Plain Language & Clear Communications Resources—Updated 2021

In 2015, I wrote about re-energizing my interest in and focus on plain language & clear communications. This is still true: 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

Do editors fact-check writing? Fact-checking, accuracy, agreements, standards, and artificial intelligence (AI) including ChatGPT

Recently, a colleague on a committee asked me about fact-checking. Do editors actually fact-check the work of writers and subject experts? Shouldn’t the writer or subject editor do this instead of the editor?

Accurate? Fact-checked? Always important but even more so with AI

Is it accurate? Was it fact-checked? These have always been key questions for writers, authors, subject experts, editors, and anyone publishing content. These are particularly important with growing concerns about artificial intelligence (AI) and worries about AI making stuff up or failing to research with rigour. (See “Is it real or is it ChatGPT? (and does it matter?)” and “Using ChatGPT for Book Research? Take Exceeding Care.”)

But back to the question

Do editors fact-check writing? Editors can. I often do in my role as editor, but I do so based on discussions with my clients. When my role is writer, I always fact-check my own writing.

Professional editors are well-placed to fact-check or raise concerns about facts and inconsistencies in text. They can be the extra set of eyes on a document after the writer has read it 100 times and before it is published. Professional editors have long been well-placed to raise concerns about factual correctness, plagiarism, and copyright. And now they are well-placed to fact-check and raise concerns about accuracy or misinformation in the face of artificial intelligence (AI).

In practice

How this works in practice depends on the context and contract.

Industry standards

These varied approaches are backed up by industry standards and can be set out in a clear contract for each editorial project.

Editors Canada’s “Professional Editorial Standards” (2016) includes this standard:

E14 Query, or correct if authorized to do so, inconsistencies (e.g., in spelling, punctuation, facts, visual elements, navigation elements, metadata, other content that may not appear on a published web page). Use judgment about the degree to which such queries and corrections are called for.”

As well, Editors Canada’s “Definitions of Editorial Skills”  includes the following:

“Copy Editing

Editing to ensure correctness, accuracy, consistency, and completeness. It includes:

And the same Editors Canada’s “Definitions of Editorial Skills” includes the following additional services that might or might not be included in the contracted editor’s scope of work:

“Fact Checking

Checking the accuracy of facts, citations, and quotes by referring to the writer’s original sources or to other authoritative sources….”

“Rewriting

Creating new material based on content supplied by a writer. It may include:

Conclusion

So, do editors fact-check text? It depends. Many do. For clients or employers who hire editors, editors can be an extra defence against errors in published text. In practice, it helps to settle the details of who will fact-check what and create a sign-off stage at which point the writer or content publisher signs off on the text. With AI (ChatGPT and others) adding to the challenges facing writers and content publishers, pro editors can bring this distinct, value-added skill of fact-checking.

© Laura Edlund 2010

Canadian Spelling: It’s Complicated!

May 2023

An editor colleague recently asked in an online editors’ group about how to direct a client to information about Canadian spelling. Like a good number of Canadian editors, I shake my head with frustration: It’s complicated.

Canadian English is sometimes presented as half British, half American, but inconveniently neither. However, the real issue is that Canadian English is a thing of its own, drawing on different traditions, and with its own unique words but without a core reference that is regularly updated.

Here are some sources and commentaries.

While the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and CP’s Caps and Spelling might not be available to clients, clients might appreciate an easy-to-access article about Canadian spelling by a Canadian editor (Virginia St-Denis) in the Language Portal of Canada and this page.

Some editors might turn to an online source such “Dave VE7CNV’s Truly Canadian Dictionary of Canadian Spelling,” but I question if it is current. I prefer to stick to CanOx2 and Caps and Spelling as authoritative sources and then keep a careful style sheet.

And for those wondering why there is no updated dictionary of Canadian English, well, it’s a big question and one that is being worked on. This CBC article from 2022 gets into some of the details.

© Laura Edlund 2010

On Canadian English and Dictionaries: Q&A

Here’s a list of Canadian dictionaries I have on my bookshelf. Question: What stands out? 

Answers: How old they are. How some are adapted.

In an opinion piece in Quill and Quire, Emma Skagen (a fellow Canadian editor) complains about the lack of an updated, homegrown dictionary of Canadian English. I agree with her concern. Writers and editors have complex relationships with dictionaries.

The fact that Oxford University Press published the Canadian Oxford Dictionary under the outstanding editor-in-chief Katherine Barber was a feat, but today CanOx or COD (as Canadian editors call it) needs to be updated, or some other new, homegrown dictionary of Canadian English needs to be developed.

Back before 1998, I heard things like “Use Gage but change to ‘-our’ and see our style guide for other preferences, and note all variations on the style sheet.” Or “use Gage but use ‘–or’ because this is for the Alberta and B.C. market.” Or “Use Nelson and keep a style sheet, of course.” Or “Use the most-recent Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and check CP Style for anything you can’t find, and keep a style sheet, of course.” And can you imagine teaching spelling in Canadian schools? And what about distinctly Canadian and regional words and their meanings? Keep a style sheet, of course.

The years 1997 and 1998 changed all that. Three different dictionaries of Canadian English were released and CanOx had particular heft (“five years of work by five Canadian lexicographers examining almost twenty million words of Canadian text held in databases representing over 8,000 different Canadian publications” not to mention the regional analysis and the database of citations shared by lexicographers for the Oxford English Dictionary around the world). Canadian editors could look to one source describing Canadian English (and keep a style sheet, of course) as we edited, queried authors, and wrote. We could even compare new dictionaries—word nerd heaven!

The second and last edition of CanOx was published in 2004. So, for a descriptive (not prescriptive) dictionary, that is old. Yes, Oxford University Press (OUP) makes ongoing additions with Canadian English to Oxford Languages. And, yes, a Canadian editor could use a combination of CanOx from 2004 and the Canadian Press Caps and Spelling or specific subject, industry, or government guides. Could Editors Canada collaborate with Canadian publishers to create an up-to-date, homegrown dictionary of Canadian English? Alas, Editors Canada had long negotiations about that, as Emma Skagen recounts in Quill and Quire, but no contract was signed. 

So while editors who edit Canadian English grumble about their patchwork solutions, it isn’t as bad as it once was and yet we still need to find a solution. We can dream.

© Laura Edlund 2010

Advice for Editors: Starting Out or Upping Your Game

Editors have a long tradition of mentoring and sharing advice among colleagues, including those starting out (a.k.a. “newbies”). I suggest the following for editors who are starting out or those wanting to improve their skills or business. (For other advice by subject, such as for editing visuals, please see my other blogs.)

Once you gather all your resources, get ready for ongoing professional development. I mean lifelong learning. Formal training (whether in a certificate or degree program, such as at Simon Fraser University or Centennial College) and formal workshops and seminars along the way (for example, from Editors Canada, ACES, or CIEP) are grand, but learning on the job from experienced colleagues and mentors, from precedents, and using industrial standards and best practices will help an editor become professional, knowledgeable, confident, and flexible. Everyone benefits from such editors—readers, authors, clients, employers, coworkers, colleagues, and the editors themselves. And these editors thrive.

© Laura Edlund 2010