Capital Letters is recruiting blog writers!

Are you passionate about an aspect of editing? If so, please take some time to share your thoughts and experiences with your editing colleagues.

Are you new to blogging? No problem. We can work together to produce the postings. Write a one-time posting or join the team to be a regular writer. We have topics for you to choose from or you can write about your editing-related favorite topics. If you don’t wish to write but have thoughts on subjects you would like to read more about, let us know. We are looking to increase our postings, but we need your help. Thank-You!

Creating Accessible Web Content

April Speaker Night by Emily Stewart

Understanding audience is essential in editing. It helps us make decisions about word choices, sentence and paragraph lengths, formatting, and more.  Not all people access information on the web in the same way. To introduce us to ways we can make web content more accessible to disabled users, David MacDonald joined us for our April speaker night.

David is president of CanAdapt and a sixteen-year veteran of the WCAG working group, an international initiative. . He was also the WCAG consultant to the Government of Canada for the Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81). It was exciting to have someone with so much knowledge share it with us.

What Is WCAG?

WCAG is an International standard for web accessibility to help ensure that disabled users can access and understand web information. WCAG considers the ways assistive technologies such as screen readers, interpret web content and ensures that alternative methods of gaining information are available for those who need them (text instead of images, captions instead of audio on a video etc.).

WCAG 2.0, the latest version of WCAG, has thirteen guidelines under four principles:

  1. Perceivable
  2. Operable
  3. Understandable
  4. Robust

David described the guideline (WCAG), implemented in many countries, as one of the most successful standards in history. Canada’s accessibility laws (Bill C-81 and AODA) refer to WCAG. Editors, especially those working with the government, should have some knowledge of these guidelines when working on web content that is required to comply with these laws.

WCAG and Editors

WCAG success criteria, especially those at the A and AA level, are meant to be implemented by web developers and have more to do with the way a web page is coded than the actual words on the page.

Web writers and editors often have more control over the AAA level, which is the highest level and isn’t required by law because the criteria are the hardest to test. For example, readability. In English, we test readability by looking at sentence and word length—a contested method in itself—but sentence and word lengths can change dramatically when translated.

Even though editors may have little control over web page coding and may not be required to implement some of WCAG’s success criteria by law, web accessibility widens the audience of your web content and demonstrates regard for inclusivity.

What Should Editors Look For?

Headings and Titles

Titles and headings break up content into more digestible sections and help users navigate web content. It’s important that headings describe the content that appears under them. They should also be in order.

Page titles should show the topic first, so screen readers don’t have to hear information repeatedly. For example, David said, a page on a University of Ottawa webpage about engineering should be titled “Engineering-uOttawa,” not “uOttawa-Engineering,” because a user probably already knows they’re on the uOttawa website and won’t want to hear “uOttawa” every time they switch pages.


Unusual terms or abbreviations should be defined. This can be as simple as following style guide recommendations to use full terms with abbreviations in parenthesis for first appearance of said abbreviation. Another option is to include a glossary.

Alt Text

Any images that convey information must include alternative text. This text is what a screen reader will read, and it should serve the same purpose as the image itself. David said that when writing alt text, you should ask yourself how you would explain the image to a blind person sitting beside you.

Link Text

Link text should be informative. Text that describes the link’s destination is better than text that doesn’t give any indication of where a link goes, like “click here.”

Audio and Captions

Audio content should be captioned so that d/Deaf or hard of hearing folks can access the information. David advised that captions should not only include all dialogue, but also any relevant descriptions. They should be written like screenplays.

Descriptive Audio

Descriptive audio is another option for making content more accessible for blind or low vision people. David described descriptive audio as an art form, as it requires making decisions on what information is relevant and fitting those descriptions in-between dialogue.

More Information

The information I have included here is by no means exhaustive (speaker night is only so long!). I If you work with web content regularly, you may want to check out these resources.

Finally, I’ll wrap up the same way we did last Wednesday, with the WCAG theme song, written and performed by David himself.


Visual and Verbal Aspects of Typography with Andrea Emery

As editors, we look at words all day and while we’re often concerned with their meaning, the appearance of words also contributes to our understanding. That’s why we had graphic designer Andrea Emery join us for our March speaker night—to talk to us about typography.

