Author Archives: Information Team

Creating textbooks that help students to learn

Michael Pershan is a high-school maths teacher and writer with an interest in pedagogy. In this post, he draws on academic research and his own experience to consider how writers, editors and publishers can create textbooks that students find easier to learn from.

I recently opened the latest edition of a college-level meteorology textbook. Each page, I happily discovered, was colourful and bright. Tricky details from the text were illustrated with well-selected images. Boxes were offset from the main text to expand on interesting points. It felt warm and vibrant, so I read on.

A few minutes later, I was overwhelmed. While each individual sentence went down fine, the cumulative effect wore on me. There was an example I couldn’t make sense of, and then a whole section that as a student I might not have understood at all. It left me wondering, is there a better way to design these things?

I wish I could tell you that there’s a science of textbook design. As far as I can tell, there is not. What we have instead is psychological research that can help us think more clearly about design choices. That is, there is an art of research-informed textbook design.

Here are two recommendations that I think would most improve most instructional texts:

  • Ask more questions, more often
  • Structure ideas into manageable chunks

These ideas both emerge not just from experience, but also from research on teaching and learning.

Recommendation 1: Ask more questions, more often

From a pedagogical perspective, studying a text is somewhat akin to learning from a lecture, video or explanation. In other words, it is a form of direct instruction. All that’s missing is a teacher.

One common problem of direct instruction is that it can leave students not thinking deeply enough about the content. What happens instead could be called surface-level comprehension, or even shallow information processing. Classroom teachers are familiar with this – students nod along, seem interested enough, but hardly remember a single thing the next day. How do we avoid this when we ask students to learn from texts?

The answer, in short, is urging the reader to think more deeply. In the area of research I’m most familiar with – worked example research in mathematics – a three-stage structure has emerged[1] for encouraging students to learn from presented examples:

  1. Provide the information. First, information is presented to students. In a book, this is the main text.
  2. Prompt for explanations. Students are prompted to think more deeply about the information. These don’t need to be open-ended explanation questions – they could be multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions woven into the main text, or even in the margins.
  3. Ask for application. Students apply their knowledge in a new, but similar, situation.

The practice questions that appear at the end of a textbook chapter play this role, but research suggests there are benefits for also asking questions closer to the information being presented. Questions should be presented more frequently, closer to the relevant material.

How frequently? Hard to say. Too few questions, and students might fail to make important connections. Too many and the text becomes difficult to read. But most texts, it seems to me, ask too few.

woman reading a textbook

Recommendation 2: Structure ideas into manageable chunks

In 2003, researchers Richard E. Mayer and Roxana Moreno published ‘Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning’. Try remembering a seven-digit number while also reading Twelfth Night. You’ll likely feel overwhelmed: that’s too much ‘cognitive load’, and it harms your thinking and learning.

Textbooks often trigger cognitive overload in their readers. Many new concepts are just hard to take in. But often, the overload can be managed by delivering the new idea in smaller chunks while following research-based design principles.

Mayer and Moreno’s paper is worthwhile reading for anyone in the business of designing learning materials of any sort. Here are four techniques they mention that I find particularly relevant for improving textbooks:

  1. Cut stuff. When ideas are challenging, ruthlessly exclude information that doesn’t pertain to the content; even interesting facts, trivia or tidbits can contribute to cognitive overload. Another common issue is redundant text.
  2. Preview the structure. If a process is complex, structure it for students. Break it into little chunks and name each one. Then dive into the details.
  3. Segment complexity. If an explanation or a process is long, consider chunking it up and explaining each chunk individually.
  4. Aligning. When illustrations or examples appear on another page (or another website, for digital texts), the student must remember information from the main text to learn what is intended. This is a memory burden that can contribute to overload – better to align text with illustrations and diagrams, to whatever extent possible.

In a mathematical situation, an example of what not to do would be to present something like this lengthy example[2] with a picture of a skateboarder nearby, describing a context in which he might want to know how to solve a system. (This isn’t far off from common textbook practices!)

Maths question and answer example

A better way to handle this would be to first preview the structure, mapping the terrain of the forest before describing each tree. This means articulating to students the shape of events prior to a more thorough explanation. ‘The period leading up to World War II was characterised by (1) aftershocks from World War I, (2) the rise of fascism and (3) war in Asia,’ we might say, before diving into greater detail.

Then we should segment the explanation so that each sub-step or component is clearly labelled. In other words, we should connect the details with the structure that we have previewed.

Here is what it might look like in a mathematical case:

Applying knowledge

We can end with an exercise. Find a textbook that has a difficult passage. It might be an example intended to illustrate the concept of ‘opportunity cost’. It may be a description of how various elements move through the layers of the atmosphere. Every textbook has parts where multiple ideas need to be juggled by the reader.

Once you’ve found a tricky passage, try to identify its component parts. It likely has somewhere between two and four sub-steps, each of which might be teachable on its own.

Write an explanation or example that conforms to this structure. Think about how you could preview the structure for the reader.

Finally, write a question or two that students could use to check their understanding of the passage. Make it quick, so as not to interrupt the flow of the text too badly.

Maybe it shows a line of poetry and asks, ‘True or false: this poem shows iambic pentameter.’

It could also be good to prompt students to make connections and explanations: ‘Which choice below best explains why prices dropped when there was a production surplus?’

These are not the way great novels or non-fiction texts are typically written, but that’s just fine. A textbook can’t be a great book – it needs to be a great teacher. We should look towards teaching research for inspiration on how to design excellent, learnable texts.


[1] Booth, JL, Oyer, MH, Paré-Blagoev, EJ, Elliot, AJ, Barbieri, C, Augustine, A and Koedinger, KR (2015). Learning algebra by example in real-world classrooms. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 8/4: 530–551.

[2] The two mathematical examples in this post are taken from my book Teaching Math with Examples (John Catt, 2021); this book goes into more detail about how to design and present maths examples that work.

About Michael Pershan

Michael Pershan

Michael Pershan is a mathematics teacher and writer. He is the author of Teaching Math With Examples and lives with his family in New York City.

 

 

 

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: header image by Madison Inouye on Pexels, woman reading a textbook by RF._.studio on Pexels.

Posted by Eleanor Smith, blog assistant.

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

A finer point: Subject–verb agreement

Rules are often made to be ‘flexible’, and one such case is agreeing subjects with verbs. In this interesting and informative post, Dan Beardshaw breaks it down.

Subject–verb agreement involves matching the singular or plural form of a sentence’s subject (either a noun or a pronoun) with the form of the verb that follows it. The basic rule is that a singular subject takes a singular verb and a plural subject, a plural verb. However, the rules of English rarely come without exceptions, and subject–verb agreement has its fair share of them.

Firstly, some nouns have a singular form but a collective, plural sense and are often used with a plural verb. And, vice versa, plural nouns can have a singular sense and take a singular verb. The linguistic term for such instances is notional agreement. Secondly, the subject of many sentences is a longer noun phrase that includes both singular and plural nouns or pronouns, and choosing which one the verb should agree with is not always straightforward. A common basis for decisions in this kind of sentence involves agreement with the noun positioned nearest to the verb, and is referred to with the terms proximity or attraction.

In this post I will explore these two types of irregular subject–verb agreement and how to approach decisions around them.

Singular nouns with a plural sense

Normal subject–verb agreement simply matches singular and plural verbs with their corresponding nouns.

The meadow is full of wildflowers.

The wildflower meadows are stunning this year.

But certain singular nouns can be used with a collective sense, or ‘notion’. For example, the word team is singular, but we often tend to think of the members who collectively form the team rather than the abstract idea of a single team. Or perhaps we think of both at the same time. Regardless, it’s common to treat singular team as a plural in subject–verb agreement.

The team are performing brilliantly.

