as sources of advice on language and grammar too. New Hart’s Rules (Oxford University Press, 2014), the Oxford style guide, is one example, as is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). Now in its 17th edition, the CMOS can be purchased in thumpingly large hard copy (University of Chicago, 2017), or as an online version.

It’s worth noting the origins of such giants of style and language advice. As you can read in the preface of New Hart’s Rules, Horace Henry Hart, after whom Hart’s Rules and then New Hart’s Rules were named, was the head of Oxford University Press for many decades until 1915. The first Hart’s Rules was intended for the press’s staff and was only 24 pages long. In ‘What copyeditors do’, Carol Fisher Saller writes about how the Chicago Manual of Style began:

A single style sheet might also be developed for a series of related projects. A successful style sheet might evolve into a company style manual. (The now thousand-page Chicago Manual of Style got its start in exactly that way at the University of Chicago Press.)

Academic publishing

The Chicago Manual of Style and New Hart’s Rules can be useful when defining style in academic texts; however, you may need a more specialised guide. The resources section of Editing Scientific and Medical Research Articles lists guides from such organisations as the American Institute of Physics (AIP Style Manual), the American Mathematical Society (AMS Author Handbook), the American Medical Association (AMA Manual of Style, whose website includes quizzes), the American Psychological Association (APA Style) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE Editorial Style Manual). If you’re editing in the humanities, the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA Style Guide) also provides advice, as does the Modern Language Association (MLA Handbook).

By the way, if you’re editing journal articles, the very best place to go is the website of the journal itself, which is likely to include notes for authors and editors. Similarly, with academic books, it’s likely that the publisher will have a style guide, so if you don’t already have it, ask for it.

If you’re looking for advice on styling citations and references, Cite Them Right by Richard Pears and Graham Shields (Red Globe Press, 2019) gives the rules on a number of academic styles, from Harvard, APA and Chicago to IEEE, MHRA, MLA and Vancouver. The current 11th edition covers how to cite some unusual sources, from Snapchat to sewing patterns.

woman studying with books

Faith-based publishing

Sometimes academic publishing, sometimes non-traditional publishing, faith-based texts also need a clear style on elements like capitalisation of key terms and how to cite scripture. Erin Brenner’s 2021 article on the ACES blog ‘Dealing with religious terms: One faith’ includes links to religious style guides.


Style in fiction covers the consistency of the fictional world the author has created, including characters, geography and timelines, so there’s a lot to consider. Crystal Shelley provides a useful introduction in ‘Style sheets: What they are and how to use them’. This blog includes a template adapted from Louise Harnby’s style sheet template for fiction. Fiction editor Kristen Tate’s recent blog ‘What is a style sheet?’ is also worth a read.

If you’re a fiction editor, it may well be worth getting your hands on Amy J Schneider’s Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction (Chicago University Press, 2023) – its entire Part II is dedicated to building your fiction style sheet.

Non-traditional publishing

When you’re building a style guide for a non-traditional publisher like a business or another organisation, you can learn a lot from a simple trawl of the websites of your colleagues, stakeholders, associates and competitors. What do they capitalise? How do they present numbers and statistics? Larger organisations like the Local Government Association and Shelter may even have a section on their website dedicated to house style. The UK Government’s style guide is free to view online, and includes details of updates so you can see what’s changed between visits.

Many news organisations make their style guides available, from the AP (Associated Press) Stylebook to the BBC’s and The Guardian’s A–Z guidelines, free on the web. If you want your style to follow that of The Economist or The Times, you can buy their style guides in book form, in the Economist Style Guide, 12th edition (Economist Books, 2018) and The Times Style Guide: A practical guide to English usage (Times Books, 2022).

Changing styles

Finally, take a look at ‘Chicago Style Then and Now’ which describes Chicago style as it was in 1906. This first-edition Chicago style included an em space (three times a single space) between sentences; apostrophes with plurals; and semicolons inside quote marks. A useful reminder that style is always evolving, so make sure you arm yourself with the latest guidelines.

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:


Photo credits: header image by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash, woman studying with books by SHVETS production on Pexels.

Posted by Eleanor Smith, blog assistant.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Bridging the gap: Translation editing of Chinese texts published in English

In this post, Magda Wojcik considers some of the challenges in editing text that has been translated from Chinese to English.

Translation editing has a dual function when preparing a text for publishing. It performs the function of conventional copyediting, to ensure the text is clear, consistent and correct. It also provides harmony between the message, style and tone of the translated and original versions of the text.

Achieving such unity between two languages from the same language group spoken on the same continent may be easier. However, translation editing becomes more complex when the original (source) and the target (translated) languages differ profoundly in how they express, for example:

  • grammatical gender systems
  • time dependence
  • directionality
  • physical attributes such as colours.

This blog post explores the process of translation editing a text written in putonghua, which is the standard modern Chinese of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), for publication in English. Putonghua is one of the localisations of Mandarin Chinese, alongside those spoken in Taiwan and Singapore. In this post, the term ‘Chinese’ is used to refer to putonghua. Regarding English, for the sake of simplicity, this post does not delve too much into its complexities and variations.

Chinese vs English: How do they differ?

In (a very simplified) summary, Chinese expresses spatial and physical attributes and time dependence (including tenses, grammatical gender systems and numbers) differently from Indo-European languages (of which English is one). And unlike a Latin-based alphabet, Chinese uses a logographic writing system. In other words, each character represents a specific word or concept that can function as a standalone word or component of a word.

So what does that mean in practice? Let’s have a look at some simple examples.

Directionality and time

In Chinese, time progresses vertically rather than horizontally. So instead of thinking about the past as being ‘behind’ us, it is ‘above’ us; instead of thinking about the future as being ‘in front’ of us, it is ‘below’ us. For example, the character xia conveys not only ‘down’ or ‘below’ but also ‘next’. Likewise, shang denotes ‘up’, ‘above’, and ‘previous’. This distinctive understanding of time in the Chinese language, and its connection to spatial orientation, may present challenges in translation editing.


