Author Archives: Abi Saffrey

Stay alert: the importance of plain English in these confusing times

By Claire Beveridge

Presenting scientific data or science-based guidelines can be like walking a tightrope. Lean too far to one side and you risk falling into the trap of using too much jargon and alienating your readers. Shift too much the other way and your message becomes vague and confusing. You need look no further than the messaging from the UK Government for an example of this delicate balancing act. Their initial message ‘Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives’ was simple, direct and clearly conveyed what everyone was supposed to do. Contrast this with its successor ‘Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives’, which was almost immediately met with confusion and parodies on social media such as ‘Be vague. Cover our backs. Shirk responsibility’. What exactly did ‘stay alert’ mean, and what could and couldn’t we do? If only they had used plainer English.

Communication of scientific and medical information is most effective when things are written clearly and simply. Scientific literacy among the general population has been reported to be decreasing, and bad writing that is too complicated makes it increasingly difficult for non-scientists to engage. Add in the pandemic of ‘fake news’ that constantly seems to swirl online and you have a dangerous mix. A BBC team recently reported that the human cost of coronavirus misinformation has included assaults, arson and death, with hundreds dying in Iran as a result of alcohol poisoning following rumours of its curative effects, and others ingesting disinfectant and even fish tank cleaner following some of the daily pronouncements by Donald Trump. The stakes could not be higher. If important information isn’t communicated in a way that people understand, the result can be the unnecessary loss of life.

The ‘dihydrogen monoxide parody’ is a classic example of how using unnecessarily complicated scientific terms and selectively reporting data can lead people to reach misplaced conclusions. It has been deployed several times, and involves water being called by an unfamiliar chemical name and members of the public being presented with a list of its well-known effects that make it sound dangerous (such as that it is used as an additive in junk foods, it is found in tumours of terminal cancer patients and it is the major component of acid rain), followed by people being urged to ‘sign here to join the campaign for it to be banned’.

Science, by its very nature, is full of questions that cannot be answered without an element of doubt. Even if someone can get the same result when they repeat an experiment, it doesn’t ‘prove’ that something is or isn’t true. Results are simply pieces of evidence that support (or refute) a theory; ‘all scientific knowledge is tentative and provisional, and nothing is final’ (Kanazawa, 2008). Understandably, this can be a hard concept to grasp, and frustration and mistrust can arise if people feel that they are not being given a ‘proper’ answer. When will we have a vaccine against COVID-19? When will our lives go back to the way they were before the pandemic? No mathematical model can accurately predict the answers to these questions because we have never experienced this situation before. Even if we had, there would be no guarantee that the situation would play out in exactly the same way again; there are simply too many factors involved. When presenting data, writers need to consider people’s expectations and be honest about what is and isn’t known, and why.

The use of plain English is also important when scientists write for other scientists. It is a golden rule of scientific writing that methods must be described so that someone else can repeat experiments, and it is best practice to aim the abstract of a research paper at a level suitable for a non-specialist graduate student. More importantly, English is the global language of science and writers must always remember that many of their readers will not be native English speakers. Reading research papers that are crammed full of acronyms and complicated terminology can feel like wading through treacle, even when the writer works in the same field as you. Imagine how this must feel if English is not your first language. When results and guidelines are published, they are shared globally to spread ideas and new findings as widely as possible, and hopefully stimulate new ideas and collaborations across different disciplines that will advance our understanding. This cannot happen if only experts in a specific field can decode what is being said. Writing in plain English both speeds up the process of sharing new knowledge and increases the chances of new and exciting discoveries being made, something that is particularly useful when confronting a global pandemic caused by a virus that has never been seen before.

Clear communication in these confusing times may also yield another benefit; increasing engagement with science and medicine holds the key to inspiring the next generation of researchers, which will hopefully increase the numbers entering the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Data from STEM Women show that the split between men and women in terms of studying STEM subjects at university and then going on to pursue a career in STEM is still far from equal. We have a golden opportunity to readjust this balance if we can clearly communicate just how fascinating and rewarding scientific and medical research can be.

I have seen a lot of posts online musing over whether COVID-19 will change the way we live and work forever. If we can increase our use of plain English when communicating scientific data and guidelines, one positive change may be increased engagement.

Claire Beveridge is a CIEP Advanced Professional Member specialising in medicine and the biological sciences. Based near Oxford, she has over 13 years’ experience working with publishers and individual researchers. She has recently developed a worrying fascination with personal finance. Find her on Twitter.

 


If you’re looking for an experienced editor skilled in plain English editing, search for ‘plain English’ in the CIEP Directory.


Photo credits: tightrope by Loic Leray; clear water by Rots Marie-Hélène, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: pandemic preparation

We’ve all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked our parliament of wise owls what they wish they had known or done – in a business context – before the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown hit.

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson

For various reasons, in December/January I didn’t send out my usual ‘Season’s greetings’ newsletter to my clients and colleagues. Then in the first couple of months of 2020 I was too busy to do it (catching up from the things that had delayed me in late 2019). At the end of February I finally had time to write a blog post about my recent situation (it’s up on my website, with a rather unfortunate title, given what has happened since) and left it there for a few days while I put together a short ‘Belated greetings’ newsletter in Mailchimp to send to my contacts list.

But I was keeping a close eye on the news and, as some of my clients were in the countries that went into lockdown before we did, I never sent it.

It doesn’t seem right to send it now, so I’m going to have to wait a few more months and instead of sending a round robin, I think I will send something more individual to each person, especially as some of the recipients may no longer be working. Now is definitely not the time for cheery ‘I’m still here’ emails, I feel.

Moral of the story: don’t leave your marketing to chance!

Liz Jones

When the pandemic hit I’d managed to build up some savings, which are partly ringfenced for tax, but as the payment on account due in July can be deferred this gives me a bit of a buffer if I need it. Even more savings would have been better, however, and I plan to continue to spend less after the lockdown eases, and put away more contingency money in future. I would always advise not being dependent on one particular client for your income, to spread the risk (and it can also jeopardise self-employed status) – and having clients in different sectors is also a good idea, if possible. My tendency is always to fear the worst and try to plan far in advance to mitigate things. I had sleepless nights over the possible impact of the virus on my business back in January, so I wasn’t surprised by the severity of what’s happened or is still happening now. I do have less work than usual, but after a period of coming to terms with things I’m now actively seeking out new work and also investing in training. Despite all this advice, I think it’s important to acknowledge that this is beyond what many of us can plan for in many ways – and in my opinion, part of dealing with it is accepting that.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

