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Quick question? Click on the green chat box at lower right. Or check out my growing list of FAQs.

Clarity, consistency, elegance

A good copy editor takes on the  role of reader, making sure the author’s point is understood. I clean documents of distracting typos, I match usage to preferred style, and I make sure clarity is achieved so honest ideas come through.


Photo by Ann Allen

What's new

  • I talked about one of my favorite topics — dictionaries — with members of the Association of Earth Science Editors as they gathered here in Columbus. The best part of being an editor is the lifelong learning it provides, and I learned a few things about rocks and climate change at my first in-person conference in two years. Interested in learning all about the current state of dictionaries in the U.S.? Let me know.

  • I also shared my bookshelf at the Editors Canada national conference, via Zoom, and in person at the national conference of ACES: The Society for Editing. My talk was "The Editor's Library: Essential tools for bookshelf and browser." I also created a web page for a handout with links to some of my favorite resources.

  • Along with dictionaries talk and "The Editor's Library," I'm offering two other presentations to your editorial department: "What's New in Style" is an overview of updates to the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style and the Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, and "Edit Sober" a talk about the best advice I've heard in 35 years of editing. Let's chat.

A capital B on lined paper

Words on words

In a blog entry, Editor Mark looks at Black and White and moves to capitalize those as racial terms.

Screen Shot of @EditorMark's page on Twitter with a discussion about the origin of "popsicle."

888 tips

@EditorMark tweets regular short tips on editing and usage. Many past tweets are assembled together in searchable form.

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That Word Chat

Editor Mark hosts chats about all things lexical, with interesting guests live on Zoom. Here are the details about the next episode and past episodes on YouTube.

About Mark Allen Editorial

Mark Allen has been helping others improve their writing since he was a teenage editor on his high school newspaper. He edited professionally for 20 years on newspaper copy desks and for 13 years as a freelancer. He has edited several successful university accreditation self-studies, curriculum materials on early-childhood and school-age education, scholarly papers, policy papers, daily news stories and analyses, marketing documents, blog entries, business-to-business and business-to-consumer emails, nonfiction books, and more. He has written extensively for Nationwide Financial, and he wrote a history of the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy.

Past and present clients

One of the great joys of freelance editing is the variety of clients it brings me in contact with, affording opportunities to learn with every one. Here are some of the organizations I've head the pleasure of editing for or presenting to over the years:

