Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


October 28, 2022

Trauma-informed editing with Iva Cheung

At a recent meeting of the Editors’ Association of Canada, Iva Cheung, a researcher in knowledge translation and exchange, presented on trauma-informed editing. Here are a few notes based on her talk.

What is trauma?

There are various definitions of trauma. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, defines it in terms of being exposed to death, serious injury, or sexual violence, but other sources use a wider definition that acknowledges that many forms of violence, abuse, or other experiences that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope can result in trauma. I think of trauma as a psychological injury. Like bodily injuries, some psychological injuries heal on their own; others require health care intervention; many injuries have lasting consequences.

What is trauma-informed care?

Trauma-informed care is an approach within health care that recognizes the widespread incidence and impact of trauma and tries to integrate knowledge about trauma into practices to avoid re-traumatizing the patient. According to the Trauma-Informed Care Implementation Resource Center, the principles of trauma-informed care are:

  • Safety: staff and patients feel physically and psychologically safe
  • Trustworthiness and transparency: decisions are made with transparency
  • Peer support: people with shared experiences are incorporated into the organization
  • Collaboration: power differences are reduced with shared decision-making
  • Empowerment: building on strengths
  • Humility and responsiveness: biases and stereotypes are recognized and addressed
Trauma can have a variety of effects related to stress, not all of which are obvious. For example, lack of confidence in the ability to achieve goals or difficulty in navigating relationships. Stress is particularly likely to be caused by things that:
  • Are new or unpredictable
  • Threaten the ego (make a person feel their competence is questioned)
  • Produce a sense of not having control

Writing for audiences who may have experienced trauma

When writing for audiences who may have experienced trauma, there are some measures you can take to reduce the risk of unintentionally harming someone. 

Clearly describe the document’s contents

The most basic way to protect people is to be clear about what is in the document. You can use a content note to let people know what is in the document. A good table of contents and clear headings also help readers avoid any sections that may be a problem for them.

Guidelines for content notes:
  • Don’t be too general, like the television warning “may be disturbing to some viewers.”
  • On the other hand, don’t be too specific about the content, or you can replicate the harmful content. Say, for example, that the material describes a serious injury, or discusses sexual violence, but don’t give details.
  • Keep in mind that images tend to have a greater impact than text descriptions.
Topics to consider writing content notes for:
  • Death
  • Abuse
  • Suicide
  • Colonialism and genocide
  • Sexual violence

If a document contains discussion of topics that are likely to be very upsetting to some readers, you can add references to resources such as crisis lines. You can also offer options, such as a text document instead of a video, or a way to return to the material later or view it in short chunks.

What about trigger warnings? A trigger is a stimulus that prompts a memory. In some cases this can lead to retraumatization. Trigger warnings warn readers of potentially triggering material, but the term is often misused and also casts a negative light on the material. The word “warning” also implies that the material is dangerous, which can cause people to anticipate stress.

Use anti-oppressive publishing practices

Your documents will be less likely to cause harm if you use anti-oppressive practices. This is too big a topic to go into here, but for a start:

  • Use respectful terms that affirm people’s humanity
  • Watch out for stigmatizing language
  • Present authentic voices
    • Make sure a variety of people are represented in the document, or acknowledge that the document doesn’t deal with all experiences
    • Watch out for appropriation
    • Consider having an authenticity or sensitivity reading of the document and incorporating your reader’s feedback

Working with authors who may have trauma

If you consider the stressors mentioned before (new, unpredictable, threatens ego, sense of no control), you can address these risks with the four c’s:
  • Consent: Get the author’s consent for changes; don’t make hidden changes.
  • Control: Ask the author how they want to handle the work; give them input on tracking changes, what software to use, how to communicate with their editor.
  • Collaboration: Give the author input in decisions.
  • Communication: Let the author know ahead of time what your publishing process is. Let them know what opportunities to collaborate they will have and what their choices are. Let them know how you incorporated their input. 

When to apply trauma-informed editing

Some people suggest that 75 percent of people in Canada will experience trauma in their lives, even using the restrictive DSM definition. About 9 percent will develop PTSD. That suggests that a lot of people have psychological injuries. Looking at the measures for trauma-informed publishing, you can see that they provide benefits for everyone: documents that state clearly what is in them, that show awareness about mental health resources where appropriate, and that use respectful language; a publishing process that emphasizes great communication and respectful collaboration with authors. I think it’s worth keeping these guidelines in mind at all times.