In most ways, the pandemic has affected me little. I have no dependents, no home-schooling to do, no elderly to fret about. I’m used to living alone, and working from home. I already shopped online for all my groceries. I have a spread of clients that still want to engage me. So I’ve been able to continue with work uninterrupted, it would seem. But no! Lesson one: don’t rely on any one client for an undue portion of your income. One exceptionally well-paying, solid-as-a-rock client is now hit so hard by COVID-19 that, for the first time in nearly 40 years, they’re not going to be producing their flagship annual report. A salutary reminder not to let my client base become unbalanced. Lesson two: unusual times have unusual impacts. Although I’m fine about isolation, I’m not used to having to be isolated. My mood is generally fine, but my ability to concentrate has taken a real hit. Clearly I don’t like being told what to do! I have days when I. Just. Can’t. Even. I know enough to take it gently, put it down to the zeitgeist and crack on when I can focus again. But I thought I’d be immune to that, and it’s an eyeopener to find out I can’t think myself out of how I feel. I’m meeting deadlines, but I have learned that I really need to ensure I take good care of me in order to take care of my business.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t think I could ever have foreseen such a massive upheaval to my business, and my life generally. Most of my planning for interruption is geared around a savings cushion and backing up my files regularly so I don’t lose anything. And I’d assumed personal illness would be the most likely disruptor rather than a pandemic (although I’ve not yet had COVID-19, as far as I can tell). I could never have predicted that within the space of five days my clients would have cancelled every single booking I had through to June, and I’m not alone in losing so much business. Do I wish I had bought a business disruption insurance policy? Not really. It seems many insurers are refusing to pay out on the grounds that the COVID-19 pandemic counts as force majeure or some other convenient interpretation of the small print, so I’m glad I saved the cost of the premiums.

I’ve used the downtime to invest in some CPD, but I wish I’d done it 18 months ago when I first decided I should do the course – it would have given me a broader client base and possibly kept me in work for those first critical weeks. I also wish I was already the owner of a webcam – as work-related stuff moved online, such as networking meetings, I was at a huge disadvantage. Webcams had sold out everywhere and it took me a month to obtain an affordable one. And I wish I already owned a set of hair clippers – lockdown hair on Zoom is not a good look and I’ve still not managed to buy any because, guess what, they too are sold out! Work is slowly starting to return to me, but if I’ve learned one thing it is that no matter how well you might think you have prepared for disruption it is unlikely ever to be enough if a pandemic strikes. But you can use this one to prepare for the next one. Because there will be a next one.

Hazel Bird

To an extent, for me COVID-19 has just amplified or accelerated issues I was already facing in my business. I decided a while back that I was relying too much on one big client, so I’ve spent the past few years deliberately diversifying my client base. I’m glad to have made that effort, because different sectors seem to have been affected differently by the crisis. Whereas most of my work for charities has been put on indefinite hold and a medical book is delayed while its authors focus on rather more important frontline work, business and academic clients have been more fruitful. It seems likely that things will continue to be volatile for some time, so it can help to have as many potential sources of work as possible.

One thing I do wish I’d put in place before the crisis is a pot of money specifically dedicated to training – a sort of ‘in emergency break here’ fund. I’d already determined that I’d do at least two major pieces of CPD this year – the CIEP conference and the PRINCE2 exams – but had assumed I’d have cashflow ready to pay for them when the time came. The conference is no longer going ahead,* but the prospect of a reduced workload seems to make PRINCE2 all the more logical as a target for this year. I still hope to do the exams, but a ringfenced fund might have taken some pressure off.

Mike FaulknerMichael Faulkner

Life in lockdown hasn’t been all that different, either professionally or personally. In the case of the former, I suppose this is because most of us work in our little bunkers from home in any case; and the latter, because we live in a fairly remote part of Argyll and feel somewhat isolated – we tell people we have been self-isolating for five years …

However, there is one weakness in terms of my work portfolio that the COVID-19 crisis has brought to light. A large part of my work is for either law publishers or independent novelists, and because the rate for the independents is a little higher, I have tended to refuse or pass on more of the legal stuff in the past. This has worked well but in common with a few others who do a lot of fiction, I found, rather counter-intuitively, that enquiries from self-publishers went down rather than up during lockdown. I’d be interested to hear from others why they think this should be – perhaps there will be a tsunami of enquiries a month or two down the line when the fruits of all these ghettoed scribblers’ labours see the light of day.

Whatever, I am going to make a conscious effort to maintain a more even balance in the future!


* We hope that there will be a virtual CIEP conference this year.

The wise owls pop up on the blog every couple of months to reflect on their experiences on various topics. All are Advanced Professional Members of the CIEP.


Photo credit: wrupcich on Pixabay.

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Relative density: kids and coping in the time of COVID-19

By Cathy Tingle

It’s Tuesday. I was supposed to write this blog yesterday. According to our COVID-19 routine, on Mondays my husband runs ‘school’ for my two children, aged 7 and 9. But yesterday the kids were particularly restless. They didn’t want to do the tasks set by their teachers. The younger one kept interrupting me in my ‘office’ (bedroom). There was a lot of shrieking as they chased each other around the house. Add to that the summons to buy our possessions back at their ‘shop’ (I couldn’t miss that: there was an iPad going for 45p), a surprise Zoom meeting for my husband, and some complicated new logging-on process for online school followed by my son sending his friends excited greetings (which had to be typed, finger by finger, on my laptop), and my day was pretty much shot to pieces as far as writing was concerned.

Hello again, old routines

We parents are used to the feeling that our best-laid work plans are precarious. You might be halfway through editing a chapter and the school phones to say your daughter has a tummy ache and can she be collected. You could plan an evening of proofreading but your son decides now is the time to find getting to sleep difficult. It goes with the territory.

But this prolonged uncertainty about when we can work is new for most. Or, rather, it’s a revisiting of something many of us experienced when our kids were tiny. In a recent CIEP forum thread about parenting, members described a common pattern. As a newish parent, to find time to work you rely on nap times, evenings and weekends (the last if there’s a partner or other co-carer to share the load). A little way along the line you can then add the hours that playgroups and nurseries might give you (sometimes only a couple of mornings a week, but it’s something). CIEP members reported having to take laptops or study books on family holidays.

The long and winding quest for productivity

Then, one blessed day, they get to school. Once you’ve got over the surprise that a day at primary school isn’t actually as long as you thought, and realised your most productive times of the day are not during those six hours (one of our editors only really hits her stride at 2.30pm – she has to leave the house to fetch the kids at 3pm), you get the high school years. The kids can at least find their way to school and back, but transporting them to extracurricular activities might take time. And at home? ‘The younger one [14] does seem to feel the need to talk to me about random things when I’m trying to work’, one of our editors reported. Another, whose children have now left home, comments: ‘What I learnt was that a 5-second question requiring only yes or no would cost me 10 to 15 minutes’ work. That was how long it took before I had everything back in my head.’ Bear this in mind when you’re thinking, during these lockdown days, ‘My teenagers don’t require a lot of attention. Why on earth aren’t I more productive?’

So, while we’re required to use ‘school’ hours to educate our children ourselves, many of us are grabbing evening work, weekend work, first-thing-in-the-morning work, as we did in the early years, and as many of us still do in the school holidays. One CIEP member with three children starts working at 5.30am; another uses the hour before the family stirs to answer emails and prioritise her day’s work to avoid stress later. Sometimes there is a tag-team within the parent unit, with one parent covering mornings, the other afternoons, or, if the other parent lives somewhere else, with children going away for a couple of days or more each week. If all else fails, we’re sitting with everyone else with our laptops, snatching ten minutes here and there.

