Levelling up style sheets for role-playing games and fiction

The style sheet is an essential part of any copyeditor’s arsenal. In this post, Rachel Lapidow explains how she expands her style sheets to help her edit complex role-playing games. Though some of the extra sections she adds are designed specifically for RPGs, they could be useful for fiction too.

I love creating style sheets for projects; in fact, it is one of my favourite parts of copyediting. This is fortunate because the style sheet for my current project, a 600-page role-playing game (RPG), is over 60 pages long.

When I was first learning how to be a copyeditor, I took a certificate programme online through the University of California, San Diego. One of my instructors gave us a style sheet template, and over the years, I’ve modified and added my own categories to that template.

I’ll be discussing how I set up certain aspects of the style sheets that I use for RPGs in the hopes that you may find some of these sections useful for your own projects, including non-RPG works. Some of these I learned from fellow editors, and some are my own invention.

One of the best tips I can give when dealing with a longer style sheet is to make use of Microsoft Word’s Styles section (I’m assuming that Google Docs and other word processing programs have something similar). When you click on the Home tab in Word, you will see the Styles box to the right-hand side. By using different styles for your headings and subheadings, you will be able to use the Navigation pane. Open the Navigation pane by hitting Ctrl+F and selecting the Headings tab. By using different levels of headings, you will be able to nest subheadings under headings. This will allow you to easily navigate to different sections of the style sheet without having to scroll or search.

One, two, or hyphenated words

I spend a lot of time checking to see if words should be hyphenated, one word or two words. On the advice of another editor, I created a separate section of my style sheets to list those words and phrases. Anything that I need to look up in The Chicago Manual of Style hyphenation table or the dictionary is included. I list the word(s) along with what part of speech it is – adjective, noun, verb, etc. Plenty of words are open in one instance but closed in another (eg ‘take out’ as a verb, ‘takeout’ when referring to a food order).

Abbreviations/acronyms

RPGs, especially militaristic RPGs, tend to have a lot of acronyms in them. Many of these will exist outside the game, like VTOL (vertical take-off and landing), and a number of them will be unique to the game, such as the names of guilds, armed forces, fictional companies, etc. When proofreading the encyclopedia for a video game series, the acronym section included things like HEDP (high-explosive, dual-purpose) and MARFOR (Marine Corps Forces). There were simply too many abbreviations and acronyms to remember. By listing them all in one place, I saved myself a lot of time instead of having to look up each instance.

Italicised words

Vessels, like ships, planes and spacecraft, are often in italics, depending on what style guide you are following. So too are the names of magazines, newspapers, plays and movies, whether or not these works exist only within the RPG. It’s far too easy to miss a name that should be in italics. By listing all italicised words together, I’m less likely to pass over a term that should be in italics.

Role-playing dice and character sheet

Game mechanics

Should game terms, like character attributes, skills, spells and more, be capitalised? Should they be in bold font? Should these terms be in italics or quotation marks? Here’s the place to record that information. For example, in the game I’m currently editing, character attributes (the qualities of a character) like Awareness and Physique are capitalised. In a game like Dungeons & Dragons, spell names, for example cure wounds, are written in lowercase italics. For the current game I’m working on, I have a section that lists all the attributes and skill sets so I know how those terms need to be formatted.

Characters

Here’s where to list details about characters, historical figures and divine entities in the RPG. If given, I will note a character’s pronouns, age, physical appearance, location, unique traits and relationship with other characters. An entry may be just a few words for a background character to as much as several paragraphs for a character who drives a lot of the plot. There have been instances where a character has been misgendered or their name has been misspelled. By referring to my character section, I help ensure that characters appear and behave consistently throughout the RPG.

Locations

For the game I’m currently working on, there are towns and cities spread across an entire planet, but that planet is just one place inhabited by humans. In the world of the RPG, people live on multiple planets, moons and space stations located within two solar systems – so it’s easy to forget where places are in relation to each other. Because earlier versions of this game have been published, I was able to copy and paste a map of one of the planets into my style sheet. In addition to this map, I have created a list of towns, cities and settlements. I like to add the key features of each town, its population if known, and any nearby geographic features.

A dragon sitting on top of a building breathing fire

Timeline

Creating a timeline for my current project was a considerable upfront time investment, but it’s helped me so much to keep track of when major and minor events happened. Because of the game’s sprawling nature, I’ve also colour-coded entries depending on where they occurred. I’ve caught a number of errors in the manuscript because of this timeline, such as events happening in a city that hasn’t yet been discovered or settled. I use Microsoft Word’s highlighting ability to indicate certain planets, moons and continents. When I ran out of colours (there are a lot of locations) I used coloured typefaces. Another option is to enter your timeline into an Excel spreadsheet. This allows you to easily sort by year, place or some other attribute.

And then of course the style sheet includes more standard sections, such as punctuation, spellings, how bullet lists are treated, how numbers are dealt with, etc.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and that you’ll find one of these sections worth incorporating into your next style sheet. In a full circle moment, one of my instructors from UC San Diego asked me to share one of my RPG style sheets for her to use in her class. It’s a bit surreal to imagine future copyeditors looking at a style sheet I created while they’re learning how to utilise this tool. But it’s also pretty darn cool.

About Rachel LapidowHeadshot of Rachel Lapidow

Rachel Lapidow is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader who works on RPGs, board games, comics, manga and fiction. Visit her website at www.rachellapidow.com.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: blue and gold role-playing dice by Timothy Dykes, role-playing dice and character sheet by Gian Luca-Riner, dragon by Jimmy Blackwell, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

A week in the life of a freelance editorial project manager

What does editorial project management actually involve and where do copyeditors and proofreaders fit into the process? In this post, Julia Sandford-Cooke describes some of the typical tasks she undertakes as a freelance editorial project manager working on educational projects.

The week begins with a review of my To Do list and a check of schedules because To Do lists and schedules are at the core of editorial project management. I’m currently an editorial project manager (EPM) on two large educational projects and I spend a lot of time checking, updating, ticking off and fretting about dates. These days, the scheduling software Smartsheet defines the work of the whole team; some projects have five or six separate schedules for different components, all feeding into each other, dates turning red if one of those components begins to run late.

In fact, if you run your own editorial business you’ll already have skills in getting tasks done on time and within budget for external clients.

I’m drawing attention to this straight away because newer editors sometimes feel that they lack the experience to take on a project management role, that they don’t have the right qualifications or enough in-depth knowledge of how publishing works. But, looking back at my early days as an editorial assistant at an educational publisher, I realise that I’ve been a project manager for most of my career – certainly before I began to define myself as a hands-on ‘editorial professional’. If you’re able to organise, schedule and write polite emails, you’re halfway there – in-house experience isn’t necessary, although admittedly it can make finding project management work easier, not least because of the network of contacts you’ll have built.

What does an EPM do?

So what do I do in a typical week? Well, it depends on the project – I work in educational publishing and a teacher resource is quite different to an online lesson or a printed textbook – but, in general, an EPM is expected to:

  • maintain schedules
  • keep track of spending, including maintaining budget records and raising purchase orders for freelance work
  • commission freelancers, such as copyeditors, proofreaders, fact-checkers and indexers
  • communicate with typesetters or digital teams and make sure they follow the brief and stick to the schedules
  • keep the client informed of progress, via emails and meetings (yes, an EPM does have to be prepared to attend and contribute to weekly or fortnightly video meetings)
  • collate proof comments from the project team – it’s not uncommon to bring together and streamline corrections and queries from the publisher’s content manager, designer and commissioning editor, the awarding body (if the resource is being endorsed), the proofreader, the author, the fact-checker and an internal peer checker, all within a single PDF proof.