June 23, 2022

Recipes into Type: A Handbook for Cookbook Writers and Editors

Book cover: Recipes into Type
Recipes into Type, by Joan Whitman and Dolores Simon (HarperCollins, 1993), is the standard text on cookbook editing. It’s got detailed advice on all of the tricky aspects of writing a recipe: choosing a good title, what to put in the headnote, what to include in the ingredients list, writing a good recipe method, what to cross-reference and what not to, and what to put in a recipe note. It also goes into detail about the recipe-specific copy editing considerations: punctuation, numbers, and capitalization. The chapters on indexing, manuscript preparation, and design are not directed so much at editors, but the indexing chapter in particular is helpful to understand why the index is done the way it is. Chapter 9, Useful Information, contains various container sizes, US–metric conversions, British and US cooking terms, cooking temperatures, recommended amounts for servings, and substitutions, and the word list has the authors’ recommend spelling and capitalization for a variety of food words. Anyone modernizing an old recipe might find items like egg size conversions or oven temperature conversions (fairly hot: 400°F, British gas mark 6) very helpful.


  1. Setting Up a Recipe
  2. The Language of Recipes
  3. Punctuation
  4. Numbers
  5. Capitalization
  6. Indexing
  7. Preparation of the Manuscript
  8. Format and Typography
  9. Useful Information
  10. Word List

As a copy editor, I find that numbers and capitalization are a very tricky area where authors and editors can take a variety of approaches. A cookbook combines narrative text in the book introduction and the recipe introductions with more technical and number-intensive text in the ingredients list and recipe method, and deciding which numbers to spell out where requires some thought. On the other hand, spelling out numbers in one place and using figures in another looks inconsistent. There are also decisions to be made about whether recipe titles are capitalized when cross-referenced elsewhere in the text, and how sub-recipes are capitalized. Recipes into Type describes the various styles and how to apply them. For some guidelines on the endless questions about which cheeses and wines to capitalize, Recipes into Type quotes the “Wines without Caps” instalment of On Language for some general guidelines.

The book is getting old, and shows its age in the chapters on design and preparation of the manuscript, but the information in the other chapters is still relevant, and the conventions for ingredients lists, recipe methods, and capitalization match what I currently see people using. Now, did I edit or proofread more than forty cookbooks before I read this book? Yes, I did. I was able to get by with the publisher’s house style guides, and the work done by the in-house editors always laid a solid base for my copy edit. However, if you are working for a self-publishing author, or for a publisher who does not specialize in cookbook publishing, or if you would like to dig a little more deeply into best practices for recipe writing, I think this book will be extremely useful.

June 4, 2021

Perfectionism and editing: getting unstuck

I recently attended an Editors Canada webinar “Taming the Inner Perfectionist” by Suzy Bills. Perfectionism is common among editors, and it has its good side: motivation to do great work, and its bad side: fear of failure. Bills outlined a wise strategy for setting realistic expectations and at the same time supporting yourself so that you can do the best work possible. In particular, the discussion of how perfectionism can lead to procrastination made me think about what makes me procrastinate on a project.

For me, editing insecurity sometimes strikes at the start and finish of the project, and it can lead to inefficiency. At the start of the project sometimes I find it difficult to prioritize all of the tasks, or I feel as if I have to decide every possible style issue before starting to edit the first page. At the end of the project, I’m tempted to re-check my work or I worry that I’ve forgotten to do something.

Getting started

My two main strategies for getting going on a new project when I’m feeling some uncertainty are building momentum and reducing the pressure. This is how I build momentum:
  • Starting with housekeeping tasks such as adding the client and project to my spreadsheet and time tracking software. These routine tasks are soothing, make me feel I’m making progress, and build confidence by reminding me of my past successes.
  • Starting a project notes document with any special instructions from the client. This is a way to break the project down into tasks and gives me confidence that I won’t forget a crucial requirement.
  • Doing easy tasks in the manuscript: removing extra spaces and paragraph breaks, setting the correct styles and formatting on the body text and headings. Again, these are easy tasks that make progress. Not only does it make sense to do them first, but they also give me a sense of familiarity with the manuscript.
To reduce the pressure, I often do the following:
  • Tell myself that I’ll return to the first chapter to check my work and make sure it is consistent with the editing in the rest of the manuscript.
  • Write down tasks to do later and questions that arise on a to-do list in the project notes file so that I don’t get bogged down making too many decisions or worry about forgetting to do something later. Many decisions are easier to make once I’ve seen more of the manuscript, and if the question is written down, I can move on.
  • If I feel I’m working very slowly on a particular task or section of the manuscript, I turn off my work timer to remove the pressure to work “fast enough.” Once I finish the task, I can judge how much time I think it should have taken and log that.

