Keep your resources close

Someone who is part of a LinkedIn group for “grammar geeks” posted this question (slightly edited): What do people think about copy editors and proofreaders using resources while working? The poster was referring to style guides, dictionaries, the Internet, etc. Among the responses, the original poster wrote: “It could be problematic if you have to refer to resources too much. If you are really good you would not have to do that.”

I disagree. Some of the best copy editors I know consult resources often. I wouldn’t dream of answering a question about style, grammar or usage without consulting the best sources for that information, even if I am fairly certain of the answer. I also think any editor, freelance or in-house, worth his or her salt would rely heavily on printed as well as Internet resources.

I consult style guides regularly because, among other reasons, I seem to have mental blocks about some entries and because new entries appear and others are edited. For several years now, I have been forced to refer to the numerals entry in the Associated Press Stylebook to remind myself that the style on constructions such as “1 in 4 voters” is to use numerals, even though the basic guideline is to write out numbers one through nine. Style guides change, so you have to keep up.

My desk at work includes two dictionaries (one U.S. English and one U.K. English), the AP stylebook, the Economist Style Guide, Garner’s Modern American Usage and the Gregg Reference Manual, plus recent back issues of the magazines I work on. I have on my computer desktop copies of our in-house style guides. And I have a binder with printouts of style reminders and notes to myself. I also post notes on a whiteboard at my desk to help me remember style points and typography guidelines.

I have many more style guides, usage books and dictionaries at home. I have three dictionary apps on my smartphone, and we have access to the electronic version of the AP stylebook through my workplace.

I consult these resources often. I think this makes me a better copy editor and certainly makes me a more conscientious copy editor. And, to be perfectly frank, I don’t trust editors and writers who don’t use their resources while working.

My advice to novice editors is to keep your resources close at hand when editing and be proud of yourself for knowing where to look things up. You’re never too experienced or too expert to let go of the lifebuoy when you’re in the middle of the ocean.