My top takeaways from the 2017 SfEP Scottish mini-conference

Post by Jill Broom

As I sat on the 8.15 train from Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh last Friday morning, I was feeling excited about what the day would bring. Some of that excitement may have had something to do with the promise of my bestie’s hen weekend beginning later that evening, but the rest of the day was shaping up to be good too … I was off to the SfEP Scottish mini-conference.

As someone who works from home, I look upon it as a rare treat to get caught up in the bustle of rush hour. (I know. I’m probably mad.) And to have an hour’s commute when I can get through my admin before the ‘real’ start of the day? Well, that is awesome.

Although that morning my admin mostly consisted of organising my kids’ social lives by text, my mind was ultimately focused on my profession. This was going to be a day about developing and reaffirming my skills.

Why did I go to this SfEP conference?

Freelancing can be a lonely business. Holed up in a home office for days on end without seeing many people doesn’t always a fun Jill make. So, these events are important to me. Meeting up with, learning from and chatting to other editorial professionals every so often makes me feel less isolated.

What did I get out of it?

Well, loads of course … but there were three key things for me.

1. Trust your instinct (& don’t fret about strict grammar conventions)

Did you know that most current grammar books are outdated? Some merely contain rehashed guidance written 100+ years ago. OK, so don’t panic! There’s no need to burn them all. But this fact does rather rain on the whole idea of the fluidity of language.

Well, while Professor of Linguistics Geoff Pullum didn’t urge us to ditch all grammar rules immediately, he did ask us to be sensible in our approach.

The issue at the heart of Pullum’s entertaining talk on Freedom and tyranny in English grammar was that we should be editing written work to sound like it belongs in 2017. He pointed out that usages people regard as grammatical errors are often just a less formal style. So, don’t over-correct. If it sounds OK, leave it alone.

This resonated with me and many other conference attendees – hence the ‘trust your instinct’ subhead. But it’s nice to have your working practices reaffirmed by a linguistics prof.

I particularly liked this example:

  • ‘Don’t worry about the passive voice; just don’t be dull.’ Hooray! This is something that’s bugged me for ages. Even Word and some Content Management Systems obsess over this. WordPress’s insistence on using instances of the passive voice to score readability drives me bonkers. If it reads well, surely that’s the most important thing?

Pullum highlighted that the same goes for a whole host of other grammar ‘rules’. For example, you don’t need to ‘un-split a split infinitive if it makes sense’ and you don’t need to remove all adjectives and adverbs if they lend meaning.

And, if you’re dithering over whether to change a word to something that ‘makes more grammatical sense’, look around to see what occurs elsewhere. Ask Google. You may well find enough relevant examples to give you the confidence to leave it be.

2. Investigate and use tools that can make you more efficient

One of the things I love about SfEP conferences is that members are always willing to share their experiences to help their colleagues. And Ashley Craig’s session on commercial super-macros didn’t disappoint.

Ashley gave us live demos of Wordsnsync EditTools v8.0 and Editorium Editor’s Toolkit PLUS 2014, proving that super-macros save a lot of time by automating some of the copy-editing process.

Wordsnsync EditTools’ journal checker, which checks and corrects journal names, looked particularly handy for those regularly dealing with references, and its Insert Query tool saves you having to copy and paste or rewrite the same types of queries over and over again. But take a look for yourself. There are a whole load of other useful things these super-macros can do for you.

I’m terrible for setting aside time to look into these things and then getting caught up in some other work … But I’ve given myself a talking to after Ashley’s session.

3. Remember to be confident in what you do

How many times have you used the words ‘only’ and ‘just’ when talking about what you do for a living? Well … stop it.

Laura Poole’s pep talk reminded us that we’re not ‘only’ editors who ‘just’ tidy up other people’s writing. We provide an extremely valuable service to many different businesses, and we should talk about it using less apologetic language.

Laura also spoke about networking – something many of us recoil from. She pointed out that you don’t need to be ‘salesy’. In fact, don’t be. It’ll put people off. Just be yourself and start a natural conversation. Be interested in who you’re talking to. And when they ask what you do … think about how to talk about it in a nutshell. Can you do this in a creative way? Can you make yourself stand out from the crowd?

