Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

Certified Copy Editor and Proofreader


January 22, 2018

Editing for accessibility: Editors BC

At the last Editors BC monthly meeting, Iva Cheung gave a fascinating presentation about editing for accessibility. To begin with, she made an important point about how to look at this issue: instead of seeing accessibility as being about making accommodations for certain groups, she prefers to think of it as being about removing barriers for everyone.

The basics

Some ways to improve accessibility are fairly well known:
  • Watch out for small fonts and low colour contrast. And when you provide documents on the web, make sure they still work if readers magnify the text size or change the background colour.
  • Don’t use colour as the only way that important information is conveyed.
  • Add captions or transcripts to videos. Transcripts have the added benefit of making the video content indexable by search engines.
Weather hazard map in colour Weather hazard map with red-green colour-blindness filter applied
Storm danger levels by region. The image on the right simulates what someone with reduced red-green colour perception sees: it is difficult to distinguish between the highest and lowest danger levels. Even with full colour perception (left image), it isn’t completely easy to distinguish between the orange colours for the middle danger levels.

Reducing cognitive load

Cognitive load refers to the amount of effort it takes to understand something. For some readers, small changes in cognitive load can have a huge effect. In her amazing article “The Spoon Theory,” Christine Miserandino explains that people with chronic illness have to budget their energy very carefully. If a document is hard to access and understand, it may be too expensive in time and energy for some readers. You can reduce cognitive load by keeping documents short and well organized, and by using plain language. Plain language, which is too big a topic cover here, is a well-defined set of guidelines for clear writing, based on knowledge of how people process language.

Screen readers

People who are visually impaired or who have reading disabilities often use screen readers.
  • Use the correct symbol in your text. A minus sign looks like an en dash, but the screen reader will read them differently.
  • Consider using words instead of symbols. “Approximately 5 grams” will be read correctly, while “~5 g” may not.
  • Check that the reader reads the document elements in the correct order. In a PDF file with multiple columns, a screen reader may read straight across.
If your audience is likely to be using a screen reader on the document, run the document through a screen reader.

The web

HTML provides reflowable text so that users can adjust font size and colour, it uses tags to indicate the relative importance of headings, there is “alt” text to describe the images for those who can’t see them . . . The web has the potential to be a haven of accessibility. But only if you use it right.
  • Keyword stuffing in your alt attribute is like parking in the handicapped spot. You can use a “title” attribute instead (part of the global attributes supported by the img tag).
  • Use meaningful alt text, but don’t repeat the caption.
  • Only write alt text for images that are important to understanding the document, but don’t leave any alt attributes empty, because in that case a screen reader will read the file name. Insert an empty string (“”).
  • Try to keep the text in the HTML flowing in logical order, regardless of your layout. This way a screen reader can read it in the right order.
  • Indicate headings with h tags instead of using font size, colour, or weight (this is also good for your search engine optimization, which helps people find your document, improving accessibility).
  • Try the Web Disability Simulator Google Chrome extension to try navigating your web page with filters like reduced colour vision or hand tremor applied.


Wording that is disrespectful of people’s dignity throws up a barrier. A sensitivity reader can help you avoid unintentional gaffes. One area of sensitivity that people don’t always think about is sanist language. People living with mental illness don’t always appreciate seeing chaos or irrationality labelled as “craziness.” Likewise, preoccupation with tidiness is not necessarily obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Where to use this

There’s value in removing barriers whenever you can. But if you are creating a document for a specific group, it’s extra important to consider the needs of that group. Nothing says “This isn’t for you” like a barrier that affects your target audience.

September 29, 2017

Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition

I got my new copy of the Chicago Manual of Style yesterday. After working with my copy of CMOS 16 for seven years and studying with it for two certification exams, my old copy has highlighting, pencilling, and sticky tags—also a few folds and wrinkles, and a faint tea stain across the bottom. The updated book promises to provide better guidance for things like gender-neutral language and citing electronic sources. And although it’s daunting to have to re-read so much material, it’s extremely helpful that the breakdown into chapters is the same in this edition.


February 15, 2017

GST for freelance editors: should you use the quick method?

Most freelancers know that they have to register to collect GST if their earnings pass a certain threshold, but many people I talk to don’t know whether to opt for the quick method or the non-quick method of GST accounting.
If your business has relatively low expenses in relation to its income, the quick method will leave you with more money. (See the end of this article for a comparison of high- and low-expense businesses.) I calculate the crossover point as being at about 28 percent: if your business expenses come to less than about 28 percent of your gross income, consider using the quick method. Here is a sample scenario.

The quick method of GST accounting

If you use the quick method, you collect GST on your earnings and then pay a set percentage back to the CRA. You don’t have to keep track of how much GST you pay on your business expenses because you won’t claim those back. As the name implies, the bookkeeping is about as simple as possible, especially if all of your clients are in the same province as you.
If you use the non-quick method, you count up the GST that you collected, and you pay it all back to the CRA. Then you count up all the GST you spent over the year on your business expenses (business use of home, software, accounting and legal fees), and you claim that back. It’s not that much more complicated, but you have to track how much tax you pay on every business expense.

