Tagged: editor

Grammar Rules

Simply because we are editors, that does not mean we are, or should be, “grammar nazis.”

While I do get a laugh at those grammar arguments that sometimes get surprisingly heated, I find that I usually have a side. We can get into a whole descriptivist vs. prescriptivist argument. This quote, from the late Joseph M. Williams, pretty much sums up my feelings:

“If writers whom we judge to be competent regularly violate some alleged rule and most careful readers never notice, then the rule has no force. In those cases, it is not writers who should change their usage, but grammarians who should change their rules.” -Joseph M. Williams, Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace.

Reference Books

A common topic brought up by editors regards what type of reference books to use. There are threads all over the internet (what can I say–editors can be pretty nerdy) with recommendations for reference books. Here are what I find to be the most popular:


  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate
  • American Heritage College
  • Random House Webster’s College
  • Webster’s New World


  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • Words into Type
  • The New York Public Library Writer’s Guide to Style and Usage
  • Gregg Reference Manual
  • Associated Press Stylebook (used mostly by newspapers and magazines)
  • Modern Language Association (used mostly by writers in the humanities)


  • Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms
  • Random House Webster’s College Thesaurus
  • Rodale’s Synonym Finder
  • Roget’s International Thesaurus


  • Dictionary of Modern English Usage
  • The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage
  • Modern American Usage: A Guide
  • Fowler’s Modern English Usage (3d ed.)
  • Garner’s Modern American Usage (3d ed.)


  • Language Dictionaries
  • The Bible (you might have to pay attention to the various translations)
  • Barlett’s Familiar Quotations
  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn

Quotes on Editing

Quotes from Leslie T. Sharpe and Irene Gunther in Editing Fact and Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 1994)

“Editors can do harm primarily in two ways: when they alter an author’s individual style–her voice–or when they change the content or meaning of her prose. Doing no harm when editing a manuscript means doing the minimum necessary to clarify an author’s language or intent.”

“New editors, anxious to prove to their superiors that they have mastered the minutiae of grammar and usage, tend to overedit. But so, at times, do experienced editors, perhaps in an effort to validate the importance of their own function, or simply out of a failure to grasp what a writer is trying to accomplish.”

“Gratuitous editing and unnecessary rewriting are the most common complaints writers make about editors. And justifiably so. The editor’s job is to allow the author’s voice to emerge without coloring it, or replacing it with her own. An editor who wants to write should be a writer.”

“Editors are seen as the arbiters of taste, style, and usage, but good editors cannot be arbitrary. They must be flexible. Essentially what this means is that they listen: They never fail to take into account an author’s feelings.”