ACES 2015: Pittsburgh: Day 3: Friday 28 March

March 29, 2015

These are my notes from the sessions I attended at the American Copy Editors’ Society (ACES) annual conference (2015: Pittsburgh). They are MY opinion and reflect no-one else’s opinion.


Beyond the plain language edit (Claire  Foley,  Tracy Torchetti)

42% Canadians have low literacy skills

Aging population affects literacy too (read,  remember, act)

Diverse society – immigrants,  English not always first language

How are your readers reading? Laptops,  tablets,  phone, background noise,  multitasking,  visual ability, cognitive ability, in stressful situations

There is no perfect reader!

Plain language looks at message from readers point of view.

Writing clearly,  clear organisation and layout,  reader centred writing

(see slides for basic writing techniques,  formatting and style, readability best practices, readability formulas (not reliable indicators of readability, but do have some benefits), punctuation, contractions, parentheses, numbers, dates, percent vs frequency, fractions, ESL perspective)

(good speakers,  worked well in tandem,  good examples)

Fast facelifts for copy (Merrill Perlman)

It’s all about the audience.

Causing the audience to stop and/or back up is bad – you need to smooth out the wrinkles.

When you see an ‘-ing’ word,  ask WHO is doing it.

Editors are like male dogs – we have a desire to show we’ve been there!

Put the familiar before the unfamiliar.

We are all HOEs – human optimisation engines.

Finish one thought before starting another.

Limit the use of dashes.

Don’t edit a quote with brackets or ellipses.

Always start with the easy fix.

Say it once.  One time only. A single time.

Addition and subtraction don’t belong in quotes.

Use only the instruments you need

Merrill’s 3 rules of editing :

  • Do no harm
  • If you can’t explain why you want to change something, you can’t change it
  • No surprises

(engaging speaker,  great examples)

Proofreading : catch mistakes before they cause a crisis (John Braun,  Sherri Voss-Matthews,  Sherri Hilldebrandt)

Proofreading is more detail-oriented than editing (see slides)

Fresh eyes are a good thing.

Catch things other don’t catch to become a sharp-eyed editor — and a genius!

Learn basic percentages and maths you need to know to be able to spot a problem.

Beyond print: use checklists for Web,  social media, video, promotional material etc.

Take nothing for granted, pay attention to everything, don’t trust spell checkers, don’t be afraid to speak up, know your weaknesses, know your experts, listen to the voice in your head,  read in reverse.

(great examples of boo-boos)

LUCIA: shedding the light on editing government reports (Laura Cameron)

Long,  short,  even automated reports.

Multiple authors trying to be one voice.

Auditors have to follow standards in performance audit report writing.

Audit reports have varied audiences but bottom line is the audience is the audited agency.

Audit description (1 to 2 pages):

  • What’s the problem
  • What’s the objective of the work
  • What’s in and out of scope
  • Why do it now

Are there words to watch out for? (adequate, consistent, independent and impartial, accurate and complete)

Field work is when auditors gather data. Results in field work notes.

Develop audit’s message (approx 8 pages). What’s discovered so far,  confirm/adjust initial ideas,  considers recommendations. Gives context, the ‘so what’, and ‘what we’ve found’. Where will the audit’s story start? (usually doesn’t relate to the linear structure of the audit) What will the recommendations be? What will be the effect of this audit/recommendations? Is the cause of the problem most compelling? What are the criteria of ‘what should be’? What is the effect of the problem on the clients?

Auditors love checklists!

Template with relevant headings and boilerplate text on what to add to each section (see handout of Appendix D for example).

Timeline showing when need to start writing to hit final deadline. (see Appendix D handout)

Mandatory edit!:

  • Structure
  • Order of content
  • Word choice
  • Missing arguments
  • Invisible actors
  • Ask questions!
  • Look for places where a picture could go

Most common line edits:

  • They used ‘provide’ instead of ‘give’, ‘determine’ instead of ‘decide’, ‘ indicate’ instead of ‘show’
  • Replace ‘increase’/’decrease’

Illustrations are important:

  • Show relationships
  • Show time and sequence
  • Show process and risk
  • Data can become art
  • Tables may say it best
  • Know when to give up! Sometimes data cannot be converted into graphic or table

Agree and amend – it’s about the questions I ask and how I ask them. Praise,  explain, and pass the ammunition that auditors need to support their arguments.

It’s complex, with simultaneous tasks and multiple reviewers downstream.

Value-added extras help busy readers connect – website, video and audio podcasts, presentations required by law, short (2 pages) ‘leave behinds’, social media => auditors much happier

(clear speaker,  clear presentation,  interesting case study,  lots of info on performance audit reporting)


  1. Great concise tips on writing – thanks for sharing your notes. Editors are like male dogs – made me chuckle.

  2. I shall never limit my dashes — not ever!
    Although female, I see I fit the bill of a male editor.
    Love your blog.

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