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Did you know that most current grammar books are outdated?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’.


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.


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.

Tips for editing tables in Word

Post by Merle Read and Susan Milligan

February’s Local SfEP Group meeting in Glasgow covered some exciting topics, including training events north of the border, writing more useful blog posts and the coming Scottish mini-conference. But there was also the added bonus of an extremely handy presentation on Word tables by two of the Glasgow Editors’ Network’s most experienced members, Merle Read and Susan Milligan. And this was just too useful not to share!

Whether you’re an experienced copy-editor or just starting out, editing tables can be tricky and, frankly, a bit of a faff. But with these tips* from Word gurus Merle and Susan under your belt, your efficiency will increase in no time.

* Instructions given refer to Word 2013, but plenty of the advice will apply to other versions of the program.

Getting organised in Word

Authors often use tabs or hard returns in the wrong places to make the table look right in Word: toggle Ctrl/Shift+8 to show these (or use on the Home tab). Remove unwanted spaces/tabs/returns. The typesetter will take care of the look.

Show the ruler (via the View tab) to enable easy resizing of columns, alignment of decimal tabs etc.

Use Tab to move forward and Shift+Tab to move backward in a table. Use Tab in the last cell of a table to add an extra row, or press Return with the cursor at the very far end of a row to insert a new row immediately below.

If you want an actual tab, use Ctrl+Tab.

Make a few keyboard shortcuts (instructions below) to add/delete table rows, e.g.

Alt+F9    insert row above the cursor
Alt+F10  insert row below the cursor
Alt+F11  delete current row (repeat as required to delete the table)

Changing the design and layout

To alter the table design or layout, place the cursor in the table and use the Design or Layout tabs that then appear on the ribbon or right-click for a menu that allows you to insert/delete/merge cells/rows/columns, change text direction or alter other table properties. NB merging neighbouring cells can sometimes mess things up: use with care, preferably once the rest of the table editing is complete.

You can also use the mouse to hover over various parts of the table to enable you to alter the design/layout. Hover over a line to click and drag the column width, or click on the 4-arrowed cross at the top left corner (appears when the cursor is within the table) to bring up a mini-ribbon of options:

Screenshot of mouse hover over a Word table

Click on the cross and then press Delete to remove the table content but leave the structure intact (it may be useful to copy & paste the skeleton if you have similar tables to edit).

Use the Border Painter in the Design tab to remove/add lines (set to No Border or a specific line width as required) by drawing the cursor over the lines. Esc key to cancel.

Screenshot of Border Painter

Choose the View Gridlines option in the Layout tab (the cursor must be in the table unless you have set up a shortcut to ShowTableGridlines).

SCreenshot of a Word table with gridlines showing

This allows the structure of the table to be clear even though various cell borders will be invisible in the final version:

Screenshot of a Word table without gridlines showing

To view an extra-wide table that disappears off the edge of the page, use Draft view (but when editing it check that it is not too wide for the page size for which is it destined in print). You could also select the table and reduce the font size for a better fit: let the designer worry about the look! Or change the page format to landscape (you may need to insert section breaks if the other pages are to remain portrait).

If copy & pasting, make sure the number of rows/columns being copied is no larger than the area of the table being pasted to.

Avoid using Track Changes when editing tables if possible (or at least don’t use it when formatting).

Checking your table is correct

Convert table to text and text to table (Insert tab, Table menu) as a temporary tool while editing (e.g. 2-column lists). This is also a way of testing whether a table is presented correctly – a correct table should convert to text and back again (one cell – one entry – no hard returns within cells).

To align numbers in columns on the decimal point (or on the right-hand digit if there is no decimal point), first left-align the column and then select the decimal tab from the top left of the ruler; then, with the whole column selected, place the tab on the ruler above the column heading at your chosen position.

Achieving consistency with Word tables

To format a series of tables consistently, use Word’s styles (either in the document or, preferably, in a custom template attached to the document). You can create paragraph styles for table title, column heading, table stub, table body, table bottom row (for tables that have a ‘Total’ row at the end), etc. If you base them all on one core style (e.g. ‘table text’), all will change if you make a change to that style (e.g. to change the font).

Screenshot of Word Styles dialog box

It’s fine to use the same font, size, formatting, and paragraph attributes for all the table styles if you are using styles not for the sake of the appearance of the tables (as it is the typesetter’s job to design them) but for efficiency and consistency. List the styles used for the typesetter, who can then convert the Word styles to the desired formatting in InDesign.