  • Allstate

  • American Journalism Project

  • Apple Tree Institute


  • Cheapism

  • Cities of Service

  • Columbus State Community College

  • The Conference Board

  • Equity Methods LLC

  • FiveThirtyEight

  • Gear Stream

  • Harvard Education Publishing Group

  • Hudson Institute

  • International Center for Transitional Justice

  • International Fact-Checking Network

  • Kennedy Krieger Institute

  • The Knight Foundation

  • Learning Mate

  • Lingofy

  • Microsoft

  • MIT Horizon

  • National Endowment for the Humanities

  • National University

  • Nationwide Financial

  • Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

  • The Ohio State University

  • Plan International

  • Red Flag Group

  • Roto

  • The Skoll Foundation

  • Trilogy Education

  • UMass Transportation Center

  • United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

  • University of Maryland School of Nursing

  • Virtual Lab School

  • Women Enabled International

  • Did I lay down or lie down?
    You "lay" something. But, annoyingly, "lay" also is the past tense of "lie." Lay an object down. Lie down. He lay down. If you just took a nap, you say "I lay down for a bit" or "I decided to lie down." If you say "I laid down for a bit," few would bat an eye, but we usually reserve "laid" for when there is an object involved: "She laid the scissors on the mantel."
  • Do I affect the effect or the other way around?
    The noun is usually "effect," and "affect" is usually the verb. As verbs, to "affect" is to influence and to "effect" is to bring about. Effect something and take the credit. Usually we talk about "effecting change," meaning you are creating the change. Affecting something means you don't create it, you just influence it.
  • Is it still rock 'n' roll? Rock and roll?
    It's a style point. The Associated Press Stylebook goes with "rock 'n' roll," except when it refers to the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame." Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate, which is the official dictionary of the Chicago Manual of Style, goes with "rock and roll" while acknowledging "rock 'n' roll" as a variant. But Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary takes the opposite tack: "rock and roll" is given as the alternative spelling. In edited English in the 1950s, both versions seem equally as common.
  • Which side of the boat is which?
    Conveniently for landlubbers, "port" is four letters long and ends in a "t," and so does "left." So just remember port is on the left if you're facing the bow*, and so starboard is the right. * When you bow, you lean forward, and the bow is the forward part of the boat. The stearn is the back.
  • Is it ever OK to use "they" to refer to an individual?"
    We do it all the time in speech. In writing, it would sure be useful, wouldn't it? You will find that sticklers stickle, but "they" as a singular, genderless pronoun is gaining acceptance. I've written about it in a few places, like here and here. I also spoke with Dennis Baron, author of "What's Your Pronoun," in this espisode of That Word Chat.
  • What's up with "alright" not being a word?"
    Well, it is a word in that it's used quite a bit and we all know what it means. But dictionaries don't accept it, and neither do most copy editors. There is no good reason, really, as "alright" serves a purpose that "all right" doesn't quite manage. I wish we'd get over that one already. But I'll continue to edit it to be two words until society catches up with common sense. Here is a blog post that I hope you find all right.
  • Beside or besides? Toward or towards?
    "Beside" means physically next to. "Besides" means "other than." They used to be interchangeable, but they've grown distinct. Most -ward words are interchangeable, but Americans tend to leave off the "s" while British English writers tend to leave it on.
  • If I'm talking about a cat, is it "awe cute"? "aww, cute"?"
    Awe traditionally is fear, respect, wonder. Awesome things are usually not fear-inducing these days, but as awesome as your cat may be, you are looking for "aw, cute." Some dictionaries accept "aww, cute" for particularly cute cats.
  • Should it be 12 items or fewer or 12 items or less?
    It depends. We've used "less" for a quantity, whether countable or not, for a thousand years, and we're still doing it. Use "fewer" if you are emphasizing the individual items, but don't fret if you are just referring to an amount. The phrase "140 characters or less" gets 17 times as many Google hits as "140 characters or fewer."
  • Why do people say "St. Patty's Day" when it's "St. Paddy's Day"?"
    As anyone who has ever heard of Ireland will tell you, it's St. Paddy’s Day, from a shortening of the Gaelic “Pádraig.” Keep them happy and avoid "St. Patty’s Day.” But there is no need to upbraid anyone for "Patty" unless you also correct "saint" and "day" and are willing to do so in Irish. 

Lá Shona Fhéile Pádraig.
  • Daylight saving or daylight savings?
    It was "daylight saving" in the bill (it failed) that first introduced it to the British Parliament in 1908, and that has been the standard formation. The plural form is just as common, though, and many dictionaries recognize the variant. There is no need to capitalize. Here is more on the timely subject.
  • Where do I put the apostrophe with a title in quotation marks to make it plural?
    This is not really a question I'm frequently asked, but I was asked at least once. The short answer is just don't. If you would like a longer answer, I wrote about it here.
  • If something is inflammable, doesn't that make it not flammable?"
    No. The Latin in- prefix can be confusing because it can mean one of two things. It's either the equivalent of the Germanic "un-," as with "inconceivable," or it's an intensifier, the same as "en-" (a French version of "in-"). The "in" in "intensifier" is an intensifier, and so is the "in" in "inflammable." If you say "flammable," you avoid the chance of being misunderstood, but context usually makes "inflammable" clear enough.
  • If I want to keep something separate, is it "discrete" or "discreet"?"
    I always think of Crete, which is a large Greek island. Crete is a discrete part of Greece. "Discreet" means quietly careful or judicious. Some people remember "discrete" by the "t" separating the first "e" from the second "e," keeping them discrete.

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