A week later, I’m still working on the perfect ‘elevator pitch’.  But … I know which words I won’t be including in it; I know how to make myself the most efficient proofreader and copy-editor I can be; and I know that I’m making the right calls when it comes to rejecting outdated grammatical conventions.

All in all, #SfEPSco17 was a very good day ‘out of the office’.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jill is a copywriter, proofreader and copy-editor, but her biggest job is being mum to three small children, which has helped her to sharpen one of her key writing and editorial skills … adaptability! Check out her LinkedIn page or follow her on Twitter @honeybroom.

My journey into editing (so far) – Alison’s story

Post by Alison Chand

Ever wondered how a person becomes ‘an editor’? This post is the second in our ‘How I got into editing’ series. These pieces are designed to give you some insight into the varied backgrounds of our members (we’ve come from all walks of life) and how we became embroiled in the wonderful world of editing.

Here is Alison’s story …

Careers and work identities are often arrived at by accident rather than by design, and that was certainly the case for me! I began studying for my PhD (an oral history-based project exploring masculinities in male civilian workers in Clydeside during the Second World War) at the University of Strathclyde in 2009, and had grand plans of becoming a full-time academic upon completion. However, in (what I thought was) the short term, I started doing some casual proof-editing of other postgraduates’ work to make a bit of extra cash.

This continued as I progressed with my PhD and, approximately nine months before I was due to submit, I discovered that I was pregnant with my daughter. After the initial euphoria/panic waves had passed, my thoughts strayed to my working life after my studies, and I decided to look into the idea of setting up as a sole trader in proofreading and copy-editing.

Getting trained and finding support  

After a bit of (not as much as I should have done) Google exploration, I signed up for Chapterhouse’s distance learning course in proofreading and copy-editing, confidently expecting that, because I saw myself as pretty good with all things written and grammatical, the course would be fairly straightforward. I was horrified by how much I missed in the first assessment, quickly realising that I’d need to apply myself a bit more to gain the skills I needed. After nine months, I passed the course, although not exactly with flying colours. I found the online experience fairly isolating, and lacking in support for learning about a world of symbols which, as it turned out, was entirely new to me.

Luckily for me, I also discovered the Society for Editors and Proofreaders on my foray into Google, and decided to go along to a meeting of my local group, in Glasgow, in June 2012. There, I found real, friendly people, offering real advice about work options and training courses. I joined the SfEP, first as an associate, later upgrading to intermediate member, and decided to sign up to the SfEP introductory day courses on proofreading and copy-editing.

At these courses, I enjoyed being able to ask questions in person and develop my skills among other interested professionals. I set up a basic website and LinkedIn page and, before and after having my daughter, Ailsa, in October 2012, I continued to pick up work proof-editing for students, from Strathclyde and elsewhere, also passing the editing test to work freelance for ProofreadMyEssay, a company offering proof-editing to students across the English-speaking world.

The variety of [freelancing] life

When I returned to more regular working when Ailsa was nine months’ old, I gradually started to work on material other than student dissertations and theses, receiving enquiries from authors of fiction, a CV writing company, and a variety of businesses.

I studied online for the SfEP’s Proofreading Progress course and was pleased to pass this, despite finding the return to marking a hard copy with symbols a bit of a challenge! Alongside editing, I taught freelance in the History department at the University of Strathclyde and spent two evenings per week as a children’s swimming instructor, making my working life varied to say the least!

In November 2015, I gave birth to my son, Euan, and another quiet working spell followed, before I returned to the fray in summer 2016, continuing to complete editing work for students and an assortment of others, and also returning to university teaching work and swimming instruction.

What’s next?

So, to 2017! Not knowing where the next byway may lead, I plan to keep pushing for improvement and thus to undertake further training. This year, I’d like to take the SfEP’s editing test and upgrade my membership status to professional member. With this in mind, I’m currently working online on the Copy-editing Headway course, with a view to following this up with Copy-editing Progress.

