Working Words – for editors, writers, students of English grammar and wordsmiths all

by Elizabeth Manning Murphy (Canberra Society of Editors, 2011): 224pp (pbk), ISBN 978 0 646 55991 9.

Reviewed by Hazel Reid

This is a book that you can dip into or read straight through. If you dip in, you'll find something interesting or useful within seconds. If you read it straight through, you can feel Elizabeth Manning Murphy sitting beside you, explaining things gently but clearly, which, according to the preface, is what she hoped to achieve.

Elizabeth lives in Canberra, Australia, and describes herself as 'having been editing as well as teaching, coaching and mentoring students of business English, academic writing and linguistics from a variety of cultures and language backgrounds since the 1970s'. She also belongs to the Canberra Society of Editors (CSE) and the content of this book is based on articles she wrote for the CSE newsletter over a period of ten years – articles which she likens to 'chats' between teacher and pupil. Each three-page 'chat' deals with one of several topics grouped together in eight parts.

Seven deadly sins

Parts 1 to 3 deal with the craft of editing, ethical and legal considerations, and the business of editing. For someone considering editing as a career, this is a good guide to starting out, dealing with the editor's job and responsibilities, working onscreen and the 'seven deadly sins' such as not using reference books, resting on your laurels or, heaven forbid, not being able to find your copy of the 'Australian standards for editing practice'.

'Ethics' includes copyright and plagiarism, while 'The business of editing' looks at everything from project management, quoting for work, invoicing, writing emails to clients and what to look out for in office furniture and equipment.


Parts 4 and 5 deal with grammar. There is a lot of good stuff in here – a lot less scary than some grammar textbooks and clearly explained with nice touches of humour. I've always wished I could remember more of the Latin I learned at school, but reading this section, I realise I have a pretty good grasp of grammar and understand it because of all that Latin.

Part 6 covers punctuation, including commas and colons, apostrophes, hyphens and dashes. Part 7 looks at style with a particular emphasis on plain English, which Elizabeth points out 'does not always mean fewer words. Clarity of meaning is paramount'.

Ens and ems

The final part of the book is about the future of 'working words' and the inevitable changes that happen to language, along with useful pointers on editing English as a second language.

It doesn't seem to matter that this is written about Australian English, which seems to be more like UK English than, certainly, US English is. It's a useful book to have on your shelf if only to remind you what you may already know. My only quibble? I like a spaced en dash for parenthesis, not Elizabeth's unspaced em dash – or is that normal Australian style?

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