Eva van Emden (she/her), freelance editor

Certified copy editor and proofreader


July 1, 2023

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

Book cover

I picked up Dreyer’s English because I was intrigued by the words “Copy chief of Random House” on the cover and was further intrigued when I cracked it open and found a mention of Words into Type, a venerable editing reference. I found that the book is a pleasure to read, does an amazingly complete job of covering standard copy editing knowledge, and as a bonus, conveys a lot of insight into the copy editor’s role and job in editing fiction and creative nonfiction.

Every book on how to write has to take a certain philosophical stance on how prescriptivist to be. Dreyer takes a fairly pragmatic approach. As the copy chief of Random House, he talks to authors and he hears from readers. He respects authors’ ownership of their works, but knows that authors don’t want to get floods of letters from readers about grammar and usage matters that the author hadn’t even noticed. He doesn’t try to sweep back the tide of general usage, but he also trusts his taste and judgment.

In thirteen chapters, the book covers the gamut of copy editing knowledge, including “The Stuff in the Front”:
  • Tricky grammar points
  • Treatment of numbers
  • Cleaning out needless words
  • Which non-rules to ignore
  • Punctuation
“The Stuff in the Back” includes useful notes on commonly misspelled words* and common usage errors, as well as some miscellaneous points, including a discussion of “the habit of inauthentically attributing wisecracks, purported profundities, inspirational doggerel, and other bits of refrigerator-door wisdom to famous people.” From your lips to God’s ears, Mr. Dreyer. A useful part of the book is a set of things to watch out for in fiction, such as checking sunrise and sunset times, or anachronisms with postal codes and phone numbers to watch out for.

Reviewed from a library copy.

*I consider myself to be a good speller, but some of these (“elegiac”) gave me qualms. I couldn’t resist doing a computer-wide search for the misspelling elegaic, but to my relief, it didn’t turn up in any old editing projects, only in a published magazine not edited by me.

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. It has its good side: motivation to do great work, and its bad side: fear of failure. Bills’s webinar outlined a wise strategy for setting realistic expectations and at the same time supporting yourself so that you can do the best work possible.

As I listened, the discussion of how perfectionism can lead to procrastination made me think about what makes me feel “stuck” on a project. I find that 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:
  • Start 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.
  • Start 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.
  • Do easy tasks in the manuscript, such as removing extra spaces and paragraph breaks, setting the correct styles, and formatting 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 to answer later on a to-do list in the project notes file. This keeps me from getting bogged down with too many decisions, and writing a note frees me to forget about it for now. I find that many decisions are easier to make once I’ve seen more of the manuscript, so putting off some style decisions seems to be more efficient in the long run.
  • 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 to make sure I’ve done everything they asked for and to check 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 track changes comments, and do a final 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.

Different editors will have their own strategies, but for me, these habits help get me moving on intimidating projects, manage decision fatigue while I’m working, and reduce delivery anxiety at the end. You can’t be perfect, but supporting yourself so you can do your best work will improve the quality of your work and your satisfaction in doing it.

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.