The quick method for freelance professionals

What you want to figure out is which remittance method will leave more money in your account. Here is a comparison of the two methods for a hypothetical freelancer. This freelancer lives in British Columbia, and all of her clients are also in British Columbia. She works from a home office and deducts business use of home as part of her expenses.

GST collected and paid for a hypothetical freelancer

Total income invoiced$50,000
5% GST collected on income$2,500
Total business expenses$10,000
GST-eligible business expenses$5,500
non-GST-eligible expenses:* monthly rent of $1,500; 25% business use of home$4,500
Total GST paid for business expenses (5% on $4,500)$262
*Non-GST-eligible expenses are expenses that are not taxed. This freelancer doesn’t pay GST on her residential rent.

GST remitted for a hypothetical freelancer

Quick methodNon-quick method
GST you have to remit3.6% remittance rate on $50,000: $1,800everything you collected: $2,500
GST paid on business expenses claimed against remittance$0$262
1% bonus available for those who use the quick method: 1% of GST-eligible income to a maximum of $300$300$0
Total remitted$1,800$2,238
Total kept$1,000$262
Our sample freelancer keeps $1,000 of the GST she collected. After you subtract the $262 of GST that she paid on her business expenses, she has gained $738 by using the quick method.

Other scenarios

Here are some factors that could change the above result:
  • Not charging GST on all of your income. If a lot of your clients are outside Canada, you won’t collect GST on this income, which means the amount you keep by using the quick method is lower. In the above scenario, if all of our hypothetical freelancer’s income came from outside Canada, she would collect no GST and using the quick method would leave her with $0, while using the non-quick method would leave her with $262.
  • Paying more GST on your expenses. This could happen if none of your business expenses are GST exempt, if a lot of your expenses are paid to a provider in another province with a higher tax rate, or if your total business expenses are simply higher. We could cook up a scenario here for a freelancer with important clients in the U.S. who subcontracts out a lot of work to a contractor in Ontario that would tip the balance to favour the non-quick method.

Appendix: comparing the methods for high-expense versus low-expense businesses

What type of business should use the non-quick method? One with high expenses in relation to its gross earnings. For example, a business that buys something at wholesale prices and sells them at retail prices. These businesses have big inputs and big outputs and survive by taking a percentage off the transaction. Here’s a quick and dirty comparison using completely made-up numbers. Both businesses have the same net income, but because the high-expense business pays almost as much GST as it collects, it is far better off using the non-quick method.
Low-expense businessHigh-expense business
Gross income$60,000$250,000
Business expenses$10,000$200,000
Net income$50,000$50,000
5% GST collected on gross income$3,000$12,500
5% GST spent on expenses$500$10,000
Quick method: GST retained minus GST spent on expenses$640–$9,000
Non-quick method: GST retained (what you spent)$500$10,000
Non-quick method: GST remitted (what you collected minus what you spent)$2,500$2,500

CRA links for GST information

November 2, 2016

Some notes on copyright

These are a few summary notes that I started writing when I read Lesley Ellen Harris’s Canadian Copyright Law (see below for more information about the book). This is just a bit of basic, introductory information and doesn’t include lots of good stuff like the categories of fair dealing.

Types of intellectual property

  1. Patent: devices, formulas, processes, or improvements to existing patents.
  2. Trademark: word, symbol, logo, or distinctive shape used to distinguish a product.
  3. Industrial design: shape, pattern, or ornamentation.
  4. Copyright: protects text, pictures, art, audio recordings, film, software, etc.
  5. Confidential information and trade secrets: ideas and information that should be kept confidential because of the terms of a relationship.

Copyright law in Canada

  • Falls under federal jurisdiction, under the Copyright Act, enacted in 1924.
  • Major amendments to the Copyright Act were made in 1988 (Bill C-60), 1997 (Bill C-32), and 2012 (Bill C-11: Copyright Modernization Act).
  • This book does not discuss the “copyright pentalogy,” five supreme court rulings on copyright made on July 12, 2012. See The Copyright Pentalogy: How the Supreme Court of Canada Shook the Foundations of Canadian Copyright Law, edited by Michael Geist, for a discussion of the meaning of these five cases. Available as a p-book, e-book, or free PDF.
  • How copyright works: property rights versus copyright protection. There’s a right to physical property, but also rights to intangible property. When a user buys a book, they have certain rights: to read or give away the book, but other rights are protected: to reproduce or translate the book.

Creations eligible for copyright protection

A work is protected by copyright as soon as it is created, as long as it fulfills the following criteria:
  1. Original: It is a new work, not a copy.
  2. Fixed: It is set down in some reasonably durable form: written down (even if it’s on a napkin), recorded, saved on a hard drive, etc.
  3. Creator is a citizen or legal resident of Canada or another copyright treaty country, or the work is first published in a copyright treaty country.
There are some special rules for “Other subject-matter,” which means sound recordings, performances, and broadcasts.

