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.

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. Alison is a Professional Member of the SfEP.

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.