Andrea displayed her passion for the topic by wearing a dress printed with words.  Typography, she explained, is the art of selecting and arranging type. It is distinct from lettering, which is usually hand drawing words, and has a history that goes back to the invention of the printing press. Thus, our impressions of different typefaces are often informed by their histories.

Like editing, typesetting can be invisible work—it’s more notable absent than present. Good typography doesn’t need to be defended or explained; it simply works, making words easy to read and understand. To underscore this, Andrea spoke of an event where students prepared a publication and those who’d contributed writing, discussed their work. Her typography students wondered if they should speak about their design choices, but the answer was no. The design and the typography should speak for itself.

Andrea calls fonts “unconscious persuaders” for this reason. If done right, font choice aids with conveying the message of the writing. A serif font, like Times New Roman for example, is easy to read in print and typically denotes serious writing while a sans serif like Helvetica is unassuming and friendly. Comic sans, which is often derided, also has a purpose: it was designed for Microsoft Bob to be friendly and appealing to children.

In addition to describing how type honours content, Andrea spoke of typography’s respect for the letters. Good designers don’t stretch or squish letters to make them fit, they pay attention to how the words sit on the page and ensure that easy reading isn’t sacrificed for cool design. In fact, she said that uninteresting type is often the most useful type. I guess that’s why Times and Calibri are often defaults in word processing software.

A highlight of Andrea’s presentation was her movie posters. She took films such as 300 and Mad Max Fury Road and switched out the typeface, then asked us how it changed our perception of each movie. The results were comical—a gritty action movie can appear like a kid’s adventure comedy with the right font!

Reproduced with permission from Andrea Emery

The presentation ended with a round of questions in which we discussed font choices, readability, on- screen reading, and our favourite typefaces. It was a fun way to wrap things up and I’m sure many of us would have liked the evening to be a bit longer. Luckily, Andrea gave me one final bit of information: if you’re interested in typography and want to read more about the subject, she recommends Thinking with Type by  Ellen Lupton.

Join us at our next Speaker Night on April 17th when we’ll hear from David MacDonald on Web Accessibility Guidelines for Web Authors.

By Emily Stewart

Editors’ Association of Canada / Association canadienne des réviseurs

Celebrating 40 years of editorial excellence / Célébrons 40 ans d’excellence en révision  

Join the Ott-Gat Trivia Team!

Interested in playing Trivia? Join our team for this fun event! We encourage our Ottawa-Gatineau members to join us to continue the sense of community we created at the World Trivia Night last year. Let us know if you plan to attend.

RSVP to    

The event takes place at:

The Cross on Elgin (360 Elgin St., Ottawa)
Thursday, March 7
Trivia starts promptly at 7 p.m.

Please note we  follow the Trivia Hall ofFame format. 

Editors’ Association of Canada / Association canadienne des réviseurs

Celebrating 40 years of editorial excellence / Célébrons 40 ans d’excellence en révision  


Nigel Beale Shares His Passion at February Speaker Night

By Emily Stewart      

As usual, we started the evening with snacks and networking. It’s always a pleasure to chat with other editors about their work.  Nigel took the stage following the social time.

Nigel told us of his love of books and how it drove him to quit his job to pursue literature. He initiated his career by connecting with authors at writers’ festivals in Canada and beyond, and eventually gained credibility that fed a stream of interviews.

 For ten years he has conducted interviews with: best-selling authors, festival and book fair organizers, antiquarian book dealers, book collectors, literary critics, book designers, and various publishers and presses.

Given his history with interviewing, it should come as no surprise that Nigel developed a process and has some tips. When asked how he prepares for an interview, he said that he reads and takes notes on the books he’ll be discussing. He also listens to past interviews with the interviewee to avoid asking the same questions as other interviewers. Another tip he gave to avoid repetition, was to change the subject or interrupt if the interviewee repeated familiar speaking points.

“It should be a conversation,” he said. He doesn’t want to drill authors with questions or participate in gotcha journalism; he wants to have an honest and entertaining discussion. “Luckily”, he said, “authors make it easy since they naturally have stories to tell”.

Aside from the joy of discussing books, Nigel spoke of his pleasure in editing audio. He removes dead space, ums, and ahs, before releasing his interviews to the public. He believes audio editing is something text editors should try out as it has some of the same delights as text editing.

The other aspect of Nigel’s career involves literary tourism. He writes about bookstores around the world, researches the literary history of different locations, and consults with tourism industries about attracting travelers interested in books.