I have to fit all this in among other, smaller, editing and proofreading jobs for other clients – yes, back to scheduling again!

Who do EPMs work for?

Most EPMs either work directly with a publisher or – more often these days – work for a ‘packager’ or publishing agency that is contracted with the publisher and completes the projects using a mixture of their own employees and freelancers like me. Examples of UK-based educational publishing agencies (who, incidentally, all have friendly and supportive staff) are Haremi, Just Content and Newgen.

EPMs may be given a company email address while they work on their projects, which I have to admit goes against my sense of being a self-employed person with my own brand identity. However, it does reinforce a feeling of teamwork with colleagues on the project – whether in-house or freelance – and means that people you contact know which business you are representing.

Typical task: commissioning and briefing freelancers

Which brings me to today’s pressing task. I need to commission a proofreader to start next week. As a freelancer myself, I know that ideally jobs should be arranged a few weeks in advance but, of course, the unexpected often happens – projects run late, someone gets Covid – so unfortunately I’m finding it a challenge to identify someone suitable at short notice. I prefer to use an editorial professional who I know will do a good job, who I’ve worked with before or who is recommended by a colleague. When I was looking for an indexer, a team member said, ‘Use this person – she’s awesome!’ And indeed she was. That’s the sort of recommendation project managers look for, and that gets freelancers repeat work.

In this case, the proofreader also has to fulfil certain criteria. They must:

  • have access to, and have previously used, the client publisher’s online systems. Getting set up is a long and complicated business, even before you are confronted with what could be a new and bewildering interface, and time is not on our side.
  • be on the packager’s freelance database. This means they’ve (probably) passed the editorial test, signed a confidentiality agreement and been added to the finance systems so that a purchase order can be raised and they can invoice.

I only contact one person at a time – it’s probably not the most efficient way of working but I don’t want to ask several people and then have to let them down in the admittedly unlikely event of them all being available for the job. It’s made me realise, with my freelance editor hat (tiara?) on, that EPMs value a quick response, whether it’s yes or no, so that they can keep their project moving.

I have adapted the brief to meet the needs of this resource and contact three potential proofreaders. The first is too busy, the second will be on holiday and the third is going on maternity leave. I make a cup of coffee and collate some proofs while I consider who to contact next.

Typical task: collating proofs

This is one of my favourite jobs, especially now it’s done on PDF on my screen and not on a desk covered in reams of A3 pages from five different sources. It’s where my editorial skills come in handy, as I assess all the comments, take out duplications and make a judgement on which corrections to ask the typesetter to make. As I work through, I compile a query log where, for example, the fact-checker has raised author queries or where the designer and the content manager of the publisher have suggested different solutions to overmatter. I upload the PDF and query log to their online system and let the content manager know it’s ready for her to check. She is very efficient so I know she will consider it carefully and get back to me with any questions.

Typical task: checking a digital project

Now I need to check that corrections have been made to my other project, a digital resource, so I log out of one system and log into another. This type of resource is new territory for the whole team so there’s been a constant stream of online messages as colleagues ask for advice. Digital projects will become more common as publishers innovate to meet the needs of the market (in this case, blending remote and classroom learning), and publishing agencies often put out requests for people with skills and experience in digital publishing and associated platforms. Freelancers who have worked on this project and others like it – whether over the longer term as EPMs, or on specific tasks such as proofreading – will be in demand for similar jobs in the future.


Editorial project management can be tiring, frustrating and stressful. On the other hand, it’s exciting and satisfying to see a project through, to watch it develop and to help shape it to be as good as it can be for the market and for the client. If you like a challenge – and what editorial professional doesn’t? – and, of course, if you thrive on schedules and To Do lists, it’s definitely worth considering. Check out the CIEP’s Editorial Project Management course if you want to learn more.

About Julia-Sandford CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke

Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: calendar by rattanakun on Canva, laptop by Jessica Lewis Creative on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

CIEP social media round-up: June and July 2022

The main theme of the CIEP’s social media postings in these two months was different perspectives. In this social media round-up, we look at:

  • Different publishing perspectives
  • Different individual perspectives
  • Different mediums
  • Different meanings
  • Member benefits
  • News
  • Quiz

Different publishing perspectives

There are varied journeys into publishing, and within it. Our posts covered roles within the industry, different aspects of editing and different routes to landing editorial jobs.

Jen Moore, an editorial manager from publisher Thames & Hudson, discusses working with freelancers from an in-house perspective, and shares the qualities that publishers are looking for from freelance editors.

Editing is a substantial part of the publishing workflow, but it’s important to remember it’s not the end. Our production colleagues do the work of getting those books into existence and onto shelves and e-readers. Rich Cutler gives us a brief introduction to two of the latter stages, typesetting and design, and looks at how copyeditors can prepare text for typesetting.

Being a subject expert is a valuable quality in editing. Nadine Catto’s love for words first led her to become a lawyer. But a desire for a less confrontational job led her to become an editor of legal materials for publishers and other legal content providers. She describes how she got into legal editing, and what her work typically involves.

Many of us write or edit copy that will be published online, so it’s useful to know some SEO basics to make sure that content ranks well on search engines. Co-founder of Tate & Clayburn Rosie Tate explains how editors and proofreaders can add value to copy that’s destined for the web.

 

Different individual perspectives

Our output also covered ‘conscious language’, that is, respecting the different perspectives of readers (in our editing), and also those of colleagues and clients (in our communications). Conscious editing is being aware of lived experience and varieties of English that are different from our own, and being aware of our own potential assumptions and unconscious bias.

The CIEP community is a generous one – freely sharing editing expertise in our forums. In a ‘Forum matters’ post, our contributors point out that an editor’s job could be described as being entirely about the conscious use of language. And not just about correcting grammar, but being aware of meanings, variations, topics, concerns and intention. Our members share some great resources and advice here.

In her latest ‘Flying Solo’ post, Sue Littleford considers the importance to us, as language professionals, of using conscious language in marketing and selling your services as a freelance editor or proofreader. She encourages us to look closely and critically at our public communication: website text, social media, blog posts and profiles, and responses to client approaches.

The CIEP’s training director, Jane Moody, looks at how editors and proofreaders can become more knowledgeable about conscious language, clearly sets out the objectives to work towards this and lists valuable resources on the subject.

It doesn’t exist yet, but maybe one day there will be software that can improve conscious language in a text. In ‘Talking tech’, Andy Coulson delves into the world of natural language processing (NLP) and AI to find out how we might be able to assess conscious language in the future.

Different mediums

For some, audiobooks seem (unfairly) like ‘cheating’ at reading. For others they are a lifeline, for many reasons. For editors struggling to find time to read for pleasure, it can be a great joy to be able to enjoy books in audio form. Audiobooks are an ideal solution for anyone who is unable or struggles to read print books. Clare Black discusses why she is passionate about audiobooks and explains why her love of listening has created an opportunity for CPD.

