Capital Letters Monthly Poll — Singular They: Yea or Nay

The use of they as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun has become a hot topic. Most recently, the American Dialect Society chose singular they as the Word of the Year for 2015, which means they joins the ranks of #blacklivesmatter (2014), because (2013) and hashtag in a mostly tongue-in-cheek demonstration of how language changes over time.

When you ask an editor what they think about singular they, they usually say something business-minded, such as, “I use our house style guide,” or “I follow my client’s instructions.” That’s because, as editors, we’re trained to be flexible and to consider context in our work. That said, we are also taught to follow certain rules, many of which we defend with gusto. And if we’re honest about it, we each have our editorial guns that we stick to whenever we can.

Dear readers, we want to know what you really think. When the choice is yours, do you take them or leave them? Register your vote. The Capital Letters Monthly Poll is an equally tongue-in-cheek, non-scientific way for us to probe what’s on your mind. Let us know your views in the comments below.



Practical Proofreading Seminar


“Loved the day. Glad I came.”

“Very knowledgeable, great presentation style.”

“Good series of seminars by Editors Association. Please keep them coming.”

“Great handout/booklet.”

These were just some participants’ reactions after attending the Practical Proofreading seminar on January 19. Instructor Elizabeth Macfie has 18 years’ experience as a proofreader, freelance editor, and indexing for a range of clients including government departments, university presses, research organizations and authors.

At the seminar, she guided participants through the basics of proofreading and through a series of exercises, shared her methods and shortcuts to proofread better. Participants worked on a variety of proofreading exercises and study material, and received a certificate at the end of the day.

Editors Canada supports professional development through seminars; to learn more about upcoming seminars, go to

BOOK BUZZ: On Paper by Nicholas A. Basbanes, by Bhavana Gopinath


On Paper

The Everything of its Two-Thousand Year History

Nicholas A. Bisbanes

Alfred A. Knopf, 2013

Nicholas A. Basbanes is the author of nine works of cultural history, with a particular emphasis on various aspects of books, book history, and book culture. His book On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand Year History (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities research fellowship in 2008, and was a runner-up for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction for 2014. It was also named a notable book of the year by the American Library Association, one of the best books of the year by Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Mother Jones, and Bloomberg News, and a “favourite” book of 2013 by the National Post (Canada). A paperback edition was issued by Vintage Press in 2014.

Paper is such an integral part on one’s daily life; computers and e-books notwithstanding, one still instinctively reaches for paper to clarify one’s thoughts or just to write for its own sake. A typical home has hundreds of paper products, from bathroom tissues to packaging. We usually don’t stop to consider it. Until you read On Paper, that is. This absorbing tome traces the evolution of paper from its invention China in A.D. 105, its journey to the Arab world in the eighth century, to Italy in the thirteenth century and then to North America and the rest of the world. From these origins, Basbanes picks up the threads of the development and importance of paper in several areas and weaves them all into a compelling and coherent narrative.

We travel to remote corners of China to observe papermaking techniques that have remained unchanged in more than a thousand years, we admire the beauty of Japanese handmade paper, and visit Samarkand in Central Asia, where Arabs learned paper-making from the Chinese, and from where the knowledge spread to Europe.

Basbanes traces the paper-making process: first from disintegrating plant matter, then rags and cellulose obtained from trees. We visit the factories of Crane and Company in Massachusetts (which provides currency notes for the United States Treasury Department), and then Kimberly-Clark for its hygiene products.

We learn about the role paper played in the development of ammunitions and cigarettes, its importance as a foundation for one’s identity (and during war, for one’s safety), and the profound dependence on paper by intelligence agencies. Without paper, there would be no bureaucracies, and it is the remnants of hard copies that point us to egregious cover-ups by government agencies.

There is a fascinating chapter on the “Face Value” of paper, in which Basbanes explores currency (and some outlandishly inflated examples therein, like the German Weimar reichsmarks and the Zimbabwe dollar), forgeries, rare stamps, and the first printing of the United States’ Declaration of Independence.

Without the ready availability of such a useful flat writing surface, it may be argued that Leonardo da Vinci would not have been such a creative genius – his wide-ranging ruminations achieved expression on paper. Paper was the essential tool for Beethoven to write down thousands of pages of musical ideas. Thomas Edison left thirty-five hundred notebooks with his notes and thoughts. Paper was not only a writing surface for him, but also a material of function – he invented the ticker-tape machine and the precursor of the mimeograph. During the Renaissance, paper became the medium for architectural drawings and blueprints. Paper can also be transformed into art – an entire chapter is devoted to origami.