I can’t speak for other listeners, but I’m interested in the bookish side of travel, and I will be looking into literary destinations for my next trip. In fact, it was difficult to listen to Nigel talk about all the people he’s had the opportunity to meet and talk to, and not be inspired by and perhaps a bit jealous of, his ability to follow and live his passion.

If you’re interested in interviews with authors and others in the book industry, check out Nigel’s podcast, The Biblio File. And if you’re a traveller, check out Literary Tourist.

Couldn’t make it out this month? Our next speaker night is on March 20 and our speaker is graphic designer Andrea Emery who will discuss visual and verbal aspects of typography.

Editors’ Association of Canada / Association canadienne des réviseurs

Celebrating 40 years of editorial excellence / Célébrons 40 ans d’excellence en révision  

Life Without Commas

Johnny Got His Gun. Dalton Trumbo (1939)

Can you imagine being Johnny, aware of your thoughts but locked in a dysfunctional body? You do not have arms, legs, sight, speech, or hearing. You do have an awareness of presence, and you have a memory, but you are trapped. You are aware of people caring for you, yet you cannot respond in any way…not even with grunts or movements. You feel like you have swallowed dynamite[1] but then again, it might be a hangover.

You sift through your memories to understand, and you remember leaving loved ones behind. You recall the hype of the beginning of a war. You have a flood of recollections from your short lifetime, you are very young. You are one of hundreds of thousands of casualties of WWI and you are trapped in a defunct body in an institution somewhere…you don’t know where, and your caregivers don’t know your name. Would your thoughts require pauses and breathes? Would it matter a damn if you included commas in your narrative? Not likely.

I was reading this book at the fast pace the flooding thoughts of the protagonist were jumping at me from the pages, and it struck me that there were no commas. I thought it was a mistake and so I reviewed the pages again and realized there were absolutely no comas.  How could a prolific screenplay writer and award-winning novelist “forget” about comma usage? As I continued to read on, I understood. As a young victim of war, “Johnny” was the amputee poster child for the anti-war movements; and the book—representative of the devastation war brings. The book, written about WWI, served as a controversial testimony during WWII, the war in Vietnam, and the Korean war.

This narrative without commas far better describes to the audience the agony Johnny is experiencing (but cannot speak to) as a victim of war. It is almost as if there were no breath, no pause…only thoughts constantly rolling around in the mind of a young victim of war.

My son-in-law found Johnny Got His Gun in a used book store in Seattle.  The author, Dalton Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten (film writers blacklisted during the McCarthy era). The book, described as a “great anti-war novel” [2], was first published in 1939. Trumbo was blacklisted from 1947 to 1960 for refusing to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee (he was jailed). Although Trumbo denies being informed that his book was suppressed, many others believed it went out of print during WWII and the Vietnam war because of the controversial content.

The history of the comma dates to third century BC. Aristophanes of Byzantium invented a system of dots to separate verses and indicate how much breath is needed to complete a sentence when reading out loud. [3] Discussions about the usage of commas reach the highest level in the “Oxford Comma Wars”.[4]  Personally, I always thought it was rather petty to discuss such trivia but seemingly it is not.

Artists and writers deviate from rules and regulations to freely express themselves. As a student of editing, I am learning that there is a very fine line between artistic expression and regulation. I edited a children’s novel and suggested to the author the insertion of commas at appropriate places. She absolutely reacted…negatively. She did not want commas in her book and while I didn’t agree with her, it was her call…it was her creation.

1 Trumbo, Dalton.1970. Johnny Got His Gun. Bantam Books. New York, pg.3

2 (Trumbo 1970, i


4 The Best Shots Fired in the Oxford Comma Wars. (n.d.).  Retrieved 10 16, 2018, from

Editors’ Association of Canada / Association canadienne des réviseurs

Celebrating 40 years of editorial excellence / Célébrons 40 ans d’excellence en révision  

January Speaker Night: What Does A Sensitivity Reader Do?

Writer Elliot Dunstan joined us on January 16th to tell us about sensitivity reading (SR) for our first speaker night of 2019. It was a fascinating evening and I believe we all came away with valuable information to think about.

What is sensitivity reading?

Elliot explained that in the current publishing environment, there is a growing desire for diverse books. But as authors attempt to diversify their casts of characters, they often find themselves in opposition of the old writing mantra “write what you know.”