Different meanings

A popular read in June was Cathy Tingle’s ‘Finer Point’ post on modifiers. What are they and where should they be placed in a sentence? It’s an aspect of language that many of us are unsure about, or even unaware of. Cathy looks at things that can go wrong with modifiers, and how to avoid them.

Member benefits

June and July saw the launch of two new fact sheets, free for CIEP members. In ‘Editing dialogue’, Stephen Cashmore looks at three aspects of editing written speech that can guide what actions editors should (or should not) take: rules, punctuation and style.

Our fact sheet ‘Editing LGBTQ+ language with sensitivity’ was available for free to everyone throughout June, and is still free for CIEP members now. Learn about terminology and usage, and how to make sensitive edits when working with LGBTQ+ material.

News: the EPWG

The CIEP Environmental Policy Working Group (EPWG) has achieved quite a lot since its first online meeting, just 15 months ago. Read about their work on the CIEP website. And look out, #CIEP2022 attendees! Coming soon are the EPWG’s travel and packing tips for our conference in Milton Keynes, 10–12 September.

News: the conference

The last day for booking an in-person place at the CIEP Annual Conference (Kents Hill Park, Milton Keynes, and online, 10–12 September 2022) was Monday 18 July, but online places are still available. Book before 5pm on Friday 2 September. Highlights include:

  • Whitcombe Lecture by Katherine May
  • After-dinner speech by Reverend Richard Coles
  • Closing plenary session by Ian McMillan

Check out the full programme.

Quiz

Finally, dare you try Quiz 15? Test yourself (just for fun!) on aspects of grammar and usage. Bear in mind, though, there’s not always just one right answer. Sometimes … it depends.

Keep up with the latest CIEP content. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: beach huts by Arno Smit on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Agile approaches to publishing

Many publishers use a traditional model of project management that can make the publishing process slower and less responsive. Steve Martin argues that adopting an Agile approach can benefit both editorial professionals and their publisher clients.

The benefits of Agile approaches

Most publishers use a traditional project management model. Although there are benefits to this approach, there are drawbacks, such as:

  • complex, difficult to understand plans
  • enforced long-term commitments that set rigid expectations
  • a lack of autonomy and empowerment for project managers
  • inefficiencies, especially at scale, including:
    • work passing through too many hands, resulting in miscommunication and rework
    • people doing too many concurrent tasks, leading to mental overload
    • multiple documents doing the same thing
    • problems getting sorted after the fact rather than before
    • difficulties changing direction
    • lots of ‘wait time’.

These issues are usually coped with (at the cost of money, time and quality) and this approach has been around for a long time so isn’t going away. But alternative approaches have evolved over the last few decades, moving away from fixed plans and rigid control structures to a more dynamic approach to change.

One of these is an ‘Agile’ approach to change. It isn’t just a project management methodology – it is a philosophy for effective teamworking. It is described in the ‘Agile Manifesto’, which was created by a number of thought leaders in the technology world. Its principles are as follows:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working deliverables over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

Underpinning these principles are more detailed and useful mechanisms, such as TIA:

  • Transparency – ensure the information about a project, for both assets and performance, is continually captured and accessible.
  • Inspection – analyse and understand the state of the project at any point in time.
  • Adaption – make remedial changes in real time, ideally proactively, to keep things on track.

Agile doesn’t mandate what is done but how it is done. Examples of implementations are ‘Scrum’ and ‘Kanban’, which will be explained below.

The Agile approach goes a long way to minimising the drawbacks of traditional projects. It was, after all, one of the reasons why the Agile Manifesto was created in the first place!

Traditional projects tend to deliver in large chunks, often after long periods of time, meaning customers only start to profit at the end of a project or phase. Agile projects deliver rapidly and incrementally so that customers can start profiting far more quickly.

Finally, given that one of the fundamentals of the Agile Manifesto is empowerment, people who work on Agile projects often get a greater sense of ownership and job satisfaction.

All in all, it is an approach that has potential for the publishing world.

How can editorial project managers, editors and proofreaders benefit?

The publishing world tends to use traditional project management, often working with packagers and third-party service providers. There are reasons why things are as they are, and these evolve in the long term, but for now, a sensible attitude for anyone interested in Agile approaches is to ask: ‘What can Agile do to help me, within wider industry constraints?’

Here is an explanation of a couple of terms mentioned earlier:

Scrum

This uses timeboxes (short periods of time, for example two weeks) by breaking up work items (the backlog) into batches that the team focuses on as their primary goal while also refining requirements for the next time box. The work items as a whole are also looked at in the background to maintain their priority and relevance.

Kanban

A Kanban (or Kanban board) is a pipeline-based approach (like a car production line). Teams pull work items from a backlog in priority order and push them through various customisable work stages until they are done. The backlog is maintained in a similar way to the Scrum one. Free tools such as Trello can be easily set up to operate a Kanban. The picture below shows how a Kanban might look (in this case for someone taking on too much work!).

Personal workload

One of the challenges for a publishing professional is how to track work in a simple way. A to-do list is OK, but a Kanban has advantages. A simple ‘To Do, Doing, Done’ Kanban would show at a glance what is on the go at any time and what stage it is at. A more elaborate Kanban may add workflows that cover each process step – there may be a need for separate boards for editing and proofreading, as their workflows may differ.

It is possible to flag work items as blocked, as a reminder to chase people. To track the personal financial side, project managers can add additional terminating columns for (eg) ‘Send invoice, Awaiting payment, Paid, Done’. Horizontal ‘swim-lanes’ can be used to divide up the work between, for example, different clients.

Work in progress (WIP) limits

A Kanban can help manage overload. One way is by tracking WIP limits. It has been proven that the ‘keep chucking new work in at one end and get it moving to appear busy’ approach is a terrible idea. Finishing work, not just starting it, is what adds value. High WIP means swapping between different tasks (‘context switching’), which has a negative impact on productivity and quality. It is far better to finish five jobs in sequence effectively than five at once badly. Unfortunately, the second approach is sometimes necessary, but a Kanban highlights this and allows time to be better managed and, perhaps, trigger negotiations with clients. Over time, sensible WIP limits will become clear, and when to say ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ will become a more empirical decision.

Throughput

In Kanban, throughput – the amount of work delivered over a given period – is as important as deadlines. Monitoring throughput and proactively fixing problems improves the chance of hitting future deadlines. More advanced Kanban tools provide reports such as cumulative flow diagrams to show at a glance whether someone is productive or ‘stuck’, and if so, where. These have a learning curve so a simple ‘green’ or ‘red’ flag, or counting task completions per month, might give the project manager insight while they learn how the graphs work.

Project management

A client may permit the use of a Kanban tool, even if it is to simply mirror their main Gantt chart. If so, once such a board is created, team members can be invited to join it to collaboratively manage work and update progress. Most Kanban tools allow attachments, comments, sign-offs and more. Having everything in one place reduces email chatter. This gives a holistic view of where people are, who is overloaded, who is stuck and what is going slowly.

If the project involves sensitive documents, it will be necessary to talk to the IT department about what can and cannot be stored externally at online providers to ensure security requirements are met (one could store links to internal document libraries as a compromise).