Some words in the Chinese language have been transforming, potentially aligning more with the Indo-European speaker’s understanding. For instance, modern Chinese distinguishes between blue (lan) and green (). However, a word that predates them both – qing, signifying blue-green – is also still in use. This does not mean that blue and green (as distinct colours) do not occur in Chinese-speaking contexts but may be conveyed (and perceived) differently, not necessarily as distinct shades.


Separating every three digits with a comma or a period is common in many Indo-European languages and enhances readability and comprehension. For instance, five hundred million (500,000,000) separates three clusters of three-digit groups. In contrast, Chinese divides numbers into groups of four. The character wan represents the value of ten thousand, and yi means a hundred million. So five hundred million is expressed by placing the number five (wu) in front of the hundred million (wu yi). While China uses the international numeric system with three-digit groupings and Arabic numerals, wan and yi remain prevalent and may influence how Chinese speakers convey numerical values.

A teacher stands in front of a blackboard in a Chinese school

What about translation editing?

These simple examples may demonstrate that language and how we think about and perceive the world may be intricately intertwined and mutually influence each other. Aside from communication, people use language to think. How the language is structured, with its syntax and specific logical rules, may affect how speakers of different languages perceive the world and convey their thoughts (Casasanto 2008). And this is when translation editing and its components of transcreation and language localisation come into play.

Localisation ensures that the target audience will understand the text’s terminology, cultural references and style carried over from the original text. Transcreation complements localisation and ensures that the translated text accurately conveys the message and tone of the source text.

These processes are critical in translation editing text from one distinct language to another. However, considering them is essential even for texts published in the same language spoken in different locations. For instance, Spanish speakers from Colombia and Spain may not resonate with the same references to a brand of sweets or a national newspaper in a text because these references are absent from their corresponding socio-cultural contexts. And so many other idiosyncrasies relevant to location and culture may need to be adapted in the localisation process to resonate with the target audience successfully.

Localisation: What to do with Chinese idioms in English?

An example of such idiosyncrasy is Chinese four-character idiomatic expressions (chengyu). These are the dominant form of Chinese idioms, comprising nearly 90% of those used today in speech and writing (Xu 2006). They reflect complex meanings drawn from literature and culture using four characters (or four syllables), which may take a paragraph to explain in English.

An example of such chengyu is ‘drawing legs on a snake’ (hua she tian zu; lit. ‘draw snake, add feet’). It signifies adding unnecessary or excessive elements to an already complete or perfect thing. When translated word for word, it may appear entirely obscure to a speaker unfamiliar with the context of Chinese philosophy and literature.

Hua she tian zu derives from one of the Zhuangzi stories, a collection of Daoist essays dating back to the fourth century BC. It describes a talented painter participating in a painting competition.

In the story, the first competitor to complete a snake drawing was to be the winner. The painter who finished first decided to add legs to his snake in an attempt to showcase his skills, technically making it into a lizard instead. Thus, he did not win because by making the addition, he missed the brief.

In this case, the translation editor could ensure effective localisation and transcreation by referring to an equivalent British English idiom familiar to the audience. For instance, it could be ‘gilding the lily’, which originates from Shakespeare’s play King John. Alternatively, the translation editor could ensure the text describes the concept to the reader on a more abstract level without referring to the snake, legs and painter.


Translation editing plays a vital role in bridging the gap between Chinese texts and their English translations. The complexities arising from differences in grammar, expressions and cultural nuances require careful consideration during the editing process. By understanding the intricacies of both languages and cultures, translation editors can bring Chinese texts to life in English while preserving their intrinsic meaning and engaging English-speaking readers.

The unique features of the Chinese language, such as spatial and temporal orientation, a logographic writing system, and numerical representation, pose specific challenges in translation editing. Language and thought are intricately intertwined, influencing how we perceive the world and convey our thoughts. Therefore, localisation and transcreation are essential components to ensure that the translated text accurately conveys the message and tone of the source text while catering to the target audience’s understanding and cultural context.

In this journey of translation editing, it is crucial to balance staying true to the original text with making it accessible to the target audience. And as we navigate the complexities, we must remember not to draw legs on a snake.


Xu, SH (2006). Proximity and complementation: Studies of the formation mechanism of idioms from cognitive point of view (II). Jinan daxue huawen xueyuan xuebao [Journal of College of Chinese Language and Culture of Jinan University], (3): 33–41.

Casasanto, D (2008). Space for thinking. In P Calvo and P Gomila (eds), Handbook of cognitive science: An embodied approach. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 641–52.

About Magda Wojcik

Magda Wojcik is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP who primarily works with non-fiction and academic authors. She is also a translation editor preparing texts translated from Chinese for publication in English. Before becoming an editor, Magda completed a PhD in Chinese literary history at SOAS, University of London.


About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
Find out more about:


Photo credits: Chinese lanterns by Henry & Co; teacher in Chinese school by Yu Wei; both on Unsplash.

Posted by Sue McLoughlin, blog assistant.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Editing fiction: Point of view

In this post, Rachel Rowlands looks at how fiction editors can help authors to use point of view consistently and in a way that works well for the story.

Point of view is a crucial element of fiction editing – and it’s something newer writers often struggle to get to grips with. As editors, it’s part of our job to be able to point out to an author when they’ve broken out of their chosen perspective, and to advise them on what will work best for the type of story they’re telling.

Point of view is the lens through which we view the story – whose eyes we experience the story’s events through. This could be a single main character or multiple characters. It’s a huge topic (there have been entire books written on the subject!), so after a quick crash course in the different types, I’ll list some of the main sticking points I’ve come across as a fiction editor, and how you can help authors deal with them too.

