Communicating clearly about coronavirus and COVID-19

Our global health crisis highlights the importance of communicating clearly when messages must be understood by the whole community to save lives.

In Australia, there has been confusion in public messaging and discussion, with some key terms incorrectly used interchangeably and the specific meaning of other terms not clear or changing quickly:

  • coronavirus (the type of virus) vs SARS-CoV-2 (the specific virus) vs COVID-19 (the disease)
  • lockdown vs shutdown
  • stay at home vs self-isolate vs quarantine
  • essential vs non-essential jobs and services
  • social distancing vs physical distancing
  • a gathering
  • older people and vulnerable people.

The meaning of a term such as “gathering” has varied by both space and time, and context, across different states.

While graphs and figures are useful as visual summaries, they have their own challenges in communicating mathematical concepts of rates, risk, probabilities, growth, predictions and curves. A graph can convey a message quickly – but it may be the wrong message if the numbers underlying graphs and their sources are not clear and comparable.

Some confusion is inevitable when public health messages are developed quickly in a fast changing and uncertain environment, but keep it simple and consistent for the greatest impact. Messages given verbally at press conferences must be translated accurately into written messages by and for the media. Hopefully, the official government coronavirus app released in late March will help provide a consistent source of information.

Thanks to all the university researchers using their expertise to minimise impacts and writing clearly about the crisis for The Conversation website with “academic rigour, journalistic flair”. Support it if you can. Just as the global financial crisis has been recognised and studied in much research in the last decade, the coronavirus crisis will be analysed across many disciplines, including public communication, to learn lessons for the future.

Stay informed and be safe. For advice on editing or writing to communicate clearly, please contact me on

How writers, editors and academics can use social media

Anyone who produces content for their work life, such as writers, editors and academics, can use social media to build an audience.

There’s no shortage of advice and books on social media, so where to start? Social Media for Writers by Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine, found at my local library, reviews the many different types of social media and how each can work for writers. The easy-to-read advice in Social Media for Writers also applies to editors who edit the work of writers, and to academics who produce academic material.

Short text, long text, images, video and sound – choose your social media with your preferred medium or combination. The book explains:

  • WordPress – building and developing a blog, just like this one
  • Tumblr – drive-by blogging
  • Podcasting – focusing on sound
  • Facebook – the easy way to post short content
  • Twitter – keeping it brief
  • YouTube – for sharing video
  • Pinterest – online bulletin board for images
  • Instagram – for sharing images, including InstaQuote
  • Goodreads – for writers and readers to share reviews and news about books.

Surprisingly, the professional networking site LinkedIn is not covered, but it can be used like a blog or simple personal website.

Not all types work for everyone, but there are many ideas for creatively using the various social media. For instance, writers might not initially think of the image-based Instagram, but try InstaQuotes to turn a short quote into an image. Consider Pinterest to share profiles for book settings or characters. Twitter requires greater discipline by writers to keep it short.

To get started, be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the options, choose one, have a clear purpose, and post content to a schedule you can stick to. Once that’s working, consider adding another option. Don’t try to do everything at once.

For advice on editing or writing for your social media, please contact me on

How long does it take to edit…?

Potential clients often ask editors how long does it take to edit something, closely related to how much does it cost.

Try to answer these questions:

  • How long does it take to read a book or newspaper?
  • How long does it take to write a book?
  • How long does it take to do a PhD?
  • How long does it take to design a house or a website?
  • How long does it take a garden to grow?

The answers to all these questions include a variation of “it depends”. It depends on many factors, so more information is needed and the answer will always be qualified. An average may be known, based on the experiences of many, but an average can hide a very wide range.

See my website here with more information on all the factors that affect editing time and cost. It includes information which helps ensure fair quotes for editing work for both editor and client.

“How long” can be expressed in hours, days, weeks or even months. A question about “how long” may not be related to cost, but more about meeting deadlines. With a specific submission deadline, clients want to know how much time to allow for the editing process. Editors usually allow a buffer when estimating editing time and return times to ensure that deadlines can be met.

An estimate of “how long” may need to allow for more than one round of editing. But if the time available for editing is shorter than ideal, the editing services can be adjusted to fit the time available.

The clearer you can be about an editing job and the nature of any deadlines, the more accurate the answers to the “how long”  and “how much” questions.

For advice on editing, please contact me on

Choosing your spelling – Australian, British or US

Can a writer or editor choose their spelling? Is there only one right way to spell a word or not?

Words can have variants, but dictionaries may not have all variants or agree on the most common or preferred variant. There are different versions of English, with Australian spelling, British spelling and US spelling. Australian spelling is considered somewhat in between US and British. While the meaning of words is clear, for consistency, choose one style and use it throughout the document. Inconsistent spelling can be a sign of copying and pasting from multiple sources.

Writing for an Australian audience should generally use Australian spelling. For instance, a thesis for a degree at an Australian university should be in Australian English. There may an exception if it contains chapters which have been submitted to or published in an academic journal which requires US spelling. Some international journals will accept either US or British, or edit to their preferred style after acceptance.

Here are some common differences between Australian and US spelling:

  • Australian: analyse, organise, organisation vs US: analyze, organize, organization
  • Australian: labour, colour, behaviour vs US: labor, color, behavior
  • Australian: centre, centred, metre vs US: center, centered, meter
  • Australian: modelled vs US: modeled.

The Australian Style manual for authors, editors and printers (pages 83–84) discusses some more word groups with variable spellings. Date formats can also vary in Australian and US English.

Tip: choose a spelling style and be consistent.

See my related blogs:

For advice on choosing your spelling, please contact me on

Energise your exhausted conclusion

As an editor, I read too many exhausted conclusions which need a burst of energy. At the end of writing a long article, report or book, it is easy to feel exhausted and dash off something short, anything, just to finish.

Your conclusion is worth more effort. It may be the last thing the reader reads, so it should leave readers in the right state of mind. You want readers to remember your key messages and feel positive about your work, even if there is more to do.

When discussing results, drawing conclusions or highlighting implications, move from the specifics of your work back to the general and broader implications. To avoid misinterpretations of your work and to increase its dissemination include clear statements that readers can easily cite in other work.

Avoid concluding with a quote or reference from someone else’s work. Your work should be the last thing in the reader’s mind.

Abstracts and executive summaries are similar to conclusions, so make sure your abstract is awesome too.

See my related blogs:

For advice on writing or editing your conclusion, please contact me on

When to edit translated quotes in qualitative research

Qualitative research often includes interviews, with quotes from interviewees usually included as part of the analysis. However, transcribing quotes, and editing them, can be difficult because interviewees rarely speak in complete, fully grammatical sentences. Interviewees do not want to appear unfairly inarticulate, poorly educated or illiterate when their quotes are transcribed.

It is particularly difficult when quotes are translated from another language, as the translation depends on the language skills of several people: the interviewer-researcher, interviewee and transcriber.

Just as decisions are made in quantitative research about statistical analysis and how to report it, careful decisions are also needed about quotes in qualitative research.

Editing decisions include whether and how to:

  • edit filler words and phrases such as ahs and ums, which can show an interviewee’s thought processes or confidence
  • edit casual language
  • edit pauses and interruptions
  • punctuate long, rambling sentence fragments
  • indicate deleted or edited text.

Decisions on how and what to edit can be guided by:

  • Purpose: Why has a specific quote been chosen to be highlighted? What is it intended to illustrate?
  • Context: What is the context around the quote? What was said before and after? Quotes extracted from a long transcript without context can be misleading and extra information may be required.
  • Length: How long is the section of quote?

Purpose, context and length can all guide editing decisions, but if a translated quote appears in different places, it should be consistent.

Text books on qualitative and cross-cultural research methods can provide guidance on interviews, translation, transcription and using quotes.

For advice on editing quotes, please contact me on

Editing by Zoom – a tech frontier

What is the next tech frontier for editing? Technology has affected all aspects of communication, including printing and publishing, and editing too.

Not so long ago, editors used a blue pencil to hand “mark up” changes on a paper document using proofreading symbols. With ubiquitous wordprocessing, editors now edit electronically using track changes in a Word file. This gives great flexibility to the editor and client to suggest, accept, reject or comment on changes. Pdf files can also be edited, but it takes more effort for poorer results.

Zoom for video conferencing

An emerging frontier is editing by Zoom. Zoom is cloud-based communications software for video conferencing and more. It’s free for 1 to 1 use and easy to download. Skype is similar.

Face to face communication appeals to many people, but editors are rarely co-located with clients. New tech can help.

Now Zoom-ing

I am now Zoom-ing to communicate with clients, and even edit documents using Zoom. By sharing screens, I can either see what my client is editing in real time, or I can edit and my client can watch what I do to a document as I work on it.

