Oxford Dictionaries

Library2Have you got a library card? Here’s something you might not know: most UK libraries subscribe to resources from Oxford University Press (OUP). If you live outside the UK, it is worth checking if your local library has a subscription too.

It is a huge range of resources, but perhaps the key ones for writers are the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Reference and Oxford Dictionaries online. There’s information about how to access them on the OUP’s website.

I recommend taking advantage of the premium resources on oxforddictionaries.com. The login page is here, and the library card login box is on the right-hand side. Once you have logged in you will see the Premium tab.

The premium resources are:

  • New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide
  • Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage
  • New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors
  • Pocket Fowler’s Modern English Usage

If you want your work to conform to UK publishing standards, you should use New Hart’s as your guide. It is really very good.

The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors is a handy guide for any spellings or names you aren’t sure of, or if you want help with hyphenation and capitalisation.

Pocket Fowler’s does not contain all the nuances of the full-size version, but it is still very helpful.

And they are all available for free and from the comfort of your own home.


Sample style sheet

Crumpled paperI have previously recommended creating your own style sheet to aid you when you are proofreading. If you aren’t sure where to start, I have produced a sample to help.

The layout is the same as the one I use when compiling a style sheet for the projects I proofread. All my non-publisher clients get a copy of the style sheet for their own reference once I have completed proofreading.

The sample is for a made-up project, but it should give you an idea of the things to consider. I have also included some formatting and layout elements you would need to think about as you get ready to publish (e.g. chapter headings and page numbering).

I would advise recording the decisions you make as early as possible (particularly the basic ones such as is/iz suffixes and single or double quote marks). If you do create a style sheet and later employ an editorial professional, send them a copy. It’s really very helpful!

I have uploaded a blank copy of the style sheet for anyone’s use (although if you share it I would appreciate a link back to my original). The sample is for a novel, but you can make adjustments to the blank copy for any writing project.

You can find the sample and the blank style sheet on my Resources page or download the sample by clicking this link: Sample style sheet.

Proofreading advice: use red ink

Studying2Use a pen with red ink to mark corrections and amendments. As a professional, I typically use red and blue ink on proofs. When I don’t have to differentiate between the causes of problems, I always use red. It’s bold and stands out – it is almost impossible to skim over without noticing.

If the idea of using red ink gives you horrible flashbacks to your time at school, choose another strong colour. Make sure it won’t be easily missed or hard to read (no silver glitter pens).

You may find it useful to use a ruler to guide you as you read line by line. It will help you to focus on the text and you won’t lose your place. Read slowly. Mark your corrections clearly to avoid any confusion later.

Previous articles in this series:

Proofreading advice: create your own style sheet

If you are a student, you should have a style guide supplied by your department or institution. That doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful to supplement it with your own (more limited) list.

All writers, particularly authors, should think about putting together their own style sheet. (Publishers and large organisations are likely to already have a house style guide but you might want to keep a list of any things it doesn’t cover.)

Keep a record of the style decisions you make and then tidy it up into a neat list.

The style decisions you make should include the following:

  • Word endings: ‘ize’ or ‘ise’?
  • Numbers: numerals or words?
  • Commas: serial or not serial?
  • Dashes: spaced en rules or closed-up em rules?
  • Quote marks: single or double?

There will be lots more, and many are not as simple as choosing one option for all circumstances – just make sure your decisions make sense.

https://pixabay.com/en/type-printer-manual-gutenberg-work-786900/You should also keep track of words you have hyphenated and any alternative spellings you have chosen.

If you are formatting your own work, extend your style sheet by creating a design specification. This should include decisions such as how headings of equal importance should look and what size the margins should be.

It may seem like a lot of effort, but a style sheet should help you spot where you have been inconsistent. Spotting inconsistencies is a key part of the proofreading process. If you aren’t sure where to start, there is a sample style sheet available on my Resources page.

Articles in this series:

Proofreading advice: read out loud

You’ve taken a break and printed off your work. Now you need to decide how you are going to divide the text into manageable chunks.

ReadingIt will depend on the length and style of the project, but you might find proofreading a chapter and then taking a small break is a good way to maintain focus.

Before you start reading to spot errors, read the text through at least once with clarity and sense in mind.

Don’t be afraid to read out loud. Errors are often obvious when you say them. As you read, it may be useful to imagine someone else listening to you. Would the listener be able to understand what you are trying to convey? Would they be able to follow your argument or narrative?

