If you’re an editorial professional, or you need the help of one, this is a blog worth reading! It’s packed full of useful insights and handy hints, and anyone who wants to know more about ‘making words count’ will not want to miss these posts.

What kind of editing does my fiction need?

Any fiction writer thinking of getting some editing done will be faced with an array of confusing terms, so here is a quick guide to fiction editing. What was once called ‘getting your work proofread’ has become a several-headed monster of complication and diversity, leaving the perplexed writer throwing up their hands and screaming, ‘Just tell me how bad it is.’ (Or good if they have a healthy level confidence and optimism.)

But those heads did not grow because editors like faces. They grew organically out of the increasing needs and the diversifying skills of the profession that is editing fiction. So, to desperately extend a metaphor, what do those heads look like and which one do you need to hunker down and get face to face with?

I like to see fiction editing needs in terms of distance and sandcastles.

Let’s imagine you have some good sand with a good supply of sea nearby. How do you create the premium sandcastle? Here are the four rough stages of the build.

  • Drawing out the blueprints (also known as mentoring or coaching)
  • A distant view of the hills (also known as developmental fiction editing, structural editing, or story editing)
  • Getting up close and personal (also known as copy-editing or line-editing)
  • The fine-tooth comb (also known as proofreading)

Drawing out the blueprints (also known as mentoring or coaching)

Drawing the Blueprint for fiction editing
Figure 1 Drawing the Blueprint

This is for the chaos at the beginning of the writing process. Writers approach each story with a different ‘lead’. It might be a character whose voice amuses and torments you, a place you need to show, or a story that keeps adding to itself. At this stage, you might be filled with excitement, or daunted by the thought of the work ahead. Maybe you have a few good chapters and some great ideas for endings, but you have precious little clue as to what will happen in the middle and are really not sure whether Aunt Margaret should die or even be in it. This is when mentoring might help.

Mentoring – what it is

Mentoring is new in editorial help – a more recently grown head. What does it involve?

All editing tends to be bespoke, but mentoring is the most bespoke. When looking for a mentor, you will want someone who has a feeling for your work and who you feel comfortable working with. When you find a promising candidate, the first thing to do is meet.

In these days of technology and plague, this might be physical, digital, or even analogue. The prospective fiction mentor will usually offer this for free because neither of you know if you will be able to work together yet. In this initial meeting, you share what your project is, where you are with it, and what you feel you need from a mentor, while your prospective mentor considers whether they are a good fit. If the sparks start to fly (or the roses start to bloom – depending on genre) then you will look at booking some meetings. Here mentoring differs from all other editing: you pay for it per meeting.

Mentoring – how it works

What happens in these meetings will depend on you, the mentor, and the project. (Remember that whole bespoke thing.) But it will involve discussion. Your mentor may ask you to tell the story and this may allow questions to bubble up from either of you. It might become clear that certain story threads have plot holes or that certain characters are unnecessary.

At some stage, maybe when the plot feels sound, your mentor may ask you to get something written down, a few chapters or all of Part One. Or maybe in-depth discussion is the way forward for you. At its most basic, mentoring is a kind of handholding that stretches through the whole ‘shitty first draft’[1] stage. You may require gentle coaching to remind you of why you are doing this, or long black metaphorical whips and stern, ‘You said you would have Part One finished!’ interventions. It may span three, ten, or more meetings and take anything from a few weeks to a few years. But it will involve someone taking a close and involved look at your writing, being on your side, and diluting that painful feeling of you being out there on your own with your words.

A distant view of the hills (also known as developmental fiction editing, structural editing, or story editing)

A distant view of the hills - an overview of fiction editing
Figure 2 A distant view of the hills

When you have that completed draft you will want to know if it is any good and, related to that, what to do to get it to the high standard it needs to reach to be accepted by agents or publishers or, if you are self-publishing, to be sent to the printer. Writers are often too close to their writing to know what is working – and what isn’t. So, our sandcastle is built; it is looking good, though that west tower may need some shoring up and you are not sure if the moat is deep enough. At this point you might ask family and friends to have a look, or you might use beta readers: people who will read through your work – for free or as a professional service – and give you feedback. Most writers have an idea, however vague, of what is problematic in their work: the plot is not strong enough, the pace is too slow, there is too much ‘telling’. Or they know that they struggle with point of view and getting dialogue right. These are exactly the areas that developmental fiction editing will try to identify.

Different types of developmental edit

What the developmental edit does is clear: it steps back and identifies the bigger problems that a manuscript has and also where it is successful. What is less clear is the level of detail into which the editor will go when they give their feedback. There are, very roughly, two types:

  • a short report with minimal or no actual comment in the manuscript;
  • a long report, often with a detailed breakdown of each section of the work, and an extensive commentary written onto the manuscript.

The first is often called a manuscript critique, the second a developmental edit or a full developmental edit. (Good editors are clear about what they offer. Read their websites carefully to see what you are ordering.)

What type of developmental fiction editing do I need?