When writers write outside of their lived experience, no matter how good their intentions, they may inadvertently write inaccurately. And, as Elliot put it, “inaccurate representation is harmful.”

Sensitivity reading is a form of editing that aims to reduce or eliminate inaccurate, harmful representation by providing an author with the perspective of someone who has the same or similar lived experience as the characters they are attempting to write.

In short, sensitivity readers use their own lived experience to supplement an author’s research, and edits for harmful stereotypes, false facts, and other inaccuracies.

How does sensitivity reading work?

Elliot explained how sensitivity reading works—the process isn’t that different from regular editing. An author or publisher hires a sensitivity reader, the reader goes through the manuscript and flags issues, and then returns it with recommendations.

However, there is one big difference: sensitivity reading is tied to the reader’s identity.  SRs use their own experiences to inform their feedback. A reader should therefore have similar experiences as those for which they are reading.  However, Elliot also acknowledged that this can be difficult and there are still debates among SRs about “how close is close enough.”

Elliot explained that providing feedback as a SR may have a higher potential for awkwardness than typical editing because of the ties to identity and other sensitive issues. Readers need to be comfortable talking about potentially personal subjects, and authors need to be prepared to check their egos and act respectfully. It is inappropriate to argue with the reader’s assessment (questioning the reader’s lived experience or identity), but asking questions is okay.

Authors should also recognize that it is impossible for a single sensitivity reader to represent an entire community and that sensitivity reading shouldn’t be the first step in writing diverse stories; authors should do their own research, and engage with the communities they are attempting to represent.

How to become a sensitivity reader

If you want to become a sensitivity reader, you should have editorial training. Sensitivity reading is a type of editing and requires knowledge of the editing process and the ability to give constructive feedback.

You then must decide what you can read for and you need to be very honest about it. Don’t read for experiences outside your own and don’t offer to read for things you’re uncomfortable discussing. Once you’re ready, you can begin promoting your services (Elliot warns that this can be awkward because sensitivity reading is so tied to your identity).

Finally, Elliot said that as a sensitivity reader, you should be prepared for some nonsense. Sensitivity reading is a relatively new editing field and not everyone recognizes its worth. Worse still, some are outright hostile to sensitivity readers because they believe their work is a form of censorship (it’s not), or because they have bigoted views to begin with. In fact, this is why some SR databases eventually shut down.

Despite the potential nonsense, sensitivity reading can be a rewarding experience. It can be an indispensable part of the editorial process for those wishing to diversify their writing.

To keep up with Elliot, follow him online at

Join us next month on February 20, when Nigel Beale will discuss literary tourism and podcasting!

Welcome to the New Year

Editors’ Association of Canada / Association canadienne des réviseurs

Celebrating 40 years of editorial excellence / Célébrons 40 ans d’excellence en révision 

Welcome to 2019 and a new year of exciting events with the Ottawa-Gatineau Branch. We sincerely hope all of you had a joyful holiday season. As we sally up to the 2019 calendar year, let’s set some New Year’s resolutions to meet our professional goals…much easier and more fun that the usual goals that seem to fail by the end of this month. Emily Stewart, Speaker Night Chairperson, suggests we make five resolutions.  Following is a list of events to choose from:

Attend one or all Speaker Night presentations at Christ Church Cathedral:

  • January 16, 2019:What Do Sensitivity Readers Do?

Elliott Dunstan explains the role and responsibilities of sensitivity readers and shares his experiences reading for d/Deaf, trans, and mental illness representation. Book and Periodical Council members are invited to attend this event for free.

  • February 20, 2019:  Literary Tourism with Nigel Beale

The Biblio File is a popular book podcast with over 300 episodes. Host Nigel Beale discusses blogging and podcasting about books and travel and shares his experiences interviewing authors, publishers, booksellers, editors, book collectors, librarians, conservators, and illustrators.

  • March 20, 2019: Visual and Verbal Aspect of Typography with Andrea Emery

Sure, the words are important, but so is the way the words look. Graphic designer Andrea Emery discusses the importance of typography in layout and design, sharing her over 30 years of experience as a graphic designer.

  • April 17, 2019:  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for Web Authors

David MacDonald covers some of the considerations to keep in mind when writing or editing web content for a broad audience that includes those with disabilities.