Each exploration of a facet of paper’s importance is a treasure trove. Most poignant of all, perhaps, is the last chapter of the book, which describes the flying paper from offices in the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. One paper had the following words scrawled out hastily in pen: “84th floor west office 12 people trapped.” The tower collapses moments after this plea of help is found by an evacuee.

Part scholarly narrative, part good read, On Paper is an illuminating book that “guides us through paper’s inseparability from human culture.”

Bhavana is a freelance editor and writer, an avid reader, and lover of Ottawa’s public library system.

Meet the Instructor – Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr for Academic Editing

Ruth at the redneck wedding

Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr has worked in Canadian publishing for 27 years, most recently as Director of University of Ottawa Press and Managing Editor of the Canadian Journal of Development Studies. She received her PhD in English/Canadian Studies in 2014 from the University of Ottawa where she teaches essay writing to first-year students. She also runs her own writing, editing, and translation business and chairs the Ottawa–Gatineau branch of Editors Canada.

She is presently editing a special section for the Journal of Scholarly Publishing on the future of university presses in Canada and expanding her thesis, The Downfall of the Ryerson Press, into a book about the impact of the sale of the Press on Canadian cultural policy.

Ruth has a quirky sense of humour, as you can see in the articles she has posted on the branch’s blog: “Ways to be More Productive,” “What’s on your Bulletin Board?” and “Time Management: or, Tricking Yourself into Working at Home.”

In the publish or perish world of academia, knowing how to edit academic writing, either your own or a client’s, provides a huge advantage. Accordingly, Academic Editing is designed for academics, academics in training, and those who edit them. The course takes you from peer review (a form of developmental editing) to proofreading, with a special stop at editing references and bibliographies. This seminar is specifically geared to disciplines in the Social Sciences and Humanities.

She’ll be offering this morning seminar on Thursday, Feb 11, 2016. To sign up, go to Registration closes on February 5, 2016.


Speed mentoring is officially full. The January speaker night for Editors Ottawa–Gatineau has been fully subscribed in advance.

If you have not received a message from Speaker Nights Chair Tom Vradenburg with a schedule enclosed, you cannot be assured an opportunity to seek mentoring from the Sages.

Given the surprising enthusiasm for this event, Editors Ottawa–Gatineau will consider holding another fairly soon. Thanks for your interest and support!

When: Wednesday, January 20, 6:30 pm

Where: Good Companions Seniors Centre, 670 Albert Street (at Empress)

Free for members, $10 for non-members

Parking: Just behind the building, off Empress Avenue.


Would you like to get expert advice and fresh perspectives on your editing business or career ? Whether you’re just starting out, changing the focus of your career or wanting to discuss specific editing challenges with a peer who’s been there, we have a roster of sages to provide speed mentoring on January 20th.

The Sages and their specialties are

Laura Byrne Paquet: Freelancing, copy editing, proofreading, government work, journalism, travel writing, genre fiction writing and editing, social history writing, blogging, teaching

Moira White: Teaching editing and writing, building a diversified business, substantive editing, copy editing, plain language editing and writing, government reports

Patricia Buchanan: Freelancing; copy editing and proofreading; some substantive editing; government reports; reports by independent think-tanks and by academics (mainly in economics); indexing textbooks, scholarly, and trade books

Laurel Hyatt: Freelancing, substantive editing, copy editing, proofreading, government reports, university textbooks, journalism, business auditing, accounting

Louise Saint-André: finding work, freelancing, French editing (concordance EN>FR, copyediting, and proofreading), public speaking, teaching and professional development, health

Elizabeth Macfie: Copy editing, stylistic editing, proofreading, comparative reading of translations, training (groups and one-on-one coaching), style guide development, business networking, indexing, conference session delivery

Do sign up by emailing Tom Vradenburg, our Speaker Nights Chair, at by Tuesday, January 19. You can choose upto three Sages, and each session will last 15 minutes.

When: Wednesday, January 20, 6:30 pm

Where: Good Companions Seniors Centre, 670 Albert Street (at Empress)

Free for members, $10 for non-members

Parking: Just behind the building, off Empress Avenue.



