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.

Definite articles: CIEP social media picks, April and May 2022

Welcome to ‘Definite articles’, our social media team’s pick of editing-related internet content, most of which are definitely articles. If you want our pick of our own recent content, head straight for ‘CIEP social media round-up: April and May 2022’.

In this column:

  • Celebrating books
  • All things fictional
  • Different ways to be an editorial professional
  • Behind the scenes
  • What words do
  • Learning about language
  • A Thursday funny

Celebrating books

Our review begins in the first week of April, with the London Book Fair. This massive publishing event last took place in person in 2019 so there was plenty to celebrate. There were more than 500 international exhibitors, 400 speakers, 75 first-time exhibitors and 125 events. ‘Are you there?’ we asked our social media followers, and got two contrasting responses on LinkedIn that seemed good representative samples: ‘Sure am; and making great connections, having fantastic conversations and acquiring new knowledge!’ and: ‘I wish!’

You’ll recall that at the end of the last ‘Definite articles’ we celebrated the return of Charles Darwin’s notebooks to Cambridge University Library this spring. During April and May we enjoyed two more tales of long overdue book returns: a London library book returned almost 50 years late (its fine would have been £1,254) and another returned to a library in Ipswich from Croatia, 64 years late. One follower on Facebook responded: ‘Oh wow! I’m definitely returning my library book tomorrow! Thanks man …’

We mused on our relationship with books, which are ‘Portable Magic’ but sometimes over-valorised, according to Emma Smith who has recently written a history of reading. An article about whether it was OK to treat books as ornaments got our followers chatting, as The Guardian covered the story that celebrity Ashley Tisdale’s shelves were filled with books she had purchased simply for decoration. This has been a growing trend since Zoom made public the insides of all our houses, but one of our followers revealed a different reason for buying books indiscriminately in bulk:

I lived in a Victorian terrace house and wanted some extra sound insulation on the wall we shared with next door. I put up shelves and filled them with books from charity shops. I didn’t read the blurb on the back, knowing that I would stick to my favourite genre if I did. I certainly didn’t read every book I had on the shelves but it made for interesting insulation and I read books I wouldn’t have otherwise.

All things fictional

An article we shared in April about the psychology of fiction demonstrated how reading could be transformational, helping us develop empathy and social and cognitive skills as well as teaching us about ourselves. We encouraged our followers into this positive pattern in April and May, posting articles about female sleuths, Jane Austen and food, Dracula (125 years young!) and the classics recommended by OUP if you’re a fan of TV shows like Bridgerton and Sanditon. We shared fiction-based Friday funnies, too: ‘Gentler genres for these tough times’ from Tom Gauld (including Soothing Sci-Fi and Dainty Dystopia) and ‘Classic Novel Merch’ (including the Lord of the Flies Swatter and Jane Eyre Freshener) from John Atkinson of Wrong Hands.

We also looked at the benefits of writing fiction, even when the world seems like it’s on fire: a process that not only offers solace to the reader but changes the writer for the better.

The fiction editor’s point of view was well and truly covered, too, with articles from CMOS on exclamation marks in creative text and whether the subjunctive mood – expressing ‘an action or state as doubtful, imagined, desired, conditional, hypothetical, or otherwise contrary to fact’ – was right for fiction. ‘Would that it were’, wittily responded one Facebook follower, although the article made it clear, using numerous examples, that the subjunctive was indeed right in certain circumstances.

Different ways to be an editorial professional

We posted content about many different types of editorial professional in April and May, including publishing project managers, cookery editors, indexers and, er, rabbits. We looked at the different ways editors and proofreaders work, from using Google Docs and CMOS for PerfectIt to marking up PDFs. We also considered where they worked, with an article that talked about the variety of attitudes worldwide towards remote working.

One thing that all editorial professionals can relate to, however, is that feeling when you see a mistake in a text you’d previously been rather proud of your work on. Iva Cheung captured the torture of this experience in her cartoon ‘Blues’.

Behind the scenes

There was an insight into one editor’s behind-the-scenes issues in ‘Clients hire me to edit their books and then get angry about my feedback’. Our followers offered a range of advice, many sensing that the editor seemed weary of the work. They suggested expanding into other areas of editing, which might return the editor refreshed to their original sphere. Followers also recommended being more cautious about accepting work and improving editor–client communication. Another article, from Editors Canada, was relevant too. It talked about building long-term relationships with clients to make freelance life less stressful. This approach could also be an answer to the issue of low rates and the undervaluing of freelance work in the creative industries, which the #PayTheCreator campaign, from the Society of Authors and others, seeks to draw attention to.

We also got an insight into the publishing stories behind famous books from A Christmas Carol to Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Did you know that originally these works were self-published? There was a lesson on how too much pressure on authors can lead to big mistakes like plagiarism, and a look at what’s behind an acknowledgements section.

What words do

We heard the latest from the Historical Thesaurus of the OED, which has recently expanded many of its categories. One of these was ‘types of rock music’, to which has been added ‘darkwave’, ‘queercore’ and ‘nu metal’. Among the other words and terms we educated ourselves about were those that described admirable qualities, new eco-words, odd insulting words and those with a ‘toothy’ quality, such as ‘you managed that by the skin of your teeth’. One of our Friday funnies covered the Scottish word ‘beastie’. The illustration, with 12 creepy crawlies, each of which bore the caption ‘beastie’, delighted our followers, who said ‘This is awesome’ and ‘One of my favourite words!’, although one pointed out: ‘I’m sure that at least one of those specimens is a critter.’