No answers, just a few tips

Many people choose to become freelance precisely because of the flexibility it offers when you have a family. But many editing and proofreading parents are finding lockdown difficult, and it’s not the bare fact of spending more time with our children that’s making us feel like this – of course not. We love them. It’s the pressure of balancing working and caring that’s the problem. If we get paid by the project and don’t have time to complete projects, or we’re paid by the hour and our hours are vastly reduced, how’s that going to work out? It’s worrying, and we don’t have any clear answers, apart from to investigate any government support for self-employed people during this crisis. But here are a few tips for negotiating work and life right now.

  • If you have work, make sure your clients know your situation. Many of them will be in the same boat and will understand, but at the very least it removes the terrifying feeling that you have absolutely no wiggle room on your projects. You might not need to ask for extra time, but knowing you could in an emergency helps everyone.
  • This isn’t the time to be aiming high, so don’t put pressure on yourself to be marketing or rebuilding your website. Don’t listen to those people who talk about achieving great things in lockdown. The achievement level you should be aiming for is ‘coping’.
  • Easier said than done, but if you can, separate work and caring for your children. We often feel we do neither very well, but trying to do them concurrently just confirms this feeling.
  • If you do get a quiet few moments while they’re doing their maths worksheet or drawing a flower, tackle those mundane tasks that might help your business. Personally, I’m deleting old emails. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for forever and it will be useful once we’re all up and running again not to have (cough) 45,958 unread messages in my inbox.
  • Screens aren’t the enemy. From the BBC Bitesize educational programmes to the fantastic Horrible Histories and Operation Ouch!, telly can educate, entertain and buy you some valuable time, and there are a wealth of online museum tours, story readings, science demonstrations and language tutorials too. It doesn’t need to be highbrow – kids will find educational opportunities in most things. When I sought reassurance that there were educational benefits to the Captain Underpants Movie, another CIEP member testified that her son had gained three things from it: an enthusiasm for writing comic books; an introduction to classical music; and an ability to execute armpit farts. All of which will be invaluable when filling in his UCAS form, I’m sure you’ll agree.
  • Take that #StetWalk, as we say in the editing world. Get out for your daily exercise with your child(ren), whether you feel like it or not. It will do everyone good, and the break from work may mean you’re more productive this evening when things are quieter.
  • When you do try to work, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t concentrate very well. This is a completely natural reaction to everything going on in the world, and something that was reported by a number of CIEP members.
  • It might be that we can accomplish more together than apart right now. Reach out to others you could team up with. One member says that one of the lessons she has learned over many years is that ‘some of the most valuable things I do in my business are not done alone; they’re shared’.
  • Sneak off now and then. Not out of your front gate: to the kitchen, or the garden, or into your own choice of fiction, or a podcast. Too often I find myself retreating to Twitter, and that ends up being far from a moment of peace. Find other ways to escape, if you can.
  • As you’ll all be living under the same roof in these conditions for some time yet, try to focus on what matters. As one member says: ‘being extra kind is more important than ever, and remembering that it really, really doesn’t matter whether they learn their grammar or long division is helpful’. Another says: ‘Every single night that your little one goes to bed fed, warm, well, and loved is not failing, whatever else might be going on. Be kinder to yourself.’
  • Get them involved in what you’re doing, if you think it will interest them. My kids have helped me find the pictures for this blog, and for the first time ever they’re helping me lay the table for meals. They even seem to enjoy it.
  • Sometimes you’ve got to throw your plans up in the air and take the opportunities life presents. And if life is presenting you with a child who wants to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ with you, cuddle up in front of a movie or have a chat about Instagram (or whatever young people talk about these days), just enjoy the moment and the chance to spend some time with them.

More than one of our members reported that home schooling had been their way of life even before COVID-19 struck. They’d been down a similar path to the one many of us are now treading, and had realised that, in one editor’s words, ‘what I’d feared would be strange and isolating and terrible turned out to be none of those things. My child has blossomed, found their own path, and taught me that there are many ways to live a life, to be a parent, to educate’. Some situations might not look ideal at first glance, but they end up being rewarding in ways we never anticipated.

And so, working-from-home parent, in the words of one CIEP member addressing the other parents on the forum, ‘hugs and solidarity vibes’ to you. We’ll get there, even if it’s by a different route to the one we were expecting.

Many thanks to the contributors to the CIEP forums, who so generously shared their experiences and their child-squeezed time.

Cathy Tingle is a CIEP Advanced Professional Member based in Edinburgh who specialises in copyediting. After trying and failing to work ‘alongside’ her children, she’s offering a reduced service until they go back to school. She’s terrible at baking.

 

 


The CIEP’s forums are a great place for members to connect with and support each other.

CIEP members shared their pandemic concerns and experiences with Liz Jones in April.


Photo credits: family with tablet by Alexander Dummer; child with heart by Anna Kolosyuk, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

My year in books

By Abi Saffrey

At the end of each financial year, I reflect on the projects I’ve worked on, the clients I’ve worked with, the money I’ve earned and the money I’ve spent. It struck me at some point in 2019 that perhaps I could do a similar review of what I’ve read over the same span of time. So I set up a spreadsheet and logged the books I read for pleasure and those I edited and proofread. Time and sanity limitations meant I did not log everything I edited, or anything I read that wasn’t a book (but The Phoenix Comic is pretty darn good).

Reading was my greatest pleasure for many years, but going freelance and then having children limited my time and energy for it. I missed reading, but not enough to carve out the time for it. For whatever reason, 2019 was the year that I decided to JUST READ MORE.

April 2019

I copyedited two social science books for a regular client. And I managed a grand total of THREE books for pleasure, all short and very different from each other.

May 2019

I didn’t edit any books this month – I finished writing a guide to Editorial Project Management for the (then) SfEP, and worked on a fair few journal articles. I didn’t read much outside work either.

June 2019

I copyedited two books on subjects that I’m passionate about: climate change and gender inequality. This was the month when I set myself a reading challenge: to read my way through the alphabet (using authors’ surnames), selecting books available in my local library and by ‘new to me’ authors. I managed A–D over the month.

July 2019

Workwise, my focus in July was on student and teacher materials. And I didn’t read ANY books for pleasure. Sorry.

August 2019

A reduced workload because of the school holidays – journal articles only. I might not have read much this month, but I did get to spend two weeks in and around beautiful Tenby. August is my birthday month and, for the first time I can remember, I got NO books for my birthday. I did get some book tokens though, which I stashed away …

September 2019

Back to work with a bang and three books on my desk: political scandal to proofread; sociology and education theory to copyedit. A disappointing one letter crossed off my alphabet.

  • Reef, by Romesh Gunesekera (I have a vivid memory of reading this while sat in the playground at Audley End House)

October 2019

One book to copyedit (social science), two books for fun (and NO letters crossed off my alphabet, tsk tsk).

  • The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell (I started this in September, and read some in my downtime at the SfEP conference … but it’s long and complicated)
  • After Me Comes the Flood, by Sarah Perry (finished this one while on holiday in Tromsø – happy days)

November 2019

I copyedited three books in November, all related to welfare, social policy and politics – with those and being involved in a general election campaign, it was an exhausting month. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no time for self-indulgent escapism.

