Thursday, May 20, 2021

Tools of the trade: academic copyediting

This is the first of an off-again, on-again series that I've promised myself I would do—about two years ago! Oh well, better late than never.

I've been doing independent/free-lance copyediting for nine years now. That doesn't make me an expert, by any means, but it does mean that I've managed to survive and even thrive in the gig economy. People sometimes ask me about how to get started. Well, let's start with the tools of the trade...

If you've never done any copyediting—or even if you have—I would recommend that you read through, and do at least some of the exercises in, The Copyeditor's Handbook, now in its fourth edition. This is loaded with invaluable advice. I see, too, that they've added a companion volume that might be worthwhile.

Other indispensible tools:

  • Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, eleventh edition. You need a good dictionary, if only to confirm open or closed compounds (open ones have hyphens, closed ones don't, e.g., cross-cultural vs. preexilic). It's usually abbreviated M-W 11.
  • Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. When I started at Eisenbrauns in 2003, the first thing Jim did was give me a copy of this book. It's a marvelous little book that you should read. I still consult it regularly.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style, now in it's seventeenth edition. This is the bible of copyediting academic stuff. Buy it. Read it. Consult it. 'Nuff said. They also have an online site, which I use extensively to search for specific questions where the index doesn't help. You need a subscription to access the full answer, but it gives you the paragraph number, so you can consult the hard copy. It's abbreviated either CMS17 or CMOS17.
  • The SBL Handbook of Style, second edition (abbreviated SBLHS2). If you edit in biblical studies or ANE, this is probably the most-used reference you will have. The hierarchy of styles (more on that in a later post) for most academic publishers in biblical studies will be their house style, then SBLHS2, then CMS17. They also have a companion website that is extremely useful here. I always keep it open in a tab of my browser.
  • IATG3 (Internationales Abkürzungsverzeichnis für Theologie und Grenzgebiete—you see why they abbreviate it!). No, it's not cheap, even in paperback! But, it has saved me hours of time and untold frustration. It's a listing of abbreviations for journals and book series—726 pages of tiny print's worth of abbreviations!

There are other fun books that you might find useful, like Lapsing into a Comma, or Dreyer's English, or Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, as well as other ones I can't recall right now. But these are the ones that are on my desk and that I consult constantly. The pages of my SBLHS2 long ago ceased being white and if I hadn't reinforced it with book tape, I'm sure it would be falling apart even more than it is.

So, that's the first installment. Hopefully the next one will follow relatively soon...

Here's the table of contents for all the copyediting stuff.

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