Collaboration opportunities

The collaboration aspect of Agile methods can also bring benefits. Here are some examples:

  • Progress coordination – in a fast-moving environment where many people are concurrently involved, having a daily ‘stand-up’, in person or online, works far better than written progress reports in terms of keeping people on track. All or some of the team assemble every morning to share what they have completed, what they are working on and what impediments they face. The meeting should be no more than ten minutes so any detail would be discussed away from the stand-up.
  • Key delivery meetings – Project launch, planning, and other meetings (face to face or online) should include as many involved parties as sensibly possible, even if just for scheduled timeslots within the meeting. This means that queries and issues can be discussed in person and written communication should, where possible, be relegated to confirmation and follow-up.
  • Quality management – Regular (eg fortnightly) retrospectives (QA reviews) reviewing what went well, what did not go well and what can be improved are recommended to ensure lessons are learned while they are fresh in the mind as opposed to waiting until the end-of-project review.

Hopefully, this gives a flavour of what Agile is and how it can help publishing projects. The best way to start is to do a little more research and dive in. Good luck!

About Steve Martin

Steve recently moved into the publishing world after many years gathering experience in Project Management, mainly in and around the IT industry. He has completed the CIEP’s first two proofreading courses and the Editorial Project Management (EPM) course, and as well as now being able to engage in a fresh and interesting career where he can make use of new and existing skills, he is very, very pleased to have finally understood why MS Word kept auto-replacing the hyphens that he typed with long dashes without asking it to.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: cranes by Mike van Schoonderwalt on Pexels, Kanban board by Dr ian mitchell, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons, team meeting by fauxels on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Copyediting and translation editing: What’s the difference?

Gwenydd Jones, an experienced translator, introduces us to the field of translation editing and considers how it shares similarities with copyediting.

I became a freelance translator in 2009 while I was still completing my first master’s degree. As the early ‘translation editing’ orders started trickling in from clients, it soon became apparent that editing was being used as a very loose term. In fact, I’d receive all sorts of requests to correct, edit, revise, review and/or proofread translations produced by others.

This initially confused me. But I soon figured out that, regardless of word choice, these clients were mostly asking for the same service: check the translation for accuracy against the original text, make sure the translation is idiomatic and grammatical, and then proofread it.

Where does copyediting come into this?

After promoting my services as a translator, editor and proofreader for some time, I eventually heard of a job called copyediting. I was intrigued. Here was another activity commonly referred to as editing that was in some way different to the editing work I was used to.

There was nothing else for it: I joined the CIEP and signed up for the Copyediting 1 course to figure out what it was all about. In this article, I’ll share with you some things I discovered about the similarities and differences between translation editing and copyediting.

What’s the right word to use for translation editing?

The ISO 17100 Translation Services standard defines the terms translation, revision, revise, proofreading and final verification. It identifies each one as a different task in the process of producing a quality translation.

Of these jobs, the reviser is the one who checks the translation for accuracy, idiomaticity, grammar and related issues. So, while the word editing is regularly used in the translation world to refer to this task, in this article, I’m going to refer to revision and the reviser.

Similarities and differences between copyediting and revision

Without further ado, here are some of my thoughts about what the copyeditor and the translation reviser have in common, and where the similarities end.

1. Role expectations and skillset

Both the copyeditor and translation reviser may have a broad set of skills and offer writing and proofreading services. However, being a copyeditor can be a standalone job, while revisers are normally translators by trade, with translation clients generally viewing revision as a subskill.

Translators tend to have language qualifications and often a postgraduate translation qualification like the DipTrans or an MA in translation studies. If they’ve been properly trained, they’ll know how to edit and proofread their own work to a reasonable standard. But most translators probably won’t have received specialist training as copyeditors or proofreaders.

This means their skill set is different to that of a copyeditor, even though they perform some aspects of copyediting as part of their job.

2. Knowledge of punctuation and style

Both copyeditors and translation revisers may be asked to follow a house style. It’s my impression that this is more likely to be the case for copyeditors. Also, while some revisers are very well versed in the different style guides, overall, the expectations regarding breadth of knowledge of style are lower for a reviser than for a copyeditor.

This is also true of punctuation knowledge, which is sometimes terribly lacking in translators. This expectation I mentioned in point one, that a translator knows how to edit and proofread, is problematic. In my experience of teaching early-career translators, many of them don’t have professional knowledge of the rules of punctuation. This is often reflected in the readability of the final text, with misused semicolons and commas placed where the translator thinks they might take a breath.

3. Respect for the creator

Both copyediting and revision involve texts created by other people. In copyediting, you have to respect the writer. In revision, you have two creators to contend with: the writer of the original text and the translator.

In the CIEP Copyediting 1 course, it was underlined that the copyeditor should be respectful of the writer’s voice and their decisions. This is true even if the copyeditor doesn’t necessarily like or agree with them.

This is very similar to what a good translator should do. When transferring the original text (source text) into the new language, the translator has a duty of loyalty. This means they should respect the writer’s choices. When translating, it’s very easy to try to ‘improve’ on the source text. The translator can easily stray into editing and even rewriting.

The reviser has to think about both the writer and the translator. They have to check the translation against the source text to make sure it’s accurate, and change it if it isn’t. But they also have a professional duty to respect the translator’s choices as long as they’re correct and appropriate. Just like the copyeditor, the reviser doesn’t have the right to change the translation on the basis of personal preference.

4. Error elimination

The reviser’s job is to eliminate errors in the translation but not in the source text. While revisers may notify the client of mistakes in the source text, they’re not expected (or paid) to do it. This is very different to the copyeditor’s task, where correcting the writer’s mistakes is a key part of the job.

Sometimes, the source text is poorly drafted and hasn’t been edited or proofread before being sent for translation. This can be very challenging for the translator and reviser. Do they carry errors over into the translation? How much can/should they change in the translation when the source text is poor? And how much are they being paid for all this extra work?

If a copyeditor is involved in the process of creating the original text, many of these problems will be eliminated. This reflects how crucial the copyeditor’s role is in the production process for texts that are going to be translated. Imagine the financial impact of omitting a copyeditor for a badly written text that then gets translated into ten languages.

5. Reader on the shoulder

Copyeditors and revisers are part of a process designed to serve a figure they’ll probably never meet: the reader. Both roles involve making decisions with that person in mind. The difference lies in the knowledge the reader is expected to have. Translation isn’t just about changing languages. The text is also going to be presented in a new cultural context.

The original writer will have created their text with a ‘local’ reader in mind. They would have expected this reader to have certain cultural knowledge, like automatically knowing what Barça is. When revising a translation, it’s important to consider how the new reader’s cultural knowledge is different from that of the original reader. Additions and changes may need to be made to ensure that the new reader can understand the text.

6. Typesetting

The CIEP Copyediting 1 course explained that editors are expected to mark up the text to help the typesetter identify headings, figures and the like. The reviser isn’t expected to do this job. The brief (where one exists) is almost always to respect the formatting of the original text and change nothing in that regard.

This makes sense because the copyeditor of the original text, assuming there was one, has already done that work. In fact, if the client didn’t plan the translation properly, they may well have already completed the typesetting.

7. Impact of artificial intelligence

Both copyeditors and revisers have a range of software they can use to help them ensure quality, check spelling and grammar, and maintain consistency across the text.

Developments in artificial intelligence have led to new types of editing. Writers sometimes produce texts with the help of AI writing tools. These texts can then be edited and improved by a human.