December 2019

I started work on a contributed volume about South Sudanese objects (I’m still working on it now – May 2020); it is so different to my normal social sciences fare. A welcome distraction after an election that didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I managed to read three books on my own time – the joys of taking some time off over the festive period (alphabet challenge stowed away for another time at this point).

January 2020

I proofread one book – politics – in January, and it prompted me to buy (and read) another book in the series. I also set myself a new reading challenge (after some discussion with my accountability group): to read for 30 minutes a day on five days in each week. I nearly always ended up reading for longer than that, and it meant I ploughed through the pages. There is a slot in my day between collecting/taxiing children and preparing dinner – it tends to be filled with social media and internet browsing in a comfy chair, so I would leave my book on that chair and my phone in my coat pocket.

I went to Amsterdam for a weekend – so a Lonely Planet pocket guide snuck in here too.

February 2020

One copyedit this month – colonialisation, not a cheery read. I counteracted that by carrying on with my 30-min reading challenge, and I even managed to tick FOUR more letters off my alphabet.

March 2020

March’s one book copyedit was on support and health workers across the globe. I finally spent my birthday book tokens – on the paperback editions of Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet, and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, both of which I’d been lusting after since their hardback release. I also treated myself to The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, which was the last book I read before the COVID-19 pandemic. I haven’t been able to focus on books in my free time since.

That year in numbers

So I read 31 books for pleasure:

  • I bought five secondhand, one was a gift, one was nicked off my mum’s bookshelves.
  • I bought ten new (one hardback, eight paperbacks and one ebook), and one had been on my e-reader for at least five years.
  • I borrowed 13 from my local library.
  • There were 19 fiction books and 12 non-fiction books.

I copyedited 15 books, and proofread two. I also dipped into two other books for CPD purposes: What Editors Do (edited by Peter Ginna) and Developmental Editing (by Scott Norton).

End-of-year summary

I’d hoped that I’d find some revelation about my reading habits and trends, or even find that my ‘to be read’ pile would be smaller. Or that I learned something profound and life-changing. But I didn’t, and it isn’t, and … I will leave social media soon(ish). I will definitely keep noting down what I read – reviewing my list and writing this post have brought back so many memories of where I was when I was reading each book.

I’d like to say I’ll go back and read some of these again, but I won’t. There are so many other books out there that need me to read them and I don’t want to set another challenge that I’ll give up on when I get distracted by the next one. Anyway, these are the ones I loved the most in my financial year 2019/20:

  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – so beautifully crafted, and it presents an all too real future for us.
  • On Writing by Stephen King – I’m never going to read his novels and I’m never going to write a book but I loved the essential message that ran throughout: reading is the best way to learn to write.
  • Melmoth by Sarah Perry – it’s pretty close between this and Here Comes the Flood. Her writing sucks me in every time (The Essex Serpent is also compulsive reading, but I read that in 2018).

Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She reads books to earn a living and to keep her imagination alive. She’s wondering when the library will open again so she can look at the ‘L’ section of the fiction shelves. She boycotts Amazon.

 

 


If you’re wondering which book to read next, peruse the CIEP’s book reviews.


Photo note: I read Paul Dolan’s Happiness by Design in February 2019 and Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet in March 2019, but they cheekily snuck their way into the class of 2019/20 photo.

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

CPD: staying motivated

By Hilary McGrath

Have you ever tried to study but found it hard to stay focused? Am I alone in formulating a great plan, then abandoning my learning when the initial enthusiasm has waned? Continuing Professional Development is important but staying motivated can be hard.

Building on the study of language has always been particularly important for me as a translator and proofreader. Being able to write well and to correct errors was not enough though – I wanted to be able to properly name the troublesome parts of the texts I was working on. A dangling modifier? An attributive adjective? A predicative phrase? I needed to study the function and structure of English grammar, so I considered my options.

Take a course

I considered taking an in-house course. Having a fixed date and a valid reason to take some time off work is an advantage. But the need to travel and pay for accommodation makes this an expensive choice.

Another option was an online course – an efficient way to learn, especially for those who live far from big cities. Distance learning usually means there are start and end dates, deadlines and a certificate to show you have put in the work. The CIEP offers a Brush Up Your Grammar course, for example.

But I had to take cost into account. Unfortunately, I’d already dipped into my CPD budget, having recently attended a one-day workshop and completed an online course. How about self-study, then?

Buy a book

Buying a book and working through it slowly but surely was the next obvious thing to do. But, before I could even choose a book to buy, I knew my main problem would be staying motivated. How could I be sure I would stick with my learning plan?

Find a buddy (or several)

I made the fortunate discovery, through the CIEP forums, that other editors and proofreaders had the same idea as me. Together we selected a book – Grammar: A student’s guide by James R Hurford. Then, Slack was suggested as a communication tool for collaborative study. It was free, easy to join and very intuitive to use. It would become our virtual classroom.

Set some SMART goals

  • Specific – we chose a textbook that had exercises at the end of every section and answers to check at the end of the book.
  • Measurable – we studied the agreed section during the week, completed the exercises, checked the answers and discussed any difficulties or revelations once a week.
  • Attainable – the chosen textbook started with the basics but provided fuel for further discussion.
  • Relevant – as professionals working with language, building on our knowledge of English grammar was useful and important.
  • Time-bound – we would work through the book, literally from A to Z, on a weekly basis over a few months.

How did it work out?

As motivation was my key concern prior to starting, I was pleased that I was always able to find the time to join the weekly meetings. If I had been working on my own, I might have been less diligent. The whole exercise gave me a solid foundation in grammar and the desire to continue building on this in the future.

An unexpected outcome

This was a great way to get to know colleagues better. The group was small enough so that we could chat comfortably, but large enough to keep moving forward if one person couldn’t attend. There were so many advantages to working together like this – the most unexpected one was that the learning experience was so enjoyable.

Working alone but together

I found that this kind of learning suits me. I could work at my own pace during the week but use the regular meetings to keep on track. It was nice to know that I was not alone when I found something particularly hard to understand. And Slack was ideal for our purposes, giving us a dedicated space to work together.

What’s next?

For me, a combination of taught courses and self-study is perfect. But self-study is easier if you can find people with similar goals, whether in your personal life or through your professional networks. Then all you need is a book and a plan. Would I do this again? Absolutely! Anyone interested in joining me?

Hilary McGrath is a freelance proofreader and translator (French–English) living in the southwest of France. Find her on Twitter @hilary_mcgrath.

 

 


Photo credit: opened book by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Are you up for the challenge?

By Alison Gilbert

LinkedIn challenges are fun and interactive, and I use them to engage with my target audience. My background is in education, and I have spent years engaging with parents and getting them involved with their children’s learning. The best way I found was with a challenge – something they could do together with their child. So I adapted the same principle to my proofreading business.

Setting a challenge

To set a challenge, you need to know your audience. Who are you trying to engage with? What sort of challenge would they want to get involved in? Then make it relevant and topical. Keep up to date with recent hot topics, relevant to your line of business. People get more engaged if there is a reason or a discussion point, such as in my reading challenge.

