Are you struggling to think of gift ideas for the editorial professional in your life? Or are you a freelancer looking to drop some heavy hints about the presents you’d appreciate? Maybe you just fancy treating yourself in the run-up to Christmas – and what’s wrong with that? Even if the commercialism of Christmas leaves you cold, I hope you'll find some inspiration here.
Plenty of choice here, with punctuation marks a particular favourite. The ampersand is a particularly elegant shape, and semi-colons seem popular for earrings. Literary options would also be appropriate.
Seasonal gifts for editorial freelancers
1 December: Sit/stand desk
I’m starting with this one because it’s a big-ticket item that’ll need a lot of thought!
Good for the posture, the circulation and the concentration, standing desks have been a hot topic for a good few years now. There are various things to consider – your own physique, the space you have available, your budget, and your current set-up, to name but a few. And there are plenty of variations on the theme. If you’re lucky enough to know a cabinetmaker, you might decide to go for the customised option. Or you might prefer an add-on to your existing desk (see photo). A treadmill desk is another possibility.
If the thought of a visit to IKEA just before Christmas doesn’t fill you with total dread, it might be worth having a look at what they have on offer.
Proverbs are a rich source of advice on daily life. Here are six sayings that will resonate with freelance editors and proofreaders.
1. You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear
Editors and proofreaders might mutter this to themselves as they try to improve a piece of text that’s in a bad way. I’m not sure I agree with the sentiment, though. For a start, it’s not for me to judge that a piece of text is a ‘sow’s ear’. Writing isn’t an easy task, particularly if – as with some of my clients – English isn’t your first language.
Also, my view is that improving an author’s written work is what editors and proofreaders are being paid for. Even with limited time or a limited budget, there are almost always things we can do to make improvements. A ‘silk purse’ might not always be achievable, but we can usually manage to create something that’s more presentable than a ‘sow’s ear’.
2. Many hands make light work
Although editing and proofreading are often solitary activities, there are times when editorial professionals work together. For example, a couple of years ago I began subcontracting work to a trusted colleague, Laura Ripper, and I wrote about the experience on my blog. I’ve worked on other projects where the work has been shared between a group of editors in order to meet a tight deadline.
Communication is the key to success in these situations. Everyone needs to know what’s happening and what’s expected of them. Any issues need to be highlighted and communicated as soon as possible. And an up-to-date house style is worth its weight in gold.
3. Too many cooks spoil the broth
Many editors and proofreaders will have experienced this scenario, which is the opposite of the previous one. Perhaps several people working on the same project seem to be doing things in completely different ways. Or a document you’re working on has to incorporate the opinions of various different people who can’t seem to agree (‘editing by committee’). Or there are seven different versions of the same document in circulation.
In these situations, the whole job seems to take twice as long and the end result may be far from ideal. There’s a need for some clear ground rules, including a house style, agreed timescales, and effective version control!
4. More haste, less speed
As in all walks of life, the more you rush to finish a task, the less progress you will make. If you’re an editor or proofreader, this might mean missing errors that you should have spotted, failing to follow the brief properly, sending the wrong version of a file back to your client, or even sending the right file to the wrong client!
It’s important to be realistic when accepting work or negotiating deadlines, and to study the brief you’re given. Using checklists and house styles can also help. It’s worth making every effort to get things right first time. As another familiar saying goes, ‘A stitch in time saves nine’.
5. A change is as good as a rest
One of the things I enjoy about my work as a freelance editor and proofreader is the variety. I’d go so far as to say it’s the spice of life. Over the course of my freelance career I’ve worked on a whole range of material, from writing web copy and proofreading pet-food packaging to editing academic journal articles and high-profile reports for an EU agency.
It’s even better when I have more than one project on the go at the same time. I enjoy using different skills, reading about a variety of topics, and working on material in different formats. A change of task, pace and subject matter keeps me on my toes.
6. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
Now this is one I’d definitely take issue with. It’s certainly the case that the older you get, the harder it is to learn new things. Also, the longer you’ve been doing a job, the greater the danger that you’ll become set in your ways. But our profession is constantly evolving, so as editors and proofreaders we need to keep up with changes in the industry, technological developments and potential new areas of work.
