Reading and Editing—Paper vs. Screen

I step into the library and find myself transported back in time. I’m five years old again, going to work with my grandmother, the librarian. A moment of perfect bliss—we had the whole library to ourselves, to slip among its aisles and know that any of those books would talk to me, tell me their stories, open themselves to me wholly, and that I would be all the richer for it. The rows and rows of books in all the colors of the rainbow became my playground. Even today I still love to see them stretching before me, to smell that familiar, comforting scent of old volumes, to run my fingers along textured spines. I revel in all their physicality.

And yet I almost never hold physical books anymore; I read their stories and information from a screen. Even when editing, I prefer to use a screen; in fact, I charge higher rates when asked to edit on paper.

Sometimes I miss the smell and feel of physical books, but I like the convenience of the screen. On screen, if I want to make a note, I can do it without marring the text itself and without hunting to find a separate piece of paper and a pencil. I can carry thousands of books with me wherever I go. When my eyes become strained after reading too long, I can zoom in on the text or change the brightness of the page. I can read in the dark with the brightness turned down low, allowing me to ready myself for sleep. I can’t do any of that with a physical book.

When editing on screen, I don’t have to grip a pen when my hands are painful; I can make tentative notes without marring the pages. And I find search and replace functions invaluable in checking for consistency or for the sometimes hard-to-see double spaces. Word macros and shortcuts allow for greater efficiency, cutting down on the time it takes to edit a manuscript. That saved time lowers the cost to me and to my clients.

Ebooks are also far more accessible than print books. Screen readers allow people who cannot read to enjoy books and information that used to be inaccessible to them. Those who need larger text can change the font size without trying to find a special edition. People with migraines can change the background color to make reading less painful. And those with arthritis in their hands don’t have to struggle to hold a book open; they can prop a tablet on a stand and be done with it.

These conveniences and, in some cases, necessities have changed me into an ebook reader. While I enjoy and the emotional comforts of holding a book like an old friend, I find the convenience and effectiveness of reading on screen well worth the loss of nostalgia.

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To They or Not to They

To they, or not to they: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The starts and changes of outrageous grammar,
Or to take up arms against a singular they,
And by correcting end it? To write: to fix;
No more; and by a pen to say we edit
The heart-ache and the thousand grammar shocks
That they is heir to; ’tis a pluralization
Devoutly to be fixed. To write, to fix;
To fix: perchance to mar: ay, there’s the rub;
For with that pen of red what mess may come
When we have shuffled off that plural coil,
Must give us pause; there’s the respect
That makes editorial change a choice;
For who would bear the author’s scorns in time;
The wordier song, the s/he monstrosity,
The pangs of confused frame, the point’s delay,
The insolence of re-writing and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When they themselves might their changes make
With a pared pencil? But who would errors bear,
To edit and sweat under a too-bright light,
But that the dread of unidiomatic usage,
Or gender-biased wording from whose bourn
No sexist returns; puzzles the will
And makes us rather leave those wrongs we know
And fly to others that would cause less harm?
Thus conscience does bring errors for us all;
And thus the native words of English language
Are painted o’er with the bright cast of thought,
And linguistic changes of great pith and moment
With this regard their errors turn to right,
And become proper usage.

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Copyediting Halloween

The nights are getting longer and leaves are abandoning the trees. There’s a chill to the air and a soft scent of decay. October is coming to an end, and Halloween is nearly here.

But is it Halloween or Hallowe’en? All Hallow Even, All Hallows’ Eve, or Allhallows Eve? How do you copyedit all the words particular to this time of year?


The preferred spelling of the holiday is Halloween. Most US dictionaries consider Hallowe’en a variant. The dictionaries vary a little more when it comes to the origin of the name. All Hallow Even seems to be the most common, followed by Allhallowmas even; for current use, however, both are considered archaic. Instead, use Halloween or, if you want the Catholic holiday, All Saints’ Eve.


With hyphens and an apostrophe. Also, don’t capitalize “jack” except at the beginning of a sentence or in a title. A pumpkin doesn’t become a jack-o’-lantern until you’ve carved a face into it. Technically, pumpkins carved with cats, cauldrons, or other shapes are not jack-o’-lanterns; however, common usage calls them such.

Trick or treat

When used as a noun or as dialogue, “trick or treat” has no hyphens. However, you trick-or-treat or go trick-or-treating and become a trick-or-treater.


When writing about the supernatural entity or trying to insult somebody, don’t capitalize “witch.” If you want to avoid biased language, you might specify a “fairy-tale witch” or “wicked witch.” When you’re talking about actual people who practice witchcraft, it gets a little more complicated.

If the person follows a religion that has Witchcraft in the name, the person is a Witch. From the Chicago Manual of Style, the name of the religion, its adherents, and adjectives derived from its name should be capitalized. So a member of Traditional Initiatory Witchcraft is a Witch. A person who follows Wicca, a form of religious witchcraft named after the Old English term for witch, might be a Wiccan, a Witch, or of the Wicca.

If the person practices nonreligious witchcraft or spiritual witchcraft without a named religion, the word should not be capitalized.

As a further note on bias-free language, be careful when using “witch” to describe somebody from another culture, particularly if you’re translating from another language. To them, “witch” might be pejorative. Depending on the circumstances, magic worker, healer, wise woman, their untranslated word, or some other term might be more appropriate.

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Affect and effect

When to use ‘affect’ and ‘effect’

“Affect” and “effect” sound alike and have somewhat similar meanings, so how do you know which one to use?

A is for action.

For the most part, “affect” is the verb, the action that makes changes happen. You can affect the world around you. And ants crawling over your picnic blanket can affect your appetite.

E is for existence.

“Effect” is usually the noun, the result that exists after you have acted. You can see the effects in the world around you. Exploding cars and enraged elephants might be considered special effects.

Then it gets trickier.

You can effect a change in the world, bringing it into existence. And your affect is your visible emotional response, your reaction to stimuli. In such cases, “effect” become the verb and “affect” the noun. But these are uncommon exceptions to the general rule.

Typically speaking, just as you have to go through a to get to e in the alphabet, you have to affect something before you can see the effects.

If you still can’t remember it, try a song.

To the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”:

Affect, affect, little A,
Making changes night and day.
You affect the world around,
But switch to e and you’re a noun.
Effect, effect, little e,
Effects are results we see.

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