About Pam Nelson

Copy editor Pam Nelson started the Triangle Grammar Guide at the News & Observer in 2005 as a way to help readers, as well as journalists, understand the English language.

Now her grammar guide has found a new home on the ACES website.

Today her blog, the Grammar Guide, joins Charles Apple’s as a prominent feature on the ACES website. It is available at http://grammarguide.copydesk.org.

“Pam and Charles are a great one-two punch,” said Andy Bechtel, a former colleague of Nelson’s and an ACES Executive Committee member. “Taken together, they represent so many aspects of what editors do.”

Nelson joined ACES when the organization started in 1997 and attended its first national conference in Chapel Hill, N.C. She has also been a presenter at ACES regional conferences over the years.

She has been in journalism for 35 years and counting. She studied English in college but got into journalism and never looked back. While she started out as a reporter, she eventually began working on a copy desk and loved it so much she’s been doing it ever since.

“I was good at fixing other people’s work, fixing other people’s copy. I was good and fast about making decisions about news values,” Nelson said. “So that’s how I got into desk work. Once you get there, it’s kind of hard to go back to writing.”

Copy editing as a whole came very naturally to Nelson.

“I was really born to be a copy editor, I think,” she said. “It’s what my real profession was meant to be all along.”

Her original blog — Triangle Grammar Guide — started when her then-editor, Will Sutton, suggested she start a blog for the N&O website. The guide was set up to help readers — more than journalists — understand why newspapers do what they do as far as grammar goes.

When a reader wrote a letter to the editor about something he or she thought the newspaper did wrong, Nelson would either show the reader why it was right or would admit to the error.

Earlier this year, Nelson moved from the N&O in Raleigh, N.C., and she is now a “universal editor” at the McClatchy Publishing Center in Charlotte, N.C. There, she edits copy for features sections of The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald of Rock Hill, S.C.

After making the move, she had considered just doing her own thing with blogging. That’s when Bechtel suggested that she move her blog to the ACES website.

Nelson has several goals with the launch of her blog on ACES.

“I want to show regular people outside of journalism that people inside journalism think about these issues,” she said.

She wants readers to know that journalists really do try to pick up on the small details and they don’t just focus on the big things like accuracy and fairness. She says that she has a teacher’s impulse to want to teach people new things and this is a great way for her to do so.

She also wants “to give copy editors another forum for talking about grammar and usage and language issues, not just communicating the ‘lay’ and ‘lie’ stuff, but also the bigger issues of how the language affects the way we think and how the changes that we go through affect our language. It’s not the finger-wagging kind of site. It’s an open forum about language, I hope.”

Nelson admitted that she was a little bit nervous about the  launch of the blog on the ACES website.

“They’re certainly more people out there writing about language issues and I’m just one little person,” she said. “But I hope that that gives people a reason to feel comfortable about bringing up things in the comments or wherever.”

UPDATE: Pam left the McClatchy Publishing Center in April 2012 to go to work as a copy editor for the magazines and newsletters team at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Durham. Find her updated resume here.


2 Responses to “About Pam Nelson”

  1. Stephen Innes

    I think I have just found my idol. My Grandfather was a Headmaster of a small public school in Australia and he taught me to love the English language. I understand that a living language must evolve over time but blatant disregard for norms in everyday speech and writing especially in the language used in TV shows makes my blood boil. Thank you for restoring my faith in correct grammatical usage.

  2. Mando

    Dear Pam Nelson:

    Your site is an invaluable tool, however, I feel it is only accurate and fair to regard multiple answers as correct where you, yourself, have admitted that multiple interpretations are accepted by grammar and style authorities. For example:

    1. In British English it is proper to place the indefinite article ‘an’ in front of the word ‘historic’ and its variations because though we do not think of the initial sound of the word as silent, in the convention of speech in the British world, and sometimes in the US, it is convenient to pronounce it as such.

    2. In the clause, ‘the collection of essays,’ we can be referring to it as a single compendium or as an amalgam about which which we refer to the individual pieces, so that we can use a plural and a singular copula with it accordingly.

    In the case of British standard style and North-American consider that we are long in an age where British professionals and academics and North American ones, as well as those of Oceania and Hong Kong mix in person, on the internet and in the media, the two styles of English and variations therefrom are properly accepted and so should be taught as correct herein, I think.

    What do you think?


    Mando Atteniese


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