So how, when you realise that you need a developmental edit, do you decide which of these edits you need? The first question to ask is how much help you feel you need. Do you want a hint, a bit of a nudge in the right direction? Maybe, you just need to be told that you have a great idea here, but that there is a lack of tension throughout and please see the resources attached. Or that the story is sound, but is Mr Black’s plot line necessary? If this is enough for you and you are confident that you know enough about the craft of writing to go about fixing your problems on your own, then a manuscript critique may be what you need. But, if you are less confident about your knowledge of writing craft, you may need an edit that goes in-depth on all aspects of the manuscript. This type of edit will pick out the weaknesses and offer a detailed analysis of them. If you want possible solutions that may be applied, then you may prefer to go with a full edit.

A rough idea of cost

The second, and maybe more relevant, question is: how much money can I afford to spend on this? A critique is cheaper than a full developmental edit because it takes a lot less time and expertise. When you ask an editor to do a developmental edit, you are asking them to live with your book, puzzle it out, struggle with it, and perhaps offer suggestions as to how to fix it. And there is a cost to that.

But what developmental fiction editing does, whether detailed or general, is give the author an idea of where to take their manuscript next. How ready is the book? Are there big issues which require a complete rewrite of some or all sections? Is the basic idea on a precarious peg and could it do with a serious rethink or possibly even abandonment? Or does the book need a shuffling of chapters, a rewrite of chapter six? Maybe it needs a real questioning as to why Aunt Margaret needs to die and Aunt Penny gets to live? This edit helps to move you to the next stage: having a story that holds. At that point, you are confident that all the big work has been done – structure, plot, sub-plots, time scale, characterisation. Now you can get on with the fine work, home in on the words you are using, their beauty, effectiveness, cleverness. A good developmental edit gives you leave to do this.

Manuscript critique and developmental edits are usually offered as a set price. Most editors will offer a price for an average manuscript (under 85,000 words for adult fiction) with the price increasing for larger manuscripts.

Getting up close and personal (also known as copy-editing and line-editing for fiction editing)

Seeing the detail - copy and line editing within fiction editing
Figure 3 Seeing the detail

You have had the development edit, or the perusals from the brilliant beta readers. All lumps are smooth. That castle is the best-shaped castle with moat, bridge, and every tower in the correct place . And, you have written it well, pouring all your word skills into making it the best it can be. You just need someone to have a wee look-see. You need a copy- or a line-editor.

Many editors use the terms copy-editor and line-editor almost interchangeably. I do. It is editing the work line by line, attending to every detail. This is where the editor’s skill as a word worker comes in. Here the editor will look at the language: the repetitions, the accuracy of the words used, pace and flow, as well as punctuation and spelling. They will keep an eye out for consistency (blue eyes should stay blue, pregnancies should last nine months – unless you’re a dog, then it is three months) and for facts. (Actually, dogs are pregnant for about two months – an editor would have caught that.) In terms of the castle, this is where pebbles are into moats, fashion our best shells along our bridges and adorn our ramparts with stone-people, feathers, and the odd bone.

There are different ways to charge for this. Some editors will offer a price for the whole project (as in developmental editing above). Others may charge per thousand words or by the hour. Editors may also offer this service for short stories – to help you get them ready for competitions or journals – or for the first part of your novel, sometimes even offering a submission package to help you to approach agents, publishers, or novel-writing competitions.

A fine-tooth comb for your work (the proofread)

A fine toothcomb - proofreading stage of fiction editing
Figure 4 A fine toothcomb

The work is done. Both story and words are smooth as glass. But if you’re an independent author readying yourself to send your manuscript to the printer, you know that the manuscript needs to be as close to perfect as possible. The proofreader will take the pretty much perfect manuscript and pick out all those teeny errors that have been missed. It might be a typo, a homonym, or a confusing comma. This is the bit where that top-tower flag gets straightened, and that cockle shell is made to face in exactly the right direction.


Leading us to publication. Oh, happy day! And that is when we … Well, that is a whole other head-rich monster to analyse. Let’s keep that for another day.

Alison Gray is an Intermediate member of CIEP.

Twitter @algrayeditor

Facebook Alison Gray Editorial Services

[1] Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, New York: Anchor Books, 1995, p 21.

Working with PDFs – or ‘How I learned to stop worrying and go with the workflow’

By Eleanor Abraham

‘How do you extract text from a PDF?’

This is a question I see posed quite regularly in writers’ forums – and sometimes in editors’ forums too.

There are a couple of ways to convert a PDF into a text file, but I’m not going to tell you about them.

Am I some kind of jerk? Quite possibly, however, that is not immediately relevant to the original question. In response to the first question I would ask another question (definitely a jerk): ‘Why do you want to?’


A quite common answer is that a writer has just had their book formatted but they have spotted the breed of typo that only reveals itself after paying for typesetting. The writer panics. For whatever reason, they think that, rather than asking their typesetter to make the changes, it might be necessary/better/cheaper/less embarrassing to make the changes themselves. Maybe they will even find some magic workaround (that two dozen internet-forum publishing experts will be only too glad to tell them about).

But this is not a good option.

The simplest solution

The simplest solution – even if it’s potentially a bit awkward, given that they told the typesetter the book was the (last, final-final, very correct, no mistakes, yes I hired a proofreader, definitely) final draft – is to ask the typesetter to make the changes in InDesign and export the PDF again. (InDesign is the desktop publishing software that the majority of typesetters in the industry use to create book interiors.)