There was more talk of the differences we find in languages and dialects, and the way we view certain words and terms as a result of our lived experience. We got a primer on the language of Shetland; we discovered how American Sign Language reveals that the evolution of language sometimes occurs just to make our lives a little easier; and we considered how speakers of different languages name and categorise experiences like colour, smells and touch differently. Within one language alone there are varieties in how we pronounce certain words and terms, and James Harbeck surveyed the different ways we say ‘succinct’.

Or you could make up your own words. In ‘Riverbankhungrydeerwillow: How we give names to nature’, Marc Peter Keane explored how we could reflect the connections between things in the process of naming them.

It matters what words we give things, and this was powerfully conveyed by CIEP Advanced Professional Member and Wise Owl Louise Bolotin in an interview for the Editing Podcast in May. Louise is dying of cancer, and she couldn’t have been clearer about how unhelpful it is to frame her experience as a ‘battle’ or apply to it any sort of verbal sugarcoating. No talk of ‘journeys’, please, however well meant.

Learning about language

As ever, during April and May we posted lots of articles about the nuts and bolts of language. Why is plain language a good idea (and may even make your readers admire you)? Could poetry be key to making science accessible and inclusive? Are capital letters harder to read? When should you use ‘You and I’ and not ‘You and me’? Plus apostrophes, contractions and the word ‘like’, which, in a fascinating article, was lifted from being an often-scorned bugbear to a richly nuanced indicator of intelligence. Grammar Girl covered other discourse markers, such as ‘you know’, saying that ‘conscientious people use discourse markers, such as “I mean” and “you know,” to imply their desire to share or rephrase opinions to recipients’.

A Thursday funny

We’ve mentioned some of our Friday funnies above. One popular funny didn’t appear on a Friday, however, but a Thursday: 12 May, Edward Lear’s birthday and National Limerick Day. We shared Brian Bilston’s ‘Four Imperfect Limericks’, and many of our followers responded with their favourites (thank you all!), including ‘There once was a man from Hong Kong/Who thought limericks were too long.’ That’s it. That’s the limerick. #genius.


For more picks from our social media team, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. See you online!

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: feathers by Pierre Bamin, bookshelves by Paul Melki, rabbit by Hassan Pasha, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Curriculum focus: Conscious language

In a new regular feature for The Edit, training director Jane Moody shines a light on an area of the CIEP’s Curriculum for professional development.

Being aware of the language we use is central to all aspects of our profession. The main areas to look at in domain 1: Working as a professional, are in subdomain 1.1: Professional practice and ethics; and also three subdomains of domain 2: Editorial knowledge and practice. This time, I have stripped out the third column, to save space, as there is a large amount of material here, some of which is detailed below.

Knowledge criteriaEditorial competencies, professional skills and attitudes (extract)
1.1.3 Professional ethics• Is alert to the impacts of offensive, biased or non-inclusive material
1.1.4 Professional communication and negotiation• Presents queries concisely and clearly giving adequate detail and proposing solutions where possible
• Communicates politely and diplomatically
• Avoids errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation in communications
2.1.12 Principles of accessibility• Understands the importance of accessibility of print and online materials for all users, including people with disabilities
2.2.1 Grammar, punctuation and usage• Understands and can apply conventions of English grammar and usual practice
• Has adequate command of punctuation
• Has good command of punctuation, vocabulary and other conventions for the variety of English being edited or proofread
• Understands use of common symbols
• Has general knowledge of common English usage as appropriate to the relevant media and audience
• Understands that language develops and changes over time
• Understands the difference between prescriptive and descriptive principles in decisions about usage
• Understands appropriate usage for different audiences and arenas
2.2.3 Voice and tone• Understands reading level, register (degree of formality) and use of terminology appropriate to the type of publication and audience
2.3.2 Judgement of voice• Understands and respects author’s voice but can assess whether suited to the content and the target/likely audience, and appropriateness for context
• Can make changes in keeping with context

Karen Yin’s Conscious Style Guide could be the place to start your search, for anything you need to know about using language to empower the reader. Conscious language is defined here as ‘language rooted in critical thinking and compassion, used skillfully in a specific context’ (About Conscious Style Guide). Another rich resource is the Conscious Language Guide from Healthline Transform.

The American Medical Association’s Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts is essential reading for medical editors.

Writing with Color produces resources including advice for writers, guides and book recommendations centred on racial, ethnic and religious diversity.

The Diversity Style Guide is ‘a resource to help journalists and other media professionals cover a complex, multicultural world with accuracy, authority and sensitivity’. It includes over 700 terms related to race/ethnicity, disability, immigration, sexuality and gender identity, drugs and alcohol, and geography.

The Plain English for Editors course and the associated CIEP guide Editing into Plain English will give you a good grounding in this specific skill. Other useful resources include the CIEP fact sheets Good editorial relationships and Good practice for author queries, and the CIEP focus papers In a globalised world, should we retain different Englishes? and To whom it may concern.

Inclusive Publishing defines inclusive publishing as ‘the methodology and practice of creating a single, typically commercial publication which can be accessed by everyone irrespective of print disability, using mainstream or specialist assistive technology’. The organisation produces resources to improve the accessibility of digitally published material.