It can be slower, but overall more efficient, as the editor and client can see, discuss and agree on a change at the same time. It’s also a great way for clients to learn about features of Word or other software as the client can watch as I adjust styles or insert a table of contents.

Zoom editing is not ideal for all situations, but it may suit some. Keep it in mind.

To Zoom-edit your writing, please email me at to learn more.

Don’t agonise over apostrophes – drop the s

Apostrophes are important for meaning in writing. They show ownership or represent missing letters in contractions in informal writing like “isn’t” for “is not”. Correct use of apostrophes does trouble some writers.

If you are agonising over where to put the apostrophe, either before or after an “s” for a noun, consider whether you can rearrange your sentence.

You can avoid apostrophes and drop the s when you are using a word as an adjective, or descriptor, rather than a possessive use to show ownership.

Here are some examples where you can avoid an apostrophe:

  • The leg of the chair means the chair’s leg, which can be simplified to the chair leg.
  • The strategies of the government means the government’s strategies, which can be simplified to government strategies.

Minimising apostrophes is part of the trend to minimal punctuation – only using punctuation where required to clarify meaning.

For instance, apostrophes have not been used in Australian place names since 1966, and are disappearing from plurals in names of organisations and periods of time:

  • Georges River
  • Teachers Federation
  • two months time.

Read a post with lots of apostrophe examples by Paul Doherty here .
(See what I did there: examples of apostrophes = apostrophe examples)

For help on apostrophes in your writing, please contact me at

Turn nouns into verbs

Simplify your writing and make it easy for your readers by turning nouns into verbs. It works because a verb reduces the number of words, is a shorter word and is more active.

You may not even realise you are using nouns. Long nouns are often considered to be a more formal style of writing. But you won’t impress readers by using longer phrases – you just make it harder for them to fight through the words to follow your meaning.

Here are some examples. Turn:

  • ‘the implementation of the program’ into implementing the program
  • ‘the establishment of’ into establishing
  • ‘the utilisation of’ into using
  • ‘the evaluation of’ into evaluating
  • ‘realisation’ into realising.

When you have several long nouns in a long sentence, the more you can turn into verbs the better. Or choose a shorter noun: use instead of utilisation, change instead of transformation or modification.

For instance,

  • ‘The evaluation of the program was a factor in the modification of the implementation of the program’ can become ‘Evaluating the program changed how it was implemented’.
  • ‘The implementation of the program led to greater utilisation by the customers’ can become ‘Implementing the program increased customer use’.

There is, of course, still a place for a well-chosen noun. Even using the same word as a verb instead of a noun can help. Try ‘understanding’, not ‘the understanding of’.

It’s all part of making it easy for the reader, as covered in these related posts:

For help on turning nouns into verbs in your writing, please contact me at

Beyond the page – words from the IPEd national conference May 2019

The Institute of Professional Editors’ national conference on 8–10 May 2019 was a whirlwind of ideas, tips and insights on many areas of editing and editor–client working relationships. Here are just some of my notes from the many speakers. What’s your favourite quote?

Valuing the role of editors

  • The value of editors over online tools: “Don’t rely on spill chick”.
  • The role of editors: “First do no harm”.
  • Editing: “Where the very best work goes undetected”.
  • “Editing is invisible work: the better it is, the more invisible”.
  • When editors should care about changing language trends: Be aware of language appropriate to the context and care when it creates confusion or errors. Aim to maintain clarity and flow.

Editors and writers working together

  • Feedback can identify a writing problem, but there may be different solutions: an editor can suggest, the author can decide.
  • For authors: “Be liberated by how unlikely success is. A bestseller is sales more than expected in the print run”.
  • For editors: “The client owns the document. Get over it if the client ignores the editor’s advice”.
  • “Marketers are brand advocates, editors are reader advocates”.
  • English is an international language: 75% of English interactions are between non-native speakers.
  • Thesis editing: See the revised IPEd Guidelines for editing research theses, released in May 2019.

Improving accessibility and inclusion

  • All aspects of the publishing industry need to recognise the diversity of readers and users of print and web material and how readers access material – by screen reader, mobile, desktop and more.
  • Inclusive Publishing in Australia: An Introductory Guide, by the Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative, was launched at the conference.
  • A simple tip like always providing useful alt text for images can improve accessibility. See the Introductory Guide for more on what we can all do.

Cover of Inclusive Publishing in Australia: An Introductory GuideFor advice on writing and editing from an IPEd accredited editor, please contact me at