Fortunately, there are many different ways of doing this. Being part of a professional organisation such as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) is a great way to keep up to date with new ideas and technology. This is particularly important for freelancers, many of whom don’t have the same access to professional support, training and skills development as in-house editorial workers do.
Joining a professional organisation also offers the chance to develop valuable relationships with others in the field. Remember: birds of a feather flock together!
Are you a member of a Facebook group? If so, you’ll probably appreciate how great they are for sharing views, asking questions, discussing particular topics, and connecting with like-minded individuals.
Facebook groups are usually set up to bring together people who share a common interest. That might be a hobby or leisure activity, a political viewpoint, a charitable cause, or perhaps a specific geographical area (the town in which you live, for instance). Such groups can also be used for professional purposes. As an editor, I belong to several editing-related Facebook groups, including Editors’ Association of Earth, Academic Editors and PerfectIt Users.
The three types of Facebook group
There are three types of Facebook group – public, closed and secret – and it’s worth making sure you’re aware of the different levels of privacy in each of these. Facebook provides a handy summary of the privacy settings for each of these groups. In this article I’ll be discussing public groups, as I think those raise the most concerns about privacy (or lack of it).
How do you tell what type of group you’re joining?
The type of group is specified under the group’s name. On a desktop you’ll see something like this – the little globe indicates ‘public’:
If you’re viewing the group on your phone, it might look something like this:
Privacy in public groups
Many of us take the time and trouble to protect our personal profile on Facebook – hiding our private information and limiting the audience for posts on our own timeline – but that won’t protect any posts or comments we contribute to a public group. What’s more, posts to a public group might even show up in our friends’ newsfeeds.
Should you steer clear of public groups on Facebook?
That would be a real shame, as many groups provide an excellent space for their members to share ideas and connect with one another. But there are things you can do to make the most of public groups without damaging your professional (or personal) reputation.
Enjoy public groups!
Facebook groups are a valuable resource, and I wouldn’t want to put anyone off being part of them. But it’s important to realise that your posts and comments in a public group are just that – public. Keep this in mind and you’ve nothing to worry about!
Love it or hate it, Microsoft Word is difficult to avoid if you’re an editor, proofreader or writer. So it’s worth getting to grips with Word and familiarising yourself with its many features. This can save you time (which often means ‘save you money’), improve your accuracy, and – particularly when it comes to dealing with repetitive tasks and corrections – leave you free to focus on things that can’t be automated.
Even if you’ve been using Word for a while, you may not be familiar with all the tools I’ll mention. Don’t worry: you can still do a good job without them, but it’s worth exploring how each of them could help you. Each tool has its pros and cons, so do take the time to practise and get to know which tool works best for which task. Then, the next time you have a suitable job to do, you can dive straight in and put these tools to work!
1. Find & Replace
This is useful when you want to replace one item – whether that’s a single character, a group of characters, a word, a phrase, or most other things – with another. You can refine your search using the ‘More’ button in the Find & Replace box. This will give you various options, such as ‘Match case’ and ‘Whole words only’, and various other choices under ‘Format’ and ‘Special’.
Find & Replace is fairly straightforward and intuitive. It allows you to click through and change items one by one, or ‘Replace all’ if you are sure you need to correct all instances in the document.
Beware of unintended consequences, particularly when using ‘Replace all’. The results can be amusing (e.g. changing ‘pants’ to ‘trousers’ results in ‘particitrousers’), but remember that mistakes take time to fix.
Changing one spelling to another (e.g. ‘favor’ to ‘favour’)
Removing unwanted spaces (e.g. change two spaces to one space after a full stop)
Italicise all instances of a word (using ‘Format’)
FIND OUT MORE
MS Office support, or Word’s in-built ‘Help’ function
This feature of Find & Replace allows you to search for a pattern of characters (rather than a particular character, word or phrase) and make specific changes to it. For example, if you wanted to remove the full stop after Dr., Mr. and Mrs., you could use wildcards to find and replace each of these salutations with one that doesn’t include a full stop – something that wouldn’t be possible with a single Find & Replace action.