Delivering the work

At the end of the project, it can be hard to let go. At this point, being systematic about making sure I’ve met all of the job requirements builds my confidence that I’m delivering good work. I use notes and to-do lists to keep things from falling through the cracks.
  • I check my project notes file or the client’s original email for special instructions about delivery (and invoicing).
  • Most importantly, I go through my to-do list in the project notes file to make sure all tasks are completed. At a minimum, my to-do list generally has reminders to check the table of contents, reread all of the comments in the file, and spell check. Ticking off the items gives me confidence that the work is finished.
  • Other checklists: the client may have a house checklist, especially for proofreading. I also have a standard checklist for proofreading that I go through.

February 10, 2021

From Contact to Contract: How Editors Get Clients to Work with Them

From Contact to Contract: How Editors Get Clients to Work with Them, edited by Karin Cather, is the first in Editors Canada’s new series on the business of editing. In this short book, nine highly experienced editors offer their advice and perspectives on how to find clients and build agreements with them. The topics covered include the following:
  • Cold calling
  • Networking
  • Applying for jobs effectively
  • Building a relationship with a prospective client, including ways to build trust
  • When and how to do a sample edit
  • Deciding whether to accept a client or refer them to a colleague
  • Estimating a project


  1. Introduction
  2. Evaluating the client
  3. How to respond to potential clients: Three case studies
  4. How to impress a client from the first email
  5. Considering the client’s needs
  6. Choosing clients based on mutual interests
  7. Sample edits: Are they necessary and should you charge for them?
  8. From another author’s perspective
  9. Closing the sale: A semi-cautionary tale
  10. Not closing the sale
  11. Conclusion
The book isn’t a textbook of how-to instructions for these skills, but instead focuses on strategies for making the best use of your time and showing yourself to your best advantage. I would recommend it for intermediate to advanced editors who are looking for ideas about how to sharpen up their business practices. I found a number of ideas for things I could do better.

Available as a paperback or ebook.

January 12, 2021

The Art and Science of Editing

“The Art and Science of Editing” is one of the courses in the Poynter ACES Certificate in Editing, an excellent and affordable introduction to editing. Here are some notes from when I took the course a few years ago.

Who are you editing for?

Know your readers, boss, self, publication, and writer.

What is editing?

Making things better.
  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the goal?
  • What is the reader hearing? Can the reader hear what the writer is saying? If background information is missing, or the writer is using language that the reader can’t understand easily, the message won’t get through.

Hippocratic oath of editing

  1. Don’t go looking for errors, because when you’re looking for errors, you’re not experiencing the writing in the way a reader does. Most readers are looking for information, not for errors to pounce on. Instead, pay attention to what happens when you read. Alertness and healthy skepticism are good, but suspicion is the wrong attitude.
  2. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  3. A good doctor leaves few visible scars. Try to be invisible.

Changing versus editing

A change is something you want to do. An edit allows the copy to meet the needs of the reader. An edit focuses on the reader, but a change is done for convenience, or to conform with a rule. A habit of making changes is what can give editors a bad reputation sometimes.

Ask yourself:

  1. What is it that bothers me? What’s the fix that does the minimum damage?
  2. Does the rule I’m applying actually fit here? For example, a reporter whose style guide mandated using “to dismiss” instead of “to fire” changed a reference to “Last hired, first fired” policy to “Last hired, first dismissed,” applying a rule inappropriately.

Did you make it better?

  • You don’t have to make changes to justify your existence.
  • Compare the text before and after. This is one of the reasons you should use track changes.
  • Look at it fresh. Make another pass, and consider changing the font, letter size, or format you help you see the text afresh.
  • Look at the effect of the change. Did it introduce an error?
  • Don’t congratulate yourself—you’ll miss the next problem.

Keeping a good relationship with the writer

  • Don’t be aggressive or defensive.
  • Start with a compliment.
  • Don’t let it get personal: talk in terms of the copy and the reader. Avoid saying “you wrote” because another editor may have introduced that wording. Avoid saying “I fixed” because that means it was broken. Say, “The story says this.”
  • Always have a suggestion ready. “Could we make it say X?”
  • Use language that the writer understands. Avoid technical grammatical terms.

Negotiating changes with the writer

  • It’s OK to make some concessions for the sake of preserving your relationship with the author, as long as it doesn’t hurt the reader.
  • Start with the easy stuff, like clear-cut errors like typos and spelling mistakes.
  • Once you’ve built some confidence, move on to less obvious errors. Be prepared to let some of these go. Maybe you’re wrong about them.
  • Save the most difficult issues for last.
  • In a tie, the writer always wins. The writer is the one whose name and reputation are on the line. Never be the editor who makes changes behind the writer’s back.


Try to put yourself in the writer’s place: understand what they’re trying to do, and when you make edits, do them the way the writer would.

Editor’s role

Aim to be respected, not liked or feared. The editor is the writer’s safety net or spotter. The editor stands up for the reader.