As my children grow up and the work I do sprouts arms and legs, only time will tell where my road as a sole trader will take me.

I feel that I’ve come a long way since 2012. I love the flexibility of my working life now, but I still have days where I feel woefully inadequate at addressing my different areas of work, as though I’m being pulled in too many directions at one time. Nonetheless, I want to be ready for whichever path I take next, and I certainly plan for proofreading and copy-editing to be part of that …

So, I’ll keep on appearing at the always-friendly and always-helpful meetings of the Glasgow SfEP group, the members of which helped draw me into the editing world to start with and now give me a great deal of motivation to stay there.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alison Chand is a freelance proofreader, copy-editor and oral historian (and swimming teacher!). Her editing work is mostly in academic material, including student dissertations and theses, and academic books and journal articles. She is an Intermediate Member of the SfEP.

Everyone needs an editor

Post by Chris Bryce

‘If only I hadn’t said that’ … a phrase familiar to the broken-hearted following a heated row, or the regretful employee the morning after the office party. What would the miserable lover or tipsy partygoer have given for a filter on their spoken words? The answer would probably be … anything!

Given half a chance, they would have spotted their errors, stopped the conversation, cut out the offending sections of dialogue, reformatted the chat and started again.

Luckily, it’s different for the written word, because the writer can choose to get a fresh pair of eyes to act as that filter. And if those eyes are inside the head of a professional editor, who understands exactly where and why mistakes are made, then the writer will never have the unpleasant task of trying to claw back the words they’ve put on paper.

What do editors do?

Copy-editors know how to make words work well and deal with a wide variety of text – from T-shirt slogans, website wording and marketing materials, to academic papers, technical manuals and published books.

Whatever they’re working on, the copy-editor’s aim is always to improve the wording and format. Often referred to as the seven Cs of editing, an editor’s focus is to make the text: clear, correct, coherent, complete, concise, consistent and credible.

The human brain is hard-wired to fill in the blanks as we read. This gives us the ability to speed-read or scan our eyes over text. It’s a useful skill when we want to take in lots of information quickly, but it can also lead to us skipping over some outrageous errors without seeing them.

Here’s an example of what can go wrong. A healthcare provider had thousands of flyers printed to invite the local community to a ‘Pubic Health Day’. Of course, the flyers were meant to read ‘Public’. A funny mistake? The Chief Executive wasn’t laughing. Money was wasted on printing those useless flyers.

This example also perfectly demonstrates the unreliable nature of spellcheckers. ‘Pubic’ wouldn’t have been picked up by a computer program because it is a word; just not the right word here. Involving an editor or proofreader in the process would have saved a lot of time, money and embarrassment.

Who edits the editors?

It’s amazing how often good writers develop blind spots and fail to notice clanging typos and clichéd or overused words or terms.

Mismatched images and captions are another common area for mistakes, along with wonky formatting, punctuation and grammar. A text can have too few or too many headings, a variety of fonts and a host of other issues. Even copy-editors benefit from help with their own text and regularly seek the assistance of proofreaders to pick up on the unintentional typos and grammatical slips that can plague even the most elegant writing. Proof-editing (a combination of copy-editing and proofreading) is a comprehensive way to capture all of the problems with a piece of text, and turn good writing into excellent writing.

Don’t live to regret your words

It’s an editor’s job to help you make the most of your writing. But, perhaps more importantly, an editor will also help you to keep your reputation intact, making sure any written mistakes are never made public. (Or should that be pubic?)

As far as a verbal filter is concerned … well, drop me a line if you find the answer to that one!

 

For local, qualified copy-editors and proofreaders, take a look at our Directory now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris is an editor, proofreader and copywriter, with over ten years of experience across business, organisational and creative writing areas.