The plural notion may also be influenced by context. In the above sentence, it’s the actions of the individual members and the way they work together that are of interest. In other words, the concrete actions of people are the focus rather than the abstract idea of a team. If team is purposely used to focus on that abstract idea, a singular verb might be more appropriate.

Each new team is given a unique name.

Other singular nouns commonly treated as plurals include staff, family, government, army, crowd, majority, number and party (in the political sense). Try forming sentences with some of these singular nouns and they will often sound unnatural with a singular verb – or, at least, plural agreement will sound natural and make intuitive sense.

The family are visiting us next week.

A majority think reducing plastic waste is a priority.

Plural nouns with a singular sense

Certain plural nouns, compounds and noun phrases are commonly treated as notionally singular. One example is things that are quantified or measured and expressed as a unit.

Six hundred pounds was the price she quoted.

Three days isn’t long enough to see all the sights.

Another example is noun phrases that form a single idea, despite featuring plural nouns.

Fewer cars in cities results in reduced pollution and improved public health.

Certain noun phrases using and, despite technically being a two-item list, can be treated as a notionally singular unit.

Fish and chips is the nation’s favourite takeaway.

A similar structure is common for simple mathematical additions expressed in words.

Seven and three is ten.

Six plus two is eight.

And some nouns that appear to be plural, such as politics, news, several academic subjects (economics,mathematics, physics), and certain proper nouns (for example, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Arab Emirates) are usually read as singular and also take a singular verb.

four lightbulbs together and one on its own, about to swing towards the others

The principle of proximity

Sometimes a sentence includes a mixture of singular and plural nouns, such that it could logically agree with either verb form. However, a decision must obviously be made. So on what basis can we make it? One approach, which will often read more naturally, involves the linguistic concept of proximity or attraction. Perhaps proximity is the clearer term as it simply refers to the verb agreeing with the noun it’s closest to in the sentence. This may appear in sentences including either/or or both/and structures. In the following sentence, the verb has eaten would agree with the dog and have eaten would agree with the cats. As the cats is nearest, the plural verb is used.

Either the dog or the cats have eaten my biscuits.

Another common place to find the principle of proximity in use is when a singular noun with a collective sense is paired with a corresponding plural. This type of sentence may involve a dual sense of agreement that references both proximity and the collective notion of the singular noun.

The group of tourists were struggling to communicate in an unfamiliar language.

A number of residents are unhappy about the development plans.

Pronouns and determiners

Notional agreement and the proximity principle can be complicated further by certain pronouns when used as the subject of a sentence or clause, or when certain determiners are used to modify the subject. The indefinite pronouns none and each can sometimes be used with singular and plural verbs interchangeably, and some of their related determiners, such as none of and each of, can express a singular or plural sense of their own that modifies the subject in potentially ambiguous ways. The conventions of verb agreement for these pronouns and determiners can be confusingly inconsistent.

None, no and none of

The pronoun none literally means ‘not any’ or ‘not one’, which is hard to pin down as either singular or plural – it raises the philosophical question of how we can define or describe the nature of absence. Nevertheless, it has an obviously useful communicative purpose beyond such musings, and, despite the insistence by some that none is always singular, in common use it’s frequently lent either a singular or plural sense by the context it appears in. For example, the following use of none refers to the singular (uncountable) noun sunshine and takes the singular verb was.

We’ve just had two weeks of sunshine but there was none for most of the summer.

Whereas the following use refers to the plural noun tickets and takes the plural verb were.

I looked everywhere for tickets but none were left.

However, an alternative notional sense may also appear: in the following, the speaker wanted one room but looked in many places, so a plural verb with the pronoun is a logical choice even though the noun it references is technically singular.

I looked everywhere for a hotel room but none were available.

The determiners related to none are no and none of. Simple subject–verb agreement will often not be affected by the use of no. The following sentence uses the singular is in agreement with the singular uncountable milk.

There is no milk left.

Whereas the following uses the plural are in agreement with the plural apples.

There are no apples left.

But ambiguity becomes more likely with the use of none of. Constructions like the following are common, especially in formal writing.

None of the suggestions is suitable.

The question raised is whether the verb should agree with the sense of the determiner (that is, if one sees none of as strictly singular) or the sense of the plural noun it modifies (suggestions) – and if the latter is preferred, the principle of proximity may also come into play.

None of the suggestions are suitable.

Each and each of

Similar dynamics are involved with the different forms of each, despite them having a clearer singular sense in and of themselves. As a determiner, it will usually be used with a singular noun and a corresponding singular verb.

Each episode was more intense than the last.

The pronoun form may refer to a plural noun but still take a singular verb.

There are two set menus, and each is equally delicious.

Like none of, the determiner each of often takes a singular verb when used with a plural subject, especially in formal writing.

Each of the candidates is required to attend two rounds of interviews.

But it can also take a plural verb in notional agreement with a plural subject, as in the following sentence.

Each of the vendors have been asked to tender for contract.

Again, this may be considered more informal, but both the notional sense of the sentence and the principle of proximity make it logically defensible.

Break the rules

Notional agreement and the principle of proximity are good examples of the imperfect logic of language and its simultaneous flexibility in creating intelligible meaning by breaking the rules. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘pure’ logic of grammar in decisions of this kind, but that logic doesn’t always apply neatly to either the form of written language or the ways people think about words and sentences.

Resources

Butterfield, J (ed.) (2015). Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press, 30, 557.

New Hart’s Rules (2014). Oxford University Press, 191.

Chicago Manual of Style (2017). 17th edn. University of Chicago Press, 5.138. Online edition: https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/book/ed17/part2/ch05/psec138.html

https://www.merriam-webster.com/grammar/notional-agreement-subject-verb-principle-proximity

https://www.thoughtco.com/notional-agreement-grammar-1691439

https://www.thoughtco.com/proximity-agreement-grammar-1691697

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/no-none-and-none-of

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/each

About Dan Beardshaw

Dan Beardshaw is a development editor, copyeditor and proofreader, specialising in ELT and education publishing. He is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP.

 

 

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: figures on a wall by geralt on Pixabay, lightbulbs by Rodolfo Clix on Pexels, apples by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.

Posted by Sue McLoughlin, blog assistant.

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

Flying solo: Training and CPD as a business asset

In ‘Flying solo’ this time around, Sue Littleford sets out why we should always consider training and CPD a vital cog to keep the wheels of our business turning.

Huh? A business asset? Training and continuing professional development? Well, yes, that’s exactly what it is. And as with the acquisition of any asset for your business, it’s something you should approach with deliberation.

If anything will bear a cost–benefit analysis for a sole trader or other small business, it’s the investment of your time and money in refreshing and developing skills and learning new ones. So let’s take a look, first, at the benefit side of that equation.

The benefits of training and CPD

  • Knowing what you’re doing: investing in your training, rather than relying merely on having a good grasp of spelling, punctuation and grammar, is one of the principal ways to keep imposter syndrome at bay. You will know you know what you’re doing.
  • Marketing: when you’re confident that you know what you’re doing, it’s so much easier to market yourself and to craft robust CV and website text. Ayesha Chari demonstrated this beautifully when she wrote her out-of-office message before attending the 2023 CIEP conference: ‘I’m taking time off for CPD this month to raise my editing skills and business services for my clients!’ Clients do love a supplier who is up to date and investing in their skills, and I shall be brazenly stealing Ayesha’s idea!
  • Upgrading: I’ve been to the upgrade Q&A at the last two CIEP conferences and know that training is absolutely key for upgrading, as is evidence of recent CPD to become an Advanced Professional Member, so lay the groundwork now, with a solid basis in the core skills (how to actually proofread and/or copyedit) as a launchpad for future needs when you niche down. No knowledge is ever wasted. And a Professional (or Advanced Professional) Member badge on your website, marketing materials and socials is a great selling point.
  • Upgrading to at least Professional membership is not only a requirement for remaining in the CIEP beyond seven years, it also feeds into marketing as then you can take out an entry in the Directory, the go-to place to find an editor or proofreader for a huge range of clients. You can complete the training section of your Directory entry as another way of demonstrating to clients that you’ve invested in providing a good and knowledgeable service to them.
  • Working efficiently and effectively: when you achieve this, you can improve the effective hourly rate you achieve in fixed-fee jobs, as well as feeling in control of your business.

