Plain Language & Clear Communications Resources

Attending the June 2015 Editing Goes Global conference in Toronto re-energized my interest in and focus on plain language & clear communications. As well, it confirmed for me that using the underlying principles—whether we call the outcome plain language, clear communication, or reader-focused writing and editing—has been a substantial part of my work over the last 25+ years.  (How else could I make a potentially dusty subject both clear and interesting for high school students?) What’s more: I love this work.

For fellow writers and editors, here are some of the resources I find useful. I will add to this list and tweak it regularly. And if you have any suggestions, please contact me with them. Thanks!


© Laura Edlund 2010

Laura’s Go-To Sources for Fact-Checking a Range of Subjects

Facts matter. Fact-checking is one very important quality control. (For what it is and why, see here my blog.) Here are some sources, both online and hard copy. Note that this list is regularly updated and expanded. It will shift and grow as time and projects permit (hence many “to come” notices). The goal: it will serve fact-checking for a range of subjects, audiences, and uses. (For example, fact-checking a bird’s wing span and hatching schedule for an expert’s tome is different from simply checking the species name for spelling.) These are merely suggestions; please evaluate for your own needs their usefulness and authority. If you have suggestions or comments, please contact me. Also note that full URLs are given here for online sources rather than shortened links; this makes for easier checking by you and faster updating by me, plus there won’t be any confusion about ownership.

Thanks to my colleagues in the Editors’ Association of Canada for some suggestions.

Animals, Birds, Fish, Dinosaurs, and More

US Facts—about cities, states, capitals, etc. TO COME

Canada Facts—about cities, states, capitals, etc. MORE TO COME

Metric (SI) TO COME

Books Published

Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations
Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations

General facts and figures, by subjects:
Oxford Dictionary of Economics
Oxford Dictionary of the Bible

Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia 
The Oxford Companion to English Literature

Oxford Dynasties of the World  — great to check names, dates, and spellings of historical figures

First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples in Canada [with many more to come]

© Laura Edlund 2010

Fact-Checking: Quality Control for Writers and Editors—The What, Why, and Where

Writers and often editors need to…

…to make sure the author doesn’t publish errors, so look sloppy and lacking authority. Fact-checking (a.k.a. fact verification) can also save the author and publisher from a law suit. Fact-checking, sometimes, can also bring to light plagiarism. (For more, see Gathering Sources: 7 Tips for Citing Research Sources, Avoiding Plagiarism, and Easing Publication)

What and Why

While a writer is responsible for what he or she writes (including its factual correctness and that it is not plagiarized), editors are often called upon to be an extra quality control. (See, for example, fact-checking/reference checking in the EAC definitions of editorial skills.) Usually, an editor’s fact-checking involves checking a certain range of fact types (e.g., proper nouns, dates, and explicit statements of facts) against reputable sources and then questioning the author when there’s a discrepancy (and alerting the publisher). Notes about a fact check can be included in Editorial Notes.

And fact checks might result in immediate changes or in discussions with others involved in the publication, possibly lawyers.


Fact-checking can take a lot of time. For that reason, I often note reputable sources for certain subjects and use them again and again for both efficiency and great results. Sometimes I depend on online sources (which are better for noting within manuscripts or in emails to author and publisher both; after all, they can check them just as easily as I can) but other times I use a big stack of gathered reference books and cite them by title, author, publisher, date, and page number.

For an ever-expanding of fact-checking sources, see my Laura’s Go-To Sources for Fact-Checking on a Range of Subjects (link to come). I will continue to update it for my and your interest!

© Laura Edlund 2010

Grammar Resources: What and Why

The word “grammar” excites some and bores or repels others. Why is the question considered later in this blog. Another question is What? What resources can help a writer or editor dust off or build up grammar skills? Here are some suggestions, including both recent and older resources:

Why grammar?

Many writers (and editors) who read widely develop an ear for good, clear writing, which allows them to make instinctive, effective choices in grammar most of the time. The result is that they can joyfully use (and strategically abuse) the rules of grammar as they need and want for clarity and impact. If you are one of these writers or editors, you might only want to use some of the books above to troubleshoot or to dust off your skills.

If you feel that you need to do some more work on grammar, need to defend your decisions, or have been told regularly that your writing is unclear or unpolished, then you need to dig deeper. Perhaps you need to brush up on your skills in English grammar to “naturalize” your English writing and to avoid importing constructions from other languages.

Another possibility is that you are rushing or imagine that a quickie grammar check with Microsoft Word will do the trick. (It won’t.) Here again you might want to brush up on your grammar skills. And it never hurts to read as much strong, clear writing as you can to develop that ear.

Maybe you know that your writing will go next to a copy-editor. Great; however, the more you attend to in your own writing, the easier it is for a copy-editor to edit your work well.

Maybe you resist grammar or dismiss it. If that’s the case, consider your goals and your readers. Can your readers understand your writing? Are you achieving your goals? Is your writing seeming to go unnoticed? Are you regularly asked for rewrites or clarifications? If your readers consider your writing to be unclear, unpolished, unprofessional, or embarrassing, then you have a big problem. Likely grammar is one source of that problem. If this is the case, think of grammar as just one support for the reader and one tool for you, the writer.

If you need to brush up on your grammar,  read as much as you can, read as widely as you can, and then have a look at some of the resources listed above.

© Laura Edlund 2010

Recommended Reading

Happy new year! Here are some recent good reads:

This last item is a look from one writer’s perspective on the many ways in which bookstores (and publishing) in the US can be seen. It’s an interesting, compassionate, insightful read.

All the best for 2012!

© Laura Edlund 2010