Our 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.
Sarah Ryan is a freelance copy-editor. She has answered some questions on her main specialism: secondary science – chemistry.
Briefly, what’s your work background?
I started out working in Germany as a scientific editor on two chemistry journals. Here I used my chemistry knowledge and learnt editorial skills on the job. After five years I moved to the UK for a job in educational publishing. After seven years in-house I went freelance.
How long have you specialised in this particular kind of editorial work, and how did you get started?
I started work in educational publishing in 2001. In 2008 I went freelance and it was then that I mainly started working on science books and resources. I have a chemistry degree so that was why I chose science editing, and why I often ended up with the chemistry projects.
What specific knowledge, experience or qualifications do you need?
Editorial experience, plus in-house or publishing courses, would be the starting point. I have a chemistry degree and PhD and these were useful to get into the area. Once working in the area, one job will often lead to the next. A science teacher with editorial skills is another way to go.
How do you go about finding work in this area?
Most educational publishers use freelancers for the editing and proofing work (and for other work too sometimes). I have built up contacts at several publishers, and I gain repeat business that way. I also approach publishers on a regular basis if things are looking quiet. Once in this area, it does tend to be busy and I often regrettably end up turning work down. Science publishing happens in waves, and if you know when these are (by checking publishing or educational websites), you can time a speculative request for work for when there is work to be done.
What do you most enjoy about the work?
I love working with authors and there are several I have worked with for many years through many curriculum changes. I enjoy the variety that even a niche area can bring. I have worked on books, podcasts, videos, teacher files to mention but a few.
What are the particular challenges?
All of the publishers tend to be publishing to similar deadlines so it can be a bit feast or famine. It also means a lot of repetitive projects – six revision guides all at the same time, followed by three A level text books!
What’s the worst job you’ve had – and/or the best?
Nothing stands out as a worst job, but the worst jobs generally are the ones with the tightest deadlines and when the manuscript is not in as good a shape as you were led to believe. Editors often need to make up the time lost by late delivery by authors so sometimes I am left feeling that the book is not as good as it could have been. Best jobs are the opposite, or working with a really imaginative and talented author.
What tips would you give to someone wanting to work in this field?
Know your chemistry. Most of the people who work on the project will not be scientists so it is important to pick up the science errors. Also, don’t expect it to be all about the science – a lot of the time I am preparing artwork lists, filling in meta data sheets and not much actual science at all!
What is the pay like – and are there any other perks?
The pay in educational publishing compares favourably with other areas of publishing – it is OK. Science editors are appreciated and this can end up paying better than other areas with less specialism.
What other opportunities do you think editorial work in this area might lead to?
Sometimes people get so caught up in the subject they retrain as a teacher! There are also writing opportunities, sometimes for electronic projects. And schools publishing is expanding all the time with many more opportunities in online publishing.
Sarah Ryan is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP and has been in the publishing business for 20 years (I were a mere babe in arms back then). Moving from academic chemistry to school science has been an opportunity to stay working in an area I enjoy while staying close to how science is being presented to the next generation.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP
In March 2016, the SfEP released a new online course, Editing with Word. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person looking forward to this course, especially as I hadn’t had the chance to attend either of the Society’s old onscreen editing workshops. Editing with Word would be ideal, I thought, because it would be full of up-to-date content, and, crucially for me, I’d be able to take the course online. Contributors to the course included Paul Beverley, Daniel Heuman and Paul Sensecall – all well-known names in the editorial community – so this was a course not to miss.
Then I saw that three of the course’s ten chapters would require some sort of access to Windows. And that got me wondering about how suitable the course would be for Mac users.
Like many writers and editors, I’m a big fan of Apple Macs. But there are times when an important piece of software works only on Windows, and that gives Mac users some questions to answer. Should we stick to using only those tools that work natively on our Macs, foregoing Windows software that might have saved our bacon? Should we keep a PC on standby just in case? Are there any other options?
Below are some examples of software that Mac users might find very useful if only they could get access to Windows. The first three of these feature in the SfEP’s Editing with Word course:
So, there are times when having Windows to hand could really be of help to a Mac-using editorial pro. Now we need to consider what that means in practical terms. Let’s look at the options.
Option 1: use a real PC
There are no two ways about it: for the authentic Windows experience, use a real PC. That doesn’t mean you need the full-on desktop ensemble. An old laptop, netbook or PC tablet might do the job, depending on what software you’re trying to run.
Low-cost option if you already have any Windows-compatible hardware on standby.
PC keyboard may be best to use for Windows-specific shortcuts.
Need to use home networking, Dropbox or other sharing methods to move files between Mac and Windows.
More clutter: you may need to make space on your desk for that extra computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse.
It’s a PC. Prepare for hardware wrangles, blue screens of death and more besides. Why did you buy a Mac anyway?
Option 2: use Boot Camp
Boot Camp is Apple’s built-in software that lets you install Windows on part of your hard drive.
Uses native software built in to the Mac, so should stay up to date so long as your Mac does.
No need to install third-party software to run Windows.
Need to restart to switch between Mac and Windows, which significantly slows down workflows and makes it more difficult to share files between operating systems. You’d need to use Dropbox, a USB thumb drive or an external hard disk to shift files between systems. Fun!