The US Book Industry Study Group (BISG) Guide to Accessible Publishing & Cheat Sheets was published in 2019. You can download it for free, although you do have to provide your details to get the download. The content is geared to the US publishing market, but the general information is relevant in all contexts.

The Accessible Books Consortium produces Accessibility Guidelines for Self-Publishing Authors, written by Dave Gunn. It offers clear instructions on how to make ebooks more reader-friendly for all users.

About Jane Moody

Jane has worked with books for all her working life (which is rather more years than she cares to admit), having started life as a librarian. She started a freelance editing business while at home with her two children, which she maintained for 15 years before going back into full-time employment as head of publishing for a medical Royal College.

Now retired, she has resurrected her editorial business, but has less time for work these days as she spends much time with her four grandchildren and in her garden.

 

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: pebbles by Il Solyanaya on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

A Finer Point: Placing modifiers

What are modifiers, and where should they be placed in a sentence? Cathy Tingle investigates.

One of the best ways to get a learning point to stick in your memory, I’ve found, is for it to feature in feedback from someone you respect – a peer or a tutor. It’s something about the combination of ‘Oh no, this person I respect thinks I’m doing this wrong’, ‘Oh no, I’ve been doing this wrong for ages, which means everyone must have noticed it’ and, if it’s feedback from a course you’re taking, ‘Oh no, this thing that I’ve been doing wrong has caused me to almost fail this assignment’. Mortifying, and therefore memorable. Something that has never left me from the CIEP’s Copyediting 2: Headway course is my tutor’s suggestion that I ‘struggled’ with ‘the placement of modifiers’ and this had lost me marks. She was right; in fact, I had paid virtually no heed to the placement of modifiers. What could have caused them to fall off my radar?

What is a modifier? Ask the kids.

In Making Sense, David Crystal introduces the principles of grammar through his observations of Susie, his young daughter, as she learned to talk. At the point at which Susie starts to apply adjectives to nouns (‘a silly hat’), Crystal remarks that she’s learned ‘that some words can be subordinate to other words, sharpening their meaning – making it more particular. Grammarians talk about one word modifying another or qualifying another’.

I find ‘modifier’ a useful term because you don’t need to specify if it’s an adjective, an adverb or anything else, like a participle. It can be a word, or, like most dangling modifiers, it can be a phrase. The important thing is that a modifier modifies: it ‘gives information about’ something else in a sentence.

My theory is that as we use modifiers in new ways, on social media and in other informal settings, or when chatting, we can become less strict about them. ‘What even is that?’ is a sentence my son has used since he was small. The adverb, ‘even’, applied to the ‘is’, is meant to express incredulity or surprise, it isn’t misplaced, and it adds an emphasis the speaker obviously feels is necessary. But it’s not the way I would have spoken as a child.

What can go wrong with modifiers?

So, when are modifiers wrongly placed? When either of the following happens.

  1. It’s unclear what they’re modifying.
  2. They appear to be modifying the wrong thing.

‘Coming out of the house, the street was festooned with bunting’ is a dangling modifier – the modifier (‘Coming out of the house’) dangles in the absence of a subject, and this allows misinterpretation. In this sentence it could read as if the street is coming out of the house. Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty suggests a funnier example, ‘Hiking the trail, the birds chirped loudly’, which sounds as if the birds were hiking. To fix it, you’d need to include the subject of the sentence – the person or people hiking – as near as possible to the modifier.

Modifiers that have been variously termed ‘squint’, ‘two-way’ and ‘shifty’ appear between two elements, either of which they might modify. In ‘my dog who growls often chases cats’ it’s unclear whether the dog growls often or chases cats often. To make the meaning clear, it’s simply a matter of moving the modifier away from the danger zone and closer to the element being modified, so it either reads ‘my dog who often growls chases cats’ or ‘my dog who growls chases cats often’.

Only seeking clarity

As with much of the work we do, then, clarity is what counts. Which other modifiers should we look out for when editing or proofreading? I’d recommend taking notice of ‘all’, which I often misplace when writing. But the one that many grammar and language books mention is ‘only’. As Benjamin Dreyer puts it: ‘a loosely placed “only” can distort the meaning of a sentence entirely’. Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz, in The Copyeditor’s Handbook, advise that the rule is ‘to place the only directly before the noun, adjective, or verb it is to modify’ and they give a good example of the different meanings its placement can give:

Only CanDo Company works to serve the interests of its client.

CanDo Company works only to serve the interests of its client.

CanDo Company works to serve the interests of its only client.

These days, ‘only’ tends to be the modifier that sets off my copyeditor’s radar. But is this always necessary? Einsohn and Schwartz say that ‘language experts agree that the rule may yield to idiomatic expression’. Dreyer notes that ‘normal human beings front-load the word “only” at the beginning of a sentence’, as in ‘If you only see one movie this year …’. And Oliver Kamm cites musical cinema to suggest that ‘only’ should be placed according to the rhythm of the sentence: ‘The jazz song “I Only Have Eyes for You” … doesn’t imply that the other organs are uncaring.’ Merriam-Webster sums it up:

After 200 years of preachment the following observations may be made: the position of only in standard spoken English is not fixed, since ambiguity is avoided through sentence stress; in casual prose that keeps close to the rhythms of speech only is often placed where it would be in speech; and in edited and more formal prose only tends to be placed immediately before the word or words it modifies.

