Monthly Archives: December 2015

Reasons to be cheerful about freelance home working

By Lesley Ellen

Sitting at the computer in my home office and looking out the window on this wildly wet and windy morning, I can’t help reflecting on how lucky I am to be able to work from home as a freelance editor.

When I recently took voluntary redundancy after working in local government – for, well, let’s just say more than 20 years – I knew I didn’t want to return to the commuter treadmill, trundling into an office every day to work fixed hours under the watchful eyes of a boss – a boss who wasn’t me. Having done a fair bit of writing and editing throughout my career, the world of proofreading and copy-editing appealed to me, and two years on with some training and work under my belt (but still a great deal to learn), I can say that I haven’t regretted for a single minute taking this up as a second career.

Earlier this year, I was lured back to the corporate world to work two days a week to help out with a maternity cover. The work has been interesting, my colleagues are lovely and the organisation is located in stunning parkland in one of Edinburgh’s most beautiful, hidden areas, where lunchtime walks amongst this year’s especially glorious autumn trees made me very grateful to be outdoors and away from either of my desks. But now that the weather has turned and with my contract ending in just a few days, I can’t wait to huddle down indoors and focus full-time on my editing career.

Never again the early morning bus ride in the dark, followed by the return journey also in the dark – commuting in Scotland in the winter months is invariably in the dark. Just as I do on the days I’m currently at home, I’ll be able to get up at a time that suits my own schedule and cast a sympathetic glance at neighbours scurrying out to work while I put the kettle on and settle down in my cosy study.

freedom to work outsideWith my son living away at university and my husband out at work, the house is my domain and, being my own boss, I can fit my schedule to suit looming deadlines and other necessary tasks. If I need to, I can work five or six hours, or even more (with the appropriate health breaks of course) to meet a deadline. I can take time off to clean the bathroom (I have to be working on a particularly dull project for that task to appeal). Or, instead of furtively looking at live results on my phone, I can take time out to watch a tennis match on TV (something that does appeal, at least until we get into the long drawn-out torture of the typical Andy Murray match). If I want to make that time up by working later at night, then that’s my choice. In the summer, I can break up my working day with an hour pottering in the garden or just eating my lunch outside – weather permitting naturally.

I don’t need to ask for time off for holidays. As long as I let my regular clients know that I’m going to be away and don’t take on any extra projects, I can take my holidays whenever I want; no more agonising over whose turn it is to staff the office during the Christmas/New Year period. I don’t need to worry about how to fill the hours on a slow day in the office or about getting stressed that I didn’t manage to do everything I needed to because I kept getting interrupted by colleagues and phone calls. (That’s not to say I don’t get stressed when up against a looming deadline at home, but I’d say it’s a different kind of stress.) And of course, I don’t need to get involved in any office politics.

Getting support from ‘virtual colleagues’

Sure, there can be downsides to working from home. Some people can find it isolating and you do have to take care of your health and ensure that you don’t sit at that screen all day long without regular breaks. You might miss the chat at the coffee machine, and something I do miss from time to time is the opportunity to stick my head above my computer and say to a colleague: ‘You know when you’re trying to format a document and Word won’t let you … How do you fix it?’ Or, ‘In a sentence like this, can you say …?’ But the fix for this, as a member of the SfEP, is to log in to the SfEP forums where you can ask these questions, even if you do feel a bit stupid sometimes, and you’ll get a sensible reply, usually within minutes. It never fails to amaze me just how generous members are with their time and their advice. And using the forums does make you feel like you are part of a community.

Access to the forums is one of the major benefits of being an SfEP member, but for me the biggest benefit is being a member of the local SfEP group. Our group has only been running for just over a year, but I already count members of it as friends and colleagues with whom it’s wonderful to share experiences and information. I have learned and continue to learn so much from them, both longstanding SfEP members and newer entrants. Our group seems to be going from strength to strength and we have much to look forward to in the year ahead.

So, as Christmas and the end of the year approach, I’m thankful for the working opportunities I’ve had this year, both as a part-time employee and as a freelance editor, but I’m gearing up for a new year of opportunities and relishing the chance to be my own boss, fully focused on my editing career and working from home.