In the world of translation, the same neural networks can be employed to produce a rough translation for subsequent checking and editing. The translator-cum-reviser is now expected to also offer a service called ‘machine translation post-editing’.

Within this panorama, the skills of both professionals require adaptation. A text produced by artificial intelligence presents different types of errors and challenges to a text produced by a human.

To sum it all up …

As a translator, I’ve found my explorations into the world of copyediting fascinating. If you don’t have much contact with foreign languages, I hope I’ve managed to share something here that’s piqued your interest in translation.

About Gwenydd Jones

Gwenydd Jones is an experienced translator, course creator and copywriter. She blogs about all things related to her field and offers courses for translators at The Translator’s Studio.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: globe by Adolfo Felix on Unsplash, Arabic text by Serinus, woman reading by THIS IS ZUN, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

The basics of SEO for editors and proofreaders

Have you come across the term ‘search engine optimisation’, or SEO, and wondered what it means? Or perhaps you have a vague idea of what it is but you’re not sure how or when to use it? If you write or edit copy that will be published online, it’s useful to know some SEO basics to make sure your content ranks well on search engines. Rosie Tate explains how you can add value to copy that’s destined for the web.

What is SEO?

You edit or write the most fabulous copy and it’s published on a website. That’s great. But if it doesn’t appear in search results on search engines like Google or Bing, it’s unlikely to get much interest. Few people are going to simply stumble across it.

Search engine optimisation, or SEO, involves ‘optimising’ web pages to improve their position in search engine results. It can make the difference between a web page being found – and therefore read – and simply lurking in a lonely corner of the web. This is why SEO is such a big deal: the higher a website appears in the search results, the more people will see it.

So how do we optimise online content? There are several things you can do to increase the chances of a page being ranked well by search engines. If you want to give it a go without getting too technical, the following tips are a good place to start.

Use keywords

Let’s say you’ve been asked by a client to work on their website copy. They sell organic chocolate. The first thing to do is identify the main search terms, or ‘keywords’, that people actually type into Google when they’re looking to buy this product.

There are lots of free tools you can use, such as Keyword Generator. If you type in ‘organic chocolate’, it tells you that there are 700 monthly searches for this in the UK. It also gives you related search terms, such as ‘organic chocolate bar’ and ‘raw organic chocolate’. Choose one main keyword per web page and make sure this is used in the copy. You can also embed other keywords throughout your content.

Include your main keywords in headings

Headings act as signposts that guide a reader through a web page and make it easier to read. They also help Google to understand what the web page is all about, so include keywords in headings to help your page rank well.

You’ll need to strike the right balance between using keywords and ensuring the copy reads well. Beware of ‘keyword stuffing’, or copy crammed with keywords to please search engine algorithms. Headings should summarise the content on the page in a clear, informative way, and content should flow naturally.

Use links

An external link is a hyperlink that directs the user to another website. As well as being useful for readers and helping to give your website credibility, these can also give SEO a boost. External links help search engines determine the usefulness and quality of a web page. The search engines use metrics to determine the value of external links, including the trustworthiness and popularity of the site you’re linking to, and how relevant it is to the page you’re linking from.

Coming back to our organic chocolate example, if you link to an interesting article about how cocoa is grown, this can help Google figure out that your web page is about chocolate – and will therefore help to rank the content more favourably.

If you’re working on a whole website, it also helps to use internal links, or links between the different pages on your websites, where relevant. These help search engines determine how the content on your site is related and the value of each page. If there are lots of links to a particular page, search engines will see this as important and prioritise it when it comes to SEO.

Backlinks

Backlinks are links from other websites to your website. For instance, someone might advertise your services and include a link to one of your web pages, or you might write a piece of content for someone else that includes a link to your site. Backlinks are important for SEO because they help give your site authority, and search engines will favour pages with lots of quality backlinks. A backlink from a respected, high-authority website is better than one from a site that receives very few visits. So if you’re involved not only in editing or writing a website but also in promoting it, do some research on how backlinks can help to get your site found.

Play around with some online tools

There are lots of online tools you can use to make sure content is optimised. Here are three of my favourites:

Google Trends: This is a great free tool that shows you how much a term is searched for on Google over time and suggests similar trending topics.

Answer the Public: Enter a keyword to see what people are asking about around this topic. This can give you some great ideas if you’re planning content (and some interesting insights into the human mind).

Surfer SEO: OK, so this one isn’t free, but if you’re serious about SEO, you might want to give it a try. It includes a content editor where you paste in your copy and it tells you exactly what you need to do to optimise it.


The above merely scratches the surface of the world of SEO. If you want to dig deeper, there’s a wealth of free information out there. Good luck getting that content found online!

About Rosie Tate

Rosie Tate is co-founder of Tate & Clayburn, a London-based company that offers copyediting, proofreading, copywriting and translation services to clients worldwide. A first-class Oxford University languages graduate with an MA in Documentary Filmmaking, she’s an experienced editor, writer and producer, having worked for Oxford University Press, the BBC and Save the Children.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: SEO letters by NisonCo PR and SEO on Unsplash, chocolate by Vie Studio on Pexels, Google by Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Why listening to audiobooks has made me a better editor

Audiobooks have seen a steep rise in popularity over recent years, particularly since the pandemic. In this post, Clare Black discusses why she is passionate about audiobooks and explains why her love of listening has created an opportunity for CPD.

A lifelong love of books

Like most editors, I have an enormous love of books, and I am proud to say I am a lifelong bookworm. My fondest childhood memories relate to books and visits to the local library with my mum and sister for the weekly storytime session. I vividly recall sitting cross-legged on the parquet floor, captivated by the austere librarian and the story they were reading.

Audiobooks are accessible and convenient

Ten years ago I had major eye surgery. Before surgery I usually read a novel a week, and one of my big worries was how I could read while convalescing. The obvious answer was to listen to books instead. I can honestly say that listening to audiobooks got me through those first few tough weeks following surgery. Audiobooks helped to fill the long days and transported me to other worlds when the prospect of being able to read ‘normally’ again seemed a lifetime away. I discovered that listening to a story really brought it alive and gave a deep connection to the characters.

Once I had recovered and was able to resume normal life, I wanted to get back to reading print books again, so my love of audiobooks was put on hold.

Making time for reading can be difficult

After I became self-employed as an editor, I started to read less for pleasure. This happened unconsciously at first, with realisation dawning when I couldn’t recall the last fiction book I had read. At that time, I think reading for enjoyment seemed like a chore rather than a pleasurable activity. This was due mainly to the amount of screen time editing requires, which is inevitably very tiring on the eyes. And I was also guilty of thinking that spending time on business-related activities like admin and marketing was more important. I became aware that the book-shaped hole in my life was making itself more obvious.

I am lucky to have a wonderful little library ten minutes’ walk from my home, so I made an effort to visit more regularly. Borrowing books from the library helped me to get reading again. But I still didn’t make enough time for reading for pleasure as I ended up renewing books several times.

Listening with Borrowbox

On one of my visits to the library, I saw a poster advertising Borrowbox. Borrowbox is an app that allows library members to borrow ebooks and audiobooks through a smartphone or tablet. Books are automatically returned after the loan period, and users can also reserve and renew, just as with conventional library books.