A graphic showing a Word doc being imported into an InDesign file, from which is a PDF is then exported.
The order of the workflow: A Word doc is imported into an InDesign file, then exported to a PDF (and potentially also an ePub)

PDFs from publishers

In another scenario, an editor will be given a PDF to mark up. I’ve seen some editors panic and assume the client has made a mistake. (In the editors’ forum, three dozen other editors concur, saying ‘Editing must be done in Word alone – so mote it be!’)

But a publisher client is unlikely to thank you for returning a marked-up Word file when they wanted a marked-up PDF.

It is now possible to import PDF comments into an InDesign file. It’s a great feature that means that any last-stage layout correction is quicker and easier to do.

So, changing the format of the file from a PDF to a Word document might create a lot of work for your publisher client.

Good communication and understanding the brief are key. I also think that knowledge of a project’s workflow allows you to appreciate why you’d be better doing things in a certain way.

Editing PDFs

Another common question is: ‘Can you edit a PDF?’

Yes (four dozen people in the editors’ forum will tell you) it is possible to change the text of a PDF.

But just because it’s possible doesn’t mean you should do it.

To be clear, I’m not talking about using the comment and stamp tools in Acrobat Reader, but using the text editing tools that are available in Acrobat Pro.

Imagine the scenario we mentioned above of a self-publisher who has realised their beautifully designed book interior did actually need a proofread after all. The client contacts an editor to ask them to correct their gorgeous mistake-ridden text directly in the PDF.

Do not be tempted to do that.

In this instance, we really need to contact the typesetter to get them to do the corrections in InDesign. Or, if the book’s mistakes are extensive, ask the typesetter to export the text from InDesign into Word again so that it can be proofread. They can do this in a way that retains all the paragraph and character styles, that can then (theoretically) be smoothly re-imported back into the InDesign layout.

File-version control

For reasons of file-version control, and to futureproof any later editions of a book, final text corrections need to be done in a master file, and by the end of the project that file will probably be the book’s InDesign layout. Changing the actual PDF means that if you come to update, publish in a new format, or repurpose the text, the last corrections won’t be in the very file that would have been the best source for the new edition. Doing the corrections in the PDF may create a problematic layout, with uneven lines or unjustified paragraphs. It might also mean fonts do not appear as they should. All this would have been easily avoided by using InDesign.

The secret’s out…

OK, I admit it, I proofread PDFs a lot, and I do extract text to Word. But I do it in order to run macros for consistency checks. If I find mistakes via the Word file I then mark them up in the PDF… because that is what the client wants.

TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read)

Can you extract text from a PDF in order to edit it? Yes, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.


Eleanor Abraham has worked in book publishing for over 25 years, including (simultaneously) a stint in production journalism for about 10. She is an editor, typesetter, occasional writer, perpetual cat bore, and a CIEP Advanced Professional Member. Her specialist areas include commercial fiction, humour, computer science, Scottish interest, and – a sub-genre that is admittedly rare – the comedy cookbook.

You can follow Eleanor on Twitter

Pic credit: Montage uses pics courtesy of evrywheremedia and OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay.

Proofreading Theses and Dissertations by Alison Chand

A little about how I started:

When I started out in proofreading and copy-editing in 2012, towards the tail end of my PhD, my work mainly involved some casual proof-editing of other postgraduates’ work mostly in the form of dissertations and PhD theses, to make a bit of extra cash. After the birth of my daughter later that year, I began to take editing more seriously and, on the most part, this was still the kind of work I pursued. I did some training courses in editing, starting with Chapterhouse’s distance learning course in proofreading and copy-editing and followed by the SfEP’s (now ciep) introductory day courses on the same subjects. I’ve picked up new training most years, including the SfEP’s follow-up Proofreading Progress, Copy-editing Headway and Copy-editing Progress courses. Throughout this time, my main area of work has remained student theses and dissertations.

Building experience:

I worked (and continue to work) independently on student theses with students contacting me through my lecturing work at the University of Strathclyde and the University of the Highlands and Islands. Now, though, I am also approached via the ciep Directory and Glasgow Editors’ Network. In 2012, I also became a freelance proofreader and copy-editor for ProofreadMyEssay (now rebranded as Proofed) and continue to undertake work for this company. As a result of my background in lecturing and university-level teaching, I was aware of some of the ethical issues involved in editing for students, and knew that I could not, for example, draw a student’s attention to factual inaccuracies when editing their work. Over the last six years I have gradually honed my craft, becoming more accomplished in tasks such as using tracked changes, working with references and formatting.

I entered the ciep (at that point as an Associate of SfEP) in 2012, moving to Intermediate member. Early in 2019 I upgraded to Professional membership status, a process which took up quite a bit of time. After taking a break from gathering evidence of my training, and not wanting to rest on my laurels, my thoughts turned to what training I should do next. It occurred to me that I had never actually undertaken any official training in the kind of editing I do the most – proofreading and copy-editing theses and dissertations.

Proofreading Theses and Dissertations – online course:

Before embarking on the ciep Proofreading Theses and Dissertations online course, I got hold of a copy of the ciep’s guide on the topic, which introduces the issues involved in working with students. These include specific requirements for calculating fees and working on samples, as well as ethical considerations associated with, for example, plagiarism and fact-checking. The basic principles of proofreading theses and dissertations discussed in the guide served as a useful introduction to the requirements and techniques involved in editing for students, while rightly pointing to the need for more in-depth consideration of some of the issues raised. With the intention of ascertaining whether my work practice fitted with ciep recommendations and looking for pointers for improvement, I decided to embark on the online course.

