Micro Mentor

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Dear Micro Mentor,

Isn't it to OK to check everything using Google? Doesn't everyone do that?

Googlers Anonymous


Dear Anonymous,

No. And no.

That was quick, wasn't it?

You can break your addiction though. Start by acknowledging it, and now we'll look at the problems it can cause.

Yes, you can find just about everything by using Google. You can find all the right answers - and all the wrong ones. If you type in 'miniscule', for example, you'll get more than five million hits. That must be right then. Wrong. Does Google tell you that this is the incorrect spelling? No.

If you're editing a news piece on common misspellings of words, then Google would be one of the correct resources. If, however, you're checking the Australian spelling of a word, then the right place is usually the Macquarie Dictionary or the Australian Oxford Dictionary. How do you decide? Your company or client might have a preferred dictionary. Ask.

But wait - there's more. Breathe deeply. You might need to use a particular edition of a dictionary. For example, you might need to use the same hyphenation as other editors across the company. Do I really need more than one dictionary, you say? Yes. What's more, you'll certainly need more than one dictionary if you also edit documents for UK or US publications.

You can, of course, subscribe to many dictionaries online, making it easy to copy and paste words. Ahh that feels better, doesn't it? Be aware, however, that some of these references are updated regularly, so the spelling can change without you realising. Inconsistency is not your friend. And let's face it, when you're not using one of your dictionaries, it will make a good computer stand, footrest or doorstop.

We could spend all day on dictionaries alone. All good editors should also have a thesaurus, appropriate style guides, language usage guides, a grammar book or three, and an editing textbook, as well as subject-specific references. There's a great starting list in the members section of the IPEd website.

Never fear. The internet can be a goldmine for trusted resources. What are they though? Ask around at your workplace and among your editing colleagues, and create your own list. Let's look at one example. You see the term 'Escherishia' in a biology textbook. Could this be the state induced by trying to follow a line in an Escher drawing? No, from the context, it seems to be a microbe. If you need to look up the Latin name of an organism, MM recommends Entrez Taxonomy . This database is curated by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, which is part of the US National Library of Medicine. Using this resource will ensure that you spell Escherichia correctly every time.

One great use for Google is finding such resources. Another one is for when you see a string of four of five words that make no sense whatsoever. If you paste that string into Google in quotation marks, and you don't get a hit, then there's probably something wrong there. Everything can be found by using Google, as you know. To find out how to turn that string of words into clear and correct prose, however, you'll probably need to consult a trusted reference or two.

Start now: My name is Anonymous, and I am a Google-holic ...