My passion for reading for fun has been rekindled by borrowing audiobooks through Borrowbox. Although the range of audiobooks is not as wide as with ebooks or print books, there is still a broad selection to choose from. This has provided the opportunity to listen to books from genres and authors that I would not have discovered otherwise. One to mention is Gone Fishing by Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer. I love the television series of the same name for its tranquillity and the companionship of this hilarious duo. But I am not a fishing buff, and probably would never have read the printed version of this book. The audiobook appeared as a recommendation on my Borrowbox account, and I am glad that I decided to listen to it. The book is narrated by Bob and Paul, which makes it very entertaining and deeply enjoyable. Reading the print version would not have given me so much laughter.

Audiobooks improve mental and physical health

I would go as far as to say that audiobooks have revolutionised my life, and I take every opportunity when I’m not at my desk to grab a few audio moments. The big win for me with audiobooks is that I can combine listening with other activities. Daily fresh air and exercise are very important to me, and I usually go out for an hour each day. Not only does this help my mental and physical health, but it also means I get to listen to my latest book. And sessions on my cross-trainer are now that bit more bearable.

I still appreciate conventional books and usually have an ebook from Borrowbox or a Kindle book in progress as well. But I tend to get through several audiobooks to one ebook.

Audiobooks can improve editorial skills

Although I have been an audiobook fan for quite some time, thinking of them as a form of CPD occurred to me only recently.

When reading solely for pleasure, I tend to be quite a quick reader, but when listening to an audiobook, I listen at normal talking speed. There is always an option to speed up the recording. but I never choose to do that. As with listening to someone else speak, you need to focus completely on what is being said. For me, hearing the words spoken allows me to immerse myself more deeply in the book.

Listening to audiobooks is a positive learning experience that has developed my critical listening and line-editing skills. I am presently studying a developmental editing for fiction course, and listening to published books is proving an excellent way to apply the theory.

A book I recently enjoyed is Platform Seven by Louise Doughty. I’d describe it as atmospheric, beautifully sad and tinged with joy, and it moved me to tears several times. Reading the print version would not have had the same poignancy. The book uses omniscient point of view, which I didn’t realise before listening. Being able to listen to an omniscient narrator has helped me to understand more about how this point of view is used.

All audiobooks offer opportunities for learning or reinforcing editorial knowledge. I regularly notice elements that I think are handled well. Good pacing and rhythm and flow of sentences are particularly obvious in the narrator’s change of tone and tempo. I also think about how I might have handled some aspects differently if I were the editor. As most editors know, many aspects of editing are subjective and not all editors will handle issues in the same way. Occasionally, I note things that I think are wrong. I would notice some of these issues if I were reading purely for pleasure, but listening means I can enjoy a story and learn at the same time. And, of course, when listening, there are no distracting spelling or punctuation issues.

Many editors, including myself, read aloud when they are editing. We all generally read aloud more slowly than we do when we read silently. I find that reading aloud is effective as it gives a better feel for the text and makes any problems or issues more obvious. It makes sense that this applies when listening to audiobooks.

Another reason I love audiobooks is the way that narrators vary accents and speech patterns for the different characters. Bringing the characters alive in this way makes me feel like I really get to know them. And listening provides an excellent way to note how authors handle characterisation.

Audiobooks are proper books

Some people believe that listening to audiobooks is cheating or not proper reading, but I don’t understand that. By listening to a book, I am still consuming and enjoying its content. As I have mentioned throughout this article, listening to a story really brings it alive for me.

Audiobooks are an ideal solution for anyone who is unable or struggles to read print books. Audiobooks are convenient, allow multitasking, can make a story more poignant and provide an immersive way to enhance editing skills. They are growing in popularity and are here to stay!

About Clare Black

Clare Black is a Professional Member of the CIEP. She is an aspiring developmental editor, line editor, copy-editor and proofreader specialising in crime, thriller and contemporary fiction. Clare had a varied career before becoming an editor, including working as a solicitor and running a dog-washing business. When not editing, she is usually listening to an audiobook!

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: red headphones by Yarenci Hdz, headphones and phone by Jukka Aalho, both on Unsplash, woman with phone by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Talking tech: Can a machine use conscious language?

In this Talking tech column, Andy Coulson delves into the world of artificial intelligence to find out how it might be able to consider the use of conscious language or edit text in the future.

For this issue of The Edit my column is going to be a little different from normal. Usually, I try to highlight how technology can help you with the theme of the issue. This issue’s theme, conscious language, proves to be a bit of a challenge on that front. What I am going to do instead is to get the crystal ball out and do a bit of speculating about how technology might develop to help ensure more conscious language use.

Natural language processing

Natural language processing (NLP) is the term used to describe a field of computer science that covers developing computer systems to understand text and speech in a comparable way to a human. This is a branch of artificial intelligence (AI), and I will get into some more detail about that later. This enables tools like Google Translate or the digital assistants Siri or Alexa to work. This is the field from which any tools (or indeed our competitors!) will come that will be able to improve how conscious the language in a text is.

Just to simplify things (slightly) I am going to ignore speech and all the computational issues that speech recognition brings. Let us concentrate on text and look at how machines are taught to understand that and make decisions about how to respond to it. To date, a lot of the NLP development has focused more on teaching a machine to respond to some text, whereas what we are trying to think about is how a machine would understand and amend a text. Microsoft and Grammarly both use AI to help improve their editing tools, so you can be sure there are other tech companies experimenting with this.

While language is to a degree rule based, it is also full of subtleties and ambiguities. The rules allow tools like PerfectIt to work – we can describe and recognise patterns and so teach a machine to do this too. This only takes us so far, as NLP then needs to pick the text apart to find the meaning within it. It must undertake a range of tasks on the text to enable the computer to ‘understand’ it. These include:

  • Speech or grammatical tagging, where the computer figures out the role of each word. This would be where it would identify ‘make’ being used as a verb (make a jacket) rather than a noun (the make of jacket).
  • Recognising names, so it can identify a proper noun. It knows Lesley is likely to be someone’s name rather than a thing, so ‘picking Lesley up on the way’ can be interpreted in the right sense.
  • Resolving co-references, where it relates a pronoun to a previously named object, so it recognises that ‘she’ is ‘Kathy’ from a previous sentence. This task can also be involved with dealing with metaphors or idioms – recognising that someone who is cold may not want an extra jumper but might not be much fun to talk to.
  • Sentiment analysis, which is also known as opinion mining. Here the computer is attempting to recognise more hidden aspects of the text, such as whether the tone is positive or negative.

All of these, and other functions we would need in order to make judgements about how conscious the language used in a text is, do not lend themselves to rules. Rather, they rely on a knowledge of context and conventions. Acceptable language in a novel set in 1960s Alabama would be quite different from that used in a modern social sciences paper about the same city and its inhabitants, but understanding the context will frame and shape language choices.

How machines learn

So, we have realised we are not going to be able to fix this one with a clever macro. What sort of computation do we need? Step forward AI – a term that covers a number of fields that involve machines that mimic human intelligence. One of the main aspects of this that NLP uses is machine learning, a field of computing covering machines that learn a task or tasks through different approaches.

One of the best-known AI companies is Google’s DeepMind division. They have made a name for themselves by approaching AI from the perspective of learning to play games using machine learning. To understand how they have progressed in the field we need a bit of a history lesson.