I strongly believe that children should read every day, so I set the challenge for parents to read with their children every night for a week and at the end of the challenge share their child’s favourite story. My post was topical and people got involved and shared their love of stories. It appealed to authors, publishers and fellow proofreaders. It was my most successful post and trended on LinkedIn, receiving more than 1,000 views.

Challenges can also reflect national events and times of the year. During National Storytelling Week I set a storytelling challenge to create a story together. This appealed to my audience of authors and let them showcase their writing. However, this post was less successful. I was hoping to generate a complete story over the week. The first day went really well and I chose the start to the story. But unfortunately no one commented to complete the next part of the story. I tried posting it on different days, times and with different images – even the author of the start of the story re-shared it – but still no takers. People like the initial idea of a challenge, but maybe I was overoptimistic in attempting to build on my challenge every day. Possibly it was too time-consuming a task; so since then I’ve tried to keep each challenge manageable and easy to fit in with people’s daily lives.

On the Random Acts of Kindness Day I set a challenge to do an act of kindness. I felt it was a great opportunity to encourage people to think of others and to go above and beyond.

When creating a challenge, image choice is very important in attracting your audience to the post. I have found bold images have worked for me, and I type a clear message on top of them. Therefore, people don’t have to scroll through my text to see what my challenge is all about. I think of them as an advert containing all the basic information necessary to promote engagement.

For a bit of fun at Christmas, I set a Christmas homework challenge, to get everyone in the mood for a magical time. Life needs to be filled with moments of fun!

The Comms Creatives challenge

I love challenges so much that I undertook another company’s challenge. The 31 Days of Creativity Challenge was set up by Comms Creatives, a marketing company that runs courses to inspire creativity. Every day for the month of January, Helen Reynolds, the owner, sent me an email with a creative challenge to post on social media. I used the challenge to learn new skills, stretch myself and advertise my proofreading business.

The challenges included some outright fun and silly ones to get my creative brain in gear: creating words using spaghetti, making a picture with your meal (I created the Hungry Caterpillar using grapes and cucumbers), creating origami, choosing an uplifting song, inventing a sandwich for your hero (mine is Joey from Friends, who loves sandwiches) and writing your day in emojis. Some challenges were quizzes to find out your creative personality and what drives you. Turns out that I am a producer.

Quite a few of the challenges were to get participants thinking and talking about their inspirations. For example, creating a video about what advice you would give yourself if you could go back in time (mine were believe in yourself, everything happens for a reason and trust your instincts), writing about what inspires you, visualising your style and sharing what you believe in (I believe in a love of learning).

Part of the challenge really tested my creativity and put me out of my comfort zone, for example writing a limerick (see the image above for mine), drawing tasks (I hadn’t drawn since school), creating videos, creating a story using a plot generator, writing a poem using magnetic letters, creating a handwritten message, creating a calligram (I did a snowflake using words linked to proofreading) and creating a newspaper article using a generator.

Some of the challenges were about reminiscing about my life and these seemed the most popular of my social posts – I created a collage of photos of my life and did something from my childhood. My most successful post during the challenge was a video clip of the game ‘Mousetrap’, which trended on LinkedIn. People obviously like reminiscing about their lives too and seeing connections with others.

I really enjoyed completing the 31 Days of Creativity Challenge: I gained confidence to post regularly on social media. I learned new skills, such as how to create videos and newspaper articles, and stretched myself to be more creative. I made a lot of connections during the challenge with other people doing the challenge at the same time. It was great each day to see how everyone had undertaken the challenge and to comment on their progress. Comms Creatives regularly run the challenges and do some on other platforms too.

Why do the challenges?

Challenges are motivating to others and encourage interaction. They allow me to engage with my target audience by tuning in to what is important to them, relevant and purposeful. Hopefully, building relationships through engagement will lead to future work connections. The challenges stand out on social media as being different and fun, and people always like a challenge. They are a good way to test yourself, find out what you are capable of and learn new skills.

Have a go: I challenge you to set a challenge for your target audience. Are you up for the challenge?

Alison Gilbert is a freelance proofreader, qualified teacher and early years professional with a love of learning. She specialises in educational and mathematical proofreading. She is an Entry-Level Member of the CIEP based in Ramsbottom, Lancashire.

 


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Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Accountability groups: What? Where? Why?

Over the past few years, more and more accountability groups have been popping up some of them coordinated by organisations, others by individuals, with members from one industry, related fields, or a wider spectrum of professions. Four CIEP members have written about the what, where and why of their accountability groups, and show that no two groups are the same.

Eleanor Abraham

Last year, I invited three colleagues to join an accountability group. Why? I felt like I needed to be more ‘out there’ in terms of marketing but it’s scary doing it on your own. I liked the idea of having a small group to share ideas with.

We are all members of bigger groups, and getting invaluable advice from there, but I do like our smaller group. We don’t pressurise or nag. I hope we support and encourage each other… and console when things are tough.

There was no real criteria in asking them other than they are all lovely people, and, while three of us are editors, all four are writers (Shauna would make an excellent editor – hint, hint, Shauna), so we had that in common.

I thought we all had varied enough backgrounds and experience to enable us to share and teach each other some new tricks in publishing, marketing and so on. We usually communicate using Facebook Video. We keep it to one hour a month, and sometimes we have a topic but more often we just have a catch up.

I think I still have a lot to learn about running an accountability group and making the most of it, but we all have busy lives and extra pressure is not something we need. So we’re happy to keep it low-key for now.

I like that we can chat in confidence. It’s good to have other perspectives, but sometimes you don’t want 150 slightly different opinions, but rather the chance to talk things through with people you trust and respect. There are probably more dynamic accountability groups out there, but I do like knowing my colleagues are there and that they will understand and advise on my challenges.

Erin Brenner

Since we founded the Quad in 2015, we’ve helped each other in our editing businesses in several ways:

  • Ongoing chat thread. We talk about business and daily life.
  • Monthly goals check-in. We discuss how our previous month went and our goals for the coming one.
  • Occasional goal sprints and virtual retreats. We’ll take anywhere from a half-day to a week to work on individual projects, with periodic check-ins.
  • In-person retreats. We set up goals ahead of time, lead training sessions for each other, and work on projects throughout the week. We make time for touring and hosting special-guest dinners.

The purpose of any mastermind group is to grow your business while helping all the other group members grow theirs. You’re creating accountability for each other. And that’s been true for us. We’ll refer each other for work and collaborate on projects. Some of us have even partnered up for new business ventures, and we regularly discuss opportunities to do so.

The biggest thing we get out of the Quad, however, is the friendships. I don’t know if that happens in every mastermind group, because this is the only one I’ve been in. The ongoing chat has meant sharing daily ups and downs, both professional and personal. We cheer for each other, and we cry together. We help one another beyond business, and we love hanging out with each other. One of the struggles of our in-person retreats is making sure we get enough business done in between our play!