The Proofreading Theses and Dissertations course is divided into six sections and has ten exercises to complete, with corresponding examples and model answers where relevant. The sections entitled ‘First contact’ and ‘Negotiation’ give much useful insight into how to correspond with students and negotiating a fee. For me, the examples given of work agreement forms in these sections were particularly useful – while I normally agreed terms with students by email, undertaking the course prompted me to develop a work agreement form of my own. I now stipulate the work I will and will not be able to undertake for students, which adds another layer of professionalism and transparency to my work. I have since found that using the form and sending it to students helps me clarify with them some of the ethical issues involved in editing their work, such as plagiarism and the necessity for dissertations to represent their own original work. These issues are raised in the fourth section of the online course. The fifth section covers different formats, which was useful in its explanations of working with LaTeX files. While I am comfortable working in Word and, to a lesser extent, with PDF documents, I have steadfastly avoided LaTeX files, but, if I decide to take the plunge in future, I’ll have my notes from this course to guide me! I found the final section, entitled ‘Pulling it all together’, a very effective way of drawing together all the information and guidance presented in the course.

Overall, then, I think that the online Proofreading Theses and Dissertations course offers a highly useful introduction to this kind of editing work for those new to it, but also has useful insights for proofreaders and editors who have, like me, worked on theses and dissertations before, and are looking for ways to improve their methods of working. Studying it was certainly a good use of my time!

Working with a Proofreader on your Thesis or Dissertation

By Susan Milligan

So you have finished your dissertation or thesis and you are ready to have it proofread. So much effort has gone into it and now you are nearly ready to submit it. You want it to be as good as it possibly can be but sometimes we are so close to our own work that we can’t see the simple mistakes in spelling or grammar that we can all make. Or perhaps English is not your first language and you need to be sure that you have not made errors in word choice or style that will detract from the flow of your argument.

You can find professional proofreaders in this website or in the Directory of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. Once you have chosen who to contact, the next thing is to email them asking if they can do the work and how much it will cost.

Your first email to the proofreader

Address the proofreader by name (‘Hi Pat’) and don’t just begin ‘Hi, I’d like …’. Many professional proofreaders are suspicious of emails that don’t use their name and don’t answer them.

If you can, send the email from your university or college email address, rather than from a generic address on your phone. It indicates you are serious in your enquiry.

In your first email, mention:

  • the title or subject area of your dissertation
  • its word count (including any footnotes or appendices)
  • how many tables it has (or other special features that you want to include in the proofread)
  • your time frame – when you will have it ready to send and when you need it back
  • what you want done – just a proofread for language issues, or do you also require some formatting work, and is there any work to be done on the references?

What will the proofreader ask you?

You can expect the proofreader to ask you for a few things at this stage:

  • a representative sample of your text – perhaps 1,000 or 2,000 words – so that they can see the level of proofread that might be required and quote a fair fee based on this
  • the name of your institution and the name and contact details of your supervisor – so that they can be sure that your supervisor has given approval for your work to be proofread by a third party and it is all above board
  • your institution’s guidance or rules on formatting or style for the submission of theses and dissertations – if it’s published online, where this can be found.

How much time will you need?

Many proofreaders are busy (a good sign!), so don’t leave it late to try to find one. You are more likely to find the person you need if you can give them reasonable notice. You will save yourself some stress by not leaving it till the last minute.

Be realistic about the time this stage will take. You need to factor in time for correspondence with the proofreader, because they may need to check things with you as they read through your text. Think in terms of weeks rather than days.

After you receive the work back from the proofreader you will need some time to review their corrections and comments. You won’t be able to submit it immediately after the proofread – you need to allow some time for this.

What can a proofreader do for you?

Your institution will have rules about what interventions are allowed by a third party – you should know what these are. A professional proofreader will work to a code of conduct that ensures everything they do is ethical. This protects you as well as the proofreader.

For example, a proofreader generally will correct:

  • typographical errors – simple slips
  • mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • simple formatting errors such as wrong fonts, spacing issues, messy paragraph alignment
  • inconsistencies in language – e.g. differences in spelling, capitalisation or abbreviation of the same term.

Your proofreader will be able to point out to you (for your own decision and correction if necessary):

  • language that makes your meaning unclear
  • repetition
  • poor logic flow in the language (though not in the argument of your thesis)
  • citations that do not match the references (if this is agreed as part of the work).

Your proofreader will not do this:

  • rewrite bits of your text
  • check your facts
  • check the content of your references
  • compile your references list
  • raise issues that have to do with the quality of your arguments or your evidence.

Getting the best service from your proofreader

Your dissertation is all your own work and should still be all your own work after it has been proofread. A professional proofreader understands this. They will never cross the line into ‘improving’ the work or anything else that would invalidate your research.

Follow these simple guidelines to avoid adding unnecessary stress and delay to the process of getting your dissertation finished and submitted. You will get the most value out of your proofreader and do the most credit to your own hard work.