In 1997 an IBM project called Deep Blue beat the then World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov. What Deep Blue did was to search all possible moves in the game and then pick the best next move. What is different about DeepMind’s AlphaGo is that they had to follow a different approach, as the game of Go has so many more possible moves than chess. This version of AlphaGo used neural networks (a brain-like arrangement of computing elements with lots of connections between each element) to compare the best move from the current position and the likelihood of winning from that move, which gave a more efficient way of narrowing down the choice of moves. AlphaGo was trained by playing vast numbers of games of Go to improve its ability to select moves and predict its current chance of winning. Eventually, in 2016, it beat Lee Sedol, widely regarded as one of the best players of all time.

DeepMind have since developed AlphaGo further and, instead of playing against experienced players, it learns from scratch by playing against itself. It uses a technique called reinforcement learning, where the system tries to optimise a reward called a Q-value. It has been able to play and master various video games from scratch (the Atari benchmark). Here AlphaGo tries to gain positive awards (and avoid negative ones) by, for example, collecting a game’s currency or surviving for a certain amount of time. It can then use the information about what it did and what reward it received to alter its strategy and see if that improves the Q-value.

Why is this important? It shows a progression from a very controlled environment with a limited (although large) number of variables, to a more complex one (Go) and then to a more generalised one (more varied games). We are still not at the point where this could be applied to a problem (like our language one) with very few constraints, but this certainly shows a progression. The latest version, AlphaZero, has apparently taught itself chess from scratch to a world champion level in 24 hours.

This technique of using neural networks and reinforcement learning seems to me to offer the potential to create tools with a more subtle understanding of learning. One issue that can cause problems is that AI often uses huge datasets to train the systems, but using already acquired data can bring with it historical problems. Microsoft created an AI chatbot for Twitter called Tay, designed to mimic the speech patterns of a 19-year-old girl, which it did very well right up to the point it learned to be inflammatory and offensive and had to be shut down. Microsoft believe that the trolling the bot experienced taught it how to be offensive. Similarly, Amazon developed an AI system to shortlist job candidates, and this showed a distinct bias against women. Amazon tracked the problem down to an underlying bias in the training data.

Given the increasing pressure on social media companies to filter offensive content, platforms like YouTube and Facebook are undoubtedly trying to use AI to recognise problematic language, and some of this may lead to tools we can use to highlight issues. However, as editors and proofreaders we are looking to improve poor language choices and make it more conscious. Looking at how the Editor function in MS Word and Grammarly have developed, they certainly point to a way forward. While I am not convinced a machine is going to take my job for some time, I can certainly see where it could make progress. I think the challenge of issues like conscious language is that they have too many subtleties, and the human ability to make judgements about these, and even to have a productive discussion with an author about a passage, means a human editor will continue to be able to add something a machine cannot to a piece of writing, for the foreseeable future.

About Andy Coulson

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: chess by Bru-nO on Pixabay, robot by mohamed_hassan on Pixabay, Go by Elena Popova on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Flying Solo: Conscious language and the business-conscious editor or proofreader

In this latest Flying Solo post, Sue Littleford considers the importance of conscious language in marketing and selling your services as a freelance editor or proofreader.

Alienating possible clients is a business no-no. Sure, you don’t have to work with everyone who approaches you. There are folk who ask for a service you don’t provide, or are not happy to provide in the circumstances. Fine (as long as you’re not breaking anti-discrimination law).

Conscious language is a hot topic, rightly. We’re figuring out more and better ways to avoid making people feel prejudged, and to avoid raising barriers against their inclusion. As language professionals, we need to show we walk the walk.

There are two ways that conscious language and its close kin, discrimination, can affect our businesses – you choosing to reject a potentially rather profitable client because of your own beliefs about the world, based on first impressions; or potentially profitable clients rejecting you because of what you say in response to their query.

But aside from being bound by anti-discrimination legislation, it makes no business sense for us to discriminate, to any degree. You are, in effect, reducing your pool of potential clients, and the income you would earn from them, based on what’s going on in your own head, not what they are offering as work.

Incidentally: intent is irrelevant. If you hurt someone, it doesn’t matter whether you meant to or not. The pain is the same.

A word against generalising

Microaggressions accrete until they are a heavy burden that pierces your very being. You may not even notice handing out those tiny barbs, but you surely notice them when they’re directed at you, time after time after time.

Therefore: make it clear in your public writing – social media, blogs, website – that you encounter people as people, not as apparent members of a grouping about which you may have certain preconceived ideas. Those preconceptions may be rooted in a specific unpleasant experience, but when they become expanded from the particular to the general, that’s where microaggression rears its ugly head.

I’m a Manc. My ex-mother-in-law wasn’t my biggest fan. (OK, I admit, it was mutual.) When my then brother-in-law announced he was marrying a girl from Hull, my MIL exploded, ‘Not another bloody northerner!’

That’s an example of one particular beef being expanded to general prejudice. Hull is a good hundred miles from Manchester, yet my new sister-in-law was being branded the same as me, purely on the basis of the cities we were born in, decades earlier. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Your communications

Many editors work with people for whom English is not their primary language, or it’s now their primary language, but they came to it later on in life, rather than being immersed in it from birth.

How do you refer to those authors in your marketing, when you say who you help? Are you assuming that all such authors have poor English, and will make the same kinds of errors? Do you even hint that’s what you have assumed, when you think you’re saying you’ll bend over backwards to help these poor folk who need all your skills to be able to string a sentence together? That’s a microaggression at the least.

Working in such a heavily online industry as ours, your opportunities to discriminate on grounds of looks alone are equally heavily limited. But what about people’s names? What assumptions do you make based on someone’s name about how much editing they might need, and how much it will cost? And what about the country extensions to the domain names of some email addresses? Do you have a knee-jerk reaction to those you find less desirable in a client? Are you already formulating your No, Thanks, email even as you open theirs?

It is very much good business sense, as well as kind, not to make assumptions based on a partial picture, but to gather evidence – get a sample of the writing, in very basic terms.

That old saying – you only get one chance to make a first impression – cuts both ways. Someone who emails you looking for editorial services may use an unusual (to you) form of greeting, or seem overly formal or overly casual. When you email someone back, indicating your assumptions ahead of the evidence about their writing, you are also making a first impression – and will probably be judged on it.

Be conscious of the lost opportunities that can result, and look closely and critically at your public communication: your website text, your social media, blog posts and profiles, and your responses to client approaches.

Encounter people on their own merits

I’ve already stressed apparent members of a particular group, because we all know what it’s like to be (mis)judged at first glance. I’d now add that membership of any particular group may well be temporary, and it is definitely partial.

Consider for a few moments all the groups that you yourself belong to: your nationality, your locality, your position in your family, your education, your career history, your personal appearance, your accent, your sexuality, your health status, your financial status, your outlook on life, your sleeping pattern, your taste in food and drink, your religion and how you practise it, your lack of religion and how you express it …

Every one of us is a temporary and partial member of a plethora of potential groupings. No one group completely describes us.

Who are we to judge a person’s worth – or value to us as a client – based on what we have just guessed about them, before they show us who they are?

What you perceive is not all there is.

What you show is not all you are.