Point of view: The different types

  • First-person: this one is pretty straightforward! A character narrates the story using ‘I’ (‘I headed into the woods to search for him’, ‘I laughed’). The benefit here is that this can make the narrative feel much closer to the main character. It’s common in certain genres and age categories, such as young adult books.
  • Second-person: second-person point of view involves the use of ‘you’ (‘you walked across the street’, ‘you said’). This is quite an uncommon choice, and is best used carefully – some readers hate it with a passion! However, it can be a good way of making the reader feel more involved in the story.
  • Third-person limited: in third-person limited, we use pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’ (for example ‘she grabbed his hand’ and ‘they weren’t listening to her’). The clue to this one is in the name: we’re limited to one character’s perspective and are zoomed in on them. We experience one point of view. This can be per chapter, per scene or for the whole book, depending on the author’s choice.
  • Third-person omniscient: in this point of view, we again use pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’. But in omniscient, we are more zoomed out. The narrator is godlike, and knows everything about the story and characters, meaning we can enter anyone’s mind we like. The narrator can also know things the characters can’t. This point of view is more common in classic literature, and so is often seen as slightly old-fashioned now, but for some stories, it can work.

The sticking points

There are common problems that come up when it comes to point of view, and some of them can be trickier than others to communicate to authors.

Some point-of-view problems may mean you have to advise an author to completely scrap a perspective, or even rewrite their book in another perspective entirely.

Here are some of the most common point-of-view problems, and how you can help authors overcome them.

The chosen point of view doesn’t work for the book

Sometimes, the point of view just doesn’t work for the type of book the author is writing. A good example of this would be a middle-grade author writing for children, using the omniscient viewpoint, and diving into the perspective of all the adult characters.

This likely doesn’t work for a few reasons: omniscient has become a bit old-fashioned and outdated, particularly for children’s books (it was used, for example, in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan way back in 1904). It can also muddle the target audience. In a middle-grade book, we want to be focusing on the children’s point of view, not the adults’. In children’s books, the general rule of thumb is that children read about people their own age or slightly older. Having the point of view of characters over the age of 18 muddies the waters and pushes the book out of its intended age category.

The author is head-hopping

Head-hopping tends to occur when an author is writing in third-person limited, and is zoomed in on one character. Sometimes, the author slips up, and gives us the thoughts and feelings of a non-viewpoint character.

For example, let’s say the author is writing a chapter in third-person limited, following a character called Tom. The chapter is clearly zoomed in on Tom, and we get insight into his thoughts and feelings throughout:

Tom heaved a sigh. How was he supposed to get on with his week now, with his sister being so difficult? ‘I don’t want to talk about it right now,’ he told her.

The chapter is written this way, close to Tom, consistently. Then, suddenly, we get a sentence where we know what his sister, Michelle, is thinking:

Michelle crossed her arms. She’d expected this reaction but it still made her cheeks feel hot with fury.

This would be considered head-hopping – we’ve dipped into Michelle’s head to learn about what she’s thinking and feeling, but we need to be following Tom. In this case, the sentence could be cut down so only the first half remains, or rewritten so the second half focuses on Tom.

Some forms of head-hopping can be more subtle than this, so make sure you’re on the lookout for this kind of switch!

a group of three friends in conversation at a cafe table

Using too many points of view

Sometimes an author wants to write from the point of view of lots of different characters, and so we get lots of scenes or chapters from the perspective of different people. Even the most skilled authors can find this difficult!

For new writers in particular, using lots of perspectives can occasionally cause issues: there may be so many point-of-view chapters or scenes that readers will struggle trying to keep up with them. It might be harder to give each character a unique voice, because the author has spread themselves too thin. And it may be difficult to develop a protagonist with a clear goal and well-defined personality, because the author is juggling too many storylines and points of view.

As an editor, if you think a manuscript is struggling with any of these issues, odds are a reader will think the same. The author in many of these cases might be better off scaling back on some of the perspectives so they can focus on what matters most to the story.

The author’s own voice intrudes on the narrative

This is a common issue when the author has chosen to use third-person limited, but occasionally slips into omniscient by having their own ‘author voice’ intrude on the narrative. This is a difficult thing to spot, because it requires having a good knowledge of the differences between third-person limited and omniscient, and having a honed eye for each! Here’s an example of how the author’s voice can intrude.

If the entire book has been clearly written in the point of view of a character called Cassandra, in third-person limited (so kept very close to Cassandra throughout), keeping this consistent is important. The author voice suddenly intruding may look something like this:

Cassandra twisted her hands, her cheeks burning. She had to do something to stop this. Little did Cassandra know that things were about to get much worse …

Here, the author’s own ‘godlike’ voice has intruded to give the reader a glimpse of the future. We’ve slipped into omniscient, and the author has spoken directly to the reader. As the book was written in third-person limited elsewhere, we’ve broken out of our intended point of view. An intruding author voice can be more obvious (like the movie-trailer-style example above), or more subtle, so getting a good handle on both perspectives can help you identify this issue.

The easiest way to practise identifying this type of slip is to read novels that use both types of third-person point of view, so you become familiar with how each of them works. Some examples of books written in third-person limited are The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon and The Giver by Lois Lowry. Third-person omniscient books are less common these days, but some popular examples are Dune by Frank Herbert and Peter Pan by JM Barrie.

Those are some of the common issues with point of view that I’ve come across while editing fiction, but there are more that you’ll no doubt encounter! There are lots of great resources out there that you can check out to learn more. Here is some recommended reading to brush up:

  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King and Renni Browne (chapter 3: Point of View)
  • Point of View by Sandra Gerth

About Rachel Rowlands

Rachel Rowlands is a fiction editor, author and Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She has a degree in English and creative writing and has worked on around 200 books for publishing houses (including HarperCollins, Hachette, Canelo and Penguin Random House), as well as for independent authors.


About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
Find out more about:


Photo credits: faces by geralt on Pixabay; group of friends by William Fortunato on Pexels.

Posted by Sue McLoughlin, blog assistant.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

A finer point: British and US styles

Editing between British and US styles can be less straightforward than expected. Cathy Tingle explores a few of the trickier aspects of switching between the two.

‘Never assume: it makes an ass out of u and me’ is a phrase from salaried working life that rattles around my head as a freelance editor. In the early noughties it was my boss’s waggish response when one of the team said ‘I assume that …’. But it’s gained new significance with editing experience. Nothing is set in stone. It might even be different to how I’d always imagined.