Dealing With Difficult People — Editors’ Version by Kaarina Stiff


Editing is about clarity, consistency and the mechanics of grammar, but it is also about the relationships that editors have with those being edited. As much as editors need to have expertise in matters of punctuation, we also need strong people skills to navigate the murky world of helping people communicate better.

“Editors … should demonstrate initiative and flexibility, being able to adapt to the needs of the project and the specific work environment, and they need to communicate clearly and tactfully and to respect the opinions of others.” EAC Professional Editorial Standards, The Fundamentals of Editing.

In the best of worlds, editors and writers have a symbiotic relationship where the editor intuitively knows what the writer meant, and the writer is thrilled to accept all of their editor’s suggestions. This can actually happen in real life, and it’s pure bliss when it does. Just as often, though, editors work with people—clients, co-workers, even supervisors—who are less eager to receive our advice. What should an editor do when someone insists, “No, you’re wrong—I learned it that way in school,” or, “I don’t care if you think it’s wrong, I think it sounds better that way”? Here are five strategies to deal with difficult people in your editorial world.

Pick your battles

Not every comma splice is worth fighting over, even if you’re right. Save your energy for the errors that really matter—instructions that could be misunderstood, sentences with double meanings, or other missteps that have real consequences.

Choose your timing

We don’t always have the luxury of time, but calling out a colleague (or boss) in a public place is rarely a good idea. Try to catch them one on one, when you have enough time to describe what you have noted, and how you propose to fix it. You don’t need half an hour, but do let them make their way to the washroom and back before you raise the issue.

Be prepared to explain yourself

As editors, we must always have a reason for changing something. Be ready to explain your recommendation, with specifics. Don’t just say, “That’s the rule.” Instead, try, “Even though both spellings are in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, our style guide calls for always using the first choice.” When you can describe the problem, people are more likely to be persuaded.

Keep it professional

As frustrating as it can be when colleagues sprinkle extra commas everywhere, it is critical to maintain your composure. Even though yelling, “Didn’t you learn this in grade school!” might be satisfying for a brief moment, it will only hurt your credibility down the line. Establish yourself as the consummate professional, and you’re more likely win people over in the long run.

Know when to let go

Even if you’re right, and even if there are consequences if people ignore your sage advice, there comes a time in every editor’s life when you have to let go. If you have tried all manner of tact and diplomacy—complete with citations and concrete evidence of impending doom should your words go unheeded—and your colleagues still don’t wish to listen, your work is done. Make a note of the advice given (and the response received) and move on. If your predictions come to pass, make a note of that too, so that you can gently use it as an example later on.

Do you have a tried and true trick for dealing with difficult people in your editorial life? Share in the comments below!

Kaarina is a freelance writer and editor, and is currently serving as Secretary on the Editors Ottawa-Gatineau Executive. She loves words, hockey, and trying to make sense of the 1980s.

Start the year with advice from the Sages by Tom Vradenburg

January’s meeting of Editors Ottawa–Gatineau will be an evening of speed mentoring. Sign up now for 15-minute one-on-ones with three or four of our branch’s most accomplished members.

These short-sharp consultations are a terrific opportunity to get expert advice and fresh perspectives on your editing business or career, whether you’re just starting out, changing the focus of your career or wanting to discuss specific editing challenges with a peer who’s been there.

A list of participating mentors will be up shortly; please check again!

When: Wednesday, January 20, 6:30 pm

Where: Good Companions Seniors Centre, 670 Albert Street (at Empress)

Free for members, $10 for non-members

Parking: Just behind the building, off Empress Avenue.



Elizabeth Macfie


In a way, proofreaders are like magicians in that they can find errors that other people can’t see. The trick is to realize where document errors commonly hide and, in the Practical Proofreading seminar, participants will watch the 19 places where errors lurk in text and layout. Trained proofreaders also see the errors that escape other eyes because they read in a special way using tools and techniques that focus their attention on everything in the document. This is important because every error that a reader notices erodes their trust in the document and the organization that produced it. And missing or incorrect content can make a document worthless.

Instructor Elizabeth Macfie has 18 years’ experience as a freelance editor, proofreader, and indexer for government departments, university presses, research organizations and authors. She says “the principles and techniques that you’ll learn in this workshop apply to any document or other product you may work on: on paper, on-screen, on a bus board — anything.” To sign up for this January 19, 2016, seminar, go to Registration closes one week prior to the event.