Editing as a career has changed enormously in the last 20 years. Employee positions are becoming increasingly hard to find, and finding one where senior editors will mentor you is even harder. More of us are freelancing and working by ourselves. Mastermind groups are a powerful way to keep editors connected and maintain that personal investment in another editor.

Michelle McFadden

I’ve spent my editing career bouncing between periods of freelance work and in-house employment. I appreciate that I may sound indecisive, but I love both ways of working equally and I am currently in a great in-house position.

One of the things I love about working in-house is the sense of collegiality. The chit-chat about what we all did at the weekend. The availability of another experienced editor to bounce ideas and questions off, not to mention the shared complaints about how the office dishwasher is on the blink – again. And the great sense of achievement we share when we’ve worked together on a massive project and get it over the line just in time. Obviously, working with other editors also means that the memes, gifs and puns are just that little bit funnier.

So how did I find that support and social interaction as a freelancer? I’d like to tell you that it was all part of a carefully constructed plan, but if you know me, you’ll laugh at that idea. I just happened to be fortunate enough to meet two fabulous, clever and chatty women at an SfEP (as it was then) conference. We shared many things including our sense of humour, a love of good food and maybe the odd trip to a spa hotel, too.

We also agreed to form an edibuddy accountability group to encourage each other. We swapped hints on potential jobs and supported each other through dips in confidence. And I honestly don’t think I would have ever completed the PTC training course – the one outstanding thing I needed to be able to upgrade my professional membership – without their encouragement. Life, family, country changes and work responsibilities have pushed their way in, but I will always be grateful for the experience of being part of that small accountability group.

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke

What is the collective noun for a group of seven editors who share tips, goals, frustrations, successes, work leads, gossip, laughs and occasional tears? Well, to begin with, we were an accountability group. It all started a few years ago, when I was thrilled to be invited to join a Facebook group of other Advanced Professional Members with whom I was acquainted, to varying degrees, and who were all committed to continuing professional development. Our initial aim was to encourage each other to reach the targets we’d set ourselves – perhaps financial, perhaps subject-specific, perhaps training-related. The idea was to be accountable to the rest of the group for doing what we said we would do. After a few video conferences, I soon found that peer pressure has a particular way of focusing one’s mind.

Our second objective was to gather for a ‘retreat’. Inspired, I think, by a group of veteran North American editors who had blogged about the many benefits of taking time out to reflect on their career, we discussed the practicalities of getting together for a working weekend. Thus, we moved from Facebook to Slack and became the Retreat Group. With members around the country (one, in fact, in a different country), and children and partners to organise, this wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds – but one hot June weekend in 2017, we convened for an amazingly productive series of sessions around a rather posh Airbnb kitchen table, with the overseas member joining us via Skype. Wine, good food and silly games also played their part in cementing us as a unit. A further retreat, and several informal lunch meetings, have followed. We were planning another retreat this year, but dates, venues and stars struggled to align and then COVID-19 popped up – so hopefully 2021.

Having shared our experiences so profitably, we evolved, I suppose into a mastermind group. We’ve become confident about sharing embarrassing skills gaps (shockingly, some of us have never got to grips with macros), difficulties with clients or projects, and even personal issues. Collective wisdom often provides solutions to thorny problems, or at least lends an understanding ear. For me, the overwhelming benefit has been to know that, although I sit alone at my desk, there are others out there ready to listen and offer advice, or even just a stress-relieving chat.

What do you call this group of editors? I call them friends.


If you’d like to build your own accountability group, the CIEP’s forums and local groups are great ways to meet like-minded peers.


Photo credit: Hilltop silhouette Chang Duong on Unsplash

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Why general knowledge is not a trivial pursuit

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

A TV producer friend once told me that he was learning Icelandic to keep his brain active because his job wasn’t intellectually stimulating enough. I found this astonishing, as it’s not a problem we editorial professionals report very often. This itself is probably astonishing to certain people outside our industry, who like to tell us that all we do is spot typos and otherwise engage our brains very little. Of course, we need to know grammatical rules well enough to apply them to our projects – and also well enough to be confident about when to break those rules. But, as is made obvious each year at the conference quiz, many editors have a vast and varied general knowledge. Not even my extensive familiarity with obscure song lyrics has been enough to beat certain erudite colleagues to the coveted title of Winning Team.

It’s often the quirky, stylistic anomalies that stick in our minds; for example, it’s Spider-Man but Batman and Iron Man (you’d be surprised how often knowing that has been useful in my work).
But we also represent that unfashionable but, in my opinion, vital concept – gatekeepers of quality. Many of us are subject specialists, perhaps as a result of previous jobs, often with as much in-depth understanding of our area as our authors – and sometimes more.

But a good general knowledge is also a valuable asset in our line of work. We editors are an inquisitive bunch, always interested in learning something new. If we don’t understand an argument or trust a fact in a manuscript, neither will our readers. We might raise an author query, but frequently, we don’t have enough time or access to the author to await their response, so we simply need to check for ourselves.

On a day-to-day basis then, as far as essential editorial tools go, Google is right up there with PerfectIt. Other search engines are, of course, available, but ‘to google’ is now a transitive verb sufficiently common to be an effective, lowercase shorthand for ‘carrying out an internet search’. Google itself reportedly discourages the term, preferring ‘to search with Google’. I fear, however, that it is far too late to retrieve that particular phrase from the black hole of the internet.

While thinking about all this, I realised just how often I google words and phrases in the course of my work, so I started to keep a log of what I’d searched for, and what I’d found out. The list that follows is just a taster – I’ve omitted or slightly changed some examples to maintain client confidentiality. Note too that these days even editors accept that normal capitalisation and punctuation don’t apply to internet searches.


Term: turn on word spell check

Why? Mental block. I’m updating a brochure about my town, Fakenham, for a friend. I’m using last year’s text as a basis, but on a previous project I’d switched off Word’s functionality for checking spelling as I type. Now I can’t remember how to turn it back on!

Outcome: The top link is from Microsoft, the horse’s mouth, and all the information I need appears on the search page. It’s File/Options/Proofing/Check spelling as I type. The red squiggles reappear. Hoorah!


Term: james beck auctions

Why? I need to increase the number of attractions in the brochure from 15 to 20 (my friend wants ‘20 attractions for 2020’), so I’m splitting up the market and auction entry and want to lengthen the auction text by about 20 words.

Outcome: The search took me straight to the auction house’s website, which confirmed the numbers and types of items typically up for auction. New text covered. Success!


Term: hempton bell

Why? I’m checking the name of the local pub known for its folk jam sessions.

Outcome: Its URL is thehemptonbell.co.uk but the text on the website is The Bell Public House. I’ll go with The Hempton Bell, which is what locals call it, to avoid the current wordiness of ‘the Bell Public House in nearby Hempton’ …


Term: fakenham christmas tree festival 2020

Why? Last year’s text states last year’s Christmas Tree Festival dates. Fakenham established one of the first Christmas tree festivals in the country about 20 years ago, and now it makes thousands of pounds for charities and the church, so I want to ensure this year’s dates are correct.

Outcome: Rare Google fail. The parish church website doesn’t state this year’s dates yet, and nor does anywhere else, so I’ll add a query to the text.