US style: Firm ground or shifting sands?

US style is one example. It’s common for British editors to be asked to edit in US style, or into it. With the first, you’re on firmer ground. The overriding style is likely sound, most of the decisions already made for you. When you need to decide on something, you do it based on what else you’re aligning with, author preference and general convention. Easy.

But if you’re editing into US style it’s less easy, for two reasons that David Crystal outlines in ‘Regional variation’, chapter 20 of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. First, with global communications and shared culture, the linguistic boundaries between US and British English are becoming blurred with loanwords and spelling variants. And, second, there was never one ‘US style’. As with British style, there have always been variations, including regional ones.

Why style matters

Readers are less awake than editors to the style of whatever they’re reading, although most will know which side of the Atlantic it comes from. What they can detect, however, is a lack of stylistic coherence. Inconsistency jars, and it can slowly but surely destroy the reader’s trust in the text, even if the reader isn’t sure why. There will just be a general sense of shoddiness, which could then find its sorry way into an unfavourable Amazon review.

Correspondingly, most editorial professionals will know the main differences between UK and US style: spelling, punctuation, the formatting of dates and times. But there are more nuanced differences. And you can’t assume there will always be a difference. You might think that dialog and catalog are the US version of dialogue and catalogue because you saw those spellings once in some US content, but in the US’s Merriam-Webster dictionary, dialogue is listed first as more common than dialog. And then it gets more complicated: Merriam-Webster lists catalog first. This means that The Chicago Manual of Style, as it ‘usually prefers the first-listed entries at Merriam-Webster.com’ (CMOS 7.1), uses dialogue and catalog too. So we can’t even rely on the easy assumption that if the end of one word behaves in one way, the end of a similar word will do the same thing.

US style: flags

Toward/s an answer

How about towards and toward? The answer seems straightforward: towards is UK style; toward is US, right? When someone asked about the difference on the CIEP online forums recently, that’s what I said, because it’s what I’d always … ah … assumed. I was soon corrected, with a link to a previous forum thread that cited a Merriam-Webster article. This article concluded: ‘If you’re an American, you can use either toward or towards, depending on what sounds more natural to you. There are those who will claim that towards in American English is wrong, but it’s really a matter of preference.’ So, not so straightforward.

There are certain spellings that are famously different in UK and US styles: colour/color, centre/center, travelling/traveling, mould/mold. But some US spellings we might miss when editing US text into British English, and some British spellings we might miss when translating into US style.

Nouns kerb (British) and curb (US) can cause problems. If you’re talking about restraining something, or reining it in, you should always use curb in both British and US styles. So we might not realise the noun curb is in US style because we see it as a verb in British English. And because in the UK we’re used to seeing the noun practice, people get confused about the spelling of the verb in British English, often mistakenly using a c.

Keep your eyes open

The key is awareness of all the tricky differences between UK and US styles. These also cover variations of vocabulary and different systems of measurement.

Would you notice truck rather than lorry in a piece? Or morgue rather than mortuary? The BBC, after mentioning these examples, singles out rooster in its news style guide: ‘we should not use the word “rooster” instead of “cockerel” for a story about a “cockerel” based in France’, but as rooster is used in British contexts – it’s the name of a UK banking service for children, for example – it’s easy to miss. Similarly, if you’re used to hearing about monster trucks from a young relative, it’s hard to remember that the UK version is lorry.

US style: woman with magnifying glass

Measurements are important to get right – a mistake could ruin a recipe or, worse, overdose a patient – but in the UK and the USA the same or a similar word can represent a different quantity or weight. A UK pint is 20 fl oz. A US pint is 20% less liquid, at 16 fl oz. You might think: ‘Yes, and a billion in the UK is a US trillion.’ You’d have been right a few decades ago, but now US and British billions and trillions are aligned. Make sure you keep up to date, and know the exceptions, too: in some European countries, billions still mean the same thing as US (and now British) trillions.

Do your homework

All this matters. When converting British style to US style or US to British, or when editing in US style if you’re British, you need to understand all the possible variants. Start with a basic list from your favourite usage guide, then add to it. New Hart’s Rules contains a detailed account of the differences. Part 2 of the Economist Style Guide is about American and British English. The CIEP has a fact sheet on the differences. Keep Merriam-Webster open in your internet tabs. But dig deeper, too. Lynne Murphy’s The Prodigal Tongue will remind you that differences are rarely as straightforward as they seem.

Finally, when we assume, is the ‘ass’ it makes out of you and me ‘a fool’, ‘a donkey’ or – you know – a ‘rear end’, that common US slang definition now increasingly used in British English? That question alone should be enough to send you hunting for a second opinion from reference books, dictionaries and colleagues whenever you’re working between different Englishes.


BBC Style Guide. Americanisms. bbc.co.uk/newsstyleguide/all/#a

Chicago Manual of Style (2017). 17th edition. University of Chicago Press.

CIEP (2021). Common style differences between British and US English. Fact sheet. ciep.uk/resources/factsheets/#BUE

Crystal, David (2019). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. 3rd edition. CUP.

Economist Style Guide (2018). 12th edition. Profile Books.

Merriam-Webster. Is it ‘toward’ or ‘towards’? merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/toward-towards-usage

Murphy, Lynne (2018). The Prodigal Tongue. Oneworld.

New Hart’s Rules (2014). OUP.

About Cathy Tingle

Cathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, is a copyeditor, proofreader, tutor and CIEP information team member.


About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
Find out more about:


Photo credits: header image by Clkr-Free-Vector-Images on Pixabay, shelves by freestock on Unsplash, woman with magnifying glass by Clément Falize on Unsplash.

Posted by Belinda Hodder, blog assistant.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

ChatGPT versus a human editor

Can ChatGPT hold its own against a human editor? Can it tackle typical editorial tasks? Harriet Power puts it through its paces.