International copyright law

Canada can extend copyright protection within countries that offer reciprocal protection to Canadian works. The following are international copyright treaties:
  1. Berne Convention
  2. Universal Copyright Convention (UCC)
  3. World Trade Organization (WTO)
  4. WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT)
  5. WIPO Performances and Phonographs Treaty (WPPT) (for sound recordings and performances)

How to get copyright protection

  1. Protection is automatic

    Under Canadian copyright law, there are no formalities to obtaining copyright: it the protection exists as soon as the work comes into existence. You don’t have to register the work, deposit it, mark it with a special symbol, or include any particular statement. All countries that subscribe to the Berne Treaty (this includes Canada, the U.S., and the E.U.) have to allow automatic copyright when the work is created.
  2. Adding a copyright symbol and statement (optional)

    • Makes it absolutely clear that the material is protected.
    • Provides the name of the copyright holder to people seeking permissions.

    Format of a copyright notice

    The copyright notice should include the © symbol, the year of first publication, and the name of the copyright owner. Optionally, you can add the years of major revisions, or use a range of years.
  3. Registration and deposit (optional)

    You can register your work with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). CIPO copyright database search. (Results for “Life of Pi.”)
  4. “Poor man’s copyright”

    This method of proving ownership of a work seems to have entered folklore. The idea is that you put a copy of the work into an envelope and mail it to yourself. You leave the envelope sealed until you open it in court to prove that the work existed on the postmarked date. Skeptics point out that an obvious way to cheat is to mail yourself an unsealed envelope and put the work in later. Harris’s book describes poor man’s copyright as a method of providing evidence of existence and ownership, but suggests using registered mail, which presumably requires the envelope to be sealed, or mailing it directly to your lawyer.
  5. Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office

    Copyright protection is also automatic in the United States. However, you can choose to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. One of the benefits of doing this is that they accept deposits, which can help you prove a case down the road.
  6. Library and Archives Canada deposit

    Library and Archives Canada (LAC) requires copies of publications to be deposited, but this has nothing to do with copyright.
  7. Other depositing services

    Professional organizations and writers’ unions may provide depositing services. Using such a service will not cause you to be registered in the Canadian copyright database, but it might help you prove ownership of a work.

International copyright law

International copyright laws are relevant when you distribute your work outside of Canada, or use works created outside the country.

International copyright treaties

There is no international copyright law, just agreements between countries. In copyright treaties, each country agrees to give citizens of other signing countries the same protection they give their own citizens. One exception is for length of the copyright term.

Berne Convention

  • Canada is a member, which means that Canada’s Copyright Act has to meet the levels of protection specified in the Convention, and that Canada protects the rights of creators from countries that belong to the Berne Convention.
  • The text and a list of member countries is at Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.
  • The Berne Convention specifies automatic copyright protection. Once a creator in a member country has copyright, copyright protection is automatically granted in all member countries. Berne Convention countries are not allowed to require any formalities for obtaining copyright.

Other international conventions

Material protected by copyright

Not protected:
  • Ideas
  • Facts
Copyright law protects the expression of ideas and facts, but not the facts themselves.

Additional resources: Canadian law

Lesley Ellen Harris: Canadian Copyright Law
ISBN: 978-1-118-0751-8
October 2013, 368 pp.

Additional resources: U.S. law

September 30, 2016

Editorial fingerprints

Ideally, editing is invisible. Typos are corrected, small errors of fact pointed out, plot howlers averted, and the end result is a seamless, polished work that doesn’t betray any hint of multiple minds at work. Usually when I read books that I didn’t work on, I see text that seems to have sprung fully formed out of the author’s mind, but once in a while I see, not a scar exactly, but perhaps a band-aid.

In an excellently edited, smart, well-written thriller, the protagonist releases the safety catch on his Glock. Aha! I said. The Glock doesn’t have a safety catch. But a few pages later, there’s a passing reference to the gun being “modified.” What do you think? Author’s original vision or editorial band-aid?

I laughed out loud when I came across a sentence in another book that read, “Some people say insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.” I bet there was a query on that manuscript that said, “Actually, [Albert Einstein/Mother Teresa/Benjamin Franklin/Leonardo da Vinci] probably didn’t say this. This quote seems to be attributed to various people without any evidence. I’ve edited to read ‘some people say’ instead. OK?” Dubious quote provenances are the bane of fact checking.

And on rare occasions, a disagreement bursts right out into the open. On the copyright page of Garner on Language and Writing, the eight-line American Bar Association policy statement is supplemented by an exemplary plain language rewrite titled “How Bryan Garner wanted the statement to read.”

Picture of the copyright page of Garner on Language and Writing
From Garner on Language and Writing by Bryan Garner.
Or even worse:
Screen shot of a publisher's note
Photo posted by @AcademiaObscura on Twitter.