You need to choose the ‘Use wildcards’ option in the Find & Replace box and then use sets of symbols to define what you’re looking for. For example, [A-Z] will find any upper case letter, while b?t will find bat, bet, bit, bot and but – and, in fact, b5t, since the ‘?’ represents any character.
Wildcards are a very powerful tool. They are useful because they allow you to find patterns rather than exact strings of characters (as you do with the basic ‘Find & Replace’).
They can seem rather baffling at first glance! It takes time to develop the skill of defining terms correctly, so be prepared to practise. As with a normal Find & Replace, there can be unintended consequences.
Transposing names, dates, etc.
Inserting spaces between numbers and symbols
FIND OUT MORE
PC World article
Jack Lyon’s Wildcard Cookbook (free to download from the Intelligent Editing website)
This is an add-in for Word that you can purchase from Intelligent Editing. It’s a consistency checker that analyses your whole document, finds inconsistencies, and lists them so that you can choose whether or not to change each one. PerfectIt has a host of other features, including the facility to use wildcards as part of your tests. It has different style sheets that are available to users, and you can customise the tests to check for specific style issues. You can also share your own style sheets with other users.
PerfectIt is easy to install and use, and it is immensely useful, even if you don’t take advantage of all its customisability. You’re always in control, as you decide which corrections to make and which to ignore. PerfectIt can be useful for analysing a document before you begin editing and for checking that you haven’t missed anything once you’ve finished. It’s customisable to your own or your client’s requirements.
You have to pay for it! But it’s not expensive, and there are often deals for members of various organisations and other special offers. At the time of writing, it’s only available for PC, but there’s a Mac version coming soon.
Variant spellings (ise/ize)
Abbreviations (are they all defined?)
FIND OUT MORE
Intelligent Editing website
A macro is a series of commands that you run together to save time on repetitive tasks. Each macro performs a different function, or series of functions, and you install each one separately so that you have a menu to choose from. You can also assign keyboard shortcuts to each macro, which speeds things up even more.
Anyone can write their own macros, but there are plenty of ready-made ones available. UK editor Paul Beverley has produced a whole book of them, including instructions on how to install and use them, and this is free to download. He also has a useful YouTube channel.
Macros are powerful tools that can save literally hours of time on repetitive tasks. They’re free to write, install and use. Even ready-made macros can be customised, once you’re familiar with how they’re put together.
They may seem daunting at first, but once you’ve installed your first macro, the world is your oyster! Beware of unintended consequences (see above).
A couple of Paul Beverley’s ‘big’ macros:
FIND OUT MORE
Paul Beverley’s website
Paul’s YouTube channel
There are plenty of online resources to help you with these and other features of Microsoft Word. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) has an excellent course – Editing with Word – that covers these and many other aspects of the software.
Do spend some time getting to grips with these tools and exploring what Word can do. They can help you to achieve greater accuracy, consistency and speed in your editing and writing. What’s not to like?
School reports are a traditional part of school life. Teachers spend hours writing them, students receive them with excitement (or dread!), and parents read them to find out how their child – and the school itself – is performing.
It’s important for the reports to be in good shape when they go out to students and their parents. They need to convey information clearly and accurately, to present a professional image of the school, and to give parents and students the confidence that the school is providing high-quality education. They also serve as a permanent record of individual results and progress that the school can refer to in the future.
There are some things that just have to be right:
There are other things that might need to be corrected, depending on the school’s style preferences (a style guide will help with this). Here are just a few of them:
That’s a lot of things to check! And because student reports are such an important part of a school’s communication process, it’s essential to have a second pair of eyes to make sure everything’s correct.
There are a couple of different approaches. Some schools have a member of staff whose job it is to read all the reports before they’re issued. The advantage is that they’re on hand to proofread whenever required, and they have inside knowledge of the school’s activities.
Other schools choose to use an external professional proofreader – someone who has the time and expertise to check all aspects of the reports according to the school’s schedule. Proofreaders apply their professional skills and experience to the task, including using various tools to improve accuracy and consistency. They can dedicate time to the reports, rather than fitting them in around other school duties. Working closely with a school, they’ll quickly become familiar with the requirements, while remaining objective. They can also help the school to develop a style guide if one doesn’t already exist.