ChatGPT describes itself as an ‘AI language model’: it’s essentially a clever chatbot that you can have human-like conversations with. It’s been trained on enormous amounts of text data (such as websites and books) to learn how language works. ChatGPT tells me that when someone gives it a question or prompt, it ‘breaks down the text into individual words and analyses them to understand the user’s intent. It then generates a response by predicting the most likely next words based on its training data’.

It turns out that ChatGPT is quite good at a variety of things, from writing marketing copy to summarising policy documents to creating computer code, and there’s been a fair bit of noise online about how it’s going to take over all our office-based jobs. But could it take over editing and proofreading? Could it start writing posts for the CIEP blog? I decided to put ChatGPT-4 through its paces with some typical editorial tasks.

Take a proofreading test

How does ChatGPT fare with the CIEP’s proofreading test? This test is available here; it’s a 270-word piece of text with 20 ‘common’ errors. I pasted the text into ChatGPT with the prompt ‘Please point out the proofreading errors in this text’ (it’s hard to let go of ingrained politeness, even when talking to a machine).[1]

If we ignore the 3 formatting errors that didn’t copy across, ChatGPT caught 15 out of 17 errors. It did well at spotting spelling mistakes (such as ‘peaking’ rather than ‘peeking’) and repeated words (‘There had certainly had been one or two eccentric characters’). It spotted that Anne’s cup of tea had morphed into a cup of coffee three paragraphs later, which according to my programming boyfriend is an impressive catch to make.

It missed a hyphen that should have been an en dash, and didn’t change ‘Jones’ geraniums’ to ‘Jones’s geraniums’, although that’s arguably just a style choice (as the test itself acknowledges). Another thing it didn’t do was query how Ann spells her name: it assumed ‘Anne’ was right (probably because it was spelled this way where it first occurs in the text).

So perhaps ChatGPT’s main failing here was to not question the text in a way a human would: to ask about style or spelling preferences. Plus of course it can’t see formatting errors, or track changes in a useful way, but both of those issues might be solved once Microsoft’s Copilot is launched sometime ‘in the months ahead’. This will basically integrate ChatGPT into Microsoft programs. At that point it might be perfectly possible for Copilot to proofread text in Word and mark up corrections using Track Changes and use a style guide for reference. Scary, right?

Write a blog post

How about writing posts for the CIEP blog? ChatGPT is certainly much quicker at this than us slow and plodding humans, taking under a minute to write a post. The results are quite bland and generic, but are also pretty serviceable. For example, here’s the start of a blog post about how to start out as a freelance copyeditor:

Embarking on a freelance copyediting career can be both an exciting and daunting prospect. With the right preparation and know-how, however, you can set yourself up for success in this rewarding field. In this blog post, we’ll explore the essential training and resources you’ll need to get started, as well as tips for finding your first copyediting jobs.

Part A: Training for Success

Understand the basics

Before diving into the world of freelance copyediting, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the basic principles of the English language. This includes understanding grammar, punctuation, syntax, and spelling rules. There are numerous online resources and books available to help you strengthen your foundation in these areas.

Formal training

While it’s not strictly necessary to have formal training to become a freelance copyeditor, it can help you refine your skills and lend credibility to your services. Many organizations offer courses and certifications to help aspiring copyeditors learn the ropes. Some recommended courses and programs include:

    • The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP): CIEP offers a range of courses, from basic proofreading and copyediting to more advanced courses on specific topics. Their Introduction to Copyediting and Proofreading courses are great starting points.
    • The Publishing Training Centre (PTC): The PTC provides a comprehensive copyediting course called ‘Basic Editing by Distance Learning’ that covers grammar, punctuation, and syntax, as well as editing techniques and best practices.
    • The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA): EFA’s ‘Copyediting: Beginning to Intermediate’ course is designed to help you build skills and knowledge in various areas of freelance editing, including copyediting, with a focus on practical applications and exercises.

With a little tweaking that could turn into a passable (if not sparkling) blog post. The main problem with it is that no courses exist with the exact titles ‘Basic Editing by Distance Learning’ or ‘Copyediting: Beginning to Intermediate’. This illustrates one of ChatGPT’s main limitations, which is its tendency to ‘hallucinate’: it’s very good at making stuff up with complete confidence, rather than simply admitting when it doesn’t know something.

A pair of glasses and a smartphone with ChatGPT open are lying on a desk

Edit fiction

I amused myself with writing some terrible fiction, then asked ChatGPT to improve it. Here’s what we started with:

Outside, the trees swayed ominously in the howling wind while dark, menacing clouds raced overheard. Rachel was gazing wistfully out of the window longing to be out in the paddock with her horse Ophelia irregardless of the fetid weather, when there was a resoundingly loud crash and a blood curdling screaming from above and she jumped ten feet in the air. Panicked thoughts flew threw her mind as she wrenched open the kitchen door, which persistently stuck as it grazed the uneven flagstones, and pelted downstairs where she found her brother tangled on the floor of the hallway in the rich velveteen curtains with the bust of Artemis, the goddess of love, shattered and lying in forlorn pieces around his beautiful golden-flecked hair.

“Jasper!” whispered Rachael frantically. “What happened!”

She roughly shaked him until he groaned and groggily opened one eye, gazing not at her but staring inwards at the visage that had shaken him to his very core.

“Rachel”, he moaned. “I saw him.”

“Saw who? Who did you see?” she exclaimed fearfully.

Asking ChatGPT to ‘line edit’ this led to a simple copyedit, where it corrected things like ‘overheard’ to ‘overhead’, ‘fetid weather’ to ‘foul weather’, ‘Artemis’ to ‘Aphrodite’ and so on. I then asked ChatGPT to ‘simplify the text a little’, and questioned whether the fact that Rachel heard the crash from upstairs but then ran downstairs is inconsistent. Here’s ChatGPT’s reply:

Yes, it is inconsistent. The story indicates that the crash and screams come from above, suggesting that Rachel should run upstairs instead of downstairs. Here’s the revised text to fix the inconsistency:

Outside, the trees swayed in the strong wind as dark clouds raced overhead. Rachel gazed out of the window, wishing she could be in the paddock with her horse, Ophelia, despite the poor weather. Suddenly, a loud crash and a scream from above startled her. Panicked, she opened the kitchen door, which stuck as it scraped the uneven flagstones, and rushed upstairs. She found her brother on the floor, entangled in the curtains, with the broken bust of Aphrodite scattered around his golden-flecked hair.