 

How to return a job to your client

Post by Jill Broom, based on meeting notes written by Lucy Metzger

While it’s true that there are lots of ways to go about returning a piece of work to a client – every editor has their own ‘style’, and every job is different – there are some things that we commonly include in our handover notes. For example, we’ll often compile a style sheet and word list; notes for the typesetter or designer; and a list of queries or issues that the client will need to resolve or be aware of. Clients also regularly ask for a list of running heads and/or a list or log of artwork, figures and tables. But is there a ‘best practice’ for returning a job?

Recently, members of the Glasgow Editors’ Network got together to explore this idea. We shared our approaches to producing comprehensive, clear explanatory notes to accompany our work. And it became clear that the following practices work well for many in the group.

3 tips for producing a stellar handover note

1. Produce a good style sheet with the job.

This may evolve into a style guide, particularly with an ongoing project involving multiple publications. Note: Could you get yourself commissioned to produce the style guide for an appropriate additional fee?

One of our colleagues uses an Excel workbook to send information to the client, with different tabs for general style principles, exceptions to these, a word list, and a list of outstanding issues needing the client’s attention. (This is handy as it collects all the info into one easily referenced file.)

2. Include author queries and the author’s answers with the returned job.

And here’s some food for thought when it comes to framing and formatting those queries:

  • Prepare three columns: the first with a pasted-in chunk of text, the next with the associated query, and the third with space for the author to answer.
  • Remember that brief, succinct queries are more likely to get useful answers.
  • If it’s a sizeable job, you could send author queries in batches, e.g. a list for each chapter or group of chapters.
  • Do a preliminary read-through or skim to assess what kinds of issues, and therefore queries, are likely to come up.
  • Send a document to the author with Track Changes, allowing him/her to reply to particular comments on the spot. (But watch out, some authors may be tempted to tinker with other parts of the document while they’re doing this.)
  • If more than one person is working on your document, take care! For example, a shared document in Dropbox can cause difficulties. Avoid problems by taking the document out of Dropbox, working on it, and then putting it back with a different version name. This also avoids the problem of thousands of notifications being sent to all sharers of the document while you edit it.
  • Use Google Docs? Ever had the creepy experience of working on a document at the same time that another person is observing what you are doing and commenting on it? Ask them to stop (politely).


3. ALWAYS return a job well.

Ok, so some clients appreciate a good handover note more than others. Some, perhaps in particular non-publishers, may not be interested in (or just don’t have time to go through) word lists and style decisions. They simply want the job done well. However, others WILL be grateful and perhaps surprised to know about what kinds of issues have come up and what decisions have had to be made.

A good handover note can help the client to see what value you have added to their project, and – importantly – how you could help them in the future.

Need an editor or proofreader with great communication skills? Search our Directory now.

Want more tips from Glasgow’s best editors? Come along to the next local SfEP meeting. Contact Denise Cowle for more info.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jill Broom is a copywriter, proofreader and copy-editor, but her biggest job is being mum to three small children, which has helped her to sharpen one of her key writing/editing skills – adaptability! Check out her LinkedIn page or follow her on Twitter @honeybroom
Jill based this post on group meeting notes written by Lucy Metzger. Lucy is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader, working mostly in teaching materials and academic and reference books, and a member of the Glasgow SfEP group. She is also the vice-chair of the SfEP.

The ups and downs of working from home

Post by Carolyn Fox

Before I get started, I should probably explain that I say working ‘from home’ because that’s the phrase to which we are all accustomed. Strictly though, I think that applies to the increasing number of employees who work a day or two a week at home instead of the office, rather than someone like me who is self-employed – I work ‘at home’. And, of course, we mustn’t forget people who work ‘in the home’, as I did when I gave up my full-time job as a solicitor to care for my children … But, semantics aside, let’s get to the point.

Whenever I tell anyone that I work from home I’m usually asked two questions:
1. Don’t you get distracted/find it difficult to concentrate?2. Don’t you get lonely? (Particularly pertinent as I’m now officially an ‘empty-nester’ – my youngest son has just gone off to university!)

The answer to number one is easy: there is nothing like a looming deadline to concentrate the mind! I know that if I miss a return date my client is not going to employ me again. Experience tells me that reliability is one of the qualities that clients value most in a freelancer so, if I want that all-important repeat business, I must get the job back on time.