If you’d like to find out more about how professional proofreaders work with a school, you can read this personal account of a successful proofreading partnership.
Calling all SfEP members! There’s still time to nominate someone for this year’s Judith Butcher Award (JBA), presented annually to someone who has made a valuable contribution to the society or its members.
Most editors and proofreaders will be familiar with the name Judith Butcher, and many will own a copy of her reference book, Butcher’s Copy-editing. When Judith died in 2015, Tony Wilson, former chief executive of Cambridge University Press (1992–99) said of her: “Judith was far and away the best copy-editor 'on the block', and wrote the definitive handbook on the subject.”
Judith Butcher was the SfEP’s first honorary president, and in 2012 the society launched an award in her name. I was delighted to win this award in 2013, and I recently wrote a piece for the SfEP blog on why I’m a fan of the JBA: http://blog.sfep.org.uk/judith-butcher-award-sfep/
So don’t delay – nominate today!
See the full rules here, and email your nomination(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org by 12 noon on Friday 5 May 2017.
“So, do you just read novels all day?”
I’m sure that’s a question many editors and proofreaders have been asked. Here, I describe some of the clients I’ve worked for over the years – including how I found them, or how they found me – to illustrate the variety of individuals, companies and other organisations who need editors and proofreaders. And because I work on non-fiction, academic and commercial material, there’s not a novel in sight.
Source of work: Speculative enquiries (letters and phone calls); Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) directory
Publishers are probably the first clients that spring to mind when people think about editing and proofreading. And yes, in the early years of my career, all my clients were publishers. For one of them I worked on non-fiction books for the general reader, on topics including real ale, astrology, horse-race betting, wedding planning and feng shui. Another early publishing client introduced me to on-screen work (in the mid-1990s). These were very different experiences, but equally valuable.
The EU Agency
Source of work: SfEP directory
Since 2003 I’ve worked for a small company on an editing contract with the European Training Foundation in Turin, Italy. It involves editing reports about vocational education and training – and related topics such as migration and the labour market – in EU partner countries. I love this work, although I’m slightly concerned about how it will be affected by Brexit…
The Individual Author
Source of work: Journal publisher’s website; SfEP directory; Colleague referrals
Many of my individual clients are academics, most of whom do not have English as a first language. I help them to improve the language and formatting of their papers before submission to an academic journal. I’ve built up strong long-term relationships with a number of individual clients – both academics and general non-fiction authors – on several different continents.
The Marketing Company
Source of work: Local networking; SfEP directory; Colleague referrals
These are often small firms who don’t have the in-house expertise required to edit or proofread their own or their clients’ material, or even to write such material in the first place. I’ve worked on web and brochure copy, as well as straplines and other brand-related text. The jobs can range from just a few words to pages and pages of copy, on pretty much any topic under the sun.
Source of work: SfEP directory
It’s important that student reports are well written and free from errors. Throughout the school year, I work on batches of reports for all the year groups at one particular school. I share this task with another proofreader, and wrote about this regular work in a previous blog post. Tight (and immovable) deadlines are the norm, but we both really enjoy working for this client.
The Commercial Client
Source of work: SfEP directory; Colleague referrals
From greetings cards and novelty game instructions to product packaging of various types, this category encompasses a whole range of different material. In many cases there is only a small amount of text, but accuracy is of the utmost importance. The jobs I’ve done for these clients have mostly been small, one-off pieces of work, including some for high-street names.
I suspect that many of us who have been editing and proofreading for a number of years (or even decades!) will have worked for a range of different clients. Of course, the list above is not exhaustive, but I hope it offers an insight into the range of clients who need the services of editors and proofreaders.
I love working alone. I really do. Yes, I enjoy liaising with clients and colleagues – both online and in person – but most of the time there’s just me, on my own, focusing on a piece of work for a specific client.
After many years of solitary toil, though, I’ve rediscovered the joys of working closely with another person on a particular project. A couple of years ago I began proofreading student reports for a school. The work was enjoyable – and very different from the material I usually work on – but the deadlines were tight (and non-negotiable). The summer report schedule was particularly punishing, and I realised in advance that I wouldn’t be able to fulfil it on my own.
