From Dark Days Into the Light Came a Really Useful Copyeditor’s and Proofreader’s Guide

My love of gathering similar things began in early childhood, when I collected my parents’ empty No. 6 cigarette packets. Piles of them grew under my bed – luckily my parents weren’t heavy smokers – until I got fed up with it and moved onto milk cartons and bus tickets. I had some strange behaviours as a child! Luckily, I seemed to grow out of that, and went on to University to study biochemistry and chemistry to PhD level, and eventually moved into a career in scientific & technical editing. Here, I was able to indulge my passion once more, especially when I became a freelance, having been made redundant one dark day in May, back in 1988, when jobs were previously plentiful and had suddenly become scarce.

Rewinding a bit to my PhD days, a similar love grew, out of sheer frustration, of getting references absolutely right, dotting every i and crossing every t, in authors’ names and addresses, and ensuring that every volume and page number was spot-on. This was borne of necessity, when, as a student, feverishly studying and trying to write my thesis, a dot or a slash out of place in reference terms could spell disaster! This was all because I found it so infuriating when some vital piece of information I needed to further my research work or thesis writing was missing, or inaccessible, due to a reference being incomplete or incorrectly typed.

After that, my obsessive compulsive disorder was heavily reinforced by joining the West African Examinations Council, copyediting and proofreading and even typesetting O and A level examination papers. I felt it very important work, ensuring that every exam question read unambiguously and that all information was present and correct.

After that, it was the Biochemical Journal that took me under their wing, where I rote learned the housestyle manual, which was no mean feat, as it was a foot thick! More lists were enthusiastically drawn up and checking of references doggedly undertaken, for fear of punishment by flogging or worse. (They were hard on new intakes in those days.)

Then came a slight interlude at the Institute of Marine Engineers where, although the work also carried the requirement for exquisite accuracy and attention to detail, it wasn’t quite so heavy on the style issues and so allowed some lighter undertakings, like desktop publishing and design. Mind you, having become firmly obsessive compulsive by then, I wasn’t easily put off, and tried to stamp my own style onto things, I can tell you! I wasn’t about to give it up that easily. Fortunately, I stayed there for quite a while and it almost cured me of my ailment, which carried over into my next job, which was more business and accountancy oriented, although under the guise of scientific editing. Not much time or call for such list making activities there. Then, one day, out of the blue, bam! I was made redundant! What a shocker that was… I thought I would never raise my head again and see the light of day, until, little by little, I discovered the delights of freelance editing from home.

There, I could give full reign to my fervent desire to compile lists of anything that moved, or stood still long enough on the page, and spend hours checking and rechecking those darned incorrect references to my heart’s content.

After a shaky start, as I tried out things like abstracting and indexing, I settled quite happily into copyediting and proofreading of various scientific books and journals, and didn’t really look back. Once I was fully ensconced in the freelance editing world, I found I had lists coming out of my ears, and the ones I had made were extremely useful. Hence I began to wonder whether anyone else would find them useful too.

These lists include:

Biochemical Book References

Journal abbreviations

Publishers’ locations

Biochemical and Equipment Companies

Biochemical Journal Housestyle

Common Binomia



And then I spread my wings a little more and branched out into medicine, copyediting and proofing a couple of titles, and compiling the following lists:

From the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery and the British Medical Journal:

Book references




Being a freelance editor myself, I found it made life so much easier that the lists were compiled from the actual Journal itself, rather than from the whole field of science or medicine. It really narrowed things down and saved a lot of time, making things easier and clearer.

It took the time and pain out of looking things up on the Web or in large dusty tomes.

Compiled over a career spanning 20 years, these guides are for copyeditors, proofreaders, editors, writers and journalists: and include lists of housestyle, abbreviations, and terminology used, equipment manufacturers, university addresses and book and commonly used journal references.


From the Biochemical Journal


(note subscripts do not show up in this article)

AdK, adenosine kinase

Ado, adenosine

AIP, autocamtide-2-related inhibitory peptide

ANT, adenine nucleotide translocator

AP, alkaline phosphatase

AP-1, activator protein-1

ARE, antioxidant response element

ATP, adenosine 5′-triphosphate

BCIP, 5-bromo-4-chloroindol-3-yl phosphate

BSA, bovine serum albumin

bZIP, basic region leucine zipper

C16:1, palmitoleic acid

C18:1, oleic acid

C18:2, linoleic acid

C20:4, arachidonic acid

[Ca2+]i, internal Ca2+ concentration

CaMKII, calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II


En rules (note en rules do not show up in this article – you have to use your imagination!)

amino acids 1-124

backbone-side-chain …

Bi-Bi reaction mechanism

Cibacron Blue-agarose

20-22 °C

enzyme-substrate complex

excitation-contraction coupling

Figures 3A-3C




LdAdK-Ado adduct

Luria-Bertani medium

0.5-2 mg/ml

Michaelis-Menten equation

1-20 min

150-170 nM

nuclear-cytoplasmic shuttling


(note roman subscripts usually)


cis cytochrome c

de novo DH (enthalpy change)


gloA G-6-P Ins(1,4,5)P3

in utero

in vivo

in vitro


Journalists might find the lists useful too, with book references galore, all individually checked and corrected.


From the British Medical Journal

Book references

De Mets DL. Data and safety monitoring boards. In: Redmond CK, Colton T, eds. Biostatistics in clinical trials. New York: Wiley, 2001.

Putnam RD. Bowling alone: the collapse and revival of the American community. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Mental Health Foundation. Bright futures: promoting children and young people’s mental health. London: Mental Health Foundation, 1999.

Taylor MF. British household panel survey user manual volume A: introduction, technical report and appendices. Colchester: University of Essex, 1999.

US Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control. CDC WONDER. (accessed 30 January 2006).

House of Commons Health Committee. Child and adolescent mental health services. 4th Report. London: Stationery Office, 1997.

Scott S. Parenting programmes. In: Rutter M, Taylor E, eds. Child and adolescent psychiatry. 4th ed. Oxford: Blackwell Science, 2002.

Rutter M, Taylor E, eds. Child and adolescent psychiatry. 4th ed. London: Blackwell, 2002.

O’Hara M. Children and domestic violence. Highlight no 139. London: National Children’s Bureau, 1995.

Hogg C, Richman N, Rutter M. Emotional and behavior problems in childhood booklet.In: Sclare I, ed. Child psychology portfolio. Windsor: NFER Nelson, 1997.

Audit Commission. Children in mind: child and adolescent mental health services. London: Audit Commission, 1999.

Department of Health. Choosing health: making healthy choices easier. CM 6374. London: Stationery Office, 2004.

Patterson GR. Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia, 1982.

Hodges JR. Cognitive assessment for clinicians. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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God bless neuroses and heavy science!

You might find them useful whatever field of science you are in.

If you don’t see what you’re looking for, let me know which Journals/subject area you’d like to see as a guide.

Happy editing and writing!