Susan Milligan

With acknowledgement to the CIEP Guide Proofreading Theses and Dissertations by Stephen Cashmore. Thanks also to Alison Chand.

Editing and Writing – Wearing Different Hats

By Colette Duggan

I have always loved a hat, in fact for many years, I was rarely seen without one. While styles have changed and my head gear is now only worn on cold days or at weddings, I still find myself wearing many metaphorical hats.

I assume, you are not here to read about all of my hats, but two might be of interest – writer and editor. But first a wee explanation of how I got here. A love of reading and writing led me first to an English degree, then a post-grad in Librarianship and a career in education.

Colette Duggan as a child on a swing
I started my hat wearing early

Three children and a plethora of care responsibilities later, I was working in a supermarket, wondering how I had veered so dramatically off track. I was writing though, and as Colette Coen, I racked up a few short story prizes and publications, and self-published a novel. While one of my writing buddies wrote a best seller, I was still at the £10 and a free copy of the magazine (if I was lucky) end of the market. So, something had to change. I looked at how I could marry my love of language with a new career. Specifically, I needed a job that I could do at home.

As my care responsibilities increased, keeping even a part-time job became untenable, but not working was not an option – bills to pay etc. I completed Proofreading 1 with the Society for Editors and Proofreaders when I was still working at the supermarket. Then, when I left, I took the longer Essential Proofreading with the Publishing Training Centre. I chose to study both online and with the support of my local Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (ciep) group (many of whom also belong to the Glasgow Editors Network) I upgraded to intermediate membership of ciep.

Colette Duggan in her Artful Dodger hat
With a feather in my cap (as the Artful Dodger)

So, back to the hats. Editing and proofreading give me an income, while writing is part of who I am. I love working with words and while it took a long time, I’ve finally figured out what hats I want to wear. It is very useful that the skills needed to be a writer and an editor, dovetail, and the knowledge required for both are complementary. Writing magazines helps me creatively, while I can also keep up-to-date with the latest from the publishing world. Similarly, my experience as an editor, not only helps my clients, but allows for greater understanding of my own writing style and foibles.

I am adept at keeping to specific word counts (which most competitions require) and find that when an author wants excess words cut, I am good at trimming the fat. I derive a strange pleasure when I am editing a dissertation, rearranging sentences or tidying grammar, to find that I have reached the exact word count required. Something is obviously going on in the background of my brain, and the odd glance at the bottom of the screen helps keep me on track.

I also take huge pleasure in thumbing through my dictionaries, thesaurus and Fowler’s Modern English Usage (not to mention countless other word books). While I may be looking to solve a specific issue in a client’s work, I can also add to my creative cache.

The fact that I have self-published my own short story collections and novel means that I can help independent authors get their work online and in print. As an Amazon author, I can share my experiences and help them manage their publications. I can also provide guidance on creative skills and information on outlets for work.

Picture shows Colette Duggan
Editor at large

Some people might worry that their ideas could be pinched by an editor who is also a writer, but they can be confident that this is very unlikely to happen. All editors in this network abide by a professional code of conduct and our ethical standards are held to account by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. In my many years of writing and taking part in workshops and writers’ groups, I have been amazed how the same prompt can result in a huge variety of work. That means, that even if an idea were to worm its way into another writer’s brain, it would come out as an entirely different piece of work.

At the moment, most of the editing I undertake is academic, so there is no possibility of crossover with my fiction. But even when I am working on someone else’s fiction, I am aware that I am dealing with their words and stories. The thought process that led them to put their words on the page is theirs alone and it is up to the editor to guide and assist, not re-write.

One thing which freelancers struggle with is how to divide their time. It can be difficult to have a clear demarcation between work and life (more hats). This is particularly true when one of your jobs can also be classed as a hobby. I have a simple priority system where the paid work comes first, followed by trying to get more paid work, followed by writing. What I have found really useful, is that the paid work gets me to my computer and once it’s finished, my hands are nicely warmed up to continue typing. Helping others make their work the best it can be, is also a great motivator to do the same for my own work.

Editing and proofreading have also pushed my technical skills further. I regularly dig about in the dark recesses of Word to make my clients work look more professional. My formatting knowledge and IT skills also help when I am presenting my own work, whether in print or on the Internet.

Working freelance can sometimes make it difficult to plan, but I love a spreadsheet and manage to keep things running smoothly. Obviously, there are limits on my time and client deadlines always take priority, but there can be fallow periods. These are the times when I catch up on marketing my business – Beech Editorial Services – and continue my professional development. (I hope to upgrade to become a professional member of ciep in the next year). I also take the opportunity to work on my second novel, ready to swap hats when the next editing job comes around the corner.

Did I tell you my granny was a milliner? Now, that’s another story…

Find out more about my skills and services at Colette Duggan

Writing a ‘letter’

Lucy Metzger has the last word in making communication count.

H E L P spelled out on typewriter keys

Letter writing 101

Letter-writing came up in a recent discussion with my colleagues in the Glasgow Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) group. What really matters if you are writing to someone? I suppose it comes down to one thing: what outcome do you most want?

Woman writes at office desk
What to say and how to say it – writing a simple letter isn’t always simple

Sample email 1

<Start of email> Hi,

How much would it be to edit my 120,000-word book?


