Publishing: getting the word right


Tips on how to edit your writing to make it the best you possibly can before your editor starts their work.

An insight into how your editor works with you to turn your writing into the story that your readers will enjoy.

Source: Publishing: getting the word right


Another quick tutorial on apostrophes…

So beautifully explained by Australian author, Amanda Curtin, this tutorial will help you on your quest for clear, sharp writing.

looking up/looking down

iStock_000018482964XSmallThis especially quick tutorial is to clarify a single apostrophe usage that often confuses writers.

In manuscripts—and even in print—I frequently see the following:

Let’s go to the Molloy’s house.

Grammatically, this means:

Let’s go to the house of the Molloy.

Now, perhaps there is a big burly guy out there who is referred to as ‘the Molloy’, as in ‘Give that burrito to the Molloy before he chews someone’s arm.’ In that case, the above would be correct. But what the writer usually means is:

Let’s go to the Molloys’ house.


Let’s go to the house of the Molloys. [a couple, or a family, or the three banjo-playing Molloy sisters]

If, on the other hand, the writer is referring to a particular Molloy:

Let’s go to the house of Molloy. [e.g. Joe Molloy]

then it would be:

Let’s go to Molloy’s house. [singular Molloy; no definite article]


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Wandering through the Thesaurus recently (as one does), I came across persnickety. What a fun word, rolling off my tongue so delightfully.

My mind presented me with the image of a little animal scuttling around, sniffing out that pesky misused apostrophe, tossing out unnecessary commas, tweaking passive sentences …

When my daughter objected to the ‘snobby’ connotations of persnickety, I sort of agreed with her.

But I remembered my enjoyment at listening to The Muddled-headed Wombat* on ABC radio many, many years ago. His very ‘sens-e-bubble’ friend Mouse often had to disentangle him and Tabby Cat from all sorts of interesting adventures. But— she also knew how to enjoy herself on their hair-brained antics.

And I also seem to recall a Missy Mouse that I gave my daughter when she was a toddler: Missy Mouse now resides on her daughter’s toy-shelf.

When I shared my word on Facebook, Tony Harris (author of Wombat Stories) rattled off a list of synonyms— pedantic, fussalacious, fastidious, finicky, pernicious and picnic-y—then wrote this verse for me.

A mouse in the house is fastidious and tidy

A mouse on the run has to be play hidey

From the cats and the possums

they must run away

no time for persnickety

when you’re lunch of the day…

So I’ll continue on my persnickety way, primping, polishing and perfecting your words,
but keeping a close watch for those cats and possums.

I’m sure you’ve come up with your own perception of persnickity.

I’d love you to share, or to tell me your favourite or fun word.

*The Muddled-headed Wombat, Ruth Park, 1962, Educational Press Ltd.

Desolie Page, editor
Being persnickety?

Are those pesky little words confusing your readers?

Jumping to conclusions

Recently  I heard an ad on the radio. It started with ‘We only sell the best brands of vehicles’. Being the sceptical, persnickety editor that I am, I expected the ad to continue on to talk about their after-sales servicing and who knows what else.                    But, no, it seems that they sell. That’s it. It would seem that they didn’t mean ‘We sell only the best brands…’ as I had anticipated. I had to silently apologise to the copywriter – and cheer that the subtle difference that the placement of words like ‘only’ was recognised. Think about the differences in meaning in these sentences.

  • Only I ate the cakes. [Everyone else ate biscuits.]
  • I only ate the cakes. [I didn’t bake them.]
  • I ate only the cakes. [I could have eaten biscuits as well.]

Does it matter?

How clearly do you want your message to be broadcast? Do you want your readers to easily understand what you’re telling them?

I think it does: I always aim for clear, engaging and sharp writing, whether I’m writing or editing.

What do you think? Have you had to think twice about a message because of the placement of one of those pesky little words?

Perfect Pages sharpening your writing
Perfect Pages
sharpening your writing

Editors turn the ordinary into the extraordinary

Whenever we write, we become attached to our writing, and it can then be difficult to review our work objectively.

Possibly we’ve forgotten to answer three basic questions we need to ask before we write:

  • Why am I writing this? What do I want this to achieve?
  • Who will read this? How familiar will they be with the subject and the terminology?
  • What is my call to action? What do I want my readers to understand or do?

That’s where an editor can help.

Editors haven’t as much invested in the document as does the writer: editors want to help you achieve your writing objectives.

  1. Editors maintain a distance and can see both the overall picture and the details. This allows me to check that you have answered those three basic questions.
  2. Editors review the logical progression of your argument, the flow of the story you’re telling.
  3. Editors check that your language style, use of specialised terms and illustrations are appropriate to your audience.
  4. Editors assess the effectiveness of the presentation of your document and its readability.
  5. Editors deal with the ‘nitty-gritty’ – spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency of headings, fonts, colours, terminology, etc.

So often it’s our familiarity with our writing that hinders us from delivering our message as clearly and succinctly as we can. Perhaps we’ve struggled to find a word that exactly fits, or a better way to express a concept.

An experienced editor makes suggestions that will have you saying, ‘Yes, that’s what I meant to say.’

But remember, a good editor

  •  always respects your voice – you still want your writing to sound as though you’ve written it.
  • only makes suggestions – if you don’t like the suggested change, you don’t have to accept it.
  • works with you to create an extraordinary document.

Your editor is your collaborator.

While a trusted colleague will often contribute valuable advice, it’s the editor’s experience and expertise in how ‘writing’ works, rather than the subject area, that gives that extra sharpness to your writing.

More tips to sharpen your writing are always available on my website.

Do you have any experiences (good or bad) with an editor that you’d like to share?

Brisbane editor and proofreader
Editors collaborate