Term: arts and crafts fakenham

Why? I need another entry to make it a round 20. How about art? I know there’s a ‘have a go’ crafts shop, and an annual Norfolk and Norwich art trail, but is there anything else?

Outcome: Hmm, the results reveal only the shop I was thinking of, plus (inevitably) The Works chain for art supplies, and a picture framer. That’s not enough.


Term: norfolk and norwich open studios

Why? This is my favourite event of year but not many artists participate in my town.

Outcome: It takes me to the event’s website but the search mechanism there doesn’t allow me to search by location so I have to download last year’s brochure. I search the PDF for ‘Fakenham’ but only one artist was based in the town. Forget that idea, then! What else does Fakenham offer?


Term: pensthorpe norfolk

Why? I read the brief again and my friend had suggested including Pensthorpe Natural Park,
a tourist attraction on the outskirts of town.

Outcome: The search takes me directly to the website, where there’s plenty to fill 50 words.
I’d forgotten that BBC’s Springwatch was filmed there a few years ago. Job done.


Term: Neprajzi Muzeum artefacts

Why? A client with whom I’m working on a new edition of a travel guide to Budapest has heard that one of the main attractions, which we knew was relocating, won’t reopen until 2022. No photos of the new building are available. We only have photos of the original building, which are now wrong.

I wonder if we can use photos of some of the major artefacts, as they will probably still be on display when the museum does finally reopen.

Outcome: The image search revealed some distinctive artefacts so I suggest we include these, which would avoid having to restructure the book to accommodate a new (as-yet unspecified) attraction to fill the space. The updater of the book later copies me into an email to the client suggesting the same thing, and the client agrees. Success! Now it’s up to the poor picture researcher to source appropriate photos.


Term: karpatia restaurant budapest

Why? Are the accents correct in Kárpátia? It also appears as Kárpàtia in the text.

Outcome: Kárpátia is correct. I amend the text.

 


Term: musee picasso

Why? In a Paris guide this time, I need to amend a photo caption to something more meaningful. The image showed a gallery in the museum but the picture credit only includes the name of the museum, not the artwork that is featured.

Outcome: I can’t find any images of the exact gallery, but reviews and descriptions say it’s a calm and peaceful place to view Picasso’s art, so I incorporate that into the caption.


Term: THE Steak House Circus Circus

Why? Are those weird capitals correct in this Las Vegas travel guide?

Outcome: Apparently so. Hoorah for branding.


Term: edingburgh castle

Why? The source image seems to show the whole city, not the castle specifically.

Outcome: ‘Showing results for edinburgh castle. Search instead for edingburgh castle?’ Yes, thank you for patronising me, Google. But it was indeed an image of the whole city. I add a query to the PDF.


Term: personal care elderly frail

Why? I’m editing a report that contains this rather depersonalised phrase. Is it in common use?

Outcome: The search suggests not. I will change the text to ‘personal care for frail elderly people’ but will add a query to confirm whether the original phrase is acceptable.


Term: is bristol in north somerset

Why? I’m from Bristol originally and I’m pretty sure it’s a county in itself. I know it’s certainly not in the long-obsolete Avon, a common mistake that drives me crazy.

Outcome: Bristol is indeed a county (and/or a unitary authority), its population twice as large as the two bordering counties, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset (is the ampersand correct? Google doesn’t have a definitive answer to that).


Term: rail services patchway

Why? Is there a station in Patchway?

Outcome: Yes, there is.


Term: CrossCountry and GWR lines

Why? Is the brand for CrossCountry rail services one camelbacked word?

Outcome: Yes, it is.


Term: Supportive of or supportive to

Why? In a proofread, the text reads ‘the parents are supportive to the child’ but I would normally expect to see ‘supportive of’. Is ‘to’ common in such a context?

Outcome: I find a website that says ‘of’ is a much more common construction. However, another web forum suggests ‘towards’ as an alternative, which I think fits the context better. I change the text accordingly.


Term: IDE (Integrated Development Environment)

Why? I don’t think the definition should be capitalised but it might be a branded or copyright expression.

Outcome: It’s not. Lowercase.


Term: lower case

Why? Mental block – is lowercase one word?

Outcome: ‘According to The Associated Press Stylebook and the Microsoft Manual of Style, you should write “lowercase” as one word when being used as an adjective and as a noun.’ So there you go. I check my PDF mark-up.


Term: personal identification number

Why? Is this what PIN stands for, rather than ‘personal identity number’?

Outcome: Various sources say so. Wikipedia (which incidentally always needs to be backed up with another source) has an amusingly passive-aggressive answer: ‘A personal identification number, or sometimes redundantly a PIN number … ’


So what can we conclude from this little experiment? A few things, I think:

  • Although we’re rarely asked specifically to check facts, it’s always worthwhile maintaining an open, questioning approach so that we can pick up on anything that doesn’t quite ring true. Perhaps ironically, the more you know, the more you question and the more you find yourself verifying the text.
  • Taking 30 seconds to search the internet takes much less time and effort than reflexively raising an author query. As an occasional author myself, I’d much prefer my editor to proactively check something that doesn’t sound right instead of just asking me, as long as I have the chance to see any amendments afterwards.
  • That said, the internet doesn’t provide all the answers. Sometimes, we do need to use other sources, such as the CIEP forums, the client, the author or subject specialists.
  • Our work exposes us to a huge volume and variety of information. It’s a form of continuous professional development (CPD) – on-the-job learning with the side benefit of a mental library of interesting facts.
  • Fluency in Icelandic is optional.

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel. Her team has twice won the Fakenham Library quiz; her quiz superpower is song lyrics.

 


Photo credits: jukebox – Alex Holyoake; Christmas tree Aurelio Arantes; Budapest – Lucas Davies; Clifton suspension bridge – Nathan Riley, all on Unsplash

Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Gendered language and children’s books

By Philippa Neville

Gender representation is, quite rightly, a hot topic in children’s publishing. I grew up in the nineties, whose media provided a diet of kind women in floral dresses, powerful men in shirts and ties, little girls with dolls and nail varnish, and little boys with footballs and dirty habits. Stepmothers were universally evil and headteachers were almost always men. Of course, plenty of girls loved dolls and many little boys adored football, but I often wonder what the world would have looked like for me if I’d been presented with casts of female doctors, astronauts and builders, and male ballet dancers, homemakers and babysitters. Happily, things are changing across all forms of media, and it is our responsibility, as children’s editors, to lead the way in showing children that there are possibilities beyond the normative roles of ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

I am an in-house copyeditor for Ladybird, and my colleagues and I are mindful of how we represent gender in our books. Ladybird is committed to creating diverse books for all children, and part of this commitment is about representing gender in a way that does not pigeonhole according to normative stereotypes. In 2018, The Observer carried out a study of the top 100 children’s books of the previous year. It found that those books were 50 per cent more likely to have a male leading character, and that he would often play a stereotypically masculine role. Male characters were twice as likely to have a speaking role in the books, and a fifth of the books did not include female characters at all.

