No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.

HG Wells

A passion it may well be, but altering ‘someone else’s draft’ also requires more than a mote of know-how. Now, that know-how does not necessarily all have to be crammed inside our heads. Not at all. As professionals, though, we need to know where to access the know-how of others who have documented it. That we find in either print or online resources – the subject of this article.

A question that language practitioners often ask is whether there is a single publication – either printed or online – that contains everything they need to know or be able to access about their craft. Short of an editor fairy waving their magic wand, there is unfortunately no such resource. Instead, each of us needs to acquire specialist reference works that support or complement our craft. In this piece, I introduce some of the helpful resources that we editors should consider having to hand in order to make well-considered corrections to authors’ words.


Dictionaries dictionary icon

First in line are dictionaries. For PEG members, there is the freely available suite of online Oxford dictionaries. But if you are wedded to the Collins or Cambridge, or even the Pharos, equivalents, then you will be well equipped to make sound decisions about word choice, spelling and usage.

A reputable dictionary aligned to UK and South African English (SAE) should form the foundation of your professional service to clients. Talking of which, two dictionaries specific to SAE are the online Dictionary of South African English, which is accessible at no charge, and the Oxford South African concise dictionary. The beauty of the latter is that it includes a host of words borrowed from Afrikaans and our other official languages: their inclusion means that they should not be treated as foreign to English (and therefore not be italicised). Other extremely useful word lists are Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of troublesome words (Penguin, 2009) and the New Oxford dictionary for writers and editors (OUP, 2014).

In addition to these standard dictionaries, there is also a host of specialist dictionaries – literally from Archaeology to Zoology – that we should be acquiring as authorities in the specific disciplines we specialise in. These include a dictionary of quotations, because we often have to check on the author’s quotation of others’ wise words, if only to see that they have done so 100 per cent accurately. We all need to have a copy of such a dictionary on our bookshelves. For those who work in the exact sciences, a useful general word list is the Oxford dictionary for scientific writers and editors.

book stack icon General copy-editing

If you are relatively new to editing and proofreading, or have received little or no formal training in these crafts, then you really should consider obtaining one of the standard works that will give you not only an overview of them but also dive down into the details that we all need to be familiar with if we are to provide our services competently and professionally. These include:



(Note from the editor: The second part of this article, which will be posted in two weeks’ time, will introduce helpful resources for grammar and punctuation.)


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The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of PEG.

About John Linnegar

John Linnegar has been a text editor, proofreader and indexer of school and academic textbooks, reports and journal articles since the 1970s. For more than 20 years he has trained generations of editors, proofreaders and indexers. During this time, he (co-)wrote several books on aspects of language usage and editing, including Engleish, our Engleish: Common errors in South African English and how to resolve them (2013), Grammar, punctuation and all that jazz (2019) and Text editing: A handbook for students and practitioners (2012). With Consistency, consistency, consistency, he pioneered the series of PEG guides that now numbers five titles. Besides being a PEG Honorary Life Member and an Accredited Text Editor of both SATI and PEG, he is a member of a number of professional associations worldwide, including SENSE, NEaT and the CSE (Australia) and a regular presenter at international conferences.

About PEG

The Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG) is a non-profit company (NPC) in South Africa. Since moving to online activities in March 2020, PEG has been able to offer members across South Africa, and internationally, access to an extensive online webinar programme. Continuing professional development remains a key offering and the first PEG Accreditation Test was administered in August 2020 to benchmark excellence in the field of editing.