“Jasper!” whispered Rachel anxiously. “What happened?”

She gently shook him until he groaned and opened one eye, not looking at her but appearing deeply shaken.

“Rachel,” he murmured. “I saw him.”

“Saw who? Who did you see?” she asked nervously.

This clearly isn’t prize-winning fiction, but I was impressed that ChatGPT could take my original text and rewrite it while still keeping the essential bits of the narrative, and present them in a coherent way. It’s an example of how powerful ChatGPT can potentially be when it comes to simplifying text.

Edit references

I took a list of references, introduced a bunch of mistakes, and then asked ChatGPT to edit them so they were consistent.

ChatGPT did pretty well. It made corrections like replacing ‘and’ with ‘&’, moving the year to the correct place, changing the volume and issue number from ‘18:2’ to ‘18(2)’, and deleting the word ‘pages’ before the page range. The thing that impressed me was when I gave it a reference where I’d deleted one of the author’s initials, and ChatGPT filled them in correctly. It managed to do that correctly a couple more times, so it didn’t feel like a fluke. (Though if ChatGPT is simply making educated guesses about how to fill in the blanks then this is far from infallible.)

If ChatGPT could track changes (and my guess is that it will be able to do this in Microsoft’s Copilot) then I’d happily use it to help me edit references.

Close up of a ChatGPT screen

Can ChatGPT replace me?

ChatGPT is remarkable, in that it can edit and write text and you can hold a semi-intelligent conversation with it when its basic function is simply to guess what the next word should be.

As things stand, there are some stumbling blocks when it comes to using it as an editor or proofreader: ChatGPT apparently struggles to remain coherent when responding to much longer pieces of text (like whole books). It isn’t always factually accurate: you can’t entirely trust anything it’s saying. I can’t imagine how it’d make a good development editor, or how it’d handle raising complex, sensitive author queries. It can’t track changes well. It can’t think like a human, even when it can convincingly sound like one.

So I don’t think that it currently competes with a human proofreader or editor (or blog writer), but I do wonder how many years or even months it might be before it can. Things are moving at speed: in the time it’s taken to write this blog post, ChatGPT has already announced two upgrades (one from ChatGPT-3.5 to ChatGPT-4, and one to launch plugins). And when Microsoft’s Copilot launches sometime in the coming months, that’ll be another giant leap forwards.

John Naughton, professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University, has described ChatGPT like this: just as Google became a prosthesis for memory, so will ChatGPT (or similar AI) become ‘a prosthesis for something that many people find very difficult to do: writing competent prose’. I’m certain that it’s going to have a seismic influence on an industry that helps people to write and publish competent prose; the question is just how quickly, and what editors and proofreaders can or should do about it.

[1] When I asked ChatGPT later on, ‘Do you appreciate it if I start my requests with the word “Please”?’ its answer was: ‘As an AI language model, I do not have the ability to feel emotions. However, using “please” in your requests is a courteous and polite way to ask for something, and it can help make the conversation more pleasant and respectful.’

About Harriet Power

Harriet Power develops and copyedits nonfiction books and educational materials. She is a commissioning editor for the CIEP information team, and a Professional Member of the CIEP.



About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
Find out more about:


Photo credits: Motherboard by Pixabay on Pexels; Glasses and smartphone by Mateus Bertelli on Pexels; ChatGPT screen by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash.

Posted by Sue McLoughlin, blog assistant.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

A finer point: Abbreviations

Used well, abbreviations add clarity, reducing clutter so readers can concentrate on the meaning of a text. In this article, Cathy Tingle looks at the basics of abbreviation.

An abbreviation, a shortening, can be a wonderful device that saves time, effort and space. If in the 1974 hit ‘Killer Queen’ Freddie Mercury had sung ‘Dynamite with a light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation beam’, it wouldn’t have got to number 2 in the UK pop charts. With that wording, it would struggle to reach even the end of the song in a timely fashion.

‘Laser’, the word actually used in the lyrics (thank goodness), is an acronym. But how is an acronym different from an initialism? And how does the punctuation of a contraction differ from that used with an abbreviation? (Hang on, isn’t every shortening an abbreviation?)

It’s important to understand the different types of abbreviation because it might be necessary to style them differently. In his CIEP guide to punctuation, Gerard M-F Hill usefully lists four types – the four I’ve listed below, although in a different order – under the umbrella of ‘short forms’. This is a useful term because it avoids confusing abbreviations in general with a specific type of word shortening that is also often called an abbreviation. However, Fowler’s, New Hart’s Rules and others use ‘abbreviation’ in both ways, so I’m doing the same.


Many people confuse acronyms with initialisms, and this might be because ‘acronym’ sounds impressively technical and is quite a fun word to say, so people feel like applying it more widely than they should. Acronym. Acronym. Nice. Anyway, what are referred to as acronyms are often initialisms: BBC, NHS, CPR, HMRC. Only the first letter of each (main) word is kept, and the result is pronounced as a series of letters.

The main style decision to make with an initialism is whether to include full points (CPR or C.P.R.?). Such points have lingered in some iterations of US style (page 236 of The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz is enlightening on this matter); British style goes mostly without. However, there are instances, such as a.m. and p.m., and e.g. and i.e., where points are used more widely, even in British style. If you are using points, remember two main things:

  • Include all of them. It’s fairly common in unedited text to see ‘e.g’ or ‘eg.’, for example.
  • If your initialism appears at the end of a sentence, don’t include a full stop as well, otherwise you have two points in a row. One is entirely sufficient.