Woman writing in a notebook

The costs side of the equation

  • As with any asset, you need to decide what it is you need to learn, where you’re going to source it from, and exactly which course from many offers to choose. When you’re spending your own money on training, rather than your employer’s, these decisions become acutely important.
  • Budget time to do the course as well as the money to pay for it. It’s a waste if you buy a course then never find the time to do the learning. With self-directed courses, it’s far too easy to keep kicking that can down the road until access to the course is running out and you sprint through it far too quickly to get the most out of your investment.
  • Besides the time spent on the course itself, also budget for time to elapse between courses. Allow yourself the chance to embed your learning, to practise those new skills and to make them your own. Filling your head with a cascade of new ideas to implement can lead to incoherence, overwhelm and, yes, imposter syndrome. Take a breather between courses.
  • Plan: you can’t do everything; you certainly can’t do everything all at once. There’s a tab on the Training and CPD spreadsheet in the Going Solo toolkit (CIEP members only) to keep a wish list of courses you want to do. If you’re interested in learning more about a particular aspect of editing, then you can use that tab to keep a record of potential courses, and weigh up the pros and cons of doing each one.
  • Go with reputable suppliers for the biggest marketing bang for your buck, and the best educational opportunities. I’ve seen some courses offer the world for £29.99, on websites where they have a distance-learning course for every topic under the sun. Don’t waste your £29.99 – they’re not tremendous value, they’re inadequate training. They will not take you from novice to accomplished editor in ten easy lessons.
  • Where you can, prioritise courses that have some form of assessment, and tutor support. Checking your work against model answers is all very well, but properly supported training is invaluable when you’re getting your core skills under your belt. Such courses will take more effort on your part. Good! They’ll also impress clients more.
  • Speaking of costs, in the UK not all training is tax-deductible. Training that keeps your skills up to date is an allowable business expense. Training that puts you in the position to begin trading, or extend your business into a new area, even if it’s a related one, is not.
  • Record-keeping: back to the Going Solo toolkit for another tab: completed training. Keep a good record of the training you’ve taken and be ready for easier upgrading. The spreadsheet was designed with the upgrades process in mind – the Admissions Panel has approved it, so you can just send in your spreadsheet (trim it of the unnecessary tabs before you do) to save having to type out every editorial course you’ve ever done on the application form.

Never think you know it all

You don’t know it all. No one does. I know I don’t! There’s always more to learn in our ever-evolving field – that’s one of the joys of being an editor or proofreader!

I’m always disheartened when people say to me that there’s nothing more for them to learn, that they did one course, five years ago, so they’re ‘qualified’, and there’s nothing more they need to know. (Yes, I’ve really had people say that to me.)

There’s no ‘qualification’ per se in the editorial world. Graded membership, as in the CIEP, and Australia and New Zealand Aotearoa’s Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), is pretty rare, and the best proxy for ‘qualification’. Other countries and other membership organisations have certification courses but this is not the same ‘qualified’ as a doctor, a lawyer or a civil engineer. No editor should be speaking of being ‘qualified’ in that sense. And qualified doctors, lawyers and civil engineers (among many others) have a requirement to evidence a minimum number of CPD hours each year to retain membership of their professional organisation.

Unless you keep abreast of what’s out there, you may not even know what you don’t know. Be curious – a key requirement for good editing. Read the CIEP’s Curriculum for professional development to see what else you might pursue and don’t forget training beyond editing if you’ve got a need for subject-specific learning, or, indeed, business-skills learning.

Which brings us to …

Unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence

I first came across the Hierarchy of Competence model in management training, many years ago, and I’ve since encountered the related Dunning–Kruger effect, which adds the idea that, to paraphrase heavily, in areas where we don’t realise what we don’t know, we are more likely to think we know rather more about it than we actually do.

Although it’s often presented now as a pyramid, when I first came across the Hierarchy of Competence model, it was shown as a staircase.

Competence Staircase

Unconscious incompetence is a happy place – you don’t know much, and you don’t realise just how little you know.

Conscious incompetence is a less happy place, but it’s a place of growth – you’re alerted to the fact that the thing you’re learning is actually bigger than you thought. Hopefully, though, it’s also an exciting place to be as you start to explore your new skills and milieu.

Conscious competence isn’t the happiest of places, either, but things are improving – you’re aware of how much you need to practise, and how much more there is to learn, but you’re getting used to wielding your skills and seeing results. It’s still all a bit of an effort, though.

Unconscious competence is great – you’re just getting on with the job and doing it well.

However, don’t think that this unconscious competence is the end of your learning journey. It does take some effort to stay there, or you’ll find yourself tumbling down the stairs as the landscape changes around you. That’s your cue to undertake CPD – emphasis on the C.

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford

Sue 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.

 

 

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: header image by cottonbro studio, woman writing in a notebook by RF._.studio, love to learn by Tim Mossholder, all on Pexels.

Posted by Eleanor Smith, blog assistant.

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

A week in the life of an ELT editor and project manager

Editor and project manager Derek Philip-Xu shares with us the ins and outs of his varied week in the world of English language teaching (ELT) editing, where he focuses on producing digital content for publishers.

My route into publishing

I’ve been involved in ELT and publishing for over 20 years now, but I initially started off my work life as a chartered surveyor. That was a career path I followed for seven years before deciding to take a career break. I wasn’t keen on backpacking, but my sister’s suggestion of teaching English abroad sparked my interest. While she was thinking that it would be good for me to travel the world and gain valuable work experience, she was also hoping to visit me for nice holidays somewhere in Europe.

In 2003, following completion of my CELTA (Certificate in English Language to Speakers of Other Languages), I moved to Japan to teach for a year. This was not because I didn’t want family visits, but there was something about Japanese culture and the way of life that I found quite captivating. A year out turned into five years, followed by two years teaching in Spain and then six years in China. My time in China saw me move from teaching into publishing, developing both print and digital materials for young learners. When I returned to the UK, I continued working in publishing, specifically on digital ELT materials.

Why the focus on digital content?

I have always believed that digital products are an important part of a publisher’s course offering. They are not just a free add-on, as I have sometimes heard them described. They take time and effort to produce and, as was seen throughout the pandemic, offer teachers and students the opportunity to continue their classroom activities – albeit in a slightly different format than before. Digital ELT content continues to offer flexibility in the form of micro-learning and bite-sized learning. Students can practise their English wherever they are and whenever they want, providing them with a degree of control and choice that wasn’t available when I started out.

So, what is a typical week?

Well, is there such a thing as a typical week? Probably not, which is quite nice as it keeps things fresh and interesting. Generally, I start off the week with an overview of the tasks I need to get through. I use a handy business and project management app called Notion to organise my workload into projects, to-do lists and due dates. It quickly gets me into the work mindset, setting me up for the week ahead.

If I’m lucky enough to come into a project right from the very beginning, there will be a project kick-off meeting scheduled at some point. For example, one of my clients has asked me to join the project team as a content editor for a digital component the client is developing. I’ll be making sure the content that is written follows the brief, is pedagogically sound and is generally fit for purpose.