Hopefully keeping your reader happy

‘Hopefully’ is one of those words that some people very much dislike being placed at the beginning of a sentence (although I put it there all the time, I don’t know about you). Bill Bryson explains the problem:

Most of those who object to hopefully in its looser sense do so on the argument that it is a misused modal auxiliary – that is to say, that it fails to modify the elements it should. Take the sentence ‘Hopefully the sun will come out soon’. As constructed that sentence suggests (at least to a literal-minded person) that it is the sun whose manner is hopeful, not yours or mine.

So it’s a form of, what, dangling modifier, missing a subject? To be more precise, according to Dreyer it is a ‘disjunct adverb’ as it modifies ‘not any particular action in the sentence … but the overall mood of the speaker of the sentence’. ‘Hopefully’ is not the only disjunct adverb: ‘thankfully’ and ‘admittedly’ are examples of others. But, as Fowler’s puts it: ‘It is hard to think of another word which has provoked such revulsion and condemnation.’ Dreyer adds: ‘I’m not sure how “hopefully”, among all other disjunct usages, got singled out for abuse, but it’s unfair and ought not to be borne.’

In the end, it comes down to the reader, as it pretty much always does. Fowler’s concludes its introduction to the various uses of ‘hopefully’ with:

Among whatever audience you are writing for, there are bound to be people who detest this word, as opposed to the majority, who will probably pass over it without comment. You might therefore wish to consider how important the opinion of the detesters is.

Hopefully we ourselves are nearing a conclusion. If the placing of the modifier in a sentence isn’t causing any sort of ambiguity, consider your reader. If they are traditionalists (or tutors) be sure to place your modifier directly before the element it is modifying, and don’t use ‘hopefully’ in the sense of ‘it is hoped that’. But if not, you could perhaps leave things as they are. Just don’t let modifiers fall off your radar completely.

Resources

Bill Bryson (2016). Troublesome Words. Penguin.

David Crystal (2017). Making Sense. Profile.

Benjamin Dreyer (2019). Dreyer’s English. Random House.

Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz (2019). The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A guide for book publishing and corporate communications, 4th edition. University of California Press.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern Usage, ed. by Jeremy Butterfield (2015). 4th edition. Oxford University Press.

Grammar Girl. Misplaced Modifiers. quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/misplaced-modifiers

Oliver Kamm (2015). Accidence Will Happen. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Merriam-Webster. Placement of Only in a Sentence: Usage guide. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/only#usage-2

Walden University. Modifier Basics. https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/grammar/modifiers

About Cathy Tingle

Cathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, is a copyeditor, tutor and CIEP information team member.

 

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: hat by Artem Beliaikin, kitten by Francesco Ungaro, sunshine by Lukas, all on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Forum matters: Conscious language

This feature comes from the band of CIEP members who volunteer as forum moderators. You will only be able to access links to the posts if you’re a forum user and logged in. Find out how to register.

One could argue that an editor’s job is entirely about the conscious use of language. That is, conscious in the senses of: being aware of and responsive to words and their meaning; having knowledge of the topic; having and raising a concern where necessary; being intentional in the choice of vocabulary when suggesting change.

In today’s world, where rapid and easy communication is exposing the unconscious use of language, ‘conscious language’ has become a technical term related to sensitivity and awareness. This interpretation is explored on the forums as members question the use and validity of words and phrases that, up until now, have been employed without thought or a broader understanding.

Resources for fiction editors

The specialist Fiction forum’s invaluable EDI Resources for Editors helps its members to ‘answer questions like “Is this insensitive?” and “How do I phrase this query?” as well as presenting solutions or giving advice for how to approach problematic texts’. There are over 50 links and references to books, websites, organisations, courses and guides that will help you develop your awareness of what conscious language is and how it is developing. The good news for those who aren’t yet on the Fiction forum is that many of these resources also appear on our dedicated EDI webpage.

Maintaining a safe space

While the overarching principle on the forums is that anything is up for reasoned discussion, questioning and point-making, threads can get heated at times. Usually, forum users keep the space constructive and supportive by acknowledging the many facets of different individual experiences. On the rare occasions that the tone gets too personal or aggressive, then the thread is either closed (so no further comments can be posted but all the interesting points can still be seen) or (even more rarely, if the argument is becoming harmful) removed to maintain the forums as a safe space. If you want to see the rationale then please visit section 2 of the CIEP’s Dignity Policy, ‘Statement of expectations’.

Always learning

A common editorial trait is a consciousness of the gaps in our knowledge and the desire to learn from change and from those who do know.

On SfEPLine, Helen Stevens said ‘I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s never considered the connotations of the word “aid”’ when she started Conscious language: the word ‘aid’ to share information about a campaign by organisations in global justice. This did lead to some political discussion, but even more importantly it uncovered useful links and different perspectives on one of the smallest words in the dictionary. Also on SfEPLine is ‘Patient’ as unwanted label: no discussion, just a link to an interesting article.

It’s no surprise that LGBTQ terminology is often discussed on SfEPLine; but that a linguistics gem – and a global language lesson – appears in Off topic is a surprise. Or perhaps not. Are editors ever really off-topic?