We know that the media has a huge part to play in shaping children’s worldview. Ladybird is invested in presenting a varied gendered landscape, ensuring, in particular, that a mixture of genders are given the starring role. Much of this work is done by the commissioning editors, and I’m regularly delighted by my colleagues’ commitment to finding stories that play with and challenge stereotypes.

As a copyeditor, part of my role is to interrogate language choices. When a manuscript is handed to me from the commissioning team, one of my jobs is to look out for language that might subtly encourage stereotypical thinking and to then make it as gender neutral as possible. In children’s books, a common example of this is in job titles, so any ‘firemen’, ‘fishermen’, ‘headmasters’ and ‘air hostesses’ become ‘firefighters’, ‘fishers’, ‘headteachers’ and ‘flight attendants’ under my pen. Likewise, I change the words ‘mankind’ or ‘manmade’ to ‘humankind’ and ‘made by humans’, though the latter often requires some light rephrasing.

I also look out for opportunities to swap one gendered pronoun for another, or to use gender-neutral pronouns, where the swap makes for a non-stereotypical outcome. For example, I might change ‘My neighbour said that I could borrow his lawnmower’ to ‘My neighbour said that I could borrow her lawnmower’ or ‘My neighbour said that I could borrow their lawnmower’. For those that are unsure, it is perfectly acceptable to use ‘they’ or ‘them’ as a singular third-person pronoun.

Children’s books that fight against stereotypical gender roles are becoming more and more common, and I believe this will continue. The success of Particular Books’ Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls in 2017 kicked off a flurry of non-fiction children’s titles about brilliant women, and its effect continues to ripple through the industry. I hope to see the industry’s concern with combatting gender stereotypes extend to more representation of other gender identities, and to see more trans and non-binary characters taking up leading roles in children’s titles.

It is vital to remember that gender is only one beam of the diversity rainbow. We must also pay close attention to how we represent race, disability, sexuality and social mobility in our books, ensuring that we reflect the diverse landscape of experiences that exist within our world. At Penguin Random House, we want, through our new hires and authors, to reflect UK society by 2025. As creatives, we can lead the way in presenting children with a wider worldview – one in which there is room for everyone. Society is still on the long road to equality, but through our books we can reflect reality, broaden horizons and show the adults of tomorrow that they are represented in books or can be anything they want to be.

Philippa Neville is a copyeditor at Ladybird Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House Children’s. She works on titles from both their trade and licensing lists, which range from short picture books to longer books about science, nature and fairy tales. She has been in the industry since 2011 and has a background in primary educational publishing.

 


CIEP members can now download a fact sheet and a focus paper on gendered language from the Resources page of the website.


Proofread by Cathy Tingle, Advanced Professional Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

What’s e-new?

By Andy Coulson

At the time of writing this I am in lockdown at home and realising the changes and compromises this means. Thinking back to when I started, technology has evolved so much that it has helped with these challenges in a way I couldn’t have imagined 15 years ago. So, I’ve compiled a list of technology-based or focused resources that I hope will prove of some help.

1. Help! How do I fix my computer?

I suspect this may be something we will all come up against sooner or later. The good news is that there are lots of good resources that can walk you through common problems. Even if your PC or Mac is down you can search on a smartphone and hopefully get yourself running again. Sites like wikihow.com; helpdeskgeek.com; dummies.com; techrepublic.com and Microsoft’s own answers.microsoft.com and support.microsoft.com are all helpful.

A carefully thought-through Google search will often be the best approach. For example, ‘Word 365 normal template’ gives good answers as to why Office 365 keeps flagging the normal.dotm as corrupted. It contains the version of Word and the specific item that is causing the issue. If your computer is giving a fault code or description, include that in the search too.

I’ve written before about backing up, spring cleaning and virus scanners, and all these tips and tools are still relevant. I’ve recently been pointed towards Microsoft’s Safety Scanner, which is an additional, occasional-use virus checker. It is good if you suspect you have a virus, as you can download and run a clean copy of the scanner (if you do have a virus, that may have compromised the scanner on your system).

Finally in this section, Microsoft Word itself is a prime cause of the air turning blue around my workspace. Again, Microsoft’s own support pages can be really good – support.office.com. Our own forums are also a good source of support (forums.ciep.uk), with many experienced word-wranglers being regular contributors. One of my favourite sources of help to answer ‘how to’ issues in Word is wordribbon.tips.net/index.html, and it is well worth subscribing to their newsletter.

2. Managing your time

While I’m at home I find I am facing two opposite problems with managing my time. The first is that it can be difficult to focus and stick at what you are doing. The second is the polar opposite of that: using work as a distraction and spending too long nose to screen. But we can use technology to help in both cases to nudge us in the right direction. I’ve written in the past about approaches based on the Pomodoro technique, which encourages you to keep going for a fixed amount of time, or conversely take a break from work after a fixed period of time. The suggestions here are two examples on that theme.

Forest is an app that tries to help you focus by making a game of focusing on a task. You set the timer for as little as 10 minutes through to 2 hours. Each time you start a stretch of work the app plants a virtual tree. Complete the stretch and you start a forest. Quit and your tree dies. It’s a simple idea and strangely addictive. You could use this either to build up your focus or to remind you to take a break.

Workrave is aimed at helping people recover from RSI, but is also a useful tool to encourage you to take breaks from the keyboard and mouse as you work. It produces gentle reminders, which you can configure, to take frequent microbreaks and longer breaks to step away from the computer, and you can even set a daily maximum.

3. Staying fit

Keeping healthy is one of the key things we are being encouraged to do, and there is a massive number of resources that have been made available in response to the lockdown. YouTube is a particularly good resource, and all the suggestions below can be found there.

Normally I’m a keen swimmer and cyclist, but am not getting very far (yes, pun intended!) with either at the moment. However, the Global Triathlon Network has a number of very accessible workout suggestions, despite the elite-sounding name.

If you have kids at home (or even if you don’t), Joe Wicks’s The Body Coach TV channel has a regular PE-with-Joe session. He also has a range of other home workouts that need little or no equipment and cater for a range of abilities.

Yoga is another home-friendly exercise, and I find it also helps undo the damage done by sitting in front of a computer for long periods. Yoga with Adrienne and Five Parks Yoga both offer a range of sessions, from basic, short beginner sessions through to longer, more advanced sessions. Headspace have also put a series of Move Mode sessions on YouTube, which are not traditional yoga, but more a meditative approach to movement.

Finally, I’ve really got into meditation as a way of having a break from everything. Headspace, Mindspace and Calm all have a range of shorter (10-minute) meditations freely available on YouTube. I am particularly enjoying some of Headspace’s Meditations from the American National Parks where you are encouraged to focus on sounds or colours instead of your breath.

I hope that is helpful to you. Stay safe, and we’ll hopefully get back to some more techie stuff next issue.

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


‘What’s e-new?’ was a regular column in the SfEP’s magazine for members, Editing Matters. The column has moved onto the blog until its new home on the CIEP website is ready.

Members can browse the Editing Matters back catalogue through the Members’ Area.


Photo credits: Forest – B NW; keyboard Christian Wiediger, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Liz Jones, Advanced Professional Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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