(Note: The first part of this article introduced helpful resources for various dictionaries and general copy-editing.)

A book can contain many elements besides solid blocks of type. … It is the editor’s job to make all these elements work together to present the content effectively to the intended reader.

Janet Mackenzie

Grammar and punctuation

Since grammar and punctuation are two of the areas most critically in need of ‘panel beating’ in the texts we are presented with for improvement, we certainly need to be in command of them – or at least know where to double-check our editorial interventions. There are a number of excellent classic works that can be invaluable vade mecums to us in our ‘hour of need’:

Grammar and usage guides

Punctuation pointers

In addition to the list of guides above, which all deal with aspects of punctuation (usually problematic ones!) in one way or another, the following books focus specifically on punctuation:

Although the first three books in this list were originally published about 50+ years ago, their wisdom is timeless and therefore still enormously relevant to us as practitioners in the 21st century. Unfortunately, books printed that long ago, and not reprinted or available as ebooks, usually have to be purchased from secondhand bookshops or charity shops, or from online bookstores such as Abe Books or Amazon, but they are nevertheless worthwhile tracking down.

House style and plain English specialists

Nowadays, we editors often have to plough our way through endlessly long sentences, long rather than short words, and passive rather than active voice, not to forget those highly complex sentences whose meaning only the author will understand! If we put ourselves in the shoes of the target readers, we will be doing them an enormous service by making authors’ sentences and words a lot plainer. But to do so we need to apply the sound principles of Plain English or Plain Language that focus on rendering texts reader-centred. Our aim should be to render authors’ ideas and words accessible at first reading. These are some of the invaluable guides to applying Plain Language principles to texts.


One of the often-overlooked pillars of the editor’s craft is applying consistency across documents. Consistency, that is, in the treatment of numbers, dates, spelling, capitalisation, hyphenation, abbreviations and symbols, and much more besides. Whereas consistency is dealt with in the major works on editing and proofreading listed above, it is treated specifically in the following publications:

Online tools

Besides these printed resources, there are also a number of online tools, sites and resources to consider:


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.