An acronym is a narrower category. Simply, it’s an initialism that you can pronounce as a word: OPEC, UNESCO, NASA, RADA, Aids, radar. You’ll notice that in this list we have both ‘RADA’ (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and ‘radar’ (‘RAdio Detection And Ranging’), with their differences in capitalisation. You can tell that ‘radar’ was always meant to be a catchy acronym from its inclusion of the first two letters from the first word and ‘A’ for ‘and’ (which is not classed as a main word) in the line-up of initials. If it were a true initialism it would be ‘RDR’. In the evolution of an acronym, particularly if it’s a term rather than a name, after being all caps it can then progress to being treated as a regular proper noun with a leading cap (as with ‘Aids’). Certain acronyms, like ‘radar’, ‘laser’ and ‘scuba’, then make the final change into a common noun, fully lower case.

After an acronym has become a common noun, the spelled-out version sometimes falls away, particularly if the spelling out doesn’t tell us as much as, for example, the usual dictionary definition of the word. Cambridge Dictionaries defines ‘radar’ as ‘a system that uses radio waves to find the position of objects that cannot be seen’ which is more helpful than its original long name.


I tend to imagine a snipping or chopping action with these, because you lose one end of the word, sometimes both. Some of them, like ‘co.’ for ‘company’ and ‘etc.’ for ‘etcetera’, generally attract a full point, as does ‘ed.’ for editor in many academic texts. Others, like ‘bio’ for ‘biological’ or ‘biography’, generally don’t include points in British modern styles. As familiarity with these shortened words grows – including those that mean more than one thing – the point becomes less necessary.

Examples of where the front of the word has been chopped are ‘bus’ for ‘autobus’ and ‘phone’ for ‘telephone’. In ‘flu’ for ‘influenza’, both ends have been chopped. Here, apostrophes originally indicated missing letters, but as with full points these have dropped away with time and use.


In a contraction, the beginning and the end of the word or phrase are included. What’s missing is something in the middle. Informal words such as ‘don’t’ or ‘can’t’ are contractions, but they’re relatively straightforward. They use an apostrophe – for now, at least.

Other contractions are ‘Dr’ for ‘doctor’ and ‘St’ for ‘Saint’. In British styles these generally don’t attract a full point; they are more likely to in US styles. In words like ‘eds’ for ‘editors’ strictly a point shouldn’t appear, in British styles at least. However, New Hart’s Rules says that this can make things look inconsistent, particularly when constructions like ‘vol.’ and ‘vols’ (volume and volumes) are seen side by side, so some styles retain the point for these types of contraction.

One contraction that retains a point is usefully mentioned in New Hart’s Rules: ‘no. (= numero, Latin for number)’. A good reason for this point could be the risk of its confusion with the more common word ‘no’.

As an editorial professional you have to navigate all these types of abbreviation and their different conventions and styles, plus any exceptions and possibly the reasons for them, depending on the text you’re working on.

What else should you consider?

Bring in the reader

Now it’s time to consider your abbreviations from the point of view of the reader. Ask yourself:

How familiar will the reader be with this abbreviation? Those that have become part of the language, like ‘i.e.’, ‘e.g.’ and ‘etc.’, most adult readers will know. A British audience is likely to know NHS and BBC. Dictionaries are a good basic guide to which abbreviations are now in common usage and therefore may not need further explanation. But remember you should always cater for your least knowledgeable reader. As Einsohn and Schwartz say, ‘When in doubt, spell it out.’ The most usual way of doing this is to include the long version then the short one in brackets: ‘National Health Service (NHS)’. If there are a number of initialisms and acronyms that the reader is likely to be unfamiliar with, consider creating a list of abbreviations that they can easily refer to.

Do I need all of these abbreviations? If you’re using an uncommon abbreviation just once or twice, it’s probably better including the long version only. Also, remember that text littered with initialisms and acronyms very quickly loses the advantage that a few abbreviations bring: it becomes uninviting to look at and difficult to read. This is the advice the Economist Style Guide gives:

After the first mention, try not to repeat the abbreviation too often; so write the agency rather than the IAEA, the party rather than the KMT, to avoid spattering the page with capital letters. And prefer chief executive, boss or manager to CEO.

Is the abbreviation near to where it plays its main role in the text? It’s not worth abbreviating a term the first time it’s used if there isn’t another mention of that abbreviation for pages and pages. Wait until you get to its first real entrance, where it’s discussed at more length or in more detail, and introduce its shortened version there.

At the sharp end of language

Abbreviations are an element of language that can change quickly, so you should keep up to date with the latest stylistic conventions for each shortened word or term you’re editing. However, in the end there are only a limited number of options for an abbreviation, all of them seen and written about already. Your task is to work out which option is applicable and appropriate. Here are some useful resources to equip you for the challenge.

Economist Style Guide. 2018. 12th edition. Profile Books.

Einsohn, A. and Schwartz, M. 2019. The Copyeditor’s Handbook. 4th edition. University of California Press, chapter 9.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, ed. J. Butterfield. 2015. Oxford University Press. See entries for abbreviations, acronym, contractions, full stops (2).

Hill, G. M-F. 2021. Punctuation: A guide for editors and proofreaders. CIEP, pp9–10.

McCulloch, G. 2019. Because Internet. Riverhead Books.

New Hart’s Rules. 2014. Oxford University Press, chapter 10.

About Cathy Tingle

Cathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, is a copyeditor, proofreader, tutor and CIEP information team member.


About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
Find out more about:


Photo credits: header image by Tim Chow on Unsplash, radar by Igor Mashkov on Pexels.

Posted by Belinda Hodder, blog assistant.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Ten bookish books of 2022

2022 was a good year for books about, well, books: their history, what constitutes them – from their different sections to their individual paragraphs, sentences and words – and the places they can live. In this article we look at ten books, published or reissued this year, that people who are interested in books – professionally or for fun – will love. Some of them have already featured in the CIEP book reviews slot in The Edit, our newsletter for members, and on our website, and some are in the pipeline for review. We’ve listed them in order of release.