It’s best to revise any areas you think aren’t clear or don’t work before you begin proofreading for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Articles in this series:

Proofreading advice: print it off

When you are ready to start proofreading your writing, print it off. You will be surprised by how much easier it is to spot errors on paper than on a screen.

https://pixabay.com/en/writing-write-person-paperwork-828911/Make sure the text is black and that colours are only used when appropriate. (Refer to your style guide if you aren’t sure what is appropriate.) When you mark corrections using a colour pen, the corrections will stand out best against black text and on white paper.

Physical distance makes it easier to spot errors in format, style and layout. Hold the pages out in front of you, pin or stick them to a board, or ask someone to hold them up for you. Don’t forget to check the pages against each other for any inconsistencies.

Articles in this series:

Proofreading advice: take a break

I’m tinkering with a guide to help students who wish to proofread their own work, and I thought I would share some of the advice on my blog.

You’ve finished writing. You’ve made your edits. The next step is to proofread.



     If it looks like this outside, you know where you should be.

Save your work. Put down your pen. Switch off the computer. Take a break.

The best thing to do, I think, is to go outside. Take a walk and get some fresh air. If you can’t go out, do something else to take your mind off the work. Bake a cake, knit a small hat, clean the bathroom. Do whatever you like doing to relax.

If you have enough time, leave your work for a day or more.

This should create distance, and distance should help you spot errors. When your words are not fresh in your mind, you can look at your writing from a different perspective.

That’s when it’s time to start proofreading.

Articles in this series:

Widows and orphans

If you are self-publishing your work, it is worth knowing about widows and orphans. They can be ugly, and removing them will help your finished publication look even more professional.


The first type of widow is a short last line of a paragraph at the top of the page. The definition of ‘short’ will vary. Generally, you can pick your preference out of the following:

  • less than a third of the line width
  • less than half of the line width
  • less than the full line width

I prefer to regard ‘short’ as less than the full line width. Whichever definition you wish to adopt, make sure that you are consistent throughout.

As the author, you are well placed to decide how to deal with any widows that occur: add or remove some text on the previous page so that the line can move up or another line can move down (or just make the line longer if that’s what you want).

Make sure you check any for any knock-on effects. Sometimes even small changes have repercussions for the surrounding pages.

Here is an example of a widow.

Here is an example of a widow.

The second type of widow is a very short last line of a paragraph. This is usually fewer than five characters (including punctuation). You should be able to deal with these by adding or removing a word or two earlier in the paragraph.

Paragraphs that are only one line do not count as widows.


Orphans are a single line of text under a new heading at the bottom of the page. If the first line of a paragraph falls at the bottom of the page, it is sometimes also regarded as an orphan.

Here is an example of an orphan.

Here is an example of an orphan.

As suggested above, you can add or remove words to fill or create space. It will depend on the capabilities of the formatting software you are using, but you might be able to amend the space above and below headings and illustrations.

If you can think of a sensible way to save or add space, it is probably worth doing when you are faced with a widow or orphan.

My definition of widows and orphans is based on that stated in Basic Proofreading by Distance Learning (Fourth Revision) by Gillian Clarke and Margaret Aherne.

Resources page

https://pixabay.com/en/book-open-pages-paper-education-933088/I have put together a page of resources. I mentioned a few books in my previous posts that I think are helpful or interesting, and I thought it might be handy to have a central list. It may be of interest to writers and students in particular. The books I have included are accessible and fairly straightforward.

I have also included a couple of websites I find or have found helpful.

I’ll update the page with any new discoveries.

Yours sincerely/faithfully

I can’t remember the last time I wrote or received a personal letter. I suspect that, sadly, I am not the only one. https://pixabay.com/en/letters-handwriting-font-old-851828/

Business letters, on the other hand, are still sent and received fairly often. Writers often worry over which ending to use with which greeting. Many of the more formal closings are simply no longer used – Your most obedient servant in particular.

If you begin the letter with Dear Mr SmithDear John Smith, or Dear John, then you should end with Yours sincerely. If you use the first name only and know the person well, you could use With kind regards, Best wishes, or a variant of these. The choice that you make should reflect the level of formality the letter requires.

If you begin the letter with Dear Madam, Dear Sir, or Dear Sir or Madam, you should end with Yours faithfully. Yours truly is a less formal alternative.