Do I get lonely? Yes, of course one can feel a little isolated at times, but there are ways round this. As a freelancer, it’s up to me when I do my work and so a few times a week I will make sure I go out for a walk or have coffee with a friend, either at lunchtime or perhaps first thing in the morning. And because I don’t have to spend hours commuting, I have time in the evenings to pursue my other interests.

Also not to be forgotten are professional contacts – not least our Glasgow SfEP local group. It’s amazing how quickly our monthly meetings come around! It’s a real tonic to meet other people in the same line of work and to have the opportunity to discuss issues we’ve encountered in the weeks between meetings. In short, I choose who to spend my time with (and when) rather than becoming embroiled in office politics.

Freelancing is not for everyone: you have to be self-motivated and self-sufficient, but I for one would not swap it with my old life in the office.

Want to give freelancing a go? Have a look at the SfEP guide Starting Out: Setting up a small business available at http://www.sfep.org.uk/resources/guides/#SO.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn is an advanced professional member of the SfEP and specialises in law. A number of years ago she left her job as a solicitor in the south of England for working at home in the beautiful East Lothian countryside and has never looked back. Find out more about Carolyn here: www.carolynfox.co.uk.

Why your business needs a proofreader

Post by Denise Cowle

The idea of somebody changing so much as a comma of your text may seem unthinkable. However, your familiarity with your work means that sometimes you see what you want to, rather than what is there. That’s how we can all miss obvious errors in our own work – we’re just too close to it. A ‘fresh eye’ is the best way to overcome this. A proofreader is sufficiently detached from your writing to spot mistakes and inconsistencies that distract the reader.

Not everyone is confident with spelling and grammar, but you shouldn’t rely on spelling and grammar checkers. Did you mean to say stationary or stationery? Compliment or complement? Automated spell checks can identify if a word has been spelled correctly, but not whether it was the correct word to use in the first place.

You may feel that it’s enough to have a colleague or friend who looks over your content. Are they always available when you need them? Are you confident in their ability to assess and improve your spelling, grammar, punctuation, layout, consistency and overall message?

Here are four reasons to consider using a professional:

  1. Knowing that your copy will be professionally proofread allows you to write the way you think, saving you time and allowing a professional to smooth your words into a clear message.
  2. You won’t have to ask friends and colleagues to take time out from their work to deal with yours – there’s only so much goodwill you can rely on, and eventually it just might run out.
  3. It will give you credibility. Can someone trust what you’re saying when your written work is inconsistent and contains errors? A poorly proofed report, brochure or website (or one that has not been proofed at all) will reflect badly on you and your company. Regardless of what you are saying, the reader will be distracted by errors and may even equate sloppy writing with sloppiness in other areas of your business. Professional proofreading eliminates errors to give your writing – and therefore your business – a professional and credible feel.
  4. Aim higher than ‘good enough’. Use a proofreader to polish your work, ensuring that you leave readers with a clear, error-free message.

Find a local, qualified proofreader in our Directory. Why would you settle for anything less?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Denise is an advanced professional member of the SfEP. She lives in Glasgow and her clients range from local individuals to global organisations. She was a chartered physiotherapist for 25 years but has moved on from manipulating joints to manipulating text. Check her out at www.denisecowleeditorial.com, or follow her on Twitter @dinnydaethat.

Editors – not just a bunch of pedants?

Post by Ron Smith

When I started proofreading and copy-editing for a living in January 2011, I was searching for order in language. So, if Hart’s Rules said it should be done in a certain way, that’s what I conveyed to, and in my very early days, perhaps even imposed on, some of my customers.

Hart’s is undoubtedly a first-class guide, but it is not the God of language and, indeed, there is no body in overall control of language – a concept argued in a recent BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘The Pedant’ (an episode in the Word of Mouth series).

Instead, general usage is what the language is.

Standards are slipping!

I used to be firmly in the camp of ‘Standards are slipping’ and, according to the above programme, I was in good company since Defoe and Swift, I learned, also held that view.