Project kick-off meetings, whether I’m the project lead or part of the project team, are an excellent way of ensuring that everyone is on the same page. Sometimes aspects of the project have not yet been decided on, such as the overall platform design, and these meetings are a good way of communicating those known issues but also assuaging any uncertainties that team members might have. They are a good opportunity to start building rapport with the rest of the team, ask any questions, present any doubts and generally get up to speed with the project and its documentation.

Project update meetings follow on from the kick-off meeting and can range from quick 15-minute weekly catch-ups to longer meetings once or twice a month. Project management is a lot about communication but also involves information gathering, and project update meetings are a useful tool for that. It is vital that the correct people have the most up-to-date information so that the project can proceed smoothly. In my project update meetings, we are looking at changes to the schedule to bring forward the go-live date, as well as interrogating the existing publishing workflow to ensure that it fits with the schedule and the budget.

My publishing work as a digital commissioning editor has set me up well for dealing with project management tasks, and, indeed, there are many crossovers (such as scheduling, briefing and budgeting). I am currently building on that knowledge through studying with the Association for Project Management. Nevertheless, having worked with publishing workflows for many years, and understanding the bottlenecks and pinch points that invariably crop up, it has become easier to anticipate and, therefore, deal with such issues.

Editing work

One of my regular jobs is working as editor of Voices, the flagship magazine of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL). This is a mix of editorial and project management work. For project management, this involves setting schedules and ensuring that authors and contributors submit their articles by the specified deadlines and generally progress everything through the workflow in a timely manner.

The editorial part of the work involves me liaising with the authors, providing advice and feedback on their work. This is a very satisfying part of the job as I get to speak regularly with IATEFL members from all over the world, helping them with their articles on a wide range of ELT-related subjects. Many of the authors are writing in their second language, which is no easy feat. I aim to guide them through the publishing process by first asking them to submit a short outline of their article which I can provide feedback on. This provides the author with a foundation upon which to start writing their article in more depth. There can be regular check-in points just to make sure that good progress is being made and to resolve any potential issues. Once submitted, I give the article an initial edit before sending it off to the copyeditor.

This culminates in the proofing stages, where I get to work closely with the designer and the copyeditor, checking to ensure that everything is in the correct place. One important aspect of our work is our desire to make the publication more accessible. This has involved checking the fonts and font sizes used throughout and updating to sans serif fonts, to improve readability. We are also looking at including alternative (alt) text descriptions for images which can be read by screen readers.

Running my business

I do not particularly like the term ‘freelancer’ because it sounds so temporary; I am a self-employed business owner. Although the projects I take on may last a few months or maybe only a few weeks, there is nothing temporary about the business I am running. While I have to work on my project tasks, such as the content editing and project management (the money makers), I do also have to spend time during the week on business admin and other similar tasks.

Jobs will not come in if people do not know you or what you do. So, there has to be some element of networking to increase my business visibility and online presence. Although I’ve gotten better at networking over the years, it’s not something I particularly like doing. Nevertheless, going to the IATEFL conference as well as the ELT Publishing Professionals Freelancers’ Awayday is invaluable (and fun).

Concentrating on the likes of your accounts from a business health standpoint as well as increasing your visibility as a business has an impact on your project pipeline. It is important to ensure that you plan ahead and know how much time you have available throughout the coming months and, potentially, for the year ahead. Some projects will tide you over for a few months, with others being more short term. With increased visibility, you may often be contacted at short notice to see if you are available to take on work. I have my time-tracking spreadsheet at the ready to see exactly how much time I have available and when.

Running

My week wouldn’t be complete without a few runs around Maidenhead, where I live. I’ve been involved with Maidenhead Athletic Club for around six years now, most recently as the club’s chair. Getting out and about for a run, no matter how fast or slow, is a great way to wind down after a busy day. Running is great for alleviating stress and anxiety, and for rooting you in the present. I’d definitely recommend it after a busy day of project management and editing.

About Derek Philip-Xu

Derek Philip-Xu left his native Scotland in 2003 to teach English in Japan and Spain before moving into school management and publishing while in China. On moving back to the UK in 2016, he continued working in ELT publishing, specialising in digital content development and commissioning. Derek is now self-employed, managing his business Refreshing Publishing, which offers digital content development, publishing project management and editorial services.

 

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: desktop by Pexels on Pixabay; team meeting by fauxels on Pexels.

Posted by Sue McLoughlin, blog assistant.

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

Talking tech: Note-taking

A key part of any training and CPD we undertake is taking notes that we can look back on for reference. But which is best: good old pen and paper, or modern apps? Andy Coulson contrasts and compares.

I am an unashamed paper note-taker. There is something about using paper and a pen or pencil that just feels better. I think the physical action of writing is a part of it: research in education and psychology suggests there is a link between handwriting and memory formation. There is certainly research around the cognitive benefits of handwritten note-taking (for example, Mueller and Oppenheimer’s ‘The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking’). I’ve tried various digital solutions and they just don’t quite cut it for me, but they might be preferred by some.

Why make notes?

Note-taking is a key study skill students use to record key information about a topic and create something they can then review and learn from. Many university websites offer good note-taking guides, for example the University of Reading and the Open University. Cornell University goes a step further and has its own note-taking system, summarised here.

All these have a few things in common: notes are short-form text, summarising key points to act as reminders; they should ask or stimulate questions about the topic; and they should allow the student to accurately review the material later.

Paper notes: The pros and cons

I think one of the things that I like about paper notes is that they don’t have to have a fixed structure: if they capture the key information in a way that allows you to understand and recall it, then they work. Handwritten notes can include marking up or annotating printouts (for example, with a highlighter or marginal notes); creating a structured outline using nested bullets, diagrams, tables and graphs, and mind maps or spider diagrams; or mostly graphical approaches like Sketchnotes. If you are anything like me, your notes end up with a mix of different things – sometimes a doodle or sketch catches an idea, and sometimes words are enough.

While handwritten notes have an advantage in helping us to understand and remember what we are learning, organising them can be more difficult. The more formal and structured systems, such as Cornell’s, encourage you to review and rewrite notes to help understand and retain the information. Using paper this is a slow job, but again it is all helping the information sink into your brain – it is a part of the learning process. By contrast, we have got used to storing everything and quickly searching for it with reasonable accuracy in the digital world. So, do the digital alternatives offer us a real advantage by managing the organisation?

Handwriting: note-taking

The digital app alternatives

Three popular digital note-taking apps are Microsoft’s OneNote, Google Keep and Evernote. The first two are freely available with a Windows, Office or a Google account. Evernote has a feature-limited free version, and paid versions with varying degrees of sophistication. All three of them also have mobile apps that link to the desktop or web app, allowing you to sync your notes across devices. I’ve used both Evernote and OneNote and they are both very comprehensive programs. They do slightly different jobs, but there is a big crossover in the middle.

Evernote is particularly good at grabbing content from sources such as web pages and, with a paid plan, you can add markup to these. Information is organised as pages, referred to as ‘notes’, that can be grouped in notebooks and linked. When you create notes there are a lot of templates you can use, including a Cornell Notes-specific one. In a note, you can add text or images, and a wide variety of other material. The editing screen is quite similar to Word or Google Docs, with material added in a linear up/down fashion as you would in Word. There are also features to create checklists and a link to Google Calendar, allowing Evernote to work as a capable task manager as well as a note manager.

OneNote supports most of the same features as Evernote. One big difference is the much more freeform way that you can add things to a note (or ‘section’ in OneNote terminology) where blocks of text or images are not fixed in a linear flow like they are in Word. For example, when you add text to a page, say a paragraph or bullet list, you add it as a box. These boxes can be moved around on the page in relation to each other, making the structure of your notes very easy to reorganise. There are a lot of quick formatting options that help you to highlight and flag elements in the text, such as ‘tickable’ to-do list bullets, highlighted styles for definitions or things to remember for later, and icons for phone numbers or email addresses.