Attend a Professional Seminar offered by Editors Ottawa–Gatineau at Capital Hill Suites:

Attend a conference

  • Editors’ Association of Canada / Celebrating 40 years of editorial excellence in Halifax, June 7-9, 2019 at the Westin Nova Scotian in HalifaX

Enhance your interest in words and books

  • Attend the Small press Book Fair on June 22, 2019
  • Check out the Writers Festivals in May and October
  • Don’t forget about the trivia events around the city throughout the year and World Trivia Night! It’s the world’s largest live trivia event and it’s in Ottawa. Teams compete for a $10,000 prize

All the best for a successful, prosperous year.

Editors’ Association of Canada / Association canadienne des réviseurs

Celebrating 40 years of editorial excellence / Célébrons 40 ans d’excellence en révision  


From Script to Screen Holiday Party


November 28, 2018

The holiday season is upon us, and what better way to celebrate than to gather for an evening of food, wine, and conversation?

On November 28th, we held our annual holiday party. When we started planning this event in September, we knew we wanted to do something special and memorable for our last gathering of 2018. Director and video editor Matt West helped to make that possible at the Mayfair Theatre—one of Canada’s oldest, surviving, independent movie houses.

Our theme was “From Script to Screen” and our goal—aside from stuffing our faces with delicious nibbles from Epicuria, and enjoying a glass of wine or two—was to learn a little something about a different medium from what most members of Editors Ottawa work in.

After opening remarks and raffle prizes, Matt took to the stage. He has worked on over 800 episodes of lifestyle television and had much to share on directing and editing footage. And he brought a surprise second speaker—writer and producer Kathy McIntyre.

The pair have worked together on various projects for years and recently launched KatMat Media. Together they covered the entire process of bringing a concept to the screen…from early research to final cuts.

Despite the discussions of video editing, some things seemed a bit familiar to the (text) editors in the crowd. For example, anyone who has edited a passage of writing to reduce word count, probably sympathized with Matt’s story about cutting 10 seconds out of a video to meet the proper episode time.

Of course, we also talked about some of the differences between text and video editing. Text often presents alone, unless supported by illustrations or other figures. Television utilizes visuals, dialogue, and music. As Kathy pointed out, action and dialogue should support each other rather than reiterate the same information. All audio and visual elements have to work together to evoke emotions.

The foodies in the audience also enjoyed the stories about cooking on set with chefs like Micheal Bonacini and Spencer Watts. We also had the treat of seeing a few clips of Matt and Kathy’s work. A rousing round of questions followed the presentation and then it was time for more raffle prizes, more food, and more drinks!

We had an attendance of more than 40 and it was truly wonderful to see everyone out especially during this wintery weather. I think it was a delightful way to end our 2018 season and get excited for the new year! A special thanks to those who helped plan the event. Have a happy and safe holiday and we will see you in January!

Emily Stewart, Speakers Night Chair


World Trivia Night – November 16, 2018

IMG_1580 (2)

Editors, by nature, are inquisitive and analytical people. They are likely to feel as though their years of sequestered bookishness have afforded them a certain level of intelligence. Dare I say, some may even consider themselves among the smarter people in a room?  If this describes you and you are seeking a reality check – we encourage you to participate in next year’s World Trivia Night. Described by first-timers as a “humbling experience”, this annual event has been held in Ottawa since 1993.

During our retreat this past summer, the Ottawa-Gatineau branch executive thought it would be fun to create an editor’s team. On November 16, four executive members were joined by five branch members for an evening of wine, wisdom, and wonder. Amidst over 1,200 custodians of random facts assembled to vie for the bragging rights of Ottawa’s top trivia team, we reached into the deepest recesses to recall our scraps of knowledge related to geography, music, gastronomy, and (sigh) video games.

Also in attendance was the Word Nerd Herd, another group of Ottawa-Gatineau editors. Veterans of the event, having attended for over a decade, this team comprises some of our seminar instructors as well as branch and national executive alumni. This impressive group ranked 14 out of 39.

The new group, simply named Editors Ottawa-Gatineau placed 24th. This humble (yet not bad for a first-time) score did not discourage our team. On the contrary, everyone so thoroughly enjoyed the evening, it inspired us to use the upcoming winter as an opportunity to get in shape for next year. Trivia events are hosted most nights of the week at pubs throughout the city – and we plan to take full advantage. Keep your eyes open for news about where and when we’ll be gathering – we’d love to get more people involved.

Sara Fowler