A simple guide to apostrophes

Some time ago, Cape Talk afternoon host John Maytham read out a communication from a listener about a sign seen at a mining event where the apostrophe reared its small and annoying head.

The sign said something like “Worlds’ Mines”. Because of the way in which written English arranges things, the little quote mark (the apostrophe) after the “s” in worlds indicates that there are mines in many worlds, rather mines on our own solitary planet.
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Editors – how to tell the good from the bad

You know the feeling. You took the car to the mechanic, they said they fixed that odd knocking noise, then said a lot of incomprehensible things and took a load of money. But, as you drive away, there’s that nagging feeling: did they really do what they said? The knocking noise is gone but should it really have cost all that?

People have this feeling because they have just purchased a credence good – something with qualities that cannot be observed by the consumer after purchase, making it difficult to assess its utility.

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How to spot plagiarism – for editors

One of the many jobs of an editor is to be on the lookout for plagiarism. I don’t have a magic formula for spotting it, but I do have some tips that might help.

First off, what is plagiarism?

The dictionary definition goes like this:

“The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.”

From an editing point of view, it most often means that a text, or a piece of text, has been copied verbatim from someone else: in other words, they were not written by the person who claims to have written them.

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Tips for editors: Academic referencing 101

When I first started out as freelancer at the end of 2016, I did not think that one of the things I would be asked to do would be to edit academic references.

In the beginning, though, I took whatever work I could get, and one of those paths was proofreading books for an academic publisher. And there were references… lots and lots of references.

I learned that publisher’s style for referencing, noticing as I did that were several crucial things that were just not mentioned in their style guide. I badgered project managers till I got answers, and became relatively proficient at doing references for that one publisher.
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House style… just a waste of time?

This post was originally written in 2013 and has been updated.

In America, they are called copy editors. In South Africa, in a journalism context, they are called sub-editors (or subs). They form a vanishingly small percentage of the world population, and yet they are somewhat powerful.

That’s because much of the text disseminated by the world’s media passes before their eyes and gets fixed, or changed, or mutilated, or left alone. They correct grammar and spelling, they rewrite clumsy phrases, they cut copy to fit an allocated space and in most publications they write headlines. So far, so familiar – most people who read newspapers or news websites or magazines are aware that such people exist and have a vague idea of what they do.
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All the tools you need to be a copy editor

When a friend was retrenched and asked me what you need to set yourself up as a freelance proofreader or editor, I mentally went though the tools I use and gave her a rundown. It occurred to me the list might be useful to others. So here it is:

1. A desk of your own. This might seem too obvious and not worth listing. But it’s important to make it conscious. You can do anything on the kitchen table, in a pinch. But the concentration levels required to edit anything means you need a quiet spot to call your own. I have a big table in a communal entertainment room, which works for me since it is empty most of the day. And when people come home, I can greet them with joy. (The other benefit of having your own desk is that you can tidy it up when procrastinating.) Continue reading