The thing is, we all make judgements about people the moment we meet them, whether in person, on the phone, by email or on social media; it’s human nature – a visceral safety mechanism to sort strangers into friend or foe. But people in your inbox are at a safe distance, and you can afford to explore further. (OK, I’ll make an exception for scammers – always remain alert to those.)

Resolve to let people (scammers aside) show you who they are, before you make a decision about whether to work with them. This means opening up a dialogue with people enquiring about your services, rather than ‘sorry, too busy’ instant responses because you perceive, from their name or their email address, that they’re not for you.

We do have to protect ourselves from bad clients, of course we do. We want to work for reasonable people at a decent rate and be paid promptly. So by engaging more with potential clients, and getting them to show us who they are, we can have the double benefit of finding the diamond in the rough as well as discovering those folks who arrive fully clothed in red flags and should indeed be avoided. Making judgements prematurely means that you can lose out both ways.

Educate yourself

There are some excellent resources around to improve this part of your skills. My go-to is the marvellous Crystal Shelley, whom many of us have encountered. Her Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors is such a help when you’re stuck for an alternative word or phrase, and has many links to further resources. Just reading through the list of terms that need alternatives should set you thinking hard.

In February 2022, EFA launched a course on the same subject, written by Shelley, for which CIEP members get a discount. Shelley blogged about the launch.

There’s also Gregory Younging’s book Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples (ISBN 978-1-55059-716-5).

There’s the free conscious language style sheet for PerfectIt created by Sofia Matias. That really helps you pick up things you may miss as you edit – or write.

Not least, there’s the website Conscious Style Guide, which we should all bookmark.

Pop your own recommended resources in the comments!

Your editing/proofreading

Now you’re being more conscious about your language when you write for your clients, or to your clients, you’re in a better position to help the clients you’re working with. This is also excellent business sense – clients are more likely to recommend you to others if you’ve helped them avoid conscious-language missteps.

Support your clients to use more neutral terms; use descriptions that the groups use for themselves – but good luck finding high degrees of agreement on what those descriptions are: groups are collections of individuals who have in common one element of their being, they’re not homogeneous monoliths! And people aren’t fungible.

So you’ll need to do your research and use your editorial judgement when editing or suggesting changes – such as whether person-first or condition-first is most appropriate when talking about people’s health. Hint: it’s not always person-first.

Get really practised and expert at this, and you can market a new service or make it a feature of your current offer – more good business sense.

As I write this, I have a chapter in mid-copyedit – it uses ‘manpower’ persistently. Those are changing to ‘staff’ or ‘personnel’ or ‘workforce’ as fast as I encounter them.

In sum

It’s sound business sense to educate yourself about conscious language; to encounter people on their own merits, without making assumptions; to make it clear in all your public-facing communications that you do that; and to help clients to avoid micro (and not-so-micro) aggressions in their writing.

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: cactus by Ryan Schram, counters by Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash, welcome note by cottonbro on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

A week in the life of a legal editor

Nadine Catto used to work as a divorce lawyer, and now edits legal materials for publishers and other legal content providers. In this article she describes how she got into legal editing, and what her work typically involves.

My path to legal editing

When I was at school, I was told that the best career for someone who loved words was a lawyer. Although I had some niggling doubts, it seemed like a good idea at the time and I excitedly started my career as a divorce lawyer. For someone who hates confrontation, this may not have been the smartest career choice. While others loved the rough and tumble of the courtroom, I wished everyone would just stop arguing and I could curl up in the corner with a book!

My wish came true (sort of) when a conversation in a creative writing class led to some work experience with a publisher. Books, words, more books – I loved it! I saw an advert for a job as an assistant editor for a legal publisher who was looking for someone with a legal background. We made the perfect match! Fast forward eight years and two children later and freelance work beckoned.

 A typical day

  • School run and answering my twins’ endless questions, followed by a morning walk by the river to shift from Mum-mode to editor-mode.
  • Check I’ve received the batch of articles from the legal content provider.
  • Prioritise article work for the week according to the editorial manager’s schedule.
  • Several hours of focused copyediting and rewriting articles on international law, and trying to stop the cat from jumping on the keyboard and deleting all my work!
  • Afternoon school run and more questions from the twins. Put finishing touches to the day’s articles and write a summary of the articles.
  • Send the articles back to the editorial manager and feel happy that they are now in house style and easier to understand for the busy legal professional.

This is just an example of a typical day. But my working week could be proofreading a 3,000-page legal reference book (this took longer than a week!), copyediting how-to guides for corporate lawyers or copywriting articles for a DIY legal publisher. For me, it’s the variety that makes freelance work a joy.

I’ve been fortunate to have quite a steady flow of work since I went freelance, and I work part-time to fit in with the school day. But in order to make this work, I do often work at weekends and in the evenings to free up more time during the working week to fit in family commitments.

Legal editing tasks

When I receive an article from the editorial manager, the first thing I do is format it according to their requested house style. I re-style the headings and change footnotes to endnotes. The articles can be from anywhere in the world on any area of commercial or corporate law. So, I also check which language it’s set to – it could be US English, Peruvian, Spanish or any other language! I set it to the client’s preferred language, which is often British English, and run a spellcheck. Some style issues that I always have to be aware of are case names, citations, the names of judiciary, legal terminology and the names of courts. I usually have a long house style to work with, so I make sure that I’m really familiar with it, and I go back to the editorial manager with anything that the style guide doesn’t cover.

I then read through the article to get a sense of what it’s about – perhaps making a few small corrections as I go. This can also involve quite a lot of head-scratching about what the author is trying to say under layers of legalese! I try to ensure that the article is in plain English; however, with legal writing, it is sometimes important to keep certain terms of art, so it’s a fine balance. Rather than wading in with corrections that could potentially change the author’s meaning, I make suggestions about rewording and write very diplomatic queries.

The end goal is to produce an article with a clear message that’s easy for a busy legal professional to understand quickly. Sometimes I do a bit of legal research to understand the subject so that I can make better suggestions for rewording. Lastly, I write a summary of the article – something that will entice a reader to read it (not always easy to make the law sound enticing, but I try).

If I’m copyediting, I work in Word using Track Changes. If I’m proofreading, I work in Adobe Acrobat using the comment tools.

Marketing and professional development

It can be difficult to fit in marketing, and it’s something that I do struggle with. I know I should be promoting myself, but it’s always the last thing on my to-do list. I try to make time in the week to attend a networking group, investigate new opportunities and send my CV to other legal publishers or law firms. We’re lucky in the CIEP to have the legal editing special interest group (SIG). This is a newly created SIG, and I hope it will be a great place to learn from each other and share concerns and queries.

The joys (yes, really!) of legal editing

Yes, law can be a dry subject, but I’ve learned so much about different areas of law and it’s so interesting to see how different jurisdictions deal with similar issues. The biggest joy for me is to take a manuscript filled with dense legalese and tease out the meaning to improve the readability. I was once that busy lawyer with little time for professional development, so it’s great to know that I’m helping them out. Plus, I’ve worked for some genuinely lovely clients and that’s a real bonus.

About Nadine Catto

Nadine Catto edits and proofreads articles, how-to guides and books for legal content providers and publishers. Nadine is a qualified lawyer who worked in-house for a legal publisher for eight years. Nadine is an advocate for plain English in legal writing, and is a Professional Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: scales by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA on Pexels, Lady Justice statue by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.