The newer Events forum is becoming a source of resources. The number of events that discuss EDI and conscious language is testament to a growing awareness of the importance of being careful about the words used in many situations. Why not add new events postings to your email receipts so you don’t miss out on adding to your skills, knowledge – and CPD for upgrading?

From the macro of Using ‘man’ for ‘humankind’ to the micro of Conscious language, ‘to dwarf’ (v.), from the general of Use of the term ‘Caucasian’ in SfEPLine to the specific of A character with Down’s syndrome in MG fiction – question in the Fiction forum, members are using the forums to clarify language for themselves, their clients and readers.

Discussions are also helping members develop their business through sensitivity or authenticity reading. Authenticity reading – how to charge is practical while White author writing about Black women’s hair is more wide-ranging, and Non-English dialogue in an English context in the Fiction forum places the reader firmly at the centre.

We hope you enjoy developing your knowledge in the safe space of the forums and that you also contribute, as every individual experience casts light on our conscious use of language.

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: poppies by corina ardeleanu on Unsplash, umbrella by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Freelancing from the publisher’s perspective

Jen Moore is an in-house editorial manager for the publisher Thames & Hudson. In this post she discusses what types of jobs they use freelance editors for, how they find new editors, how they determine fees, and what qualities turn a freelance editor into one of their trusted favourites.

Thames & Hudson is an independent publisher of illustrated books that publishes books on art, architecture, history and visual culture of all kinds. We have an expanding children’s list and a division producing textbooks for the American college market, but in the main our books are trade titles aimed at readers with a general personal or professional interest (but not necessarily a specialist academic background) in a particular subject area. In-house editors generally manage between four and six titles at once, which they will often – but not always – copyedit themselves. When they don’t, and for titles not managed in-house, we are reliant on freelancers.

When and why do we use freelance editors in favour of in-house staff?

The economics of publishing, and especially illustrated publishing, are getting tougher, and the number of full-time in-house editors has gradually declined over the past few years. But as a house we publish more books than ever (around 200 a year), and good books still need thorough editing, so it’s inevitable that we are using more freelance staff than before.

But it’s not just a question of in-house capacity. There are also positive arguments in favour of using freelance staff. For one, freelancing is an excellent way to keep a very clear handle on the costs of a project. Working with freelance editors means that someone has to prepare a brief and propose a fee, analysing the materials that the author has supplied very thoroughly and estimating how many hours it should reasonably take, and the appropriate budget. The efficiency savings of all that up-front thinking and planning can be considerable.

Some books are much better suited to freelancing than others. In some cases, the text, images and layout come together by an organic, interdependent process, and the different roles and stages in the production workflow cannot be clearly defined. These projects generally require close teamwork by a very hands-on, in-house team and are not suited to freelancers.

The most straightforward books to freelance are those where the author submits a complete manuscript; a picture researcher gathers images according to a pre-determined list; and these elements will be brought together into a layout by the designer. Usually we will copyedit the text in Word while the images are being assembled – in that case the editing is ideally suited to a freelancer. Some titles follow an opposite track: images are arranged in a layout, then the text is written to fit the space allowed. These titles are also straightforward to freelance, except that they have to be edited in layout, so we need editors with the skills and software to do that.

What tasks do we offer freelancers?

The most obvious one is copyediting, whether this is to be done in Word or in InDesign layouts. That may entail just a light review for consistency and typos, or it may involve extensive rephrasing, rewriting, abridging, fact-checking, plagiarism-checking and drafting captions. Generally, we prefer the copyeditor to liaise with the author directly to secure approval of the edits. This is more satisfying and gratifying for the editor; and it represents a big in-house time-saving. We also offer proofreading and indexing work to freelancers.

But actually, from our point of view, the copyediting is often the most straightforward part of the editorial job. All books also need an editorial project manager, someone to:

  • discuss and agree the layouts with the designer and author
  • chase up captions and any missing elements from the author
  • take in proof corrections
  • compile prelims
  • commission and edit the index
  • review picture proofs, final text pdfs and plotter proofs
  • write the jacket blurb and request an author biography and photo
  • check jacket proofs.

There are deadlines for all of these tasks, and they involve liaison with multiple in-house staff across various departments. If the freelance editor is only copyediting, then all of these tasks have to be undertaken by an in-house editor who may not actually know the book that well, and so may not make the best decisions or write the best copy. To do the full project-management job requires quite an advanced set of skills – at the very least confidence in dealing with authors, designers and so on, as well as proficiency in InDesign. By and large, it requires experience of working as an in-house editor on an illustrated list.

All of this may sound like a big ask, but we do expect to mentor freelancers to get them up and running in this role. For the right people, it’s well worth the investment of our time. And project management doesn’t have to be all or nothing – you don’t need InDesign, for example, to draft a blurb or edit captions. Freelancers who want to take on more than the copyediting or proofreading should initiate a discussion about what they can offer.

How we find our freelancers

We have a list of tried and tested people, of course, but they move on, they take jobs, they get booked up. So we’re always on the lookout for new editors, and if your skills are a good fit for our list, then we are glad to receive your CV! Naturally, we are looking for people with proven editorial experience and relevant subject knowledge gained in an educational or professional context. Beyond that, we seek individuals who are happy to take initiative and work autonomously, as well as being effective communicators who will keep their in-house point of contact informed – but not over-informed! – of their progress.