<End of email>

<No signature>

Proofreader assessment: If this correspondent really wants my help, they will have to give me a lot more information before I can judge whether my skillset and fees will match their expectations. In addition, how much time do I want to spend asking the questions and waiting for the responses?

Sample email 2

<Start of email with no subject> Proofreader’s assessment: I’m put off by the lack of attention to detail.

<email salutation> Hi there,

Proofreader assessment: My name is not ‘there’. My name is visible in all my contact links. Is a future proofreader not able to work out my name from the links? Why not perhaps say ‘Hi Lucy’ or ‘Hi Ms Metzger’? Or, if they really can’t work out my name, show a little respect? ‘Hi O Wondrous One’?

<email continues> I have a degree in English and want to be a proofreader. Would this be a good idea? How could I get training?

<End of email>

Proofreader assessment: And might they acknowledge that they are asking me to help them? How could they do that?

Anyway, I hope you will all continue to explore correspondence in its many forms, and put your full name on professional things, and figure out the names of people you are writing to. And say ‘Please’ … ‘Thank you’. Also don’t use the word ‘haha’ in professional correspondence. And might they perhaps sign their own full name at the end of the email? I am SO middle-aged! But … you want to be a proofreader? Accountability!

With kind regards from middle age,
Lucy Metzger
Editorial Services

Flapper for 1920s looks at letters and papers on the floor.
Where is the shredder?

Lenzie, 17 September 20
Dear blog-readers,
What comes through the post-flap? Bills, circulars, renewals, – but earlier this year there was a real letter addressed to me by hand. It was from a friend who was taking part in International Correspondence Writing Month by sending a hand-written letter to a different person every day for a month.

I was absolutely delighted, and I have put the letter up where I can see it all the time. Moreover, I have written a postcard in reply.

Evenmoreover, I have found a stamp and have actually posted it. I’ve resolved to take part in InCoWriMo next time – it happens every February.

Bluebird origami letter
delightful real letter

The Essential Work-Hobby Balance

If reading is the nation’s top hobby, what do proofreaders and copy-editors do for fun?

We find out from SfEP Professional Member Anne Halliday how to achieve an essential break from work.

Hobbies are an important part of my life. They make me a complete person, keep me sane, and allow an outlet for widening my horizons. The life of a copy-editor and proofreader can be a solitary one, so my hobbies are moments in my week to interact with others; except for running, that’s my thinking time.

The website lists reading as the most popular hobby, above watching TV, with ‘Family Time’ third on the list.

I don’t really consider the latter a hobby, but I suppose it does fall within the online Oxford Dictionary’s definition of something that is ‘done regularly in one’s leisure time’.

I would say that reading has to be top of my list too, even though it’s part of my job. Reading ‘for fun’ is certainly different from reading for proofreading, although sometimes it takes my mind a page or so to switch off from checking for correct positioning of quotation marks and whether North American or British spellings have been used.

Hobbies can be good for your health, and I don’t just mean exercising.

The mind enjoys different types of activities. It can be beneficial to remove yourself from your working environment and ‘exercise’ your mind.

In the editing world, and no doubt also in other fields, your hobbies can lead to employment. Although I have a law degree, I now proofread and copy-edit more history and literature books than law. Reading history was previously ‘just’ a hobby but is now both a hobby and part of my job. A couple of years ago I started participating in MOOCs (‘Massive Open Online Course’) for ‘fun’, but as I mainly take part in courses on history and literature they are practically CPD.

So between long periods of sitting at my desk examining documents with my editing tools at the ready, you will also see me: running (to clear my head); drawing (to be creative); leading a Girls’ Brigade company (this covers just about anything, but in particular allows me to keep in touch with young people, use my organisational skills, run about playing ‘tig’, and have fun with craft); and playing social golf (with the emphasis on the social).

As Anaïs Nin said, ‘I can elect something I love and absorb myself in it’.

You may think you don’t have many hobbies but, if you examine what you do in a week, I am certain that you will find that you have more hobbies than you thought. They are things that enrich your life.

Anne is a proofreader and copy-editor who works on books on law, history, literature, religion and social science. Anne is a member of the Glasgow SfEP group who meet regularly to discuss editing-related topics and eat cake – is eating cake a hobby?

Facing the fear – sitting the basic editorial test

Alison Chand shares her experience of preparing for and taking the Society for Editors and Proofreader’s (SfEP’s) Professional Membership test.

Spoiler alert … she passed, and so could you!

I fell into proofreading and copy-editing in 2012, towards the tail end of my PhD, doing some casual proof-editing of other postgraduates’ work to make a bit of extra cash. After the birth of my daughter later that year, this work turned more serious, and I started doing bits and pieces of training, starting with Chapterhouse’s distance learning course in proofreading and copy-editing and followed up by the SfEP’s introductory day courses on the same subjects. Over the years, I’ve worked away at proofreading and copy-editing in various forms, picking up new training along the way in the form of the SfEP’s follow-up Proofreading Progress, Copy-editing Headway and Copy-editing Progress courses. 

I entered the SfEP as a then Associate in 2012, later becoming an Intermediate Member, and at the back of my mind had always planned to upgrade to Professional Membership status when I had gathered ‘enough’ experience … but the years were busy (my son arrived in November 2015), life was frantic, and, anyway, when would I feel ‘experienced’ enough?! Last year, five years from when I first joined the SfEP and began my foray into the world of editing, I finally decided to have a serious look at upgrading. 