By contrast, Google Keep is a much simpler app and to my mind is more like a digital block of sticky notes. You create text notes with a more limited range of features, including embedding images. The clever bit is that you can add labels like those Gmail uses, to group and organise those notes.

Keyboard: note-taking

I think OneNote gets closest to the flexibility of handwritten notes, and I can imagine that with a tablet and stylus it gets even closer. However, I don’t think any of these quite replace the functionality and convenience of a pad and pen; for me, at least.

As I mentioned earlier, part of the learning process is to review and perhaps rewrite your notes. Perhaps a hybrid option is to treat that rewrite as a good point to digitise your notes, particularly if you want them to be digitally searchable in future.

A reMarkable solution?

There is one more technical solution that might offer the best of both worlds. The reMarkable tablet aims to provide a paper-like experience on a digital tablet. It incorporates handwriting recognition so handwritten text can be converted to computer text, allowing it to be searched. The reMarkable system uses a folder system, just like your PC or Mac, and can sync documents with popular file storage services like Google Drive. There is also a desktop program that allows you to access and organise all your notes on your PC or Mac. The downside is of course the cost (around £300), but it is comparable to a mid-range phone or tablet, and this could be a really useful tool for many people.

About Andy Coulson

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

 

 

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: header image by Kelly Sikkema, handwriting by Eleni Koureas, computer keyboard by Sergi Kabrera on Unsplash.

Posted by Belinda Hodder, blog assistant.

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

What might the future of AI mean for editors and proofreaders?

We asked five editors to give us their views on how they think AI might affect their work in the future (while acknowledging that none of them owns a crystal ball). Here are their thoughts…

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Back in January, I wrote on The Wordstitch Blog that I don’t believe AI will ever replace human editors – and (spoiler alert) AI agreed with me. Nothing I’ve seen since then has changed my opinion.

I certainly think AI will have an impact by shifting how editors work. I suspect there will be a natural migration away from the less judgement-based work of ‘error checking’ towards the more nuanced, involved work of refining and enhancing text (although this doesn’t necessarily mean that I think traditional proofreaders will be out of a job; proofreading is about much more than ‘error checking’ and requires intensely refined judgement at a point in the editorial workflow where the scope for changes is often very limited).

Overall, in the long term I believe AI will have a positive (or at worst neutral) effect on our work. I believe it will do this by allowing us to be more efficient and thereby freeing us up to provide more of the gloriously messy human mix of spontaneity and personal experience that leads to great creative collaborations (remember: ChatGPT et al. cannot truly create; all they can do is predict based on what they have learned from text that already exists).

My view is that the most important thing for us to do as editors is to educate ourselves about AI. If you’re like me, reading about its new (and ever-increasing) capabilities involves a lot of mental flinching. But it’s important to set aside this fear and learn how to work with AI. If we ignore its possibilities, we only increase our chances of being replaced. In contrast, if we make it a part of our team, we might just gain a whole new lease of life in our respective businesses. We might be able to focus more on the meaningful editing we love, supported by our very own AI-powered editorial assistant.

Most of all I believe that, when it comes to the quintessentially human activity of communication, ultimately humans will always prefer to work with other humans.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

AI reminds me of the early days of Covid. We all know we’re facing something big – so big it may even be an existential threat (especially for editorial professionals) – and so we all want answers, but those answers simply don’t exist, yet. We have to wait for things to unfold, but as we’re so closely affected, we’re grappling at the margins of knowledge and speculation to try to get ahead of the curve.

My own view is that AI as an editing tool is, at present, pretty poor in my niche (scholarly humanities and social sciences). At present. As I write, the news has come that ChatGPT can now access the internet. Not great – it’s a move from inventing ‘facts’ to melding together an almighty mess, as it still won’t be able to distinguish between fake news, error, unfounded opinion and truth. People can’t! I imagine it will improve quickly but not so far as to replace us editors. Computers were, and are, pretty dumb things and language is a hugely complex thing to codify. The learning they do through AI is just following patterns – but who knows what trawling the internet will add to their output? Regulation will be essential.

However, AI bots will help unconfident writers, for whom getting a simple message across simply and clearly is important, rather than literary style. I suspect they’ll be better at utilitarian language than at artistry. I also suspect there’ll be a rise in mediocre writing, as people accept AI’s input without the ability to judge it for themselves and be selective.

Accordingly, I’m ensuring my marketing efforts remain focused on the quality end of the client base, targeting people and organisations who understand that AI isn’t an easy, cheap replacement for the human mind.

I’ll be asking clients about their AI policies and thinking about what additional clauses to include in my own T&Cs.

John IngamellsJohn Ingamells

At the CIEP conference, a colleague said that he had experimented with ChatGPT.

His conclusion was that it was ‘good, but not great’. This immediately brought to mind the instruction I well remember from my first proofreading course – the idea of learning when things are ‘good enough’. We would all love to produce perfect work every time. But often budgets and time constraints lead us to that ‘good enough’ conclusion.

It struck me that this could well be the niche that AI fills for the foreseeable future. The polished prose of literary fiction, the pinpoint accuracy needed in legal and commercial material – these are things that will probably be beyond AI for some time to come. But the world of ‘good enough’ is surely there for the taking. So much content nowadays is produced to tight deadlines and is only expected to have a short shelf life. Being able to get something usable far more quickly is bound to be attractive to a lot of people. How much of that sort of material is currently being put through editors and proofreaders is open to debate. So the impact on our profession may not be as bad as some fear. But the need for us all to demonstrate the value of our work and how it is worth paying for will only increase. Perhaps on our websites we now don’t just need a ‘Services I offer’ tab, but a ‘Services I offer that AI can’t’ tab as well!

a human hand touches a robot hand, mimicking Michelangelo

Erin BrennerErin Brenner

I run Right Touch Editing, an agency primarily serving small and mid-sized organisations. Our clients produce reports, marketing materials, and similar business-related copy, and they generally don’t have devoted writers on staff. Many projects are written collectively by staffers who have a lot of other tasks to do every day.

It’s easy to see how AI tools can help them get these projects done. They can brainstorm, outline, and write rough drafts quickly with the right prompts. And the output can be helpful – up to a point. We’ve all heard stories of AI tools making up details. They’re mediocre at best when it comes to writing and editing, even with well-written prompts.

But this is where my team and I come in. As the writing experts for our clients, we’re key to understanding these tools and using them successfully. We can help clients use these time-saving tools to get the results they’re looking for. I see us performing heavier-than-usual edits on copy that AI has helped produce. Being aware of its weaknesses means we can edit for those weaknesses. For those clients with a little more budget, we can work directly with an AI tool to develop the content and then revise and edit it to a professional standard.

These tools aren’t going away. Of course, we need to be wary, ensuring that we’re using them ethically, but we can’t ignore them. By becoming the experts on how and when to use AI tools, we can guide our clients to better, more ethical usage.

Andrew HodgesAndrew Hodges

Overall, I’m excited about generative AI’s possibilities but angry at how authors’ and artists’ work (including my own book) has been exploited in datasets to train them. Better protections for authors must be established. But generative AI (when developed responsibly) could save lots of time on copyedits by creating macros and doing jobs like reference list formatting etc.

In the medium term, I expect a small drop in the number of human editors needed, as more work will involve reviewing AI-assisted edits. I expect this will happen quickly for proofreading of PDF proofs.

Since I set up my business, I’ve been shifting to doing more developmental editing and coaching and less line editing and copyediting. I guess editorial consulting will be less directly affected by generative AI than, say, proofreading, light copyediting or translation. Whatever kind of editing people do, I expect editors who include human connection in their workflows will continue to flourish. Electric massage chairs didn’t make regular massages obsolete.