We have a short, sticky editorial test. But a test is not enough to tell me whether an editor:

  • is able to exercise judgement about how much to intervene
  • has the stamina and conscientiousness to apply consistent standards across a whole text
  • has sufficient general knowledge and awareness to know what they don’t know (without having to fact-check everything), and to flag problems around sensitivity or inclusivity
  • has the flexibility to work with differing styles of writing and different subject matter
  • has the confidence and courtesy to win the trust and respect of an author
  • and has an understanding of the legalities of publishing (if our in-house reviews have missed potentially libellous content, for example, we are reliant on the freelance editor to alert us to it).

When working with a new editor, I will ask for a sample edit while the job is still in its early stages, and keep a close eye/ear on that editor’s work and their reputation among my colleagues.

How fees are negotiated and paid

To enable us to keep a handle on freelance costs, we always aim to agree a fee up-front, at the point of handing the materials and brief over to the editor. If it’s a straight copyediting job, this will be calculated on:

  • the number of words
  • the degree of complexity or specialisation of the subject matter
  • the quality of the writing and level of intervention required
  • how tidily presented the text is
  • whether there is endmatter, and how well-compiled it is
  • whether there are extremely tight deadlines
  • whether the editor will liaise directly with the author.

Determining fees is not an exact science, and depends on both parties assessing the materials in detail and agreeing to the estimate of how much work is required. There is often room for negotiation, but if I don’t think the job is worth any more than I’ve put on the table, I won’t shift on the fee. I will, however, revisit an agreed fee if the project proves more complicated than could have been anticipated at the briefing stage. But it’s really important that the freelancer alerts their contact as soon as this is apparent. Our budgets are tight, and must cover many more elements than the edit.

Making the transition from trial to trusted freelancer

We’re looking for people who do an excellent, accurate, timely, thorough, professional job of the editing. Truly talented editors are rare. When we find them, we stay in touch. And if it’s been a while between jobs, I am very happy to receive an email reminding me that you are out there, or an updated CV letting me know what you have been up to!

About Jen Moore

Jen Moore is the Editorial Manager of the History & Archaeology list at Thames & Hudson. She studied Archaeology & Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, specialising in Egyptology, and has been working in publishing for eight years.

 

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: canvas by Steve Johnson, person working by Vlada Karpovich, books by Jonathan Borba, all on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Preparing text for typesetters and designers

What’s the difference between a typesetter and a designer, and why does it matter? How should copyeditors prepare text for typesetting? In this post, Rich Cutler gives us a brief introduction to the world of typesetting and design.

The first thing to realise is that copyediting is a game of two halves: editing the content (language, style, fact-checking, consistency …) and preparing the copy for the publication process. Although modern copyediting has changed significantly this century, the latter task (copy preparation) remains vital for most published texts.

Second, copyeditors need to know that a typesetter and a designer are different beasts: ‘typesetter’ and ‘designer’ are not synonyms, though some designers can typeset, and some typesetters can design. The copyeditor should ask their client whether the copy will be going to a designer or a typesetter.

It helps to know the background and evolution of typesetting and design when preparing copy. The two professions are often lumped together but in actuality are very distinct and require different approaches by copyeditors.

A brief history of typesetting

The origins of typesetting lie in printing. Gutenberg’s printing press revolutionised book making in the 15th century by its use of movable and replaceable metal type, which allowed books for the first time to be made quickly and as multiple copies – previously, books were mostly painstakingly handwritten. Early printing houses employed people who arranged or ‘set’ these individual metal characters as words, lines, paragraphs and, finally, pages, ready to print on sheets of paper: these were compositors, later called typesetters.

Typesetting centres on two key principles: aesthetics and readability. A typesetter will arrange text and displayed material (such as illustrations and tables) on a page so that the eye is led naturally from one idea to the next, making sure that the context is conveyed at a glance through careful placement of the elements on a page (eg headings and line and paragraph breaks).

Typesetters are problem-solvers. The ideal layout is not always possible – the perfect placement of, say, an illustration in relation to the design and the sense of the text may result in unacceptable positioning of subsequent material – so compromises are needed to achieve a balance between readability and aesthetics. Authors, clients and proofreaders may grumble about the less-than-ideal location of a figure, but an experienced typesetter will have sound reasons for its placement.

Typesetting has always been a highly technical profession. During Gutenberg’s time and into the 20th century, pages were composed as mirror images of the printed pages by placing metal type with reversed characters in backwards order into a frame. Hot metal typesetting was replaced by a photographic technique – phototypesetting – in the mid-20th century, and a record of the text composed by the typesetter was stored as perforated paper tape. Typesetters were so skilful that they could interpret the patterns of punched holes in the tape as typographical characters and layout. Phototypesetting machines in the 1970s replaced this paper record with magnetic tape, but were yet to have screens allowing the typesetter to see what they were composing.

Preparing copy for a typesetter

Today, typesetting, like many professions, is done using computers and specialist typesetting software costing several thousands of pounds (the best known being Arbortext). The historically highly technical nature of typesetting is visible in Arbortext and its ilk, which focus on showing the operator the content of a page on screen rather than its actual appearance (see the screenshot) – headings, paragraphs, lists, etc, have arbitrary styles that simply differentiate these items from each other and bear no relationship to how they will appear in print (not unlike Microsoft Word in the early 1980s – before Windows existed!). All text items are assigned tags in a computer language (typically XML) that defines what the elements are – and a master definition file dictates what should be done with these elements, such as their appearance in print and online (which may differ), and whether certain elements are to be hidden in some versions (eg for particular markets).

Typesetters are therefore very computer literate, and are familiar with Microsoft Word, computer code, styles, tags, macros and so on.

So, if a copyeditor provides a typesetter with tagged text, a Word file using styles or even a Word file using local formatting rather than styles, the typesetter should have no difficulty producing proofs with the required layout and appearance.

If the copyeditor wants to make the typesetter very happy – and to reduce proof errors – the copyeditor should

  • remove all unwanted formatting and styles that have been applied to the text
  • use a tagging or styles scheme only (or perhaps a combination) to indicate appearance
  • provide a key to their scheme.

Additionally, the copyeditor should flag anything out of the ordinary or requiring a specific layout or appearance (unusual characters, alignment and indents in, say, a poem, illustrations that must appear together, etc). Using local formatting to indicate the appearance and layout of text for typesetting is not ideal because this unsystematic approach can be ambiguous and unclear.

How designers differ from typesetters

Adobe InDesign hasn’t yet been mentioned. It is a graphic design program, not a typesetting program. Although it can be used for typesetting, it is slow and inefficient compared with dedicated typesetting software like Arbortext. InDesign is aimed primarily at graphic designers: in particular, a breed of designer that appeared alongside phototypesetting.

A phototypesetting machine produced photographic paper with an image of text. This could be an entire laid-out page, which was used to make a printing plate. However, the pages of complex publications like magazines or newspapers were easier to create by typesetting blocks of unlaid text, cutting up this text and gluing it (along with illustrations) to a sheet of card. These hand-made pages were then sent to the printer. Graphic designers who did this job were called paste-up artists: they were skilled designers, but did not have the technical focus on type that defined typesetters.

The widespread adoption of computers in the 1980s led to the appearance of desktop publishing (DTP) software aimed at graphic designers working in publishing. DTP software was affordable and easy to use compared with typesetting software, and allowed designers to typeset publications themselves for the first time. The best-known DTP program today is Adobe InDesign.

DTP changed commercial typesetting forever – and divided typesetters into camps:

  • those whose lineage is printing
  • those with a graphic design background.

To better understand how designers approach page layout compared with typesetters, we need to know a bit about DTP programs: they are the digital equivalent of paste-up – text and illustrations are placed in frames, which can be resized and moved about a page; also, a page will print exactly the same as it appears on screen (not unlike today’s Microsoft Word). A designer’s focus is primarily on aesthetics and appearance, and not so much on the structure and function of text like a typesetter. Most designers therefore have a less technical approach to typesetting, and may not use or understand tags or Word styles – many prefer to copy and paste text into InDesign, to deliberately lose all styles and formatting, then manually reapply styles and formatting in InDesign.

All typesetters work in a similar way, but the same cannot be said for designers: the copyeditor needs to find out how the designer wants text prepared. Some designers may be happy with a tagging or styles scheme, others prefer to copy and paste and then manually apply formatting. Some designers doing the latter may be efficient at spotting and transferring formatting, others may be more hit and miss, so highlighting formatting such as italics and superscripts for them can help.

About Rich Cutler

Rich Cutler began in publishing as a desk editor for STM publishers – first at Pergamon Press, then Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. He later became a freelancer and co-owner of Helius – a business that has been providing bespoke services to publishers for three decades, including development editing, copyediting, proofreading, project management, illustration, graphic design and typesetting. Rich is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. He is also an occasional lexicographer, and helped to write the Collins English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary for Scientific Writers and Editors.

 

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: letters by Jirreaux, printing press by Mari77, both on Pixabay, Arbortext by Rich Cutler.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Wise owls: what are your views on sample edits?

We asked our parliament of wise owls, all Advanced Professional Members, to tell us their views on doing sample edits.

Hazel Bird

For me, a sample edit is often an indispensable part of the negotiation process with a potential new client. It helps me to better understand what the client is looking for from an editor and more accurately estimate how long a project might take. And it gives the client a feel for my editing style and allows them to ask questions about what I do and why.

This applies regardless of whether the client wants a light edit or one at the heavier or developmental end of the scale. No two editors will edit the same piece in the same way, and definitions of ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ vary. A sample edit cuts through these potential ambiguities and misunderstandings by laying examples of the actual proposed changes bare for both parties to see.

Another crucial benefit is that a sample edit allows me to gently show the client if I identify issues in their text that they haven’t foreseen. While I’m always clearly focused on exactly what the client wants for their text, I also keep in mind that they’re considering hiring me as an editorial expert, so I might see ways to enhance their text that they haven’t anticipated. A sample edit is a great forum for those kinds of discussions.

My policy on sample edits is quite specific, however. I offer free sample edits of up to 1,000 words with no obligation to the client. But I tend to offer the sample after an initial discussion of the project, when I’ve had a chance to assess whether my working style is likely to mesh with theirs. So, for me a sample edit is a way for the client to get a deeper idea of what I can offer and for me to refine my understanding of what they need – it isn’t the first stage of the process. This seems to work well, so I’m happy that my samples deliver a good return on investment for me while building my potential clients’ all-important trust in the service I can offer them.

Jacqueline Harvey

If an enquiry about a copyediting project looks interesting, I will discuss with the potential client the kind of edit they are looking for and then do a sample edit on part of the text, usually a representative section from the middle. It helps me get a feel for the writing and alerts me to issues that we might need to sort out before the work begins. It also gives me a rough idea of how long the project might take to edit as a basis for my estimate. Perhaps more importantly, a sample edit also gives the enquirer an idea of the kind of edits I would make and the queries I might raise.

Only on one occasion was I paid for a sample edit. A potential client, with whom I had discussed their project, sent a chapter and a style sheet of sorts, and asked me to edit what I could in two hours. They wanted to see what each of the two or three editors from whom they’d requested a sample would do to improve their book. (I did get the contract, so it worked out well for me.)

Michael FaulknerMichael Faulkner

I’ve always done free sample edits, although these days 80% of my work is for repeat clients so there’s no need.

With a new client, if the job looks like it might be for me I invariably explain how a sample edit will:

  • give me an idea of the word rate (per hour) that I can manage and therefore how much to quote;
  • tell me whether the job really is for me; and
  • give the client a feel for whether I am a good fit from their point of view.

I don’t charge for the sample, and generally I’ll do a treatment on 1,000+ words.

I always make sure to mention, before asking for a sample, that there are any number of reasons the job might not be for me, so that the client is not offended if I end up passing.

One piece of advice. Having returned a sample, unless you are pretty sure you’re on the same page as the client, it’s worth getting fairly specific feedback as to how many changes/corrections, if any, they are likely to reject or question. If it’s more than one or two in the sample, be aware that you’ll end up spending unplanned-for time batting things to and fro during the edit proper, and simply quote accordingly. If it’s lots, then unless you’re in the early stages of your editing career, consider passing on the job – sometimes a writer is so wedded to the text that even sound edits will be rejected and the whole job will test your sanity. This doesn’t really apply if you’re relatively inexperienced, when rejected edits and lots of questions can be an opportunity to hone your skills!

Liz Dalby

I don’t have a one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to sample edits. They’re not something I routinely offer, but I will sometimes do one for a prospective client if the size of the project warrants it. Pitching for projects always involves some investment of time and a little risk, and I see this as an extension of that. However, I wouldn’t edit more than about 1,000 words, in that case. I don’t charge for the sample edit in this scenario, but usually the client goes on to commission me for the whole project so it tends to work out well.

Sometimes a client will ask for a sample edit after I’ve been commissioned, and this is usually a really good idea. It can help to set the author’s mind at rest about what a copyedit will entail, for example if they’ve had a difficult experience of being edited in the past. I can also gather feedback about how best to approach aspects of the work. In this case there is no risk that the project won’t go ahead (unless I were to do a horrendous job!), but it can still take extra time if there is subsequent discussion over the level of editing, which should be accounted for within the budget.

Sue Browning

I have offered free sample edits for book-length projects since I started out 17 years ago. I review this every so often, as I do most of my business practices, but I’ve never found a good reason to change.

I ask the potential client to send a few pages from the middle. I glance through those pages to get an overall feel for the work, and choose a place to start where I think I can show what I can do for them. Then I set a timer for 20 minutes and edit away. I stop when the timer pings (at the end of a paragraph!) and count how many words I’ve edited. I multiply this by three to get an approximate number of words per hour on which to base my project quote. I don’t charge for that because it only takes about half an hour in total and lays the groundwork for what we can expect from each other, which is valuable in building trust.

I’m talking here about book-length projects, where half an hour is small in comparison to the total time and the value of setting clear expectations from the outset. For shorter pieces – a journal paper for an academic, for instance – I ask only for the word count, then estimate a fee based on experience and my large database of similar work. The scope of editing required on an academic paper is more defined, there’s less chance it will spiral beyond expectations, and the consequences are less serious if it does, so a sample is both more burdensome and less useful. And most of my new academic clients come from referrals so there’s already an element of trust there.

Sue Littleford

Most of my work is for publishers, so sample edits aren’t often part of the landscape. On the few occasions I’ve decided to do them, it’s often for my own purposes, to produce a quote, rather than to show the prospective client what I can do.

I once did a sample specifically for the prospective client (copyediting around 1,000 words, suggesting larger-scale fixes to extrapolate throughout the book). He instantly set red flags a-flying, asserting that I should have rewritten the sample for him, and that anything less than a rewrite was a proofread.

This shows the importance of establishing what the author wants to happen to the text – without that sample, the problems would have been legion. I sent him to the Directory to look for developmental editors.

It also shows the importance of having some kind of conversation with a prospective client rather than just accepting a job sight-unseen, or with minimal to-and-fro, especially from inexperienced authors.

I’ve never yet charged for a sample edit. For pricing purposes, I ask for a chunk from the middle (probably less polished) and a sample of references and notes, so I can see what the status of the text is; I may do a timed copyedit of 1,000 words of the middle bit of the text to get a feel for the pricing. The last time I did a sample (for a new publisher client), I got the whole manuscript, and picked a 1,000-word chunk at random for myself, happily catching a major blooper – Sherlock Holmes is a Mr, not an Inspector! I sent that bit back – and we agreed the deal.

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: owl by Nicolette Leonie Villavicencio  on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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