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Issue 67, 15 November 2002

ISSN 1442-8652

Editor: Jean Hollis Weber

In this issue...

Editing to house style in scholarly journals
Microsoft Manual of Style now available online
Renewal time for STC memberships -- consider joining a SIG
For Australian residents: Graduate programs in technical communication at Swinburne -- a viable alternative to Microsoft Office?
Seasonal gifts with a difference: Word Happens
Resource: Quality web content archive
New book: Real web project management
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Editing to house style in scholarly journals

This article is extracted (and slightly edited) from an exchange on the CE-L (Copyediting-L) list in August this year, where an editor was looking for persuasive arguments to use with difficult writers. Printed with permission from the author.

by Geoff Hart,

I've never worked at a journal, but I've been doing pre-submission editing for science journals (environmental biology, entomology, plant pathology, economics, geology, and a few others) for close to 20 years. I've probably edited to conform with the house style of something like 40 journals over that period. Here's my perspective.

All journals I've worked with had a house style, and employed copyeditors to apply it. There's a misconception among some authors that house style's sole goal is to ruthlessly suppress the authorial voice. Any scholarly author who thinks that's the case ought to look at glossy magazines to understand what true homogenization entails; they'll be grateful for such freedoms as they have.

In any event, this editing is usually done simultaneous with other editing chores, so it doesn't impose serious additional delays, particularly so for authors who follow the submission guidelines.

Although spelling's obviously important, I tend to agree that it's a trivial issue compared to the larger issues of comprehension and correctness. However, given that these issues are handled in a routine spell check anyway, why would anyone object to fixing the spelling? You look sloppy if the manuscript is littered with typos, and one common situation arises with journal submissions that cross the Atlantic; UK spelling often looks like typos to US readers (and vice versa). More important would be US vs. UK usage differences; for example "billion" can differ by a factor of 1000.

Where the author's wishes don't make the text harder to understand, and where the deviation from house style is minor, why not concede this point? Editors should, as much as possible, allow authors to retain their voice. Just don't let them use that concession to throw out house style entirely. When setting house style, focus on the things that are directly meaningful to readers: consistent citation styles, consistent use of terminology, and so on.

On the other hand, if your journal strives for clear communication, ambiguity must be stamped out ruthlessly. In my experience, ambiguity represents the author's attempt to waffle rather than express a firm opinion that someone might challenge, or outright laziness and unwillingness to devote the effort required to communicate clearly. Clarifying ambiguity is a non-negotiable point. If the authors want to be ambiguous, tell them to publish on the Web and leave your journal alone.

Regarding detailed cross-reference checklists: In my experience, maybe one author in ten is able to get footnotes and citations even close to perfect. Given how important it is for researchers to be able to look up the right publication, getting the cites right isn't a job you should let authors duck.

Ditto for tables. It's amazing how many authors can't add up a column of five numbers and calculate a correct total or average. In their defence, this problem often arises from copying spreadsheet data into a word processor without remembering to check for rounding errors. But someone has to do the check, and if the authors don't, that means us.

The archives page for the Copyeditors' List (CE-L) has a link to a page where you can join or leave CE-L or change your settings:

You can also join by sending the message "subscribe copyediting-l Your Name" (without the quotes) to

You can read more of Geoff Hart's articles on the Techwhirl site,

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Microsoft Manual of Style now available online

The Microsoft Manual of Style has been out of print for several months, and the cost of secondhand copies has risen dramatically.

Rhonda Bracey ( writes to say that the latest (second) edition of the Manual is now available as a free downloadable .CHM (HTML Help file) from

Jim Purcell, a lead editor at Microsoft, confirms that this is the same .CHM file that was on the CD in the back of the second print edition (1998), and it has all the content from the book. Work continues on the third print edition.

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Renewal time for STC memberships -- consider joining a SIG

Those of you who are members of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) should have recently received an e-mail reminder that it's time to renew your memberships. I hope that when you renew, you consider joining one or more of the special interest groups (SIGs). Your US$5 SIG membership fee can make a lot of difference to the group, even if you have no time to participate actively.

I recommend the following SIGs which I think are particularly relevant to editors:

Special Needs,
Our mission is to help technical communicators with disabilities practice the profession and to help all technical communicators design information products that are accessible to end users with disabilities.

Technical Editing,
Recent newsletters have included such topics as "Benchmarks for estimating editing speed" and its follow-up article "Magic metrics: Estimating time for technical editing", "How can you correct common documentation mistakes?" and "Suggestions for creating a style guide".

International Technical Communication,
Provides a wealth of STC resources on writing for translation and international communication.

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For Australian residents: Graduate programs in technical communication at Swinburne

Applications are now open for the Graduate Diploma and Graduate Certificate programs in Technical Communication at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.

Prospective students can download an application form and find course information from our website at Click Coursework in the left-hand navigation bar, then click Coursework Programs. On the right-hand side, scroll down to the the bottom (under Social Sciences and Arts) until you find Technical Communication.

These direct links may also work: (Grad. Cert.) (Grad. Dip.) Or contact Kathy Diakovsky, School Programs Administrator (ph. 03 9214 5647 or e-mail for an application package.

First round applications close on Friday 22 November 2002. Second round applications close on Friday 24 January 2003.

Back to top -- a viable alternative to Microsoft Office?

I've started seriously investigating, an open-source office suite which is a popular alternative to Microsoft Office, especially among users of the Linux operating system, but recently gaining a lot of interest amonst Windows users as well. So far I've only been looking at Writer, the equivalent of MS Word, but OpenOffice includes the other standard office suite components as well: spreadsheets, presentations, database, drawing, and web publishing.

My first impression is that if you have to share OOWriter files with Microsoft Word users, you may run into conversion problems, depending on which Word features you've used. However, if conversion to and from Word isn't an issue, this is a great tool, with some features that Word doesn't have (but many Word users want) and some different ways of doing things that at first look seem like better ways. I'll be writing up my research on my website and probably putting some of it into this newsletter; certainly I'll let you know the headlines.

The website is here:

My page is here:

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Seasonal gifts with a difference: Word Happens

Do you need a seasonal gift for a colleague or client? If they use Microsoft Word, they might appreciate -- and be amused by -- a coffee cup, beer mug, mouse pad, coaster, or visor, bearing the logo "Word Happens". Or you might like one for yourself!

Maggie Secara, a well-known member of the WORD-PC list, has set up a series of products CafePress online. Each item shows {Word.Happens} in large green friendly letters. The price for each item is strictly AT COST.

Pass the word! Here's the storefront:

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Resource: Quality web content archive

Rachel McAlpine has a web site containing about 100 relevant articles for technical writers who write for the Web or intranets, She specialises in training people to write copy that "communicates instantly, boosts credibility, and achieves great search results".

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New book: Real web project management

"Real Web Project Management: Case Studies and Best Practices from the Trenches" by Thomas J. Shelford, Gregory A. Remillard, Addison Wesley Professional, October 2002, ISBN 0321112555.

The process of designing and building dynamic Web applications comes with a host of challenges not typically solved by traditional project management methodologies. Containing a wealth of practical resources, this is a book of solutions for designing, managing, and delivering virtually any type of Web-based project under even the most challenging of conditions. The book is packaged with a value-added CD-ROM, which includes complete project plan templates, model Web sites, project checklists, consulting contracts, software vendor reviews, and more. Additional resources and templates are available on the book's accompanying Web site at


My books: Taming Microsoft Word and others

Taming Microsoft Word (3 editions, for Word 2002, 2000, and 97)
Editing Online Help
Electronic Editing

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© Copyright 2002, Jean Hollis Weber. All rights reserved.

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