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Why language matters when discussing terminal illness and death

Word cloud of metaphors used in end-of-life and deathHow do people talk about the end-of-life and death? And why does it matter? The language used at these, often difficult, times can have a great impact according to Zsófia Demjén, a linguist and lecturer at The Open University‘s Department for Applied Linguistics and English Language. She offers food for thought for anyone editing text that includes a description of serious illness or death.

How people talk about something, so the theory goes, can tell us as much about what they think as the content of what they’re actually saying. This is the premise of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded ‘Metaphor in End-of-Life Care’ (MELC) project at Lancaster University.

Over 20 months, an interdisciplinary group of researchers (linguists, computer scientists and palliative care specialists) led by Elena Semino scrutinised the spoken and written language used by terminally ill patients, family carers and the healthcare professionals who work with them. They collected 1.5 million words of interviews with and contributions to online fora by the three groups and focused specifically on what kinds of metaphors they used and how.

Metaphor involves talking and thinking about one thing in terms of another. When you say that someone died after a ‘battle’ with cancer, you talk about being ill and attempting to get better in terms of military conflict. When you say that someone has ‘passed away’, you talk about dying in terms of a movement away from a current location. Metaphors are interesting because they are often used in describing complex, emotional, subjective and taboo experiences, such as health, illness and death. They can convey things indirectly but also vividly and concisely. Any systematic patterns suggest underlying attitudes, thoughts and needs of those using the expressions. For example, early on in the project the team noticed that death is talked about in at least two ways: sometimes it’s something that approaches the patient, ‘they are aware the end of their life is coming’, and sometimes the patient moves towards it, ‘some people are very, very upfront about talking about death and dying and “that’s where I’m going. It is my end-of-life”‘.

Different ways of describing the same thing have different implications and suggest different underlying attitudes. Death approaching the patient can imply that he or she has no control or influence over what is happening to them. While this may ultimately be true for all of us, various aspects of the experience of terminal illness are open to influence and the second framing (patient approaching death) allows for that more easily. This is a common theme: metaphors, in their entailments and implications, always foreground certain aspects of whatever experience they’re describing, while backgrounding others.

The proverbial ‘battle’ and ‘journey’ metaphors for illness are no different. Examples such as ‘staying as positive as possible is a proven way of fighting back’ and ‘I am ready to kick ass! Bring it on!’ highlight the ways in which being ill may involve strength, perseverance, endurance and heroism, and encourage us to see recovery as a victory (and not recovering or dying as defeat). But these examples also background the possibility of seeing illness as part of life, as something to go through or as a journey shared with others: ‘We met all sorts on our cancer journey’; ‘you seem to have come through the tunnel of cancer and are on the mend’.

These and many other types of metaphors are used by all three groups in the MELC dataset. No single metaphor is objectively superior to another; different metaphors may be more or less appropriate for different people, or for the same person at different times. When people describe their experiences or when others describe these for them, it is crucial that there are a variety of options so that vulnerable people don’t have unsuitable framings imposed on them. At the same time, it is important to be aware of the entailments of each choice in case they point to underlying issues that require attention.

Dr Zsofia DemjenDr Zsófia Demjén is Lecturer in English Language and Applied Linguistics at The Open University, UK. She specialises in the intersection of language, mind and healthcare,​​​​​​​​​ investigating the implications of how people use language to describe their experiences of illness. Before she joined The Open University, Zsófia was Senior Research Associate on the Metaphor in End of Life Care project at Lancaster University. You can follow Zsofia on Twitter.

Proofread by Gary Blogg.

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

Why photo shoots need editors too

Level 3 Plastering photoshoot‘I’m not around next week,’ I say to a friend, ‘I’m on a photo shoot.’

‘Ooh, what for? Where?’ They are clearly imagining me reclining on a Caribbean beach as I watch models strut by in next year’s fashions.

‘Level 3 Plastering in Bolton. Don’t leave! It’s exciting!’

But … you’re an editor

Even in this video-focused age, many textbooks still need to include subject-specific images. Most stock photo banks don’t include images of ‘cullamix being applied from the left with a Tyrolean gun held at a 45 degree angle’. You just have to go out and get them.
I managed several shoots in-house, but as publishers’ time and budgets diminish, it’s now common for them to call in freelance editors to do the job. Ordering strangers to pose for the camera isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but it’s certainly a break from lonely desk slavery – and another skill that shows your diverse portfolio to potential clients.

So what does managing a shoot involve?

Well, you’re not in the photos (thank goodness!) and you’re not taking the photos. You’re responsible for getting the right images in the time available. So, as with any editorial job, you’ll be co-ordinating behind the scenes. Depending on the publisher, your tasks may include:

  • finding a location and photographer
  • recruiting appropriate models
  • identifying the images that are needed
  • drawing up a schedule
  • making sure everyone knows what they need to do
  • keeping the shoot running on time
  • keeping everyone motivated
  • solving problems
  • choosing the best shots
  • deciding whether to cut or add particular photos, for example if the plasterer in the photos uses a different technique from that described in the manuscript.

It’s all in the planning

Fortunately, I’d ghostwritten much of the Level 3 Plastering book so I knew exactly what images were required. It’s common, however, to come to the book cold. It helps if you know the subject matter and if you can compile the shoot list (the description of the photos that need to be taken) yourself. In any case, you should study the shoot list as soon as you can so any issues can be solved before the shoot starts.

You should also start building relationships with the people you’ll be working with – for me this was checking that the college hosting the shoot had the right tools and materials, ensuring that the ‘models’ appearing in the photos knew what to expect, and renewing my acquaintance with the photographer. Sending them a copy of the proposed timetable is a good way of starting a discussion – even if they respond that it’s not physically possible to get through everything!

It’s key to be realistic about what can be achieved in the available timeframe. You need to build in contingency time for setting up and settling in on the first morning, and for any tasks that overrun. Whatever you do, shoots always take longer than you expect.

Location, location, location

It’s important to make sure that the staff at the location are aware of the commitment and disruption involved. You’ll need to check that all the necessary equipment is there, and encourage them to prepare shots in advance where possible (for example, by running plaster moulds so that they are ready to be fixed to the wall).

Gillian Burrell, a veteran of textbook shoots covering everything from beauty therapy to bricklaying, suggests visiting the shoot location beforehand to make sure the facilities are suitable and sufficiently inspiring: ‘Some older facilities (such as salons with cubicles and curtains that look more like a hospital ward than a salon) and equipment (such as old bricks and paint kettles covered in paint) will neither create aesthetically-pleasing nor inspirational photos.’

Pack your bags

As book shoots take place in the most appropriate (and often cheapest) location the publisher can find, you will have to travel there and stay overnight for up to a week. Ensure the daily rate you are offered covers the inconvenience of going away and includes expenses and mileage. You’ll also need a hotel with WiFi so that you can work in the evenings. Yes, the days are long.

Working with photographers

Good photographers are easy to get on with, put models at ease, are flexible and determined to get the perfect shot. If you’re both staying away from home, it helps if you can chat over a curry, too. My usual photographer, Richard Wilson, has anecdotes that make the life of an editor seem tame.

Working with models

It’s unlikely that the people who appear in the photos will be professional models. They are most likely to be volunteers, often students, who have never been photographed carrying out the tasks you need to show, even if they are experts at their job. They may be a bit self-conscious at first or unsure of what they need to do.

Gillian Burrell advises shoot managers to ensure that volunteers know that they are there for the whole of their sequence of photos. ‘At one particular hairdressing photo shoot held on a Saturday, all the students turned up early and were eager to go so we started taking the shots with them in. After about an hour or so they announced that they had to disappear off to their Saturday jobs – before we’d photographed the whole task!’

By contrast, my recent plastering shoot benefited from a team of experienced plasterers from North West Skills Academy giving up their time to appear in the photos. They appreciated both the value of contributing to the book and the positive publicity for their company.

Is it worth it?

I’ve met interesting people in new situations, helped to create some great images and, most importantly, contributed to books that help learners pass their qualifications and start their careers. What could be more satisfying to an editor than that?

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has more than 15 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. When not ordering people around on photo shoots, she authors and edits textbooks, writes digital copy, proofreads anything that’s put in front of her, spends too much time on Twitter and posts short, grumpy book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

Proofread by Hattie Ajderian.

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

The internet and the democratisation of English – Part 4: And, finally,

Sue Littleford has written a series of four blog posts exploring how the internet has contributed to the democratisation of the English Language. In part four, she considers the Oxford, or serial, comma.Comma

In this series I’ve talked about the power of the crowds, the predicted rise of the style guide and the pointlessness of spelling reform. And now, my final soapbox – the Oxford, or serial, comma.

The arguments I’ve seen online – wow. Just … wow. The infographics! People spend serious time, effort and creativity on arguing why the way they were taught is the only right way. There’s blog post upon blog post explaining clearly why the serial comma is the saviour of the written word, and blog post upon blog post explaining why the serial comma introduces confusion. Most are accompanied by examples that show that commas can’t always rescue a badly thought-out sentence.

I witnessed an interesting account online, not so long ago. The question arose as to what order the two sets of quotation marks and a full stop take at the end of a quotation within a quotation in American English, being edited by a Briton. And two people said almost the identical thing, independently. One was following the argument online, the other, an American professor, had been consulted offline. Both said, of one possible order or another that ‘it hurt to look at it’. And there’s the problem in a nutshell. Those people had been taught one particular Rule, and stayed loyal to that Rule since their formal education ended. Both certainly knew that other varieties of English exist. Both found it hard to look at punctuation in a particular order (no matter that logical arguments could be brought to support either one) because – drumroll, please – it wasn’t what they were used to, not What They Had Been Taught. And as for quotation marks, so for commas, serial or otherwise.

There are times when using a serial comma helps; there are times when it hinders. There are times when omitting a serial comma helps; there are times when it hinders. There is no argument, no matter how logical, that will get past someone who expects a serial comma in a given place to accept with a willing heart that no serial comma is fine. There is no argument, no matter how elegantly adduced, that will stop someone who was taught no to serial commas from choking up a little when they see one used ‘unnecessarily’. Habit and expectation are not easily overthrown.

While I was writing this post, a comma question popped up on Facebook. The problem was that a sentence seemed to have too many commas and the editor involved wanted to hoick them all out, to fit with his rather set ideas on where commas go, as if the rhythm of the writing, so much the author’s voice, was a mere frippery in the face of What He Had Been Taught. What was key, though, was he, an American, was editing a British author and he wondered if these commas were a fixed feature of BrEng, as he kept encountering them.

The polarisation is a nonsense, of course. The internet blurs the distinctions between what we may think of as BrEng and AmEng, and the use and abuse of commas will find some middle ground. Last year, an American editor reported on one of the social media sites that she was observing a tendency towards the ‘British’ style of quotation marks, as it was more logical than the ‘American’. Exposure to these different styles, and the ability of the readership to see them both in quick succession is now greater than ever. The internet is in play.

I have a dream. One day, the serial comma won’t have a name: there will just be commas that you put in or leave out as needed for clarity. It may be tricky getting there – I was going to make a quip about Big Endians and Little Endians, when I found out that they are now computing terms. The internet – democracy in action.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor for seven years, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter.

Proofread by Christina Harkness.

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

The internet and the democratisation of English – Part 3: Go home, spelling reform, you’re not needed here.

Sue Littleford has written a series of four blog posts exploring how the internet has contributed to the democratisation of the English language. Here is part three:

World Dictionary In part one, I wrote about mob rule in English, and how the internet has delivered the largest mob ever. In part two, I talked about coping with changing norms of language. One of those changing norms is surely spelling.

David Crystal OBE, in his lecture to the 2013 conference, spoke of how he has tracked the dropping of the h from rhubarb over the last few years by simply googling the word from time to time. Who needs the h, anyway? Rubarb sounds just the same without it. Why not agree it’s time it went and update the dictionaries? Wouldn’t that be nice and neat and logical?

Ah, yes, spelling reform. I’m agin it. In detail-less brevity, English spelling shows its breeding. It doesn’t reflect how some words sound now. It doesn’t reflect, necessarily, etymology. Some of our words were taken out to a dark alley and given a wedgie by language bullies who were afraid that good old English was simply not good enough (wedging the b into debt, the p into receipt, the s into island), some of them tripped over their own feet and had a nasty accident (smooshing an h into ghost, for example) and some words were mugged for political purposes (Nathaniel Webster springs to mind). It’s all a dreadful mess, spelling isn’t logical, it’s hard to learn and Someone Ought to Sort It Out. Well, again, no. There’s no Someone to do it. There are millions of someones. (See what I did there? We’re back at the internet.)

I suspect that, quite possibly in my lifetime, there will be natural and inevitable spelling reform based on the weight of opinion on what works best for one speaker of English to communicate with another, regardless of their backgrounds. Globalism demands it. Changing spelling wholesale is contrary to the way language actually works. And if you don’t believe that, count up how many Esperanto speakers you know, or writers of Shavian. Language grows – or, rather, is grown by its users – to meet demand. What starts as wordplay, or slang, or code becomes widespread; those words that are found useful become embedded, at least for a while. Those words that aren’t are dropped. Words come into fashion, go out again, maybe they come back, maybe they don’t. It is usefulness that drives these effects.

Spelling reform will happen, as it has happened constantly since we started spelling, but not as a programme imposed from above, by some ineffable body outside language telling us how things are going to be from now on. Yes, we must be taught how to use our language with facility, we need to learn the norms for spelling, punctuation and grammar that apply to our time; we need to learn about register, about appropriateness, so that the English we use in our school essays and job applications will be different from the English used informally. This isn’t new. What is new is the ease with which so many people of so many points of view can debate, declare, deride uses to such a huge audience. Some memes go viral, others don’t. Some memes have longevity, some burn out quickly after only sporadic interest. Just as general suffrage gives votes to people you don’t agree with, and to people you suspect shouldn’t be trusted with something as important as choosing the government of the country, the internet allows people less educated than me and people more educated than me, on a spectrum that runs from crackpot through people who think just like me and onto a whole other kind of crackpot to use English and to publish constantly.

Consider, though, the impact of spelling reform if it happens any other way. There have been so many schemes, mostly criticising the fact that words don’t look how they sound. So – you’re going to devise a spelling scheme and have it adopted. Upon whose accent do you base spelling? Received Pronunciation? Brum? Scouse? Welsh? Highland Scots? Belfast? Estuary? Then it already doesn’t look like it sounds to anyone with a different accent, or who speaks a dialect. What do you do about homophones? Homonyms? Will you sort out the mess of contronyms, too? But let’s gloss over that and speed on.

A new English spelling system is introduced. Time passes. Not much time – ten or twenty years is more than enough. The literature of the last four hundred years or so is now unreadable to the younger generations who only know the New English. A common enough problem now – Shakespeare is troublesome for many, Chaucer for most. Given the exponential growth of publishing since their day, though, it’s a vastly bigger problem. But it’s not the biggest problem. That is that our young people are cut off from the English of the rest of the globe. A few basic words will survive the revamp, of course: bat, dog, bawl, idiot.

So do we cut off our kids from our culture? Or do we transcribe and republish everything? Or just bits of it? (Which bits? Is the rest of our literature, our history, kept for the comparative handful who learn the Oldies English as a separate, elite, subject?) And what about the internet? The mass of material so huge it’s impossible to imagine?

The difficulty with spelling evolution now, of course, is dictionaries. We used to spell how we spoke, so we all spelled differently. Then came the printed word, which brought about a bit more standardisation, then the spellers, then the dictionaries. How can spelling move away from the monolith of the dictionary? Well, it can and it does and the dictionaries play catch-up. I sometimes amuse myself by checking a spelling on Googlefight before going to the dictionary. The people are speaking, and they’re not all speaking dictionary.

Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor for seven years, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter.

Proofread by Patric Toms.

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

The internet and the democratisation of English. Part 2: Tear up the rule book?

Sue Littleford has written a series of four blog posts exploring how the internet has contributed to the democratisation of the English language. Here is part two:

Tear up the rule bookIn part one, I talked about the changes I envisage the internet bringing to the range of Englishes currently spoken around the world. I was brought up with the mantra ‘Might Isn’t Right’. But as the internet leads to the blurring of the boundaries between all the world’s Englishes, might is most definitely right.

While we undergo this particular phase of language development, though, it will become harder and harder to teach ‘proper’ English; it will become harder and harder to justify changes when editing and proofreading, too. We are already careering towards a more global English, when the habits of one variety will bleed into the others. We are in the privileged position of watching it happen as no other generation has been able to do before. Its speed is breathtaking. Sometimes our stomachs flip. Sometimes it hurts our eyes. Sometimes you just want a few solid rules to cling onto, as they gave their shape to the English we knew growing up.

Evolution of the language didn’t stop when I was at school. It’s not stopped yet. It won’t ever. For now, it’s speeding up, fuelled by people communicating with each other in numbers never seen before, and displayed for all to see on the platform of the internet.

I remember an English lesson when I was aged ten or so, in which the wonderful Mr Harwood told us that the plural of hoof is hooves or hoofs, and that the plural of roof is roofs or rooves; that neither was wrong but that hooves and roofs were more commonly used. Well, that’s settled down in the last half-century. I don’t think I’ve ever seen rooves since. But I’ve also not yet come across anyone else who was taught that there are varieties of ‘correct’ and that weight of numbers matters in language (might actually becomes right in the end).

We’ve all seen evolution in action – consider E-mail to e-mail to email; on line to on-line to online. The new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary brought out in 2007 took out 16,000 hyphens. Evolution is accompanied by mass extinction events, after all.

Even experienced editors, who know all this stuff, sometimes betray themselves with a ‘Well, I was taught….’ or a ‘Which is correct…?’ Language is moving too fast, now. It’s always been a numbers game. ‘Aks’ for ask is around a thousand years old in Britain. So is singular ‘they’, plural ‘none’ and a host of other usages the reactionaries lambast as Wrong. Thousand-year-old mistakes perpetuated by the hoi polloi, or thousand-year-old valid alternatives? Who decides?

What’s hard to accept, perhaps particularly for those who really paid attention at school (but who weren’t lucky enough to have Mr Harwood) and have stuck to what they were taught ever since, despite the evidence all around them, is that there is no outside authority dictating these ‘rules’ or arbitrating disputes about them. There is just opinion: informed, uninformed and not yet formed. And there is time. And there are users of English. There is not necessarily consensus. Mash those up together, then you’ll find the prescriptivists are fighting a losing battle.

So – what’s to be done? We editors and proofreaders need to know our stuff, and to be able to defend our edits. How can we do this against a background where language is turning to quicksand? Two words: style guide.

The style guide will, I think, become the touchstone. It will be the standard for that publisher, that government, that company as now, but I can see that copy-editors will need to be far more proactive in producing style guides for clients. I suspect that more and more organisations will be publishing theirs, as The Economist, the Guardian, the BBC and the UK government have done. We will need to be aware of what free-standing style guides are available and talk to clients about choosing the one that best fits them, with or without a degree of personalisation.

The rule book isn’t dead – it never really lived. But style guides? They’ll go on forever.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor for seven years, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter.

Proofread by Sandra Rawlin.

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

Keeping it real

Dr Rosalind Davies explores what editors and proofreaders, who operate in a largely virtual space, can learn from businesses that function in a more ‘real’ physical environment.

The Chamber of Commerce in Rochester, Michigan, recently welcomed a writing and editing service to the local business community. The new company, So It Is Written, was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. on 12 September 2014.

I smiled as I imagined a similar ceremony in my home office – local business leaders making their way up the stairs to my spare room and crowding in the doorway to watch the unveiling of the computer, telephone, photocopier and coffee mug. Although I found it easy to laugh at what seemed to be an over-formal rigmarole, I quickly had second thoughts. Doesn’t the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Rochester symbolise a new way of looking at the business of editing and writing – at my business?

So It Is Written is an editing business that has laid claim to the same presence and credibility as any other business – a restaurant, art gallery or meat production plant. I stopped laughing about the ribbon-cutting when I realised that this opening ceremony represented a grounding of editorial skills, calling them down from the clouds and marking out a physical space for them.

The Good Copy

The same principle is expressed in another new start-up, The Good Copy, which occupies a large building on a street in Melbourne, Australia. ‘Episode 1’ of the promotional video on The Good Copy’s homepage begins in the dust and debris of the building’s conversion into a ‘newsagent for writers’. We watch as builders drink from polystyrene cups and hammer nails into shelves.

Like the Rochester editing business, The Good Copy’s mission is to bring editors, writers and publishers together and to give them real retail space in which to interact. What is usually, for most editorial freelances, an electronic exchange between supplier and client here takes on flesh and blood in the Melbourne suburb. The Good Copy also aims to populate my own empty-looking work space with a tool kit – what it calls ‘hardcore resources’ – trade magazines, notebooks, style guides and dictionaries, and it believes that my skills could be part of a face-to-face market exchange that takes place as I drink coffee with people who are looking for someone to ‘write stuff for them’.

For some in our profession, the act of editing and writing is beginning to take up real space and retail space, and I, for one, love the idea that I could create a tangible presence for work that is mostly solitary and electronic. Even if this is too ambitious, even if the mechanisms for the way I work do not change, there are things that I can do – new attitudes to adopt – that will make a difference to the way I talk about my work and the way that other people perceive it. The business/communal mindset evidenced by the ribbon-cutting in Rochester and the shopfront in Melbourne should help me to revamp my PR skills and fuel my determination to say ‘I’m doing something here. I’m making something. This is the place I do it in.’

It’s a challenge for the editorial professional to communicate real-world skills and the value that they will add to the presentation, effectiveness and clarity of online or printed content. While we celebrate the connectedness and speed of our access to a global market and its clients, it’s a mistake to forget the reality of the local business community. We must find our way into it, to explore new sources of work, to enjoy a sense of belonging and to make space for the real products that are words and messages.

Ros DaviesRosalind Davies is a copy-editor, writer and communications consultant. You can find out more about projects she is involved in on her Facebook page. You can also follow her on Twitter. She is available, free of charge, for ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

Proofread by Susan Walton.

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

The internet and the democratisation of English. Part 1: Power to the people

Sue Littleford has written a series of four blog posts exploring how the internet has contributed to the democratisation of the English language. Here is part one:

Magnetic letters The very phrase ‘democratisation of English’ is enough to send shivers down the spine of every self-diagnosed language maven who clings to ‘Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction’ or ‘Don’t split an infinitive’ or (hopefully only in days gone by) ‘English should be more like Greek. Or Latin. Y’know, proper languages.’

Breaking news! That thud you hear in the background isn’t the sound of standards falling. It’s the sound of language remaining fit for purpose.

Over the last few months, I’ve noted more and more blog posts, articles and books that are anti-prescriptivism. Indeed, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s song ‘Word Crimes’ (July 2014) was quite widely pilloried for the number of shibboleths it managed to jam in and many fears were expressed that the – well, let’s be polite here – ‘less aware’ would take it as unadulterated truth and propound True Grammar According To My Teachers while the ‘more aware’ shake their heads in sorrow. There are still so many people posting in online editors’ groups asking for ‘The Rule’ for this or that circumstance, and then arguing about the answers. There is only one correct answer to that question. It depends. It always depends. The rule is, of course, that there are no rules – at least none that hold good for every single case in every single variety of English and in every single register in which it is used. What we do have are norms, set at varying levels of granularity in our language.

Nowhere is more democratic about language than the internet at large. Current estimates put English as the world’s most spoken language and third most common first language, with close to a billion people speaking English in some form.

That’s millions and millions of speakers of different varieties of English (well over 330 million  speakers from countries with English as an official language, with some estimating more like 430 million); speakers with a wide variety of backgrounds, education and needs. All these people have votes equal to the number of times their words are intercepted by the search engines and bots indexing away.

So what will happen? I think that Englishes will, over time – and not too far off at that – start to merge. The differences we keep reminding ourselves of between BrEng and AmEng and AusEng and CanEng and all the other Englishes we edit and proofread will, I think, inevitably become ever more blurred. We might – goodness! – end up with just Eng.

A lot of my editing is of books by academics for whom English is not their main language, and I routinely see that their spelling and punctuation wobbles from side to side of the Atlantic; often swayed by whatever they used for that part of their own work – spellings and punctuation mimic the variety of source material without thinking about consistency in the new piece. With so much international writing and international-team writing, we are already well on the way towards obfuscation of the differences between AmEng and BrEng.

Still, Canadians seem to cope with their own spelling caught between a British rock and a US hard place. The Editors’ Association of Canada: Editing Canadian English (9781551990453) is quite open about CanEng being a hybrid, and accepts that Canadians may write both ‘harbor’ and ‘centre’, taking internal consistency to a more granular level than the typical British or US speaker is used to. It quotes Peter Sypnowich: ‘Henry Fowler declared that American and British English should not be mixed, an injunction that must leave Canadians speechless.’ I fully expect Fowler would be aghast, but I do think Canada is a model that will be followed by other Englishes.

Is this democratisation of our language a race to the bottom? No! How could it be? There will still be the demand for all the different registers – and there will still be a sense of what is well-written and what is more, well, vernacular, but I don’t see English splitting into elite and proletariat versions, and certainly not into non-compatible Englishes, for two reasons.

  1. Globalisation won’t allow it – people need to be able to communicate and English is the lingua franca of much of the world. How will people who need to be able to communicate with each other find it useful to make new and/or stronger distinctions between my English and your English?
  2. Online, people are, I think, less aware of where a particular person is from. The people I communicate with on various forums won’t necessarily know my nationality. We will pick up quirks of a language we like and use them ourselves, spreading them widely. Others will pick them up and spread them further still. And these usages will live or die according to how useful people find them.

Where does this leave copy-editors, in particular? Well, writing a lot of style notes and word lists – if you want the glib answer. People who work with language, as we do, are pretty attuned to different registers and readily absorb a sense of what will and won’t do in a given piece of writing. It will be a challenge if an author demands to know on what authority you made a certain change or recommendation, and it will be harder if that author is old school and clings to ‘What My Teacher Said’. We will have to develop strategies to deal with that, and talk about norms, readability, flow and clarity rather than rules; and remember that there is not now, nor ever has been, only one right way.

It’s often hard to remember that there is no authority handing down the Rules of English to its speakers. Language doesn’t work like that (unless you’re French…) – there is no committee somewhere out there deciding what English usage is right and what is wrong. Dictionaries describe usage – they don’t prescribe or proscribe. There are only the people using English – an awful lot of people – communicating with each other across the world more than ever before, faster than ever before and deciding by mob rule what works and what doesn’t. And do you know? It was always like that. But now it’s big enough and fast enough for us to pull up a chair, grab the popcorn and sit and watch it happen.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor for seven years, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller.

Proofread by Alex Matthews.

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

Originally published October 2014; updated September 2021.

 

Three easy steps to create a stress-free work-life balance when working from home

Three ways to achieve a stress-free work-life balanceBy Mariette Jansen (Dr De-Stress)

Dr Mariette Jansen presented a workshop at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) 25th annual conference in 2014 entitled ‘The challenge of balance: creating a work-life co-operation, not a battle’. Here she outlines three ways to achieve a stress-free work-life balance when working from home.

Work and life are perceived as two aspects of life that don’t go together: you are either working, or not. If only it was that simple.

Especially when working from home, it can be impossible to separate work and life. All too often, work gets in the way of life and life gets in the way of work. As a result, frustration and stress kicks in because you can’t stick to your best intentions in planning your work and you can often find yourself behind. Often, feelings of guilt arise if your house or child needs attention. Even though you might be physically close by, you don’t really have the time or energy to offer your full presence.

What can you do to make changes?

Lots of stressful situations can be resolved by being clear. Setting goals, planning your time, sticking to your resolutions and, at the same time, being flexible if you have to be.

Step 1: When you work from home or at home, it helps to decide the day before how many hours you need to concentrate on work: choose the minimum requirement, not the maximum possible, as this will set you up for disappointment. You will never fully achieve what you set out to do if you aim for the maximum possible in ideal circumstances. Only once in a while is life kind enough to provide the ideal situation, so you had better not bank on it. If you have to juggle, you need to allow time for that.

Step 2: Plan your hours carefully and stick to the plan, regardless. Communicate your planning to others, so they know as well. If your kids need you at a certain time, they will know when you are available and when you are not. Children can usually wait, you know… It might also mean you get up before anybody else to kick-start your working day with two or three hours of non-disturbed, focused labour. Imagine the feeling of achievement and reassurance when you are on top or, even better, ahead of your schedule.

Step 3: Take each day as it comes and learn from it. You may start with the best intentions, but most likely ‘life gets in the way’. Don’t let anger or frustration blur your perception, just observe what happens and use this information to adapt your planning in the future. The lesson might be that your planning has been more optimistic than realistic. If you continue applying these three steps, you will take more in control of your work-life balance and consequently feel less stressed and happier.

Dr Mariette Jansen / Dr De-StressDr Mariette Jansen aka Dr De-Stress, is a trained psychotherapist, life coach, meditation teacher, designer of award-winning stress-management techniques, author, motivational speaker and life changer. She offers personal coaching services via Skype and in person, aimed at work-life balance, food and diet stress, confidence and work stress. She also organises courses, workshops and talks around mindfulness meditation. Her book ‘Bullshit, non-sense and common-sense about meditation’ has been praised as insightful, easy to read and motivating. Mariette can be contacted by email or phone (07967 717131). She can also be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Proofread by Chris Charlton.

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

 

Look for pleasure in editing

Pleasure in editingProofreaders and editors love examining the text on which they are working. This is also the case with subeditors. Here, Humphrey Evans, subeditor, former tutor on the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) ‘Getting started as a freelance’ course, and author of e-books such as Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors and Copyeditors, talks about how to find pleasure in subediting.

Deep into reading a newspaper article about a woman’s relationship with her grandmother, I came across this sentence: ‘Her diaries were a thing of lore, huge tombs that looked like the Magna Carta, filled with pages of inky writings.’ I liked that reference to ‘huge tombs’ rather than ‘tomes’. It’s a mistake, and a mistake I feel should have been picked up by whoever subedited the piece, but it’s a mistake with wings.

It does raise the idea of diaries as tombs – for all those happenings and hopes and wishes recorded day by day. It raises, too, the idea of ‘tome-stones’, rows of large and worthy books that might furnish a room in some sense but are unlikely to be taken down and read.

Subediting offers up these flashes that enliven the humdrum checking of this and correcting of that. I was listening to a late-night radio programme devoted to the topic of subediting once, one in a series about words and their place in the world, when they interviewed a woman who worked as a subeditor at The Sun. She told how she’d been asked to handle a squib about Scottish men spending more and more money on grooming products. She’d worked her way to the headline ‘Robert the Spruce’ and you could still hear the pleasure she’d found in coming up with that.

Pleasure in subediting seemed to me the attitude to take when I had the chance to write for the Chief Sub column in the Journalist, the magazine of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

The then editor, Tim Gopsill, had established the column to shine some light on one of those journalistic skills that could so often be overlooked. His main contributor was Wynford Hicks, author of English for Journalists, which, according to one of the reviews (the one I wrote) is ‘… a jolly useful book. It’s short. It’s accessible. It’s cheap. And it tells you what you want to know.’

I lobbed in an interest in some of the odder byways of subediting, such as the ins and outs (or possibly in’s and out’s) of apostrophes.

I realised that people did actually read the pieces when someone wrote in to say I’d made a mistake. I hadn’t fully understood the intricacies of whether or not London’s Earls Court has an apostrophe. It doesn’t, except for the fact that the station and some of the nearby roads appear to have acquired one. Tim asked me if I had a response, so I was able to see this printed right beside the letter that provoked it: ‘Your reader is right. I was wrong. I am sorry. I will never believe anything I read in the Journalist again.’

Maybe not. But believe these pieces which, in the main, come from the Journalist. You don’t necessarily have to follow all the advice – but you will, hopefully, find that you have learnt a bit about editing and subediting and been entertained along the way.

What do you enjoy most about editing?

Humphrey Evans

Humphrey Evans

Humphrey Evans has spent 40 years subediting and writing and proofreading and teaching subediting and writing and proofreading, quite often for the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) where, for a long time, he was one of the tutors on the much-praised ‘Getting started as a freelance’ course. ‘Look for pleasure in editing’ is the result. Humphrey has written books including: Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors and Copyeditors; More Edit: 20 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors and Copyeditors, which is based on his experiences as Chief Sub; and Subedit: 25 Instructories for Anyone who has to Sub.

Proofread by Thomas Hawking.

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

Don’t forget the ‘old’ ways: marketing via letter writing

Writing letters is an overlooked marketing tool

By Louise Harnby

In a conversation about marketing with my colleague Rich ‘An American Editor’ Adin,
I was reminded of how ‘sometimes the old ways are the better ways’ (Adin, personal correspondence).

Take old-fashioned snail-mail marketing. Sending letters is still as powerful a marketing tool today as it was 50 years ago. So why is this still a strong proposition? Might it even be a stronger proposition than email marketing?

10 reasons to write a letter

1. Better response rates: Crawford Hollingworth, in ‘Slow snail mail – why the tortoise is still beating the hare’, notes that ‘[r]esponse rates to letters are typically 30 times better then email – around 3.4% for direct mail, compared to 0.12% for email in 2012’. Letters take more time and effort, but those numbers alone provide a persuasive argument for using your postie! I’d recommend reading Hollingworth’s article in full. The author uses the lenses of psychology and behavioural science to consider why the letter is still a great proposition when it comes to getting someone’s attention.

2. Permanence: A letter is a physical thing – a piece of paper – and that means it can be physically moved around and read in multiple places. It can also be filed in a manner that isn’t deletable with one finger. This gives it permanence. You may not get positive results to your letter-writing campaign straight away, but having your information filed in the traditional way means it’s likely to survive longer in a drawer than it will in a digital inbox.

3. Psychology of perceived effort: There’s something about a letter that tells your customer you’ve made an effort. In reality, if you’re crafting an email designed to solicit work, you’ll take just as much care over the content. But it’s the perception that counts here. Sending a letter tells the customer that you’ve done more than craft the content – ‘letters can evoke a greater feeling of commitment in us. We acknowledge the time and effort someone has put into writing to us, to stamping and posting the letter and this can make us feel more committed to responding’ (Hollingworth, n.d.). A letter offers the customer the personal touch – ‘[r]eceiving a tangible, physical item such as a letter is usually experienced as a more personalized and involved form of outreach than receiving an email or SMS’ (SpirE-Journal, 2010).

4. Differentiation: When you send a letter you make yourself stand out precisely because you, well, send a letter. ‘These days 99% of correspondence is through email. So, a typed and mailed note with an attached résumé may just end up in the right hands,’ says Paul Gumbinner (2013). I’d add a caveat to this: I wouldn’t take the chance of a letter just ‘end[ing] up’ anywhere – it needs to be addressed to a named person for maximum impact. Nevertheless, Gumbinner’s point is that letters aren’t the norm so, when you use one to put yourself in front of a potential client, you differentiate yourself.

5. Damage limitation: A letter can be handed from one colleague to another, or moved from one desk to another, without damaging the readability of the content. Most of us will have been on the receiving end of the passed-around email that’s become something other than what it started out as. Yes, I’m talking about chevrons. When you send an email there’s a risk that your beautifully crafted message will become corrupted by a plethora of ugly characters, all of which distract the reader’s eye from the reasons why they should hire you as their editor or proofreader. I’d repeat the caveat above – the letter does need to be correctly addressed. Too many pairs of hands forwarding it to your key contact could mean it ends up looking tatty, so do the research beforehand to ensure you have the right name on the envelope.

6. Marketing eye candy: There’s no point in pretending that looks don’t count. They do. And emails are boring. The only way to make them attractive is to attach something, and that requires the receiver to hit yet another button. To do that you need to have already piqued their curiosity. With snail mail, the envelope itself piques their curiosity because it’s not the usual method of communication these days. Furthermore, not only can you design a letter so that it’s attractive, but you can also include additional items, e.g. a seasonally designed, branded postcard, a brochure or a business card, thereby making the whole package more interesting – what Hollingworth (n.d) calls ‘behavioural nudges’. Sending letters may be old-fashioned but it has the potential for creativity and inventiveness that’s very much in the ‘now’.

7. Absorption: Yes, email is hugely convenient – I cannot conceive of being without it – but letters are harder to ignore. Compare the clutter of the email inbox to something physical on the desk. Most busy business professionals’ inboxes are jammed with emails from all and sundry. That, says Gumbinner, makes email ‘totally uninvolving. Some executives literally receive hundreds a day. They skip from one to another. Some are barely read, if at all. Few are absorbed.’ Standing out to your customer is about grabbing their attention and drawing them in. If they’re not absorbed in the message you’re trying to communicate, you’re less likely to secure editorial work from them.

8. Destruction factor: It takes more effort for your customer to crumple and toss an appealingly designed letter and CV/brochure than it does to hit a ‘delete’ button on a keyboard – not much more, but just enough to give you an edge, especially when combined with the absorption and eye-candy elements mentioned above.

9. Sensory impact: Your customer spends a lot of time at their desk and a lot of time looking at their screen. Thinking about differentiation once again, consider how you might be offering your potential client a little added value by writing to them. ‘A physical letter allows at least one extra sensory experience, namely the touch and feel of the paper,’ notes SpirE-Journal (2010).

10. Taking advantage of down time: Snail mail allows your customer to kick back and relax away from the screen for a few minutes. They have to pick up the envelope, open it and then look at the content. That means they are focused on what’s in their hands as well as what’s hitting the back of their retinas. According to SpirE-Journal (2010), ‘Snail mail, unlike eDM [electronic direct mail], has a higher chance of getting read when the recipient is more relaxed.’ That’s good for you, because the customer is more likely to absorb themselves in the detail of the fabulous editorial services you’re offering!

5 things to do

1. Target a named person: Remember to do the research beforehand (by email or phone) to ensure you can put the right name on your envelope. ‘If you want to make a good impression on the person in charge of hiring, you don’t want your letter and CV to look like it was used to wrap someone’s lunch by the time it ends up on their desk’ (Harnby, 2014). Precise, targeted addressing takes extra work but will yield dividends in terms of response.

2. Think about the content: It’s not just about making sure the letter gets to the right person; it’s about holding that person’s attention once they’re reading it. When thinking about what to include in your letter and how to structure the content, you may like to consider my adaptation of Kevin Daum’s differentiation–solution–empathy framework for letter writing (Harnby, 2014: Chapter 20, ‘Going direct’).

3. Build a mailing list: As you acquire the targeted names and addresses of your potential client list, record the information so that you build a mailing list. Having a mailing list is important because it enables you to market repeatedly to the same customers (Adin, personal correspondence). Why? Because clients don’t always respond the first, second or even third time round. That doesn’t mean you’re not a good fit for them. If your skills match theirs, they may just have forgotten you or been too busy with other things. Furthermore, those clients who do respond but who say their editorial freelancer lists are currently full will need a further nudge several months down the line. Having a mailing list takes the pain out of the re-mailing process because you’ve already done all the research.

4. Test: Carry out trials to explore the impact of posting your letters at different times of year, with different enclosures, tweaked unique selling points or alternative postscripts. Different approaches may yield different responses and help you to hone your letter-writing craft and improve your positive response rate.

5. Track: You won’t know how effective your letters are if you don’t keep track of when you sent them, to whom you sent them, what you tested and what the results were. It’s not just about tracking positive responses; it’s also important to keep a record of other future potentially positive outcomes, e.g. ‘we’re keeping your details on file’ or ‘our bank of freelancers is full at the moment, but thanks for getting in touch’. Those are very different responses to ‘thanks but no – we don’t use external proofreaders’, even though the immediate outcome in terms of work is negative. And all of those responses mean something different to the non-responder, who may simply have not got round to contacting you. Re-mailing non-responders and ‘on file or full up’ responders is a worthwhile exercise, whereas contacting the non-user is a waste of a stamp and a waste of your time.

Multiple tools, multiple channels

None of this is to say that you should not exploit opportunities to put yourself in front of potential clients using digital tools. I think you should use these methods of making yourself discoverable. However, don’t assume that there is only one way to make first contact with a publisher, a business or an agency. Smart marketing involves exploiting multiple channels, some of which are bang up to the minute, and some of which have been powerful and effective tools of communication for generations.

Create a website, send emails, explore Google Authorship, build social media networks, make telephone calls, consider video testimonials, advertise in online directories, create business cards, blog … do all these things and more if you feel they’ll put you in front of your customer. But don’t forget the humble letter. You might be surprised at just how much business it can generate for you!

References

Gumbinner, Paul (2013). Making snail mail work for you [online], 2 April 2013. Available from View from Madison Avenue: http://viewfrommadisonave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/making-snail-mail-work-for-you.html.

Harnby, Louise (2014). Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business (in association with the Publishing Training Centre).

Hollingworth, Crawford (2013). ‘Slow snail mail – why the tortoise is still beating the hare’ [online], 15 July 2013. Available from the Marketing Society: https://www.marketingsociety.com/the-library/slow-snail-mail-–-why-tortoise-still-beating-hare.

SpirE-Journal (2010). ‘The Re-emergence of Snail Mail’ [online]. Available from Spire Research & Consulting: http://www.spireresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/the-re-emergence-of-snail-mail2.pdf.

Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby

Based in the heart of the Norfolk Broads, Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader with 23 years’ publishing experience. An Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, she specialises in providing proofreading solutions for clients working in the social sciences, humanities, fiction and commercial non-fiction. Her customers include publishers, project management agencies, professional institutions and independent writers. Louise is the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour and the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby or find her on LinkedIn.

Proofread by Jane Hammett.

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