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.