Fortunately, fellow SfEP member Laura Ripper was willing to take on some of the school proofreading. And the rest, as they say, is History (plus Geography, French and Computer Studies).
I needed someone who was highly competent, and who could grasp the system I’d already set up (including dealing with the slight complication of having the text supplied in Excel). Laura came on board, quickly picked up what was required, and took to it like a duck to water. She also made some excellent suggestions on how we could improve our working methods, something that I really appreciated.
Laura and I now share the reports throughout the year, including the busy summer period. We’ve developed a number of clean-up routines that we carry out before and after proofreading, using find and replace, spellcheck and tools such as PerfectIt and macros. We focus on style points such as initial capitals on subject names, punctuation preferences and the names of extra-curricular clubs and activities. We look out for commonly confused words (flare/flair, practice/practise, rigor/rigour). We check the spelling of student names and make sure the full name is used (no nicknames or shortened forms). And during the proofreading itself we check the usual things – spelling, grammar, punctuation – but also query anything that seems amiss.
Together we keep the style sheet up to date and customise PerfectIt to meet our proofreading requirements. When working on the reports we email each other throughout the day to discuss style points, and sometimes to alert one another to specific recurring errors in a particular teacher’s reports.
Of course, emails sometimes also stray into very important non-work areas. What’s for dinner? Will there be time for a brisk walk today? Any plans for the weekend? It’s all part of working closely with a colleague, albeit at a distance.
It’s good to be able to make joint decisions and to keep each other up to date with progress. I retain overall control of the project (I subcontract the work to Laura), mainly to make it easier for the client, who’s very happy with this arrangement.
So all in all, it’s been a very positive experience. I’d give it 10 out of 10.
The roof’s leaking, the cat’s at the vet’s, global events are going from bad to worse, and – as if all that wasn’t enough to deal with – you’ve run out of milk for your coffee. You’d think focusing on work would be difficult, and it’s true that this is sometimes the case.
But you might actually find that concentrating on work is just what you need when things around you seem difficult or troubling.
Following the recent American election, Helen Angove, a US colleague, posted this in an online forum:
“…it has been unexpectedly calming and heartening both to work on something that needs real concentration and to work on a document that clearly demonstrates this client’s commitment to honesty, integrity and inclusivity. Proofreading as therapy. Who knew?”
I’ve heard this same view expressed on other occasions. Editing and proofreading can calm the mind and create a feeling of well-being, even in the face of worrying situations.
Art, writing, music and craft activities have long been known to offer similar benefits. Like editing and proofreading, they require brain power and focus. Sometimes they’re complex, sometimes they’re repetitive, and sometimes they call for creative problem solving. And there’s usually a sense of what the end product will be – ideally, something that will bring a feeling of satisfaction and achievement.
As an editor, I need a great deal of focus when I’m editing the work of non-native-English authors, whether it’s a journal article on library search behaviour or a report on vocational education in Central Asia. It can be challenging at times, but there’s nothing quite like getting down to the nitty-gritty of a sentence or paragraph and crafting a clearer version. It’s something I really enjoy, and I find it satisfying to look back at the material I’ve edited and see the results of my efforts.
I also enjoy the mechanical aspects of work, such as formatting references. Applying a set of rules to a list of sources requires concentration and attention to detail: a comma here, italics there…you get the picture. Yes, it can be repetitive, and there’s very little creativity involved, but perhaps that’s one of the attractions! And the feeling of satisfaction when I’ve created a lovely neat list is wonderful.
Using the right tools for the job – macros, PerfectIt or ‘find and replace’ routines – engages the problem-solving part of the brain. Again, there’s something satisfying about making changes throughout a document and knowing that I’ve achieved order and consistency.
These are personal observations, and they relate mainly to the work itself. I haven’t even mentioned the pleasure of building relationships with clients and colleagues, the satisfaction of feeling part of a team or a process, or the thrill of receiving positive feedback. Plus, of course, the tangible benefit of getting paid at the end of it all.
And I admit that there are some days when work isn’t such a positive experience – when the technology misbehaves, when deadlines start to press, or when tiredness or illness strikes.
On the whole, though, editing is a positive pursuit. First and foremost, it’s my profession, and the way I make my living, but if it can also enhance my well-being, so much the better!