The most exciting aspect for me is how these new technologies may change our expectations. This reminds me of Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s argument about how the invention of labour-saving household devices like the vacuum cleaner didn’t ultimately end up saving people time. Alongside the new inventions came raised standards and expectations of cleanliness. When new technologies emerge, there’s a social reconfiguring and a new balance is found. This is happening with generative AI: in the space of a few months, it became obvious when ChatGPT had been used to write a blog or social media post, and I started interpreting a smooth, correctly spelled post or email with that signature ChatGPT voice differently. Who knows, there could be an increased focus on solving structural problems with manuscripts if generative AI takes care of some of the sentence-level issues. It’s impossible to predict!

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: artificial brain by geralt on Pixabay; human and robot hands by cottonbro on Pexels.

Posted by Sue McLoughlin, blog assistant.

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

Tips for proofreading children’s books

In many ways, proofreading books for children isn’t that different from proofreading any other material … but there are a few extra things to look out for, especially in highly illustrated titles. In this refreshed post, originally from 2016, Liz Dalby provides some pointers.

Mind the flaps!

Many children’s books, especially non-fiction titles, feature interactive elements such as flaps, pop-ups, stickers and activities. If you’re proofreading on screen, you’ll see the pages in two-dimensional form, but be aware that you might need to consider how different elements of the book would work together in real life. (Would the outline provided fold up into a model of a robot? Are there really 1,000 stickers, as claimed on the cover?) You won’t necessarily need to print things out to get the job done, but you might need to sense-check activities, cross-reference different parts of the product, or count particular elements (all 1,000 of them). Make sure you factor this in to the time you allow to proofread the book, even if the word count is tiny, and consider using a second screen if you don’t already, to speed up the work and increase your accuracy.

When is a book not a book?

When it’s an ebook or an app – both popular formats for children’s books, and with a different set of considerations from physical books. You might be asked to check how a highly illustrated layout transfers to ebook format, for example, possibly with reflowable text. Are all the elements still there, in a sensible order?

With ebooks and apps, you’ll need to find the most sensible way of returning comments, which might not take the form of a more traditional mark-up, but could instead be a list of corrections. With apps you’ll need to make sure you’ve checked and clearly recorded corrections to all the places where text appears – which might not be easy to deal with in a linear way.

Less can be more … when it comes to mistakes

In some ways, children’s books seem too easy. In books for younger readers in particular, you might have as few as twenty words. (Your per-thousand word rate is likely to be reassuringly astronomical!) However, the lack of text can be almost intimidating. Any remaining mistakes have nowhere to hide, and will come back to haunt you for all eternity … or until the books are pulped. Make triply certain that the title on the spine matches the title on the cover and on the title page, for example. Surprisingly often, it doesn’t.

Reading order

In boring old adult books, usually you start reading at the top left of a page, and keep plugging away until you get to the bottom right, and then start the process all over again. This isn’t necessarily so in children’s books, where layouts can be considerably more dynamic, with smaller blocks of text arranged across the page or spread, integrated with the pictures, and interspersed with smaller text elements such as boxes, captions and annotations. Pay attention to the reading order of the different elements – it needs to be logical. Sometimes, captions will be the only part that is read, so these need to stand alone. They should work hard, add value to the picture they refer to, and not simply repeat part of the main body text. It seems obvious, but it’s easily overlooked: annotations need to refer to the part of a picture they are pointing to.

Consider the reader

Whatever we edit or proofread, we need to consider the intended reader. But with children as the audience, there are extra considerations. Is the text legible? Are the fonts used appropriate? Although by the time you are proofreading, basic decisions such as font choice will have been made long ago in the process, you might still find instances where things need to be tweaked to help a young readership. Also look out for words, especially technical terms or jargon, that don’t fit the reading age or need to be explained where they appear.

Diversity and inclusion

Children’s publishers often have guidelines for authors and editors on inclusion and diversity. Although these aspects should be considered from the outset of a project – or rather, as this article argues, a book should ‘be diverse without diversity being its selling point’ – it’s still an important aspect of children’s publishing for proofreaders and copy-editors to be aware of.

Don’t neglect the pictures

You might think of yourself as a word person, but in many children’s books, much of the sense comes from the pictures, so you must pay as much attention to them as to the text. If the text describes something shown in a picture, such as a colour, does the picture reflect that? If the pictures show a step-by-step process, are they in the right order? Many children’s books are commissioned in the knowledge that they will be co-editions, or sold into a range of territories. Often you will need to look out for parochial details in the images that could limit a book’s marketability, such as obviously right-hand-drive cars, or very British-looking police uniforms.

Marking up

Finally, think about the best way to mark up a highly illustrated book. Your client might have guidelines on how they want you to mark up PDFs, but remember that marks can easily be overlooked on busy, brightly coloured backgrounds. If you think a mark might be lost, draw a big box around it or highlight it with a helpful arrow. Go for maximum clarity.

About Liz Dalby

Liz Dalby worked in-house for two children’s publishers between 1998 and 2005, and still occasionally proofreads children’s books on a freelance basis.

 

 

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: header image by Ksenia Chernaya, four children reading by Anastasia Shuraeva, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, information commissioning editor.

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

Resources round-up: Children’s books

Welcome to another round-up of resources compiled by the CIEP. This time, we look at children’s books. It focuses on fiction but some of the links are also relevant to non-fiction for young readers. We have divided our picks into:

  • CIEP guides and resources
  • Getting to know the market
  • Support for writers, editors and publishers
  • Encouraging diversity
  • Producing picture books
  • Ensuring age appropriateness

CIEP guides and resources

Things to consider when writing or editing a children’s book are much the same as when writing or editing for adults: follow plain English principles, support self-publishing and make the text as effective as possible via developmental editing, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Search for relevant posts on our blog using the keywords ‘children’s books’ to find advice on sensitive language, age appropriateness and more.

Getting to know the market

If you want to write or edit children’s books, the best place to start is by reading them. The classics you remember from your childhood have stood the test of time for a reason, but the market – especially regarding children’s preferences – has changed a lot over the past 30 or 40 years.

To find out what kids are reading now, explore sites such as Achuka, LoveReading4Kids and ReadingZone, which all feature reviews of the latest titles, from picture books to young adult (YA) novels, as well as author interviews and other insights into the market.

If you’re looking for specific data on reading and publishing trends, download the School Library Association’s (SLA’s) research on what children are choosing to read and how they make that choice. Renaissance Learning produces a free annual report called ‘What and how kids are reading’ (registration required for access), which tracks pupils’ reading habits over many years. The research reveals that humorous authors Jeff Kinney and David Walliams continue to top young readers’ popularity charts – despite some adults’ disapproval!

But remember that in order to get into the hands of children, books also need to appeal to gatekeepers such as librarians, teachers and parents. To this end, the freely downloadable magazine Books for Keeps has been reviewing books and reporting on children’s literature for nearly 45 years over more than 260 issues. You can access thousands of reviews via its website – a useful tool for gauging what adults value about the books they make available to children.

Child reading: writing and editing children’s books

BookTrust UK promotes the importance of books at all stages of life. Parents may know of it through the free Bookstart programme for babies and toddlers, but its website provides comprehensive resources for writers as well. Regular research and evaluation of BookTrust projects keeps content relevant for everyone involved in producing reading resources for children. The Scottish Book Trust offers similar programmes, including Bookbug, for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, and useful resources for writers and publishers.

Support for writers, editors and publishers

The Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is regarded by many as an indispensable guide to writing and publishing for children. Covering fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screen, audio and theatre, self-publishing and traditional publishing, it provides practical advice for all stages of the writing and illustration process.

The Writers & Artists website is itself a treasury of (free) advice and resources on the processes of writing, illustrating and publishing, and the book Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to Writing for Children and YA: A Writer’s Toolkit provides further guidance, including on digital publishing.