1. Comma Sense: Your guide to grammar victory by Ellen Feld (Mango, 18 February 2022), 288 pages, £16.95 (paperback)

‘Food and grammar have a lot in common!’ according to this book’s author. Based on US grammar, Comma Sense contains useful advice, brief but clear lessons, and fun quizzes – some cooking-based – for all writers and editors. Our reviewer said: ‘This encouraging book would refresh the grammar skills of a variety of time-strapped word wranglers, from creative writers, to businesspeople, to editors.’

Read the CIEP review. Buy this book.

2. How Words Get Good: The story of making a book by Rebecca Lee (Profile, 17 March 2022), 384 pages, £14.99 (hardcover)

This book, in fact, is about the making of many books. The author is an editorial manager at Penguin Random House, so has overseen all the stages of book production, working with the people who are essential in each of them, from authors to indexers. There are plenty of entertaining behind-the-scenes stories, and you’ll come away wiser about exactly what goes into the creation of a book. Those who work in the industry are likely to feel acknowledged, their part in the process no longer a mystery.

Buy this book.

3. Portable Magic: A history of books and their readers by Emma Smith (Allen Lane, 28 April 2022), 352 pages, £20.00 (hardcover)

Emma Smith’s work, ‘a thing to cherish’, according to The Guardian, examines books as objects: scrolls, mass-marketed paperbacks, hiding places, decoration and even fuel for the fire. Smith tells the stories of the different types of books that have emerged at different points in history. People who cultivate giant piles of ‘to be read’ books rather than instantly transporting their chosen text to an e-reader will appreciate this appreciation of the physical, sniffable, page-turning hard copy.

Buy this book.

4. Rebel with a Clause: Tales and tips from a roving grammarian by Ellen Jovin (Chambers, 11 August 2022), 400 pages, £16.99 (hardcover)

To those who have followed her on Twitter, it feels like Ellen Jovin has been running her Grammar Table, where anyone can come and ask a question about language usage, for ever. In fact, it’s only four years. It’s been a packed schedule since that first appearance outside her Manhattan apartment, as Jovin has taken her table across the USA. This book tells some of the stories of the questions brought to the Grammar Table, and examines the grammar behind the answers. There are diagrams and ‘quizlets’ to support Jovin’s explanations. A must for any grammar lover.

Buy this book.

5. Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A–Z of literary persuasion by Louise Willder (Oneworld, 1 September 2022), 352 pages, £14.99 (hardcover)

The author of this book has written 5,000 blurbs, so she knows what she’s talking about. In Blurb Your Enthusiasm she gives ‘the dazzling, staggering, astonishing, unputdownable story of the book blurb’, and asks why publishers always describe books using those sorts of terms. Quirky, fun and illuminating, this is a treat for anyone who is interested in books or the art of copywriting.

Read the CIEP review. Buy this book.

6. A History of Cookbooks: From kitchen to page over seven centuries by Henry Notaker (University of California Press, 6 September 2022), 400 pages, £22.36 (paperback)

This broad and detailed history of the Western cookbook was first published in 2017 but has now been released in paperback. This is a fascinating read for all lovers of cooking and books, covering the evolution of recipe formats from bare notes to the detailed structure we see today as well as what we might call the ingredients of the books themselves – their writing, designing and printing.

Buy this book.

7. The Library: A fragile history by Arthur der Weduwen and Andrew Pettegree (Profile, 29 September 2022), 528 pages, £10.99 (paperback)

This history of libraries is entwined with the history of publishing and the development of society, so this book gives insights into all three. It has taken some centuries for libraries to hit their stride, in terms of access and stock, and reading about this might prompt a fresh appreciation of your local library branch. According to its CIEP reviewer, ‘this book is both informative and easy to read, and goes to all sorts of unexpected places. Come to think of it, that is much like a decent library, isn’t it?’

Read the CIEP review. Buy this book.

8. Reading the World: How I read a book from every country by Ann Morgan (Vintage, 29 September 2022), 416 pages, £9.99 (paperback)

Inspired by all the countries arriving at the London 2012 Olympics, Ann Morgan decided she would read a book from every independent nation. That’s 196 plus one – you’ll have to read the book to discover the story behind the extra one. Morgan’s literary journey is full of unexpected difficulties and wonderful finds, and this book is bound to inspire you to broaden your own reading horizons. Reading the World was originally published in 2015, with the paperback version released in 2022, so there are now years’ worth of stories about the project itself. You can find these on Ann Morgan’s website.

Buy this book.

9. Index, A History of the: A bookish adventure by Dennis Duncan (Penguin, 2 October 2022), 352 pages, £10.99 (paperback)

This is a ‘mesmerising’, ‘fascinating’ and ‘often humorous’ book, according to the delighted CIEP reviewer of Index, A History of the, who says: ‘This book should be on the reading list of every one of the (few) library schools that are left, and in the break room of every publishing house too. In fact, it should be in the home or office of anyone who has ever used an index.’ And the treasures don’t end with the body text. The index for the book – ‘excellent … beautiful as it is useful’ – was created by CIEP Advanced Professional Member Paula Clarke Bain, who in 2020 wrote a CIEP blog article on her typical week.

Read the CIEP review. Buy this book.

10. Why Is This a Question? Everything about the origins and oddities of language you never thought to ask by Paul Anthony Jones (Elliot & Thompson, 13 October 2022), 320 pages, £14.99 (hardcover)

Finally, dive into the nuts and bolts of letters, words and writing systems, grammar and language, and how we communicate and understand each other’s communication, with this entertaining book. Guaranteed to ask questions you’d never thought to articulate, Why Is This a Question? provides gems on every page. Quick, fun facts throughout for friends and family, or for enthralling your own word-loving brain.

Buy this book.

By the CIEP information team. Compiled with the help of Nik Prowse, CIEP book reviews coordinator. Read all our book reviews at: ciep.uk/resources/book-reviews/. With special thanks to our amazing web team, who post reviews with swiftness, good humour and unfailing attention to detail.

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:


Photo credits: header image by Taylor on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Powers, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.