Usual home-networking routes won’t work: your Mac will be rendered invisible while Windows is running, and vice versa.
Requires your hard drive to be partitioned, so you need to decide how much space to reserve for Windows (a headache if you need to change your mind later).
Requires installation of a licensed copy of Windows and any other software to be run on the system (e.g. MS Office).
Option 3: use a ‘virtual machine’
A virtual machine is software that allows you to access an entire operating system (such as Windows) and its programs via a single window on your Mac desktop.
Very easy to share files between Mac and Windows.
No need for a second machine, monitor, keyboard or mouse.
Windows runs inside a self-contained app.
Can share the host Mac’s internet connection or can be used in offline mode, providing strong protection against viruses, worms, etc.
Takes up only as much disk space as is required (no need to partition your hard drive).
Can inherit an existing Boot Camp installation of Windows.
Requires a powerful Mac.
Not the cheapest route (see requirements below).
Requires installation of a licensed copy of Windows and any other software to be run on the system (e.g. MS Office).
My recommendation: use a virtual machine
I’ve tried all of the methods above and, for me, the best option has been to use a virtual machine. My old PC took up too much space and was a pain to keep updated and protected. Boot Camp appealed for a while, but losing access to my Mac while Windows was running soon became a no-no. The final option I tried – a virtual machine – is what I’ve stuck with quite happily since around 2010.
There are a couple of big players in the virtual-machine market. In my case, I’ve opted for Parallels. The main alternative is Fusion. Both products do the same job, so, before committing to a purchase, you might want to take advantage of a free trial of each to see which software you prefer. Prices are also almost identical, with each product costing around £65 for a one-off licence. The software is updated every year and there’s a charge for upgrading, but upgrades aren’t mandatory. The latest versions of Parallels and Fusion work well with all modern versions of Windows, so you probably won’t need to upgrade for a few years.
Requirements for running a virtual machine
Here’s what you’ll need in order to run a virtual version of Windows on your Mac:
A powerful Mac: running one operating system inside another requires a powerful machine. If you’re using a mid-range MacBook, your computer might not have enough resources to adequately sustain a virtual machine.
Virtual-machine software: Parallels and Fusion are the main players. Each offers a free trial.
A licensed copy of Windows: even if you already own a PC with a pre-installed version of Windows, you’ll probably need a separate Windows installation disc for your Mac as well as a licence key. If you’ve previously installed Windows via your Mac’s built-in Boot Camp software, you can make Parallels or Fusion use that existing installation rather than having to install Windows again.
CD/DVD drive: you’ll probably be installing Windows from an optical disc, but new Macs no longer come with an internal disc drive. If your Mac doesn’t have a slot for CDs and DVDs, you’ll need something like the Apple USB SuperDrive.
Licensed copies of all software: an Office 365 subscription is a good option if you wish to run Word and the other Office apps on both Mac and Windows. (Office 365 now works quite well on the iPad, too.)
Note that if you want to make a wholesale move from an existing PC to a virtual machine, Parallels can migrate your entire Windows installation, meaning you won’t need a separate Windows licence, installation disc or CD/DVD drive.
Still, the above represents a substantial requirements list. Take a look at what you already have and see whether running a virtual machine is going to be the right choice for you. In some cases, it will work out better to accept the cons of running a cheap, second-hand PC.
A note about anti-virus software
When Mac users think about installing Windows, they often wonder whether they need to install anti-virus software on their virtual copy of Windows. Strictly speaking, the answer is yes: you’ll be running a fully functional version of Windows that will have access to the internet, and therefore it’s possible for it to be infected in just the same way that a real PC might be. However, there are some mitigating circumstances that might change your thinking on this topic:
Your use of the internet inside the virtual machine is likely to be very limited. Do you think you’re likely to use an email program inside Windows, for example, when you already have access to email on your host Mac? Will you be browsing the web inside Windows? Wouldn’t you just use Safari or Chrome on your host Mac, as usual?
Virtual machines don’t always need access to the internet. You could disable internet access inside the virtual machine, leaving Windows offline and therefore protected from almost all threats. Even in this state, you could still share your Mac’s files with your Windows installation and vice versa.
Virtual machines allow you to take snapshots of your system, so any unforeseen problems (e.g. a virus or worm affecting your installation) can easily be rectified by rolling back to a previous snapshot. You can also delete your entire Windows installation without it affecting your Mac, and then reinstall. This is easier to do with a virtual machine than it is with a real PC.
But I just want to use PerfectIt!
All this information might appear complicated and scary if all you want to do is use the PerfectIt add-in for Word on your Mac. If the above methods aren’t for you, there might yet be hope …
Intelligent Editing, the makers of PerfectIt, intend to release a cloud-based version of the software in late 2016. When this happens, PerfectIt will be able to run on any system, including your Mac. No firm release information is available at this time, but I’ll be keeping a keen eye on developments and will update SfEP members when I know more.
A note about Wine
The more technically minded readers, particularly those familiar with Linux, will probably be wondering why I’ve neglected to mention Wine. This software provides another route for Mac users to run Windows software, but I’ve never had a good experience with it and therefore wouldn’t recommend it. Still, it might be worth a go if the other options above aren’t right for you.
What do you think?
If you’re a Mac user who sometimes uses Windows, which method suits you best and why? Post a comment below to let us know.
John Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.