Anyone involved in producing children’s books should consider joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), a global community for children’s book creators. Its UK chapter runs Words and Pictures, which is full of practical resources for writers, illustrators and editors that, in fact, anyone with an interest in the process of making books can spend a happy afternoon browsing.

Children’s book prizes abound, but here we’ll highlight the Branford Boase Award because it recognises not only the winning debut writer but also their (in-house) editor.

Bookfox Press has a useful ‘how to’ guide for those entering the world of children’s book publishing, covering the whole process from initial idea to finding an agent. Kindlepreneur’s guide is more market focused. We’re pleased to note that both guides emphasise the importance of using editors.

Encouraging diversity

It’s important that children (and adults, for that matter) see positive representations of people like themselves. Inclusion has improved significantly in recent years, thanks in part to publications such as Pen&inc., a magazine promoting diversity in books produced by the Library and Information Association (CILIP), and organisations such as Black Books Matter UK, which champions diversity in books and stories that represent Black history and culture.

There’s support for writers and self-publishers too. The Jericho Prize promotes high-quality children’s picture books by Black-British authors that feature authentic Black main characters. Its website features a range of resources to help authors through the production process, including a video explaining the proofreading and formatting process. Meanwhile, Megaphone Writers is a mentoring scheme for people of colour in England who want to write novels for children and young adults.

Teenager reading: writing and editing children’s books

Inclusion is also important for the one-in-six children who have special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). BookTrust offers advice for writers, illustrators and publishers on good practice for showing disability in a positive and natural way. Significantly, it advises that ‘disability doesn’t need to be a key part of the plot – and certainly not a punchline’. In practical terms too, a ‘book’ doesn’t have to be a flat, printed document – as well as standard audiobooks, organisations such as ClearVision and Living Paintings provide books that provide access to the visual world via touch and sound.

Producing picture books

Yes, some books for adults do have pictures but those for children need a particularly nuanced partnership between the words and images. Successful and timeless examples are revealed in Penguin’s list of classic picture books, and People of Publishing’s top tips for authors and illustrators sheds more light on developing stories and portfolios that sell.

Creating a picture book is a complex process, as authors Alan Durant and Olivia Hope explain. The publishing process can take a surprisingly long time and the content needs to be held to as high a standard as any other type of book. For some beautiful and evocative examples of picture-book art, lose yourself in the wonderful Picturebook Makers gallery.

Ensuring age appropriateness

At every stage of the process, editors and other readers will be checking that the text is suitable for the target audience. As Miriam Laundry Publishing points out: ‘If you’re writing for ALL children, you’re not writing for ANY children.’ The post includes examples of age categories (although it sounds like an American term, ‘middle grade’ is also used in the UK to refer to books for pre- and early teen readers). Red Wolf Press describes where you can find this information about books that have already been published – more useful sources of research.

This blog post from Inky Frog Editorial looks at examples of contemporary middle-grade and teen fiction to underline the importance of knowing your audience.

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: header image by Annie Spratt, boy reading by Michał Parzuchowski, teenager reading a book by Seven shooter, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Belinda Hodder, blog assistant.

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

The importance of page turns in picture books

Picture books may have some of the shortest word counts of any books, but that doesn’t make editing them straightforward. Lisa Davis explains what editors and authors need to consider when using the format of the book itself to build the story.

When initially editing a manuscript without illustrations, it’s important to consider what the illustrations can bring to the narrative. Some manuscripts might come with illustration suggestions embedded in the text to help get an idea of what the author envisions. The author may also have broken down the manuscript into page splits, but if the editor or the author is not familiar with the picture book format or editing picture books, it can be easy to overlook the importance of page turns.

Using the picture book format

The standard picture book on the market these days is 32 pages. This includes all front and end matter, which often takes up a minimum of three pages for title page and copyright information. The text itself is usually around 500 words – it’s a lot of story to pack into a small amount of space, and that’s why the format of a picture book matters so much.

Whatever the production stage, but particularly when developmental editing a picture book, an editor needs to think about the book in spreads – the two pages that face each other compose one spread. This is essential when commissioning artwork since the illustrator will need to know if they are illustrating a single page or an entire spread. Picture books can have a mixture of artwork sizes throughout, so they could take up an entire spread, a single page or even just part of a page that features several illustrations. These all aid with the pacing of the story. But, along with the pictures, we can also use the format of the book to help pace and build tension in the story.

With each turn of a page, you can completely change the scene or tone. It’s almost like a lift-the-flap book where you reveal something to the reader. Imagine the story being read aloud to a child and pausing before turning the page to ask, ‘What do you think is going to happen now?’ Or the way a scene may be cut in a film or TV programme where something is shown that contradicts what was just said for humorous effect. Or even panels in a graphic novel where you build up to something big that needs a whole page of its own.

How to use page turns

While most picture books today will use page turns to some extent, certain titles rely on this element for comedy, surprise or dramatic effect. One great example is the classic Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins, which uses the page turns throughout the whole story for comedic effect. While Rosie the hen goes on a walk around the farmyard, a fox follows behind her planning to attack, only for the page to turn and the fox has a mishap that results in Rosie (unknowingly) escaping.

Unless the story fully relies on page turns, as in Rosie’s Walk, it’s more common to use these page turns for scene changes sparingly for greatest effect, usually around the climax of the story. For instance, the book I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen uses a page turn as Bear makes a realisation that yes, he has seen the hat he’s been looking for. The previous page leads to this with a ‘Wait a minute …’ moment, letting the reader know something big is going to happen once they turn the page. And then – page-flip – we zoom in on Bear’s face as his mood changes from sadness to rage, illustration turned from subtle tones to awash with red. The rest of the story hinges on this moment, which is why it’s vital to use every element a book offers (text, artwork and format) to build up to it.

Another popular page-turn technique in picture books is using the very last page of the book (which will be a single page that faces the inside of the cover) to add an illustration vignette to suggest what might happen after the story has ended. For instance, maybe you think a character has learned a lesson, but then the illustration suggests the same situation is about to happen all over again.

A great example of this final-page usage is Nine Lives Newton by Alice McKinley. At the beginning of the book, Newton the dog mistakenly reads an obscured sign and now believes that dogs have nine lives, setting him off to do all the things he had previously avoided doing – with a poor cat following behind trying to warn him (while using up its own nine lives in the process). By the end of the book, Newton learns about his error, and our cat friend thinks all is well again. But on that final page, a vignette shows Newton looking at another obscured sign leading to yet another misunderstanding, suggesting to the reader that the chaos is about to start all over again! It’s a great way to end the story with an unexpected laugh.

cover of 'Nine Lives Newton' by Alice McKinley

Adding page turns to a manuscript

It might be easy to see the strength of a clever page turn when you’re looking at published books, but how do you know where to put the page cuts in a manuscript that you’re working on? This can be done by looking for those moments in the text with a sudden scene change. Think of them as ‘3… 2 … 1 …’ moments, or points where someone reading aloud will add a lot more drama. For instance, consider where you might want page turns with the following sentences:

The little owl stepped up to the edge of the branch, puffed up its chest, stretched out its wings and leapt into the air. What a glorious feeling! it thought, just before it started to fall down … down … down … and then … CRASH! landed right in the middle of a bluebird nest.

Bear in mind that picture book pacing also means considering how many words are on each page. Effective page turns can mean that a page with a big reveal or sudden dramatic moment might have just a few words – or even no words at all. While there are many ways to split up a moment like this, an option could be:

(Spread 1 – left page)

The little owl stepped up to the edge of the branch, puffed up its chest, stretched out its wings and leapt into the air.