Lesley EllenLesley Ellen ( is a Professional Member of the SfEP and coordinator of the SfEP’s local Edinburgh group. She has a background in modern languages and previously worked in local government where she wrote and edited all manner of business documents and communications. As a freelance editor, Lesley specialises in academic copy-editing and editing for non-publishers.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP

Specialist Q&A – Linguistics

Specialist Q&AOur editorial industry is made up of people carrying out a huge range of tasks across many different sectors. Although we are bound by common aims – to make text consistent, accurate and clear – our chosen areas of work can differ in fascinating ways.

Sue Browning is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor. She has answered some questions on her main specialism: linguistics.

  1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

I have a degree in linguistics and spent 22 years in speech technology research, first in academia and then for a government research establishment. I started freelance editing in 2005, and have worked on a range of humanities subjects as well as linguistics.

  1. How long have you specialised in this particular kind of editorial work, and how did you get started?

I’ve been editing linguistics right from the start of my editing career. My early work came mainly from students, through ex-colleagues in academia, advertising on free online directory sites like Freelance Proofreaders, and then by word of mouth. Later, a project management company for which I was already copy-editing a range of subjects happened to ask about specialisms, and since then I have edited many academic linguistics books for them.

  1. What specific knowledge, experience or qualifications do you need?

Linguistics is a huge field, encompassing everything from phonetics and phonology (the sounds) to pragmatics and discourse analysis (entire conversations or even larger language elements), to parts of cognitive science and psychology, and it helps to be familiar with the terminology and conventions of all these different fields. My specialism is phonetics and phonology, so I need a good working knowledge of the phonetic symbols and how to code them so they print correctly.

  1. How do you go about finding work in this area?

I started by making sure that academics I had worked with in linguistics departments knew I was an editor, and that brought me work on linguistics PhDs and occasionally for academics preparing papers for journals. Most of my work now comes by word of mouth or repeat business with existing clients. So I just make sure that relevant clients know my specialisms and that all my online profiles mention linguistics.

  1. What do you most enjoy about the work?

Learning! I’ve recently edited a number of books on evolutionary linguistics, which wasn’t a thing when I studied linguistics, so it was entirely new to me and I find it fascinating. I also love learning how speakers of other languages view the world. Did you know, for instance, that while speakers of Indo-European languages (like English) talk of events in the past as behind them and those in the future as in front of them, speakers of Aymara, an Amerind language that privileges knowledge gained at first hand, talk about past events as in front of them, so open to inspection, and future events as behind them, so not visible. That kind of blew my mind when I first read about it.

  1. What are the particular challenges?

I’m not sure there are any particular challenges. Being interested and knowledgeable about language, most linguists write pretty well, even non-native speakers, but they make the same lapses that all authors do. Sometimes an author will use a specialist phonetic font that gets mangled in the pre-processing so I need to be able to spot that and check what it should be with the author. Wrangling linguistic examples so they align correctly can be tricky too.

  1. What’s the worst job you’ve had – and/or the best?

Like most editors, I’ve had nightmare jobs, but it is rarely because they are linguistics books! I also edit fiction, and one of the jobs I enjoyed the most was for a sci-fi author who had made up an alien language. We had great fun making sure it was internally consistent.

  1. What tips would you give to someone wanting to work in this field?

Make use of any links you have with people in the field, and tell people about your specialist areas.

Oh, and while linguistics gives you a great understanding of what grammar is and how language works, you still need the basic training in editing and proofreading.

I find that a knowledge of linguistics sometimes helps in explaining the need for a change and it also helps counter some of the ridiculous pet peeves you might come across (like those that Geoff Pullum spoke so entertainingly about at the 2015 conference).

  1. What is the pay like – and are there any other perks?

The pay is pretty typical for the academic humanities, i.e. not great. I do it more for the pleasure of being able to read fascinating books by erudite authors, and I have to confess I get a particular thrill from editing books by my linguistic heroes.

  1. What other opportunities do you think editorial work in this area might lead to?

A knowledge of linguistics is very useful for teaching English to both native learners and non-native speakers, and I edit in these fields too.

Sue BrowningSue Browning is a Professional Member of the SfEP, specialising in copy-editing linguistics and other humanities and social sciences. She mainly works on books for academic publishers but also edits for individual academics and authors. As well as prowling the halls of academia, she also walks on alien planets, editing sci-fi and fantasy fiction.





Proofread by SfEP Professional Member Louise Lubke Cuss (WordBlink)

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP