Author Archives: Abi Saffrey

How to take care of yourself when you’re your own boss

Even when there isn’t a pandemic, if we run our own business we all need ways to take care of ourselves – mentally, physically and emotionally. In this post, Abi Saffrey brings together some suggestions that have been shared on the CIEP member forums.

CIEP members’ self-care ideas fall into these general categories:

  • time and taking breaks
  • meditation and expressing gratitude
  • food
  • hobbies
  • music
  • friends and partners
  • being outside
  • lockdown clichés

Time and taking breaks

My first thought when it comes to spending the right amount of time on the right things is ‘work–life balance’. I have several issues with that phrase: should there be the same amount of work as life? Surely work is part of life, not opposed to it? (I’m not a fan of the phrase ‘me time’ either.) Anyway, a key element in getting the day-to-day mix of activities ‘right’ is considering time. There is no magic formula, but we can learn by trial and error what works for us.

During the first pandemic lockdown, when my children weren’t able to go to school, I would get up earlier than my family and spend an hour in my office getting to grips with what I needed to do that day so that I could be more focused in the limited working time I would have later on in the day. It also gave me an hour on my own, which turned out to be incredibly important over those three or so months.

Taking regular breaks from work is good for our focus and our eyes, but it’s often easier said than done. One member has alarms set at particular points during the day to remind them to take a 20-minute break; others use the Pomodoro technique.

I force myself to walk away from my desk in the mid-afternoon and read a physical novel for 30 minutes or so for a bit of fun and to give my eyes a break from the screen.

Alarms can be used to force an end to the work day – it’s all too easy to think ‘oh just one more page/section/chapter’. Self-employed editors were well aware of the blurring of the work/home boundary before the pandemic changed office workers’ patterns.

Meditation and expressing gratitude

Several members have mentioned the benefits of meditation and mindfulness to replenish their stores of energy, focus and patience. Some use timers, some apps and others simple breathwork techniques.

One member mentioned spending 15 minutes at the end of the day talking about something positive from the day: it breaks the endless cycle of gloom that comes from the news and ends the day on a high note.

The thing I’ve been doing that has had a huge impact on my positivity is expressing gratitude  … for everything, really: blue skies or rain (we need it!), delicious morning coffee, the roof over our heads, the internet, clean water piped into our homes, electricity, central heating  … the list goes on and on. Even the worst of days has good things in it; you might have to look a little harder. I’ve got very good at finding the silver lining.

Food

Making a meal or baking something can provide focus and pride in the result, as well as the opportunity to share something with others.

Whenever I bake something (which isn’t often), I always give some of it to my elderly neighbour. Gives me an excuse to check in with her, and I always feel so happy that she enjoys my sweet treats!

Planning meals ahead can lessen the daily workload, but can also provide something to look forward to. My family created a four-week rolling menu, which took away the weekly stress of thinking of meals, but with a ‘wildcard’ entry each week there was potential for trying out new recipes (or getting a takeaway).

Under the first lockdown, my husband and I invented a lockdown cooking competition – every weekend we each challenge the other to cook something new and out of our comfort zone. It’s been a great way to actually use each of our collections of cookbooks instead of just admiring the lovely photos. We have a whole routine that has become incredibly important for my sanity because it is structured and focused, and gives me something to look forward to as well as be a challenge not just to cook but also source ingredients.

I batch-cook at the weekend so that, no matter how busy things get during the week, I have nice lunches to look forward to.

Hobbies

The pandemic lockdowns have enabled some people to start new hobbies, or spend more time on existing ones.

For the most part of our lockdown we weren’t permitted to travel more than 5 km from home. Some birders on Twitter had the idea of keeping a #Stage4LockdownList. I started noting every species I saw in my 5 km radius. It encouraged me to get exercise, to be in nature, to be mindful and to appreciate things in my local area that I had taken for granted. I hope this is a new habit that I’ll take with me. (I ended up with 27 birds on my list – not bad for a beginner.)

My regular activity is crochet. Almost daily! You could say I’m hooked  … Fortunately, my yarn stash is well stocked. Sometimes my cat tries to ‘help’, but his company is a delight and a guarantee of daily smiles and chortles.

I have enjoyed patchworking for the past few years but thought I would attempt to learn to crochet … I managed one evening of tying my fingers in knots before returning to my craft comfort zone.

Music

Listening and dancing to music can be a great stress reliever and soul lifter. Several members talked about missing live gigs or singing with their choir. I’ve invested in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones so I can get completely absorbed in what I’m listening to.

Music is always part of my day. I actually feel a bit unwell any day I don’t make music – or listen to someone else making music. Covid-19 has put the kibosh on lots of my musical activities. (Who knew that chamber music would become more dangerous than adventure sports?!) So I make sure to listen to great music. Here’s Thelonious Monk playing ‘Tea for Two’. I’ve listened to this four times today. And every time I do, it feels like an act of self-care.

I also find dancing and seeing live music a great stress release, so have missed those a lot. During lockdown, I’ve been going to an online disco on Friday nights (via Zoom) and watching a live DJ on Twitch every lunchtime. (I’ve even put it in my work calendar – although with a cryptic title, just in case I accidentally share it with a client one day!) It has really helped to feel part of those communities, and the music has helped me to process and release lockdown emotions.

Friends and partners

Seeing our friends and family is so important, and that’s been taken away from many of us over the past year. We’ve found new ways of communicating, and made the most of the times when we have been able to go for walks or coffees together.

I’ve been doing a fortnightly quiz with a group of friends. I don’t think we’ve ever seen so much of each other, actually, as we’re so scattered across the country.

Directly messaging particular friends can bring about that personal connection, in a very different way to posting more widely (and more generically) on social media platforms.

I’ve rekindled a friendship with an old friend. We now send each other silly, or supportive, WhatsApp messages almost every day. If either of us has a low moment, or needs to vent, we can reach out and share. We now also occasionally send each other surprise gifts by post (‘I saw this and thought of you’).

Being outside

From birdwatching to long walks, to tending the garden, to looking at the sky – time spent outside is never wasted when it comes to self-care. Even a walk in the pouring rain can bring with it joy (and the delight of dry, warm clothes afterwards).

I love walking anyway but I’ve made a conscious effort when I’m out now to notice something new or curious on each walk. It could be some particularly splendid fungi, or the birds, or a gnarly tree, or going down a different path for a change and seeing where I end up. Some walks have taken rather longer than planned to get me back to my starting point  …

Movement generally is good for our mental and physical health, so adding in the fresh air and maybe even some vitamin D from the sunshine makes getting outside a win–win when trying to look after ourselves. For several years, I have gone to outside bootcamps every week – when restrictions stopped these, the instructor moved online and I took my laptop into the garden (though the Wi-Fi issues and light glare made some sessions more tense than was ideal …)

I live at the bottom of a hill, and the newsagent is at the top. I force myself to walk up there every day to pick up the paper, then I spend half an hour reading it with a cup of coffee before I get back to work.

I check the forecast every morning to work out when the weather looks best, then intentionally structure my day around that. The rain radar is also useful – even on really bad days, there’s generally a break in the weather at some point. I always feel much brighter (and more productive) afterwards, even on the days when I really don’t want to go outside.

Lockdown clichés

I’ve turned into a complete lockdown cliché, having taken up sourdough and running!

It’s hardly a solution for everyone, but I can totally recommend getting a puppy.

We have two golden retrievers and we try to walk them every day. It’s great to get out into the fresh air and, c’mon, golden retrievers. They’re good for the soul. Doctors should write prescriptions for people to spend time with golden retrievers.

I’m also spending a lot of time growing my hair. I’m trying for an A C Grayling look, but most people think it’s more Doc Brown (from Back to the Future, not the rapper).

I’m also a bit of a lockdown cliché, as it’s walking and breadmaking for me.

Getting it right

There is no one right way of looking after ourselves that works for everyone. This post only covers the most popular themes that members have shared on the CIEP forums. How do you look after your wellbeing? Has it changed over the past year? Let us know in the comments below.

About Abi Saffrey

Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. A member of the CIEP’s information team, she coordinates this blog and edits Editorial Excellence, the Institute’s external newsletter.

Now she’s finished writing this blog post, she’s off for a walk.

 

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: crocuses by Aaron Burden; long-tailed tit by Andy Holmes, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Using plain English to maximise immersion in fiction

When most people think of plain English, they think of functional, practical non-fiction texts rather than stories. Here, Katherine Kirk looks at how the plain English principles can be applied to works of fiction.

In this article, I’ll explore these questions:

  • What is plain English and why does it matter for fiction?
  • How can plain English principles improve the fiction reader’s experience?
  • Does writing in plain English mean stripping fiction of its artistry?

Striking the right tone

In my former life as an English teacher, I found that many of my students, in an attempt to elevate their English to the highest possible level, were obfuscating their concepts by becoming fixated on implementing linguistic arabesques which were utterly drenched in verbosity at the expense of clarity.

If you’re still reading after that ridiculous sentence, thank you for sticking around. Most readers wouldn’t.

Using loftier words to sound like a ‘better writer’ is more common than you’d think. Students trying to pad their essays will devour a thesaurus whole and vomit the longest words onto the page. Writers for whom English might not be their first language – and some for whom it is – will often turn to the flashiest word and throw it into a sentence it has no right to be in, having missed the connotations and nuances that make a word fit just right.

Writers who hold the literary arts to be the most profound form of human expression (and rightly so!) might feel that they would be doing their book an injustice by writing it the way they speak, and that readers who come across simple sentences and words might feel that their text lacks colour.

As copyeditors, one of our aims is to have the readers’ interests at heart. Hopefully, this article will help you to show your clients that writing in plain English doesn’t mean writing in boring English, and how simplifying their texts makes it easier for readers to fall in love with their story.

Aristotle said, over two millennia ago, ‘The virtue of style is to be clear … and to be neither mean nor above the prestige of the subject, but appropriate.’ He’s talking about using the right language for the job at hand. The fiction writer’s job is to write a story their readers can escape into. Our job is to help them.

What is plain English and why does it matter?

When most people think of plain English, it’s with regard to non-fiction texts, such as warning labels, legal or government documents, or instructional guides. Laura Ripper and Luke Finley wrote an excellent introduction to plain English for the CIEP blog a few years ago.

Most plain English principles tend to be aimed at businesses and organisations that want their users, clients or readers to be able to access the information as easily as possible. But how does that apply to fiction writers?

Dr Neil James sets out more general principles, saying that plain English writing should have:

  • a reader-centred approach
  • a clear core message
  • the right level of detail
  • a fit-for-purpose structure
  • coherence and flow
  • clear document design
  • a light but professional tone
  • a readable style
  • an active voice
  • an efficient style
  • an error-free text
  • evidence-based testing.

I think these can apply to fiction too. Let’s dive in!

A reader-centred approach

Good writing transmits ideas from the writer’s mind to the reader’s. The reader imagines the world, hears the dialogue, and feels the emotions. That is immersion, and the best way to get the reader into it is by the most direct route possible – using the same language they think in. When this fails, readers write reviews like ‘I felt lost’ or ‘I couldn’t get into it’. Keeping the reader in mind means making the writing accessible to them.

A clear core message

To successfully transmit that message, it needs to be clear. In fiction, the message is multifaceted: the writer is trying to convey who the characters are, what the story is, and why it matters. If the complexity of their language is getting in the way of any of those things, then readers will feel lost. They might lose interest in the story, too. Writers must beware of tangling up the meaning and concealing it behind words readers need to look up, and sentences they’ll need to read three times to decode. They should also be careful of having a storyline so convoluted that the reader needs a wiki to keep track. If the message is clear and accessible, the reader will have a better experience (and come back for more).

The right level of detail

Sometimes in the effort to convey that image clearly to the reader, a writer might veer too far in the opposite direction by being overly specific and spelling out every little detail. Encourage your clients to give your readers the benefit of the doubt and to trust them to fill in the spaces between the words; removing the fluff will make that easier.

A fit-for-purpose structure

Plain English is about more than just sentence-level clarity. If the story jumps from flashback to flashback, wanders aimlessly through nested dreams, explodes into en dash confetti and then suddenly switches to a second-person account written entirely in italics, the reader will absolutely get confused. Some books manage a labyrinthine structure. In Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the labyrinth is the point. For genre fiction, though, the ease with which your reader can navigate the story directly correlates with their ability to be immersed in it.

Coherence and flow

We can’t all be James Joyce or Samuel Beckett; sometimes the best stories are the ones that readers can actually follow. Leading readers on a journey through the story is what good writing is all about. You don’t want to lure them into the woods only to run off, leaving them to either struggle to catch up or get lost entirely. Writers should be walking just ahead, beckoning the reader around the next corner.

Clear document design

Literary fiction can be a tricky genre to get right because many writers think it means you have to be innovative with punctuation, structure and formatting. Experimentation is fine, if it’s done well – but for immersion’s sake, for writing that disappears behind the story, it’s better to give readers what they expect by following established conventions.

A light but professional tone

Readers may feel intimidated by overly formal text, or text that is dense and inaccessible to them. They might respect the writer, but they probably won’t have as much fun reading the story as they would if it were easier for them to understand. Throwing themselves entirely into the writer’s world takes a certain kind of vulnerability, and if readers feel shut out by language they can’t understand, then they’re not going to do that. Using the right language helps readers to trust the writer and to be willing to open themselves up to having their hearts absolutely destroyed by the story. If the writer is too caught up in trying to sound smarter, then they lose the readers’ trust.

A readable style

The key thing is readability. The most beautiful sentence in the world might be a multilayered, poetic work of art, but if it requires a doctorate to unpick and understand, then the writer is excluding the majority of their readership – and for what? To show off their thesaurus?

An active voice

Now, this is where many people who like to give advice to writers tend to overgeneralise and lead writers astray. It’s also where robotic grammar checkers tend to overcorrect at the expense of clarity, flow and readability. Active voice is about making it clear who is doing what, but passive voice isn’t wrong. In the famous opening line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen isn’t wrong to use the passive voice; she’s making a point, and a sarcastic one at that, setting up the entire premise of the novel.

The passive voice can and should be used with intention. Above all, aim for clarity.

An efficient style

Another bit of writerly advice that well-meaning but often misinformed people give is to cut specific words or sentence structures. It’s silly to make blanket rules when language is infinitely variable. What writers (and editors) can do is try to be as efficient as possible, such as choosing a strong adjective over two weak ones.

Simplicity doesn’t always mean fewer words. Sometimes it means using a few simpler words to convey a complex idea. Having an efficient style means getting the idea from your mind into your reader’s mind without a detour into the dictionary.

An error-free text

The purpose of grammar and punctuation is to eliminate ambiguity and enhance clarity. A logically and grammatically consistent text ensures the reader understands the story the way the writer intended them to. If the writer is trying to force the grammar into doing something it’s not meant to, they’re more likely to make a mistake. They may find themselves tangled up in semicolons and en dashes, and the reader will be just as muddled. That said, fiction is far more forgiving of its rules being bent. Being able to strike a balance between accuracy and a comfortable narrative voice is one of the key skills a fiction copyeditor needs to develop.

Evidence-based testing

What is being tested? It might be the theme or hypothesis behind the story (the ‘what if?’), or it might be the conflict between the characters, or the plausibility of the made-up science. Testing the characters by putting them under pressure is what fuels character development. Show, don’t tell means that fiction writers need to give their readers the evidence of that development by letting them see it unfold.

Reading levels in the UK and US

Putting all these principles together can help editors to make sure their clients’ writing is at an appropriate level for their target readers. According to the Center for Plain Language, the majority of American readers are reading at 8th grade level (12 to 14 years old), and the National Literary Trust reports that many adults in the UK have poor literary skills. So, having the novel in a register that requires a tertiary education to understand means the writer is probably not going to sell many books.

Maintaining the writer’s voice

Some writers may balk at the idea of simplifying their language, thinking that to do so would be to rob the text of any sense of artistry. Editors may worry that they’ll be stripping away the writer’s voice. Be careful to maintain the balance; suggest rather than dictate, and let the writer make the call.

Achieving clarity takes a certain kind of artistry. Do it with the readers in mind and they’ll keep coming back for more.

Wrapping up: plain English in fiction

The elements of plain English writing can apply as much to fiction as to non-fiction texts. Writers and editors can aim for:

  • a reader-centred approach
  • the right level of detail
  • coherence and flow
  • a readable and efficient style
  • an error-free text.

How do you apply plain English principles in your writing or editing? Drop us a line in the comments below.

More guidance on working with plain English

The CIEP has some helpful resources to help you work with plain English.

About Katherine Kirk

Katherine Kirk is a fiction editor who has to force herself to simplify the English in her own writing.

Rumoured to have eaten a dictionary as a child, she suffers from abibliophobia (the fear of running out of books to read). She speaks four and a half Englishes and can often be found muttering to herself about the New York Times Bee’s prejudice against most of them.

 

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: reflection by Jingwei Ke; hedge maze by Tycho Atsma; straight road by Karsten Würth, all on Unsplash.

Is proofreading a good side hustle?

Proofreading has long been touted online as a good way to supplement a regular income – the side hustle. This post by Louise Harnby examines the notion, and explores the challenges.

In this post, we’ll look at the following:

  • What is a side hustle?
  • The problem with the terminology
  • Proofreading as a side hustle – popular but problematic
  • Do I need training?
  • Who am I competing with?
  • Who hires professional proofreaders?
  • How will I find work?
  • Additional considerations

What is a side hustle?

A side hustle is the term used to describe part-time work that’s done alongside a person’s regular job. Side hustles can be long-term or short-term gigs, and they’re popular because they allow people to dip their toes in the proverbial water rather than fully committing to a career change.

For some, they’re essential, either because their day jobs aren’t generating enough income to meet their costs of living or because their day jobs don’t come with an income at all – for example, those bringing up children or caring for dependants.

The problem with the terminology

In the editorial world, there’s resistance to the terminology owing to the negative connotations of hustle.

Editorial work is about attention to detail, about respecting a client’s voice and brand, about shaping and smoothing text rather than butchering it.

And editors and proofreaders do love their dictionaries. Which doesn’t help matters given hustle’s lexical association with pushiness, pressurised selling, prostitution, and worst of all, fraud.

Since professional self-employed editors and proofreaders spend a chunk of their time trying to build trust with clients searching for editorial support in what is essentially an unregulated global market, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that mention of a hustle makes them twitchy!

Proofreading as a side hustle – popular but problematic

Let’s put the terminology to one side. Can proofreading work be done on the side? Yes. Can a proofreading business be set up overnight? In name, certainly. However, the reality is that unless you already have clients waiting in the wings, you’re going to have to do what every self-employed business owner does – find them, or enable them to find you. Which means marketing.

Furthermore, you’re going to have to find those that you’re a good fit for, and that means skilling up.

Training takes time to complete and marketing takes time to bear fruit. For that reason, if you’re looking to earn extra income quickly, proofreading makes for a poor side hustle.

Do I need training?

Side hustlers in the making might be wondering if training is necessary. Put yourself in a potential client’s shoes. Even if you’re a mega marketer, such that you get in front of your clients quickly, persuading them to hire you requires them trusting you to do a great job.

Trust can be earned in more than one way, but training’s part of the equation. When the tap starts dripping or a plug starts sparking, I don’t want someone messing around with my plumbing and electrics if they haven’t made the effort to ensure they know what they’re doing.

Clients who want help with their words feel the same way about having their text polished. And so they should. The work we do will cost them tens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of pounds. Proofreaders charging for their services owe it to their clients to be qualified to do a great job.

Plus, we don’t know what we don’t know. Prior to carrying out editorial training, I had no clue what a publisher expected from a proofreader. Training solved that problem. One thing I learned is this: a good command of spelling and grammar is just the tip of the editorial iceberg.

Here’s just a smidgen of the skills my publisher clients expect from a proofreader – issues that once read like gibberish to my untrained eye.

  • Marking up page proofs with BSI proof-correction symbols
  • What to do with overmatter
  • How to manage orphans and widows
  • How to check running heads
  • Handling stacked hyphens on rectos
  • Checking that references are styled according to APA or Harvard

 

Who am I competing with?

Something else the side hustler should consider is the competition. This is not a barren marketplace, alas. There are tens of thousands of editorial professionals out there already, many of whom run their businesses as full-time enterprises. They:

  • are highly trained, often with specialist skills and knowledge
  • are very experienced and have portfolios to prove it, and
  • have been around for a while so know how to be found and where to get work.

That said, there is always room for new proofreaders and editors because most of the work these days is done digitally, which means the market is global. And just as people join the profession, so others leave it.

However, it would be a mistake to think that competing in the proofreading market is just about supply and demand. It’s a digital world, which means the name of the game is visibility.

Who hires professional proofreaders?

First, the good news. Anyone who works with words and cares about their meaning and readability will be interested in hiring a proofreader. This short list of potential clients only scratches the surface.

  • Academics
  • Business owners
  • Educators
  • Independent authors
  • Marketing and communications agencies
  • Packagers and project management agencies
  • Publishers
  • Students

That’s the easy bit. The harder bit is that not all clients know what kind of editorial help they need. And so, even if they ask for something called ‘proofreading’, and that’s what you’re offering as a side hustle, it might be the last thing they need. Literally.

In fact, they might need specialist structural or stylistic help that doesn’t fall under the scope of proofreading at all. Proofreading is a final quality-control check after other rounds of editing.

So if you’re thinking about offering this service as a side gig, make sure you and anyone you work with understand the precise scope of the work you’re offering.

Failure to do so could lead to disappointment, complaints and requests for refunds, thereby turning your side hustle into an upfront hassle.

How will I find work?

Getting work means being visible. Either the client has to find you or you have to find them, meaning anyone looking to earn an income from proofreading needs to have marketing skills as well as proofreading skills.

That’s a necessary time-sucker that any independent editorial pro needs to wrap their head around from the get-go.

There are lots of ways to be visible, some better than others, depending on what types of clients you want to proofread for.

  • Emails, letters and phone calls are good options if you want to get on the radar of publishers and packagers.
  • Content marketing is a slow but powerful burn for those wanting to be found on Google and social media by authors, students and academics.
  • Freelance directories can be a good source of work, though are often the first port of call for clients looking for cheap and fast.
  • Many professional editorial associations such as the CIEP have editorial directories that can be good lead generators for appropriately qualified proofreaders.

Proofreading might seem like your ideal side hustle but you must factor in regular time to get the work in the first place. There’s too much competition not to do so.

Additional considerations

Finally, don’t forget the additional business-critical responsibilities that come with the job, even if it is on the side.

  • Will you need indemnity insurance to protect yourself?
  • Will the income you earn need to be declared to the relevant authorities? Will there be tax implications? Might your additional income affect any state benefits you receive?
  • Do you have funds in place for training and marketing? Both have costs to them.
  • Do you have access to an environment that will allow you to concentrate and work without interruption?
  • Do you have industry-standard hardware and software, and know how to use it?
  • How many hours a day do you have available, and will you be able to meet clients’ deadlines? High-quality proofreading is labour-intensive work. Even experienced full-time proofreaders will need at least a week to proofread a novel. Being realistic about the time required is essential.

Summing up

Proofreading can be used to supplement income from another job. Many full-time professional proofreaders started their editorial journey by doing it on the side.

Don’t forget that being a proofreader means becoming one first – via training. And making your side hustle viable means being found by those who need your services – via marketing.

It can be done – just not overnight.

Want to become a proofreader?

The CIEP has loads of support and information to help you get started.

And Louise Harnby has a selection of books and courses to help you on your journey.

About Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby is a professional fiction editor with 30 years’ publishing experience, and specialises in working with independent crime, thriller and mystery writers.

She is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP and co-hosts The Editing Podcast with Denise Cowle.

 

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:

 

What do editors and proofreaders think of taking tests?

We asked our freelance members for their opinions about editing and proofreading tests: tests set by a potential client to assess the freelancer’s suitability for the job. Here, four CIEP members share their thoughts on the topic.

Alex Mackenzie

This was a timed proofread I’d been asked to do as part of a job application. The email said they’d send me a document at 10am; I was to proofread it and return it an hour and a half later. Heart racing, I began, wide-eyed and focused. Ninety-one minutes later, of course, reassessing my sent work, I spotted a mistake! The test had been simple enough, basically a simulation of the company’s typical report: one table (misaligned and missing information), one graphic (valuable seconds lost trying to edit that insert), logos and company branding (creative capitalisation), finishing with a wordy biography (university degrees and excessive work experience). But that ticking clock, I thought, was an unnecessary pressure. And my obvious mistake wouldn’t have escaped a re-read or a PerfectIt scan. Oh well, I huffed – I’ll put that down to experience. Three months later I was hired – they’re now a regular client, paying CIEP suggested minimum rates!

Other than that, I’ve completed test edits for academic proofreading agencies. I remember Janet MacMillan’s words in one of my early Cloud Club meetings: give it an hour, there’s nothing to lose. True. This approach has landed me two more jobs, meaning (low-paid) editing work pops into my inbox weekly. I consider it all training!

Laurie Duboucheix-Saunders

In the best of all possible worlds, editors with a proven record of training and experience should not have to take editorial tests.

However, personally, I have found that such tests have opened doors for me that would otherwise have remained closed. English is not my first language and my degrees in English Lit from the Sorbonne and the fact that I have been an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP since 2016 are not enough to stop people from asking whether I can, or even should, edit or proofread an English text because I am not a native speaker.

I use that term even though it has become controversial in more enlightened editorial circles – where multilingual is preferred – because those editorial tests have allowed me to get work based on my abilities and expertise alone, regardless of where I come from. As with exams that are marked blind, they are an objective assessment of a candidate’s skills and knowledge.

As I write this, I worry that my argument could be used to support the use of editorial tests specifically for non-native editors. This is a million miles away from what I’m trying to say. A strong CV and proven training in editing English material should be enough for people like me to get the job. As it’s not the case yet, I’d rather take a test than be ruled out systematically simply because I am not originally from an anglophone country.

Louise Bolotin

Louise Bolotin

I’m not opposed to sitting editing tests, but I’m not wild about them. I believe my many years of experience and my Advanced Professional Member status in the CIEP should speak for themselves and indicate my competence. My CIEP directory entry, my website and LinkedIn profile are all places a prospective client can look at my CV, a sample client list and client testimonials. On that basis, I won’t take a test for a small company or a private individual such as an independent author. However, I might – if the job looks really interesting and I really want it – offer to do a free one-page sample. No more, and beyond that I’m happy to agree to a week’s (paid) trial or some such, to see how we work together. I do sit editing tests if required where it involves a major rolling contract. I recently took one for a government inspectorate, where passing the test was a prerequisite for joining the freelance pool. I’ve also taken tests for publishing companies for the same reason, but these tests should never be more than a couple of pages and should never take more than around 90 minutes to complete. If they are any longer, you should be paid for your time.

Caroline Petherick

While it’s reasonable for a client to want to have some indication of competence in a freelance editor or proofreader they’re thinking of hiring, the idea of testing a qualified and experienced editor is, in my view, not just out of date but near enough insulting.

As I understand it, the concept arose in the publishing industry in the mid-20th century, an era when many publishing houses were getting rid of their in-house editors in favour of freelance editors and proofreaders, who required less commitment, both financial and pastoral. That was (and still is) seen as an important move in this cut-throat industry.

Until the mid-20th century, copyeditors and proofreaders were quite likely to have been wives of publishers – and unpaid. That view of the profession lingered long in the publishing industry, to its financial advantage. Throughout the 20th century (and in some cases into the 21st), it clearly suited the publishing houses to continue to perceive the proofreader and copyeditor as lowly individuals at the bottom end of the status ladder.

But with the new freelance system, how could a publisher establish editorial competence? A test designed to include the classic traps was obviously deemed appropriate.

Now that we editors and proofreaders have made our mark as independent professionals, due to the formation of the SfEP – now the CIEP, a chartered organisation with registered members and clear status – it is clear that a potential client asking a CIEP member to take a test would be as incongruous a request as, for example, asking a qualified lawyer, designer or accountant – or even a Gas Safe engineer! – to do so. (To be fair, though, it’s probably only a few publishing houses who might still ask for a test. The myriad of other types of clients are highly unlikely to do so.)

The balance of power has changed. And not before time.

A sample edit is, however, as I see it, crucially important. And here, editorial professionals have an advantage over lawyers, designers, accountants and plumbers in their dealings with clients. In working on a sample, a CIEP member will not only be showing the client what work they’d carry out, but they will be assessing the text and, to some degree, the client. And then, having seen what the client produces, they’ll also be able to quote a fair price for the work. All part of the professional package.

Wrapping up: editing tests

This post has presented the opinions of four CIEP members on editing tests, and it shows the breadth of views there are on the topic.

Have you taken an editing or proofreading test? Or have you set one as a way to assess a freelancer’s abilities? Tell us more in the comments.

Ayesha Chari has written about her experiences of editing tests.

READ AYESHA’S ARTICLE

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 credit: clock by Samantha Gades on Unsplash 

Editing tests, clients and the editor

We asked our freelance members for their opinions about editing and proofreading tests: tests set by a potential client to assess the freelancer’s suitability for the job. Here, Ayesha Chari shares what she sees as the pros and cons of editing tests.

You know that butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling? The dreadful one before your first big school exam or right before that driving test. Or the tingly one on the quick descent of the Ferris wheel, maybe even while going up and down those weightless lifts to floor infinity. I love the thrilling flutter as much as I hate the panicky one.

It does come as a surprise then that my academic and non-fiction editing career has been built almost solely on voluntarily subjecting myself to the anxiety of editing tests. The first one, for an in-house copyediting role and my first job straight out of university, I’ll never forget: ‘edit this in 1 hour’ was the instruction. This was a 30-page, two-column, single line-spaced, printed article on geospatial satellites gobbledygook. I had no idea whether ‘edit’ meant to correct spelling and grammar or make sense of content or something else. I also had no idea what any of what I was reading meant or where/how I was supposed to write in the thumb-width margins. I got the job.

Since then, particularly as self-employed, I’ve taken every editing test that has come my way, more often seeking them out from publishers and other organisations, definitely too many to keep count. Some with a vague one-line brief, others with a 50-page style guide and dozens of accompanying files and instructions. Some where I’ve set the deadline and the client has agreed, others that have invaded my browser and set running counters. Some that I’ve flunked, several others where I’ve come out on top. Why? Because the pros far outweigh the cons.

Pros

Taking editing tests for potential clients can help to:

  • quickly demonstrate expertise, training and professionalism to the client/employer
  • plant the seed for a relationship of trust with a new client/employer
  • self-assess skills objectively, whether you have formal editorial training and are starting out or are experienced and need to be kept on your toes.
  • build self-confidence (no pain, no gain, plus who doesn’t like a random ego boost?!)
  • identify areas that need to be strengthened or updated, subject/genre-wise or in technical expertise
  • acquire new knowledge or reinforce previous learning, both useful professionally regardless of performance on the test
  • improve time management and organisational abilities (e.g. following instructions of the test brief, editing to style specified, labelling files as asked, meeting deadline agreed or completing the test in the set time)
  • account for some unconscious bias in recruitment processes, very useful if you fit any non-traditional/non-dominant label as an individual but also as a language user (you can have multiple first languages and choose to use only one of them in your editing career – the test eliminates having to justify ‘otherness’)
  • find (and get!) the next big gig or dream editing job
  • lay the ground for negotiating your next big raise or up your freelance fees.

Cons

Taking editing tests for potential clients does not:

  • guarantee work, particularly if passing the test is a route to getting on a freelance list of editors (catch-22 situation: those more experienced on the list will invariably get offered work more often/first; without getting on the list and getting work, you can’t become more experienced)
  • give the whole picture of your expertise or transferable abilities to the client (I picked the wrong file topic on a timed test once, and everything went downhill from there)
  • help imposter syndrome on a bad hair test day (we’ve all been there)
  • save time when you already have little to spare (test results can take a few days, weeks, or months even, a contract several more, and a first assignment even longer)
  • account for all bias, unconscious or otherwise (so you may not bag the job even if you do well on the test)
  • alleviate fear of failure.

I’m unlikely to overcome the panic of taking a test any time soon, especially those rotten timed ones. But for the joy of a flutter, I highly recommend taking them. You might just get hooked (and make a career as I have)!

Wrapping up: editing tests

Tests are used by organisations to assess a potential freelancer’s or employee’s editing or proofreading abilities. They can:

  • build self-confidence
  • highlight development needs
  • reduce the influence of unconscious bias
  • form the foundation of a successful business relationship.

Have you taken an editing or proofreading test? Or have you set one as a way to assess a freelancer’s abilities? Tell us more in the comments.

We’ll be sharing more members’ opinions in a future post.

About Ayesha Chari

Ayesha Chari is a sensitive academic and non-fiction editor, who (much to the amusement of both the driving instructor and her partner) was once terrified of taking a test for a UK driving licence despite having driven in India for a decade, but who passed both the theory and practical tests on the first attempt.

 

 

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: butterfly by Patrick Lockley; ferris wheel by Michael Parulava, both on Unsplash.

What resources does the CIEP offer?

The CIEP offers a wide range of support and professional development material on proofreading and copyediting. In this post the Institute’s information team summarises the resources available to our members and to the public.

Here’s what we’ll be looking at in this post.

  • CIEP resources
  • guides
  • fact sheets
  • focus papers
  • the CIEP blog
  • newsletters and
  • what’s coming up in 2021

CIEP resources

Our information team works with experienced editorial professionals and industry leaders to provide trusted advice and practical knowhow on working with English language texts. These range from tips on getting started, gleaned from practitioners’ years of experience, to the fine details of editorial markup and proofreading etiquette, plus insights into evolving usage and when to recognise it’s an ‘it depends’ situation rather than a rule of grammar.

Guides

Our guides provide a basic introduction to the various skills and knowledge needed to work as an editorial professional.

On 1 February 2021, we published a revised edition of the Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business guide, written by Sue Littleford. CIEP members also have access to the Going Solo Toolkit, which includes a suite of spreadsheet tools to keep track of business records.

 

Fact sheets

Fact sheets are brief introductions to a topic or issue related to practical aspects of editing or proofreading, or working as an editor or proofreader. They aren’t comprehensive but give tips related to the topic and a list of further resources.

Editors work on all kinds of text, from marketing materials, theses and reports to blogs and websites. However, a core area of work for many editors is still books, for print or online publication. All books are different, but many adhere to a standard basic structure. This helps the author and the publisher order the information, but more importantly it helps the reader navigate the finished book, making it a truly useful and accessible resource.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Anatomy of a book

As soon as you agree to take on work for a client, or to complete a task for a colleague, you are under an obligation to ensure the work is completed as agreed. But whether you are a business owner or an employee you will always have other tasks on your to-do list: juggling expectations and moving deadlines, managing yourself and others, chasing invoices and marketing your services, as well as coping with personal matters that may have an impact on your capacity to work. Do you have a plan for how to cope if disaster strikes?

MEMBER RESOURCE: Building a business resilience and disaster plan

Focus papers

Focus papers explore an aspect of the English language or editorial practice that:

  • challenges assumptions
  • offers a new perspective on, illuminates or addresses a problem
  • helps readers better understand the value of professional editing, either their own practice or as potential users of editorial services (or both!).

They are written by well-known and expert names in their field, including CIEP honorary president David Crystal, linguist Rob Drummond and editor Sarah Grey.

If only the whole world had a language in common, war could be avoided. Thatʼs what LL Zamenhof thought when he developed Esperanto in 1887. Esperanto wasnʼt meant to replace anyoneʼs home language, but it would create a common ground for people from different backgrounds. It would make communication easier and more direct, reducing the need for go-betweens like translators and interpreters.

FREE RESOURCE: In a globalised world, should we retain different Englishes? by Lynne Murphy

Serendipitously, just hours after the CIEP asked me to write about whom, an email landed in my inbox. It included this: ‘Patients whom have already received notification …’.

MEMBER RESOURCE: To whom it may concern, by Jeremy Butterfield

 

The CIEP blog

The CIEP blog aims to provide useful and entertaining articles for anyone interested in editing, proofreading, the English language, starting and managing an editorial business, and publishing more widely.

Like many freelancers, I was hit hard by the pandemic. 2020 started well enough, including a huge two-month project for a Commission. But in the week before we went into lockdown last March, I ran into deep trouble. First, as businesses battened down their financial hatches, all the projects I’d had booked in up to mid-June were cancelled by my clients.

Reviving my editorial business, by Louise Bolotin

There are some words I should think about before saying them. Instead, I mispronounce with confidence and blasé out people’s corrections: ‘If-eat? Are you sure? All my French friends rhyme effete with tête.’ (The friends I have yet to make.) There are other words that I rehearse before sharing aloud, such as conscious and conscience. But present me with a dot dot dot and I dither between ellipsis and ellipses. It makes me sound like I don’t really know what it is or they are.

A Finer Point: Read my ellipsis, by Riffat Yusuf

Newsletters

We produce two bi-monthly newsletters: The Edit for members, and Editorial Excellence for anyone who wishes to subscribe. Both highlight new resources and blog posts on a particular topic or theme.

Coming in 2021 …

And there’s more to come … In 2021 we hope to publish guides on punctuation, editing recipes and cookbooks, working with self-publishers and editing scientific research articles. There will be fact sheets on well-being, software for editing and proofreading, and fact checking, and focus papers by Tom Shakespeare, Stan Carey and other well-known names. No doubt the wise owls will appear more than once on the blog, alongside articles about Plain English in fiction and sub-editing.

Wrapping up: CIEP resources

Now you know what CIEP resources are available, have a look at the ones that are relevant to you. Don’t forget:

  • You can download free fact sheets and focus papers (and even more if you are a CIEP member).
  • Guides provide handy introductions to the skills and knowledge needed to work as an editorial professional.
  • The CIEP blog is updated with new content regularly.

Which CIEP resource has been most useful to you so far? Which one are you planning to read next? Let us know in the comments. If you don’t already receive our Editorial Excellence newsletter, click on the button below to subscribe.

I’D LIKE THE NEWSLETTER

About the CIEP information team

Abi Saffrey, Liz Jones, Margaret Hunter, Cathy Tingle

Liz Jones, Abi Saffrey and Cathy Tingle are the CIEP’s information commissioning editors. If there’s a topic that you think could be covered in a blog post, fact sheet, focus paper or guide, drop the team a line at infoteam@ciep.uk.

 

 

 

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 credit: man reading by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

 

A Finer Point: Passive aggressive

By Riffat Yusuf

Dear Readability,

Regarding your recent suggestion that my blog post might be improved by incorporating more active-voice sentences, your anti-passive bias is noted. Your call to action is uncalled for and, furthermore, I take issue with issue is taken by me with the contention that the pace of your reading is hampered by passive sentences.

PS Plain-English guidelines are exempt from all assertions and absurdities expressed above and below this line.

PPS I’m actively glaring at you, WordPress.

When the internet eventually ditches keywords for ranking purposes (I mean, keep them but don’t make content writers sweat over their optimal placement), can somebody please tweak readability formulas? That anti-verbosity algorithm which says wordiness in a sentence starts at 20 words: it needs sorting. And as for the gizmo screening for long words (two or more syllables), does a word as long as the longest word in this sentence really encumber readability? But where my gripe is majorly piqued is when WordPress sequesters my passive voice.

Voices and verbs

In grammar, ‘voice’ tells us about the relationship between the subject and the verb in a clause. If a subject is doing, carrying out or expressing a verb, the voice of that clause is active (I play football).

When the object of an erstwhile active clause takes on the role of the subject, we say the voice is passive (football is played by me). In a passive clause, we can also remove the preposition (by) and the agent (me).

The passive voice is not a tense; it can happen in the past and the present. The passive may be described as a construction or a clause, but not a verb, as June Casagrande explains in The Joy of Syntax.

There’s no denying that some verbs are less action-oriented than others. But passive and active voice in grammar have nothing to do with kinetics. Instead, voice has to do with the structure of the sentence.

Active and passive are the two official voices of English sentence structure. A third is expleted when Flesch metrics deem that of the sentences I write (in an article about passive sentences) only 10 per cent may be expressed passively. A fourth is muttered when writing experts tell me that in almost every genre, it’s easier to read a sentence where a subject actively verbs an object.

An active voice, it is said, lends itself well to informality, spontaneity, fluidity, immediacy, intimacy and, basically, whatever fusty isn’t. Listen, active voicers, you hog most of the writing space online and, if amplification for your writing style were needed, you have an ally in George Orwell’s oft-echoed one-liner in Politics and the English Language (an essay that fails readability checks with its 20 per cent passive clause saturation). What say we hear it for the passive voice?

Passive resistance

We can identify a passive clause by its form: subject + auxiliary (be or get) + past participle. That said, perhaps this accepted structure needs rethinking. (Geoffrey Pullum, I did that just for you.)

If you’ve read Fear and Loathing of the English Passive, you’ll know that a bare passive (‘that said’) doesn’t take an auxiliary verb, and a concealed passive (‘needs rethinking’) uses a gerund-participle; these phrases don’t align with the conventional structure, do they? So if the form of the passive voice isn’t as rigid as we have been taught, perhaps our understanding of what happens in a passive clause also needs revisiting.

I have read 23 explanations of the role played by each element in a passive clause. All the grammar bloggers concur that a passive subject is the recipient of the action of a verb. Pullum, who has unpacked considerably more of ‘the thousands of mutually plagiarizing bad descriptions of the passive construction’, finds that talking about a verb in terms of receipt and delivery isn’t always accurate. Not all passive subjects receive action in the way we might think.

If I were to say: ‘it is alleged by writers that passive sentences are clunky’, Pullum would point out that there isn’t actually any action being received by the dummy pronoun in my sentence. And again, in a passive construction such as ‘not much is known about …’, can we really say that the determiner (not much) receives the action of the verb?

When rules are excepted

There is a difference between the passive and the past simple: the phrase ‘there is’ isn’t it. No such distinction is made in this BBC style advice.

The active voice will help to give your scripts some vitality and life. It can also make a weak sentence more emphatic and give it greater impact. Compare these examples. The first is in the passive; the second active:

There were riots in several towns in Northern England last night, in which police clashed with stone-throwing youths.

Youths throwing stones clashed with police during riots in several towns in Northern England last night.

The subject of an active clause doesn’t always make a good agent. The active-to-passive process requires a little more input than switching places. If you want to flip from active voice to passive, watch out for semantic inequivalence in sentences using a negative verb.

Many people don’t speak English.

English is not spoken by many people.

That ‘rule’ about intransitive verbs not forming the passive … To a point, fair enough: ‘Jane laughs’ doesn’t invert well (‘is laughed Jane’). But as soon as she is supplied with a suitable preposition and indirect object, everybody can be laughed at by Jane. However, very few grammar blogs warn that not all transitive verbs can be passivised. They rarely highlight glitchy verbs like ‘concern’ and ‘have’.

The report concerns people I know.

People I know are concerned by the report.

You have a lovely garden.

A lovely garden is had by you.

It’s not you

Readability, I have to come clean. My passive apologia is a temporary affectation; I was beguiled by the silver-tongued deliberations of eminent linguists. Can you blame me for wanting in on Pullum’s ‘transformational generative syntactic discussions’? If you must know, the thing I like most about the passive is the word itself – the etymologically unsound lovechild of pacifist and passionate. Culpa mostly mea for this transgression, but if you’d only met me halfway I might have parsed less (ugh, those phrase markers!) and written better.

What you really need, Readability, is to collaborate with writers. Take the time to ask what the purpose and audience of our work is. Very few of us have anything original to say online – or anywhere. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t write, but that you could help us by delving into our motives a bit more and scoring us accordingly. Instead of marking us down with your amber and red bullets, perhaps give the reader a little pop-up: ‘This entire article is premised on a note about the passive form in Middle English that the writer chanced upon in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.’

I think I’m onto something. What if we had dilly-dally software to flag up waffle? Imagine a prompt for word accountability: an onscreen comment or query for every instance where you didn’t write what you said you would in your intro. And let’s also develop a plugin for specious content: your research is commendable, but five non-recoupable hours yield neither space nor soul for ‘inchoative and ergative aspects’ in the body of this text. Let’s see if we can’t hatch a David Crystal-shaped macro for every time anybody writes anything.

Leave it with me for now, Readability. I can really see a future in developing a ream of text-enhancement features that AI fails to deliver. I’m not sure if I should pitch to Dragon’s Den or JSTOR, but I do know that everything will make a lot more sense after it’s been checked, clarified, modified, rephrased, refined and approved by my editor.

Riffat Yusuf is a West London-based proofreader and copyeditor, and a content editor for a small structural engineering company. She has been editing since 2018, and before that she taught ESOL for 10 years and brought up her family. In the dim and distant past she was employed in journalism, radio and television. In the future, she’d like to work on ELT resources.

 


Photo credits: pencil on paper by Jan Kahánek; laughter by Hannah Gullixson, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Forum matters: Spring-cleaning refreshers

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

Any mention of spring cleaning immediately brings to mind the opening to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows:

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home … till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms … It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said … “Hang spring-cleaning!” and bolted out of the house …, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

You know you have to think about CPD, updating websites and social media, and tightening up your business information, but it can make you feel a bit Mole-like, all dusty and achy. Thankfully, the great, green meadow of the CIEP forums is there to roll in and refresh yourself!

In ‘Structuring the Dayʼ members share helpful approaches to brushing up yourself and your business that look at time management, preventing the making of lists taking over from the doing of what’s on them, making sure you take account of you, helpful ways to prioritise – along with the usual smattering of technical tips.

Many an inner Mole is revealed across the forums, including in the supportive local groups, as members urge each other to go outside. One of the most enjoyable threads is in the Off topic forum. ‘Wildlife distraction of the dayʼ shares sightings and photos of birds, insects, reptiles and even of ‘cereal-eating, wifi-connected, human-like creatures’. Springwatch, eat your heart out.

Refreshing your business

Once you’ve decided to burrow away, then a quick search of the forums (using five-plus letters!) yields some helpful dustpans, brushes and dusters.

In ‘Free article limit for online newspapersʼ several editors shared workarounds to keep searching for online articles from the same publication when checking an author’s citations.

Has LinkedIn messaging gone premium?ʼ revealed how many members had received a ‘problem’ message on trying to message a new contact, but had then re-enabled messaging those connections on LinkedIn – without going Premium.

For the independently minded, ‘Callout boxesʼ talked about recolouring your proofreading comments in Adobe Acrobat – at the same time reminding members of forum protocol that discourages discussion of course exercises outside official areas.

For those who work on client websites, there are a few thoughts on accessing a client’s WordPress website admin pages as a warning to the uninitiated. Nice that the client sorted it out pretty quickly. Also on the website theme, there are some motivational pointers to help you polish up your SEO.

Refreshing yourself

Of course, spring cleaning is about putting the sparkle back on what you already have, not necessarily about replacing with the new, which is where the forum archives can be a great resource. So keep seeing the shine using tips from ‘Eye strain – new setup needed?ʼ It might be an old thread (2015) but the suggestions are still good:

  • from Janet MacMillan’s emphatic advice to get your eyes checked – ‘an editor pal of mine was experiencing eye strain and eyesight issues and by going to the ophthalmologist forthwith, she saved her sight, and probably her life’
  • through Lisa Cordaro’s thoughts on lens coatings, ambient lighting, frequent screen breaks, ‘And finally, don’t do long days at your VDU. Bad for the eyes and general health!’
  • and very much in the spring-cleaning vein, Ceri Warner’s ‘have you tried adjusting the lighting in the room where you are working? I’ve got my monitor with its back to a window, which I found was very tiring for my eyes, so at the moment I’ve got thin curtains across the window but I do need to rearrange the room when I get a chance.’

The topic was revisited in 2020 in ‘How do you protect your eyes?ʼ and ‘Question about visual migrainesʼ.

CIEP members are great at highlighting helpful links that take you outside the forums – for instance, to John Espirian’s contribution on Louise Harnby’s blog following some chat about using two screens.

If you need to refresh your work interface because of RSI, then ‘Hands-free editing?ʼ offers some thoughts on speech recognition software as a new approach.

The forum moderators hope that, like Mole, you’ll be ‘bewitched, entranced, fascinated’ by the flow of forum threads and that they will help to keep you happy and motivated at spring-cleaning time.

 

Photo credits: mole by Tabble on Pixabay; crocuses by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Flying solo: Turn hindsight into foresight with checklists

In this new column, Sue Littleford looks at running an editorial business and how to make things more efficient and effective.

Checklists. Write them for your processes, use them consciously and keep them updated. Don’t try to make one checklist work for every type of job.

I could stop there, but we’re learning that the active use of checklists is a gamechanger in avoiding mistakes. The World Health Organization published the lifesaving (or merely inconvenience-saving) results of using checklists in 2008. In 2009, one of the drivers behind the checklist movement in medicine, Atul Gawande, published The Checklist Manifesto. Malcolm Gladwell is a fan. Also in 2009, Apollo astronauts called checklists their ‘fourth crewmember’. In 2019, Scotland reported that, since introducing checklists in 2008, surgical mortality rates had fallen by 37%. Checklists have been applied to air safety since the 1930s with great results.

Lives have been saved, money has been saved, time has been saved, reputations have been saved. What’s not to like?

Checklists help in three ways

  1. You need to think through your processes. Once you see them laid out in front of you, look for gaps and replication, and streamline your systems. That’s an immediate efficiency gain on every single job you do.
  2. They keep you focused. Don’t just glance down a checklist you’ve used a gazillion times and say to yourself, ‘Yeah, that looks OK, I’ve probably done everything’. Pay attention as you work through the list, and tick off each item deliberately. (Like exercise equipment, it doesn’t work if it stays in the box.)
  3. They reduce cognitive overload and anxiety. No need to rely on memory for all the steps, nor to worry you’ve missed one.

You could cover your processes for:

  • taking in a new job and setting up your skeleton records
  • communicating with others
  • doing the initial clean-up
  • converting US to UK English
  • maintaining adherence to the client’s style
  • maintaining consistency between chapters
  • final checks and polishing
  • handover and invoicing.

I’m sure you’ll think of more, relevant to your own practice.

Tailor your checklists to suit each client and their workflow, and each type of job. A proofreading checklist will look very different from a copyediting checklist, which will look very different from a manuscript critique checklist.

The cardinal error is to aim for one big checklist to cover everything. That’s a bad idea for two reasons:

  • you simply can’t cover everything. The unexpected happens, the novel happens; and
  • long checklists are confusing and difficult to follow. They become wearisome and self-defeating.

Instead, have a separate, short checklist for each part of a job.

What a checklist is not

It’s not a list of instructions. It doesn’t contain the detail of how you do your job. It doesn’t remove your autonomy (after all, it’s your checklist and you can change it). It’s also not your first attempt – you will find you need to refine it quite a bit, initially, as you figure out what you need to be reminded about to work well and consistently, as well as what you never forget, and therefore don’t need to include.

What a checklist is

It’s a set of reminders to do the stuff that would make you look stupid if you missed it, and to do the stuff you find you often forget, even though you know you should always do it. It’s your failsafe. And it’s a timesaver, as you work efficiently consistently.

What a good checklist is

It’s a practical, precise, brief and unambiguous reminder of the essential steps you need to take. It underlines your priorities, it stops you forgetting the important stuff in a moment of inattention and it makes you look good to your client or boss.

The big secret: checklists go out of date

I have a client that I’ve worked with for several years, starting out on books and then becoming the sole copyeditor for a journal. I could use the same checklist for both, right? Same publisher? Every time, I sighed heavily about bits of the checklist that were irrelevant, and about the extra bits I needed to remember to check, different for the journal and books. Then the publisher updated their style guide – about a fifth of the checklist was defunct.

Finally, I decided it was time to review the checklists I use most often. I realised that the core of my final-checks checklist had stayed essentially unchanged for about ten years. Ouch. What I’d needed to spell out for myself back then, now only needed a short reminder or could be omitted altogether.

I’d been dotting about the checklist because the flow was no longer logical now I’d matured as a copyeditor. If you’re jumping around your checklist, it’s no longer methodical; it’s an accident waiting to happen.

A checklist for checklists

1. Document your processes

  • List out what you do for each stage of each type of job and for each client.
  • Do you tackle these tasks in the most efficient and logical order? Shunt things around until the sequence is right.

2. Write a checklist that’s no more than one page long

  • If it’s longer, ask yourself why. Are you trying to write an end-to-end checklist? Stop! Short checklists work better than long ones. Don’t include details.
  • Write the checklist as bullet points, and use the empty checkbox symbol as the bullet (I like Wingdings character codes 113, 109 and 114. In Word, Insert tab > Symbols > Font > Wingdings > Character code).
  • Or set out the checklist as a table. I do that if I have to change a bunch of chapters from US to UK English, for example, with the chapters as the rows and each feature that needs attention as the columns.
  • Print out the checklist to use it. Physically tick things off as you complete each task. Your eye is less likely to betray you than working down an onscreen list, but if you’re really trying to reduce your use of paper, use highlighting or set up checkbox content controls in each list to ensure you miss nothing.

3. Set up each checklist as a template

  • As you start each job, open the final-checks checklist you’ll be using and save it specifically for that job. As you work on the text, add to the checklist any tailored checks you need to make at the end of the work – author’s tics, layout issues, anything at all that will add to the accuracy of the finished job.

4. Keep the checklist fresh to your eyes

  • It’s easy to stop paying attention to something you see all the time. To stop your checklists from becoming wallpaper, change the typeface every few uses.

5. Review your checklists

  • How well did the job you just finished go?
  • Were there any catches made at the last moment that could usefully be added to a checklist?
  • How well did the checklists support each aspect of the job? Has this client changed their style or requirements?
  • As you become more experienced, can your checklist be condensed?
  • Have you started using a new tool that should be added to a checklist – a new macro, perhaps?

6. Review your processes

  • You’re not standing still: with every job you gain experience and increase your competence. Review your processes periodically to check whether you’re being as efficient as you can – diarise reminders to do this, or maybe add it as the final item in the last checklist for any given job.
  • Review constantly: be alert to your weak spots. What does your eye tend to glide past? What tasks do you like least and may be inclined to skip or rush? What feedback have clients given you?

Thoughtfully crafted and well-maintained checklists turn hindsight into foresight. And that’s invaluable.

Sue LittlefordSue 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. Before that, she had been the payroll manager for a major government department for some 14 years. Her whole career had been markedly numbers based – both in central government and in the private sector – even though she became the go-to wordsmith everywhere she worked. She eventually switched to words full-time, transferring her skills and experience to hone her business efficiency and effectiveness.


Photo credit: hand-written checklist by StockSnap, both on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

CIEP social media round-up: December 2020 and January 2021

December and January were all about giveaways, grammar, goals and good dogs.

December saw the launch of our first holiday calendar campaign, which offered daily giveaways and time-limited discounts on CIEP fact sheets, focus papers, courses, guides, articles and conference-session videos. The promotion was a big hit within the global editing community and drew attention to the huge bank of valuable content offered by the CIEP.

In January, we began testing Facebook ads and commissioned a social media consultant with expertise in delivering these to targeted audiences. A three-month-long campaign featuring our Word for Practical Editing course will run until early April 2021.

We also reposted links to older but still relevant problem-solving CIEP blog posts about customer service, punctuation, word counts, multi-lingual editing, editing technical materials, plain English, editor websites, editing scams, being a young editor, business content, keeping fit and being a freelance introvert.

My grammar and your grammar, sitting by the fire

The CIEP has a new Getting to Grips with Grammar and Punctuation course, and during December and January grammar, punctuation and language usage featured prominently in our curated content, from an adverb quiz to whether it’s acceptable to say ‘try and’, the order of adjectives, the prefix un-, the word ‘multiple’, the dative pronoun ‘methinks’ and if it’s wrong to say ‘from whence’, as ‘whence’ means ‘from what place, source or cause’. This kicked off its own debate, as we suggested ‘this ever-changing world in which we live in’ was a similar example of superfluity in language and asked if anyone could name the song ‘from whence’ these lyrics came. A number of followers and friends suggested that the right words (from ‘Live and Let Die’) were ‘this ever-changing world in which we’re livin’’, which sent us down an internet rabbit hole via Stan Carey at the Macmillan Dictionary Blog to an interview with Sir Paul McCartney himself. After all that, it turns out Sir Paul wasn’t sure of the lyrics, either.

Goodbye 2020, hello 2021

As it was the end of one year and the beginning of the next, there was a certain amount of looking back and looking forward, plus a festive article on what you should read based on your favourite Quality Street. Well worth a read at any time of the year, although it might make you hungry. We celebrated 2020’s incredible book sales (an article that got 118 likes on Facebook, the equivalent of a hearty round of applause), concentrated on setting goals for 2021, were inspired by small professional editor groups, and looked to start our own editorial blogs.

What’s in a name?

Near the beginning of December we posted a story about a set of Isaac Newton’s notes, sold for auction at £378,000, that was almost destroyed by fire when his dog, Diamond, jumped up on the table and upset a candle. Obviously our first thought was ‘what an excellent name for a dog’. As is Smurf, the starring example of a CMOS article on commas and appositives. Should you write ‘your dog Smurf’ or ‘your dog, Smurf’? It depends on whether Smurf is your only dog; if so, use the comma. This set us thinking: if Smurf isn’t your only dog, what would your others be called? Moomin, Kermit and Simba, perhaps. And in fact, Simba featured in an article in Dictionary.com about where the world’s most popular pet names come from. But not everyone wants to go mainstream, and the beauty of pet naming is that you can use a word hardly anyone has heard of like, say, sporange (the botanical structure that creates spores), which is remarkable for being the only word in the English language that rhymes with orange. Pretty distinctive. Although yelling it across your local park might be more distinctiveness than you’d be comfortable with.


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Photo credits: silver reactions by George Pagan III on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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