I found, on examining the relevant area of the website, that I easily met all the points requirements: I had accumulated more than the specified 25 points, including more than the required ten training points and five experience points, and I was in a position to supply the names of several clients prepared to provide references for me. My main problem (and one which had often resulted in personal feelings of inadequacy about my status as a proofreader and copy-editor over the years) was that hardly any of my freelance work had been for publishers, and most of the projects I had worked on had been for academics or students, meaning that my references could not verify the quality of my work. 

A bit of investigation revealed that my main way around this involved taking the SfEP’s basic editorial test … an idea that filled me with some fear! What if I failed and proved to myself that because I had never worked for publishers, I could never know what I was talking about? A quick search of the SfEP website revealed that the basic editorial test is a ‘straightforward’ multiple choice test requiring in-depth knowledge of the areas outlined in the editorial syllabus and awareness of the SfEP code of practice. One hour is allowed for completion of the test. Still a bit unclear about exactly what kind of multiple choice test this was and what exactly was involved, I spent around a month revising these areas and perusing the pages of New Hart’s Rules, before eventually sitting the test at the end of November 2017. 

It had been a long time since I had sat a test or exam like this, with any editing tests I had undertaken before this all involving actual editing, rather than learned knowledge, and my nerves meant that I initially panicked a bit when I realised that more than one multiple choice option was available in a lot of questions (what if I missed answers out?). I also found that the first ‘half’ of the test (a notification appeared on screen at the halfway point) took me much longer than the second half, injecting some new nerves that I wouldn’t finish in time and would throw away unnecessary marks. However, I made it to the end with five minutes to spare for a quick check through of my answers. My result appeared on screen immediately and, happily, I scored 80%, enough for a pass and nine points towards my upgrade application. 

Overall, my experience of actually taking the test was less stressful than the anticipation. I identified a couple of areas where improvements could be made – I think it would be useful to know in advance that some questions are worth more points than others and will therefore take longer. I also threw away five points on a question asking me to match particular characters to their description – I duly wrote in the names of the characters only to find that I should have typed in the letter/character representing the word. I think it might have been useful if this question had been clearer. However, on the whole, taking the test gave me a chance to revise useful areas of proofreading and copy-editing with which I don’t always work on a daily basis, and my result gave me the confidence to (finally) proceed with upgrading my membership of the SfEP.

I started the upgrade process to Professional membership in December 2017 and actually found the gathering together of information quite therapeutic in comparison to the editing test. Luckily, I had saved all my training certificates as I went along and also kept an updated spreadsheet with details of all my working hours, dates and clients (this has more than once felt like a bit of a pain but proved to be a godsend!). Rather than entering all my work into the application form, I attached this spreadsheet as evidence of my work experience. I selected two recent clients as references and, after a bit of chasing up to encourage the second one to send in his form, my application was in and, a few weeks later, I received confirmation of my success in upgrading – I am now proud to be a Professional member. While completion of the editing test was definitely the most stressful part of the process, my success in passing it has given me confidence to call myself a Professional Member and feel that I deserve the title. I’d encourage anyone thinking about it to have a go! 

Alison is a proud Professional Member of the SfEP and combines copy-editing and proofreading with her academic roles and an active family life.

Copy-editing Headway – a course review

Post by Alison Chand

In an attempt to track the useful elements of training courses I undertake, and areas with the potential to be more helpful, here’s a brief summary of my experiences completing CE2, or Copy-editing Headway.

Training completed before CE2

I came to editing as someone who fancied myself as pretty good with spelling and grammar. I quickly realised, on dipping my toe into Chapterhouse’s distance learning course in proofreading and copy-editing, that a successful career in the field would involve a bit more than this!

I completed this course in early 2012, but still felt I had many, many things to learn about becoming a freelance proofreader and copy-editor. I resolved to dedicate time each year to CPD and training courses. 2013 saw me undertake the SfEP’s introductory day courses on proofreading and copy-editing, and in 2014 I tackled Proofreading Progress, before it was split into two courses. My training plans went a bit off course in 2015 and 2016 with the birth of Euan, my second child, but in 2017 I determined to get back on track. So, I signed up for CE2, Copy-editing Headway.

With my previous lack of experience of using proofreading and editing symbols, I’d already found Proofreading Progress challenging and quite a big step up from the introductory day course on proofreading, so I was encouraged by the fact that CE2 promised to be a midway step between the Introduction to Copy-editing and CE3, Copy-editing Progress, particularly as my completion of the introductory course was now three years in the past. I signed up for CE2 in February this year, and was promptly assigned a tutor – Jane Moody, the SfEP’s Director for Professional Development.

Keen to get started, I embarked on the course …

Are you ready?

The opening section, entitled, ‘Are you ready?’, was, for me, the only one that I felt could do with fleshing out. It claimed to be a reminder of what copy-editors do, but the blurb at the opening indicated that CE1 should have furnished me with a knowledge of copy-editing already and the brief notes gave little practical information about how material should be laid out.