[illustration: full page of baby owl preparing to fly]

(Spread 1 – right page)

What a glorious feeling! it thought, just before it started to fall down … down … down … and then …

[illustration: page of vignettes showing owl at various stages: 1) happily flying, 2) realising it’s falling, 3) falling more, 4) properly tumbling down]

(Spread 2 – full spread)

CRASH! landed right in the middle of a bluebird nest.

[illustration: full spread of a dishevelled owl sitting unhappily among some perplexed bluebird chicks]

This is an exaggerated way to write this out in a manuscript and is rarely necessary, but it is sometimes helpful if a self-publishing author needs to commission the illustrations according to the page splits (because it will influence what the illustrator is commissioned to draw and how many illustrations are required). When working with authors who plan to submit the book to agents or publishers, then it’s better not to be as prescriptive with page numbers or illustrations, and to simply leave line breaks within the text to give an indication of pacing.

So if you’re getting into picture book editing, remember that there’s more to it than just the text and illustrations – there’s also the whole format of the book that you can play around with. That’s what makes editing picture books both challenging and exceptionally fun!

About Lisa Davis

Lisa Davis (she/her) is a children’s book editor and publishing consultant who specialises in making children’s books more inclusive. She has worked at major publishers in the UK including Simon & Schuster and Hachette, and in departments including editorial, rights and production. Before going freelance in 2018, she was the book purchasing manager for BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, which gives over 3.5 million books a year directly to children.

 

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: child reading by Marta Wave on Pexels; Rosie’s Walk and Nine Lives Newton, Simon and Schuster.

Posted by Sue McLoughlin, blog assistant.

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

How editors can help self-publishing children’s book authors

It’s easier than ever for first-time authors to self-publish children’s books but the process can still be confusing. Annie Deakins demystifies her role as an editor, explains how she can support authors in other ways and offers some tips to both prospective writers and editors.

The email begins, ‘Hello, I found your website and see that you proofread children’s books. I have written my first children’s book. Can you help me to publish? I need the grammar, etc, to be perfect. How much do you charge?’

I need more information.

Using my education background

I proofread children’s books using my knowledge from 30 years of teaching in the primary classroom. I know what makes a good children’s story, whether it’s a picture book, chapter book or another format.

When I taught children to read, I showed them how to understand and value stories with words chosen for effect. When I taught writing, I guided them to improve their writing using modelling – dissecting how the stories were written.

Supporting indie authors

When I retrained as a freelance proofreader and started my business, I had no idea about the area of self-publishing. But the process has grown in a way that makes getting their books out to readers attainable for new independent (indie) authors. And my knowledge has grown with them.

As it can be easier to self-publish than to go down the traditional route, it seemed logical to offer my services to indies. Half of the weekly enquiries I receive through my website are from new children’s book authors asking for help.

So, back to that email. What is my response?

  1. The author hasn’t indicated the genre or word count, or attached their manuscript, so I request the current file of their book and ask some questions. I can’t provide a quote unless I’ve seen the material.
  2. The author replies with their book file. As they have asked for a proofread, I’d hoped to see the finalised, illustrated manuscript as a PDF. However, when I open the file, it is a Word document with no illustrations.
  3. When I read the manuscript, I am excited by the writing. I feel I would be a good fit for the author, so I explain my packages.

By this point I realise that this author, like many new indies, doesn’t understand the process involved in publishing. They have asked for proofreading but they realise they need more than that. They need an editor; they need advice. As a first step, I refer them to the resources on the website of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), where there are written guides and author forums. I am a Partner Member of ALLi, offering an editorial service.

Finding the right package

I offer three packages:

  1. My basic proofread is checking for typos and errors of grammar and consistency. In traditional publishing, this would take place at the end of the publishing process when the manuscript has been copyedited, illustrated and typeset.
  2. My proof-edit is a proofread plus tweaking the text with edits or suggestions for improvement. I guide the author on the use of appropriate language for the age of the child. For example, is the book aimed at 4–7-year-olds, 8–11-year-olds or another age group? Is the topic suitable? Is the vocabulary appropriate?
  3. My advanced package includes the tasks outlined in point 2 but I add my consultancy service. I give indies advice on how to get their manuscript ready for self-publication. It includes a proof-edit in Microsoft Word, and a second proofread of the final proof of the book as a PDF just before it is published. By this time, a book designer has formatted and designed it to fit in the illustrations. It has a separate book-cover file which includes the front, back and spine.

To help this latest author to find the right package for their needs, I offer to do a sample proof-edit to show how their manuscript can be improved. I take different parts of their manuscript and demonstrate: a) a proofread and b) a proof-edit. As always, the author sees the value I add with my edits and chooses my consultancy rate. Then I invoice them for the deposit (usually 50%) so that their slot can be booked in my schedule.

Helping to find an illustrator

As the picture-book story lacks illustrations, I ask the author if they have an illustrator in mind. They say they want the story checked first to make sure it is ‘okay’ and ask if I can recommend an illustrator.

It’s a good idea for an author to have researched the kind of illustrator they want to use by, for example, looking at book covers of children’s books in the same genre and/or looking at the portfolios of illustrators to find one who uses the style they prefer. I recommend they look in the Directory of Partner Members in ALLi to find an illustrator.

Building the book

I’ve often been asked if I put the book together by combining the illustrations with the story. No, I don’t offer design, layout or typesetting as a service, yet. The skills of a book designer are in demand with the increase in self-publishing.

Book production involves a variety of specialists. We all respect each other as trusted colleagues. On LinkedIn, I’ve found several skilled typesetters who work with indie authors who I recommend to my clients. I also direct them to the ALLi Directory of Partner Members.

Offering sympathetic support

I am usually the only editing professional who sees the manuscript. When I am asked a question about self-publishing to which I don’t know the answer, it’s not a problem. I say I’ll find out. Answers can be found in the CIEP guide How to Work with Self-Publishers, or in the CIEP forums, or … on the ALLi website. Can you see a pattern emerging?

Considering the author’s marketing strategy

Lastly, when I return the proof-edited manuscript to the indie author, I ask if they have thought how they are going to advertise and market their children’s book. The answer, as always, is no; they are so pleased they have got this far. This is the end, isn’t it? Can I help?

I explain that if an indie author sells their children’s book on their website and social media channels, they will reach more readers, parents, teachers and other authors. As with any marketing strategy, it is best to start with the product at the end and work backwards.

Resources for editors

Could you offer an editing consultancy to indie authors?

Reflect on your skills, and recognise that you have knowledge that is in demand, and that you can offer trust and value. You are a safe pair of hands for a client who does not know the self-publishing area. Your skills are an asset that prospective clients are willing to pay for.

Here are some resources you may find useful:

  • The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) is a global membership association for self-publishing authors. Its mission is ethics and excellence in self-publishing, and it offers advice and advocacy for self-publishing authors within the literary, publishing and creative industries around the world. ALLi Partner Members get an affiliate link in their logo that can be put on an email signature, website, etc.
  • The ‘Pen to Published’ podcast is presented by independent publisher Alexa Whitten and CIEP member Alexa Tewkesbury. They give advice about writing and publishing children’s books, for want-to-be authors, those who are self-publishing, and anyone who just likes to write.
  • An education resource is the ELT Publishing Professionals Directory, which brings together publishers and freelancers in the English-language-teaching and educational publishing sectors.

 

About Annie Deakins

Annie DeakinsAnnie Deakins started her freelance proofreading and tutoring business in 2017 after teaching in Essex (via Paisley) for 30 years. She trained with the CIEP and is an Intermediate Member. She proofreads non-fiction for publishers and indies. Her specialisms are education, ELT, children’s books and religion. She is a Partner Member of ALLi and a member of the ELT Publishing Professionals Directory. Find her on LinkedIn.

 

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: header image by Pierre Bamin, girl reading by Jonathan Borba, both on Pexels.

Posted by Eleanor Smith, blog assistant.

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