What if there are footnotes in the table?

If your author has embedded tables in a document that have auto-numbered notes, check that the tables don’t contain footnotes that are part of this numbering system. If they do, take these notes out of auto-numbering (or cut and paste the tables into a new document) and manually renumber the table footnotes (using alphabetic rather than numeric numbering). If a table just has one note, you can use an asterisk to indicate it (depending on house style). If it is a note that applies to the whole table, it will just appear below the table as ‘Note. …’.

There may also be a ‘Source’ below the table, normally positioned after any table note(s).

How to add a keyboard shortcut

Go to File/Options/Customize Ribbon/

Creating a Word keyboard shortcut

In the Categories box choose Table Tools | Layout Tab.

In the Commands box choose e.g. TableInsertRowAbove.

In the Press new shortcut key box, type the desired key combination, e.g. Alt+F9 (check it’s not already assigned to something you already use: if so, “Currently assigned to …” will be displayed).

Click Assign (essential!) then either return to the Commands box to add another shortcut, or click Close.

Keep a reminder of your shortcuts by printing them out. Bring up the Print dialog box. Under the Settings heading click on the Print All Pages dropdown. Under Document Info, choose Key Assignments, then click Print.


Do you have any tips of your own to add to these? Be sure to leave a comment. Or if you’d like to find out more, we’ve listed some relevant resources below.

Further reading

Butcher’s Copy-editing, 4th edn, pp. 220–9

Scientific Style and Format, 8th edn, ch. 30; 6th edn, ch. 31, pp. 678–93

See also


Susan has learned about tables over the years by having to deal with them when editing on screen, as well as from an SfEP conference workshop on the subject by Penny Howes in 2009. Tables used to be a chore but she now enjoys getting to grips with them.

Merle (@MA_Read) has been wrangling with Word tables for over 20 years and tries to do so as efficiently as possible.

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


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:

How to avoid ‘author query rage’

Post by Stephen Cashmore

There is plenty of advice in the textbooks and elsewhere about how to deal with queries you have for the author. Most of it is common sense:
  • Don’t write, ‘Dear author. This sentence is gobbledygook. Please supply something that is comprehensible,’ no matter how tempted you might be to do so.
  • Do write, ‘Dear author. I don’t quite follow [insert sentence here]. Can you clarify it for me?’

Oh yes, a copy-editor or proofreader’s shoulders need to be broad. (That’s not in the job description, is it?)

What else do the textbooks say?

Give an alternative where you can. Don’t just say, ‘I’m not sure that “serendipity” is quite the right word here,’ but add, ‘What about “luck”?’ More common sense, and often tedious to put into practice, but authors will thank you for anything that saves them some work.

Make sure they know where to look. ‘Dear author. I don’t think you can start this sentence with “Therefore” as there is no causality implied,’ might just get you the response, ‘Where is this?’ Much better to put a detailed reference in the query [‘Dear author: p6 l5’] or make inline queries in the document itself, depending on your preferred style.

You’ve heard all this before, and even if you haven’t seen it set out explicitly, you’d have the common sense to do all these things anyway, wouldn’t you?

But one piece of advice I don’t often see in print is to make sure that the query is actually a query, and that it is as closed as possible:

  • ‘Dear author. Should there be a sentence in between “… Armageddon.” and “The next day…”?’ Answer: ‘Yes.’
  • ‘Dear author. Is the Bloggs (forthcoming) reference still forthcoming?’ Answer: ‘No, it was published last year.’
  • Or even, ‘Dear author. Shall we use “serendipity” or “luck” here?’ Answer: ‘OK.’ Urgh.

There’s nothing worse than having to go back to clarify one of your own queries. Even if you are actually conveying more of a decision than a query, make sure the author can make a simple response:

  • ‘Dear author. I notice you capitalise Gamma more often than not, so I propose to standardise on Gamma rather than gamma. OK?’

Adding that simple ‘OK?’ can save you a lot of grief.

So next time you write out your author queries, by all means follow the textbook advice, but also make sure that your author knows exactly what is being asked and has a simple way to respond. If you don’t, you might find yourself subject to an intense bout of author query rage, for which there is no simple cure.


For a list of easy-to-work-with editors and proofreaders, head to our Directory now.


Stephen Cashmore is an advanced member of the SfEP who lives in Ayr on the west coast of Scotland. He is an ex-teacher, ex-accountant, ex-bridge player and ex-auditor, but threw all that over to become an editor after taking early retirement. Check out