My feedback from Jane Moody on my first assignment was extremely detailed and helpful, and very useful in steering me in the correct approaches to take in several areas. I did feel, however, that an example exercise might have been a more useful way to start. The current set-up made me feel a bit of a failure for not remembering much of the course I had done three years previously, but a few quick reminders in Jane Moody’s feedback were sufficient to help me out.

I also felt that the notes provided for this section could have provided a few practical summary points, with an example exercise providing a reminder of how to lay out material. This could easily be done without going over all of CE1, but would take account of the fact that different time periods have passed since participants in CE2 have completed CE1.

The rest of the course

The remainder of the course is divided into four further sections on coding and displaying material; editorial style; bibliographies; and images, photographs and figures. The course notes for these sections were much more useful than those from the first section, and a lot of the material from section 2 on coding and display might usefully have been incorporated into the first section.

Some of the material here served as a reminder of what I knew already, and some was new, but everything was well laid out and useful, and a clear model answer was given for the first practice exercise, allowing me to compare my own work with how it should have been laid out. I think model answers are great for learning and the practice exercises in CE2 made good use of these.

Section 3, on editorial style and what should be included in a style sheet, provided a very helpful example style sheet and I was able to make tweaks to my existing style sheet template for proof-editing purposes. Furnished with the advice provided in sections 2 and 3, I felt much more confident in tackling the second assignment for marking and duly performed much better in it.

Overall, the course offered a good balance between editing on screen and on hard copy. However, while it was useful to do this second assignment on hard copy, I would have found it helpful to do an additional assignment on screen as well as the first one (which I didn’t feel adequately prepared to do justice), before embarking on the final assignment. I should point out that, for the second assignment, as for the others, I received detailed and thorough feedback from Jane Moody, very promptly after I had sent the work.

The information about copy-editing bibliographies in section 4 also incorporated a useful practice exercise. I’ve worked quite a bit with bibliographies for academic authors, so probably felt more comfortable with this material. Much of the material in section 5, though, on images, photographs and figures, was new to me.

As section 5 culminated with completion of the final assignment, it would’ve been useful to see practical examples of how completed work should be laid out in advance of doing the assignment. The course notes were detailed and useful, but stated an assumption that those completing the course would know how to cue images into edited work from CE1. As with the first section, I found this problematic as I had completed CE1 some three years previously. Without going over this material again in great detail, a quick summary of how to do this, perhaps as part of a practical example, would not have gone amiss.

Overall thoughts …

Overall, my experience of completing and, happily, passing CE2 was a positive one. The feedback from my tutor was prompt, helpful and constructive; and, while it might have been useful for the course to have involved fewer assumptions about knowledge from CE1 and to have included more practical examples of material layout, I was still pleased by the level of detail in the course notes and by the organisation of the course.


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. Alison is a Professional Member of the ciep.

The emotional editor

Post by Chris Bryce

You never know what’s coming next, do you? That’s one of the things I enjoy most about being a working word geek. And, work can, of course, be like political scandals; nothing for a couple of weeks then three turn up, jostling for attention.

So, what stood out in 2017?

Well, one of Scotland’s specialist construction companies needed a new website and invited me to provide the wording (web copy) for it. The guys were great to work for and were delighted with the friendly yet professional tone of their new site. Their web designers told me they couldn’t remember the last time a new website build had gone so smoothly. Normally it’s a lack of web copy that slows the whole thing up. Everyone felt relieved, including me.

OK, job done, what was next?

Opening my inbox, I found a request from a PhD student who was looking for help with their thesis. It was evident, from a sample of text, that English was not their first language. Their methodology, research and conclusions were all strong, but their lack of experience of writing in English was reducing the impact of their hard work.

After agreeing on a fee, I sorted out a range of issues: grammar, punctuation, format and some egregious typos. The research explored the effects of the Civil War in Uganda on the Acholi people, following decades spent in refugee camps. I learned a great deal about Uganda and its Civil War and was particularly moved by the Acholi people’s plight, which continued even after their return to their homelands. Knowing that his work was in safe hands and being attended to by a thoughtful brain, the PhD student stopped worrying. I felt happy to have helped.

Then something completely different appeared; I received a poem.

Not just any old four-line poem, but a poem for a gravestone, to mark the passing of a dearly-loved father and husband, a man who had admired the works of Robert Burns and hailed from Dumfriesshire. I will probably not connect so strongly with a piece of work for a long time.

The task was to convert the poem, composed by the deceased’s daughter, into the language of Burns. When you know your work will be carved in stone, it has to be right. Throughout my time working on this, it was as though the gentleman was by my shoulder and from time to time I’d find myself reassuring him that I’d do a good job for both him and his daughter.

After a time, I reached what I thought was the final draft, but something niggled away at me. Following some contemplation, I found the addition of ‘aye’ in the last line made it considerably more meaningful.

As I sent my final version on, I felt a lump rise in my throat.

Faither, husband, man o’th shaw;

Noo ye’v returned whaur frae ye cam,

Swith wild wi maukin, burn and sea;

Oh, what wildness aye bides in ye.

Whoever would imagine that editing and proofreading tasks could generate so many different feelings?

Right, 2018, what’s next?!


An experienced copywriter, copy-editor, proofreader and all-round friendly word geek, Chris Bryce of Spotlight Editorial also co-ordinates the local Glasgow SfEP group. You can follow Chris on Twitter @Spotlight_Ed