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The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, With Exercises and Answer Keys
Amy Einsohn. (2011). 3rd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. [ISBN 978-0-520-27156-2. 560 pages, including index. US$24.95 [softcover].)

by Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G. 2012. Book review: The copyeditor’s handbook: a guide for book publishing and corporate communications, with exercises and answer keys. Technical Communication 59(3) : 240.

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, “of the making of editing books there is no end.” Most editors own at least one such book; my wife and I, both editors, own more than a dozen, and Einsohn’s book is a worthy addition to our collection. Besides discussing all the usual suspects (punctuation, hyphenation, grammar), Einsohn covers the basics of copyediting (tasks and procedures, essential references, relationships with authors), and provides copious examples and explanations of why something is problematic and how understanding the problem can lead to solutions. Throughout, the wording is clear, even when dealing with the often difficult language used to describe grammar. The core topics are handled with encyclopedic knowledge, clarity, and well-chosen examples, often supplemented by the words of influential authors and editors who provide useful insights.

Given the monumental task of mastering not only a language, but also key dialects of that language such as “science”, any such book faces the problem of scope: no single book can cover everything. But an egregious omission is that Einsohn devotes only three pages to onscreen editing and how it integrates with the processes and problems she covers; worse, the sample illustrations of editing markup are exclusively for typescripts. The importance of onscreen editing in modern editorial workflows (on-paper editing is increasingly rare) makes this a significant problem. Given the book’s emphasis on copyediting, it appropriately focuses on this core subject, but the discussions of several areas (for example, onscreen editing, graphics) should have been supported by citations of key references on these topics, as was done for grammar and usage guides.

Though this book is aimed at new editors, the goal is to teach readers how to think about editing processes and problems. Rather than simply prescribing rules, Einsohn clearly distinguishes between wordings that are unquestionably wrong, wording “problems” that are a matter of opinion (surprisingly many grammatical issues fall into this category), and wording that is merely more difficult than necessary to understand, all in aid of illustrating the editorial thought process. Chapter 14, where Einsohn diplomatically chastises the prescriptivists without forgetting that many of us learned our grammar from such people, is a breath of fresh air on these points.

Supported by a decent index, The Copyeditor’s Handbook achieves its additional goal of supplementing popular guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style. As a result of Einsohn’s choices, the book nicely supports an introductory copyediting course, with most chapters offering at least one exercise to help you test your knowledge, accompanied by an answer key. But it also provides a great refresher course for experienced editors, as well as a useful reference on thorny points of grammar and usage that is less doctrinaire and better reasoned than most alternatives.

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