Much of my work is on documents produced by students, many of whom are postgraduates. I still have difficulty understanding how anyone can complete a university education and still not know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ or ‘were’ and ‘where’, yet I come across this frequently.

So although the message from this programme is that standards of literacy have never been higher in this country, this is not a premise that I can wholeheartedly agree with. Having said that, my attitude towards, and treatment of, variations in language usage have altered over the years.

Old habits

In the past, I would:

  • always change ‘data is’ to ‘data are’
  • insist on the presence of ‘on the one hand’ before allowing ‘on the other hand’
  • make any leading capitalisation lower case if there was no grammatical justification for it
  • insert ‘that’, as a subordinating conjunction, at every opportunity
  • bar stranded prepositions (‘with’, near the end of the previous paragraph, is an example).

Current practice

Regarding the above:

  • It is perfectly acceptable to use ‘data is’, providing it is used consistently.
  • ‘On the other hand’ can be used without preceding it with ‘on the one hand’.
  • Leading capitalisation is a matter of style and, where necessary, I remark on it but do not change it.
  • Providing sense is maintained without the word ‘that’, I accept its omission.
  • There is no grammatical rule against the use of a preposition at the end of a sentence.

Pedantic rules

Before listening to this programme, I was not aware that many of the pedantic rules of language had resulted from people like Thomas Sheridan, in the 1780s, telling anyone who would listen that they were not talking elegantly or politely enough (loaded words in the 18th century). This was during the Industrial Revolution, when huge numbers of people were moving from the countryside into towns, trying to make sense and order out of the seismic changes in their lifestyle. Consequently, I can well understand how adopting such new rules was seen as part of people’s path to bettering themselves.

Language is constantly changing

Every year, the OED adds words to its dictionary and in 2014 alone that number passed 1000. Proofreaders and copy-editors are well aware that the language is constantly changing and seek to allow writers freedom of expression, while ensuring that the end product makes sense and is suited to its intended audience.

Sense, consistency and audience

Providing sense and consistency are maintained, and the writing suits the audience (another point made in the programme), I am now much more likely to accept variations in usage. Where any variation does not meet these three criteria, I will either correct any mistakes or make suitable suggestions on style, but now I will leave well alone, if at all possible.

How we can help

So all writers should rest assured that we proofreaders and copy-editors are not there to pounce gleefully on your possible stylistic infelicities but to make your document, on which you have probably spent considerable time and effort, fit to put before the specific audience you are aiming at.

To ensure your writing is fit for purpose, head to our Directory now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ron is a proofreader and copy-editor with a love of words, radio, travelling and sport, especially football (both kinds) and baseball – all of which keep him busy, as does his joint (with his wife) part-time job of looking after their new grandson.

What’s so good about THIS blog?

post by GEN

As slaves to ‘the deadline’, we editor-types know that time is precious. And, as a result, most of us don’t have time to peruse all the editorial blogs we’d like. So we’re using this inaugural post to tell you why our blog is worth taking the time to read. Here goes …

Who writes the posts?

Members of the Glasgow Editors’ Network take it in turn to write these little gems of wisdom. This means you’ll find information and experience from an array of editorial professionals who work with a variety of clients, including authors, publishers, large companies, charities and SMEs.

Who will find this blog useful?

Lots of people! (Because we blog about a whole host of stuff that’s good to know.) But, specifically, our posts are designed to be interesting and informative for:

  1. Editorial professionals – our members are generous with their knowledge and regularly share their on-the-job experiences (& some nice handy tips) to help others in their work.
  2. Those wishing to use the services of an editorial professional – this blog is also for individuals, businesses and organisations looking to improve the quality of their online and paper publications – and, consequently, the reputation of their brand. (You’ll even glean little titbits worth knowing – the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ – before employing one!)

So, go on. Take five minutes and dive in. You never know what you might find out about Glasgow’s editors and what we can do for you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Glasgow Editors’ Network  – GEN – is a group of independent professional editors and proofreaders with a wide range of skills and extensive experience.