Category Archives: Advice

Making time for marketing and CPD

One of those age-old questions for freelance editors and proofreaders is how to find time for marketing and continuing professional development (CPD) when other work keeps getting in the way. In this post, Philippa Lewis brings together some approaches that have helped her and other CIEP members.

When I started freelancing, I had no idea how much extra work would be involved on top of actual editing work. Words are my love and joy, and I’m more than happy to spend hours deliberating over every tiny aspect of punctuation, but I found myself completely unprepared for how much time marketing and CPD would take up.

Marketing in particular has been a challenge for me; I find the thought of promoting myself very uncomfortable, and marketing takes up time which I could be spending editing. And I would much, much rather be editing. It’s easy to convince myself that marketing is a waste of time when I could be spending that time completing paid work instead, so most of my attempts at marketing have been squeezed in out of slight desperation when I haven’t had any work booked in.

At the recent CIEP conference, Kia Thomas did an excellent talk about marketing. I really appreciated how matter-of-fact she was about it: as a freelancer, you have no choice but to market your business, so you might as well get on with it. Whether or not you enjoy doing marketing isn’t really relevant, because you still have to do it.

This was a bit of a wake-up call for me, and since then I’ve tried to come up with a system for regularly building marketing and CPD into my working week.

Find what works for you

Editors often talk about setting aside one morning or day a week for CPD and marketing. Having a specific slot for these tasks sounds like an excellent approach, but I always find that when I reach the time I’ve set aside, my latest editing deadline inevitably feels like a higher priority.

I’ve finally realised that a more flexible approach works better for me. I start my week by identifying the CPD and marketing tasks that I want to accomplish. These get written on a post-it and stuck onto my computer monitor; keeping them visible means I can’t forget to do them. I try to identify a mix of quick jobs (like sending a CV to a publisher) and longer ones (like drafting a blog post) for each week. I try to break tasks into smaller units where needed: ‘check pricing page on website’ feels more manageable than ‘re-do website’.

These tasks then got slotted in throughout the week. I find it useful to do them whenever I need a break from editing – often at the end of a work day, or before lunch. I might not have the mental capacity to edit another paragraph, but I can still manage to do a marketing task or read a blog post. Cycling through tasks like this means I’m more productive, as I’m ticking something off my list despite not feeling up to completing work for a client.

At the moment, this approach is working really well and allowing me to consistently complete CPD and marketing goals. But it’s freeing to remember that this might not be a strategy that works for me long term – I’ve found it really helpful to keep an open mind rather than trying to stick to a set routine that doesn’t feel like it’s working any more. We all work in different ways; don’t be afraid to try different approaches until you find a method that works for you.

Prioritise

Marketing and CPD both sometimes feel overwhelming: the list of things I could be doing can feel endless, and when the list is so long, sometimes it’s difficult to get started on working through it.

I’ve now got a list of CPD and marketing tasks that I want to complete, with the more pressing ones near the top, and I use this list to help me identify my tasks for each week.

CIEP member Eleanor Bolton has found it helpful to think about her long-term goals, then select CPD options that relate to this. She says ‘I had quite a long list of courses that all sounded interesting and potentially useful, but there was no way I could fit them all in. Over the summer I spent some time thinking about who my preferred clients were and ended up niching quite considerably. As a result, quite a few of those courses were no longer relevant.’

Be flexible

I’m currently doing a developmental editing course, and it wouldn’t be possible to complete the assignments for this in short bursts of time, or at the end of a day when I’m already tired. Likewise, if I’ve got a complex edit booked in, sometimes setting aside a chunk of time for CPD and marketing is more effective than trying to slot in extra tasks each day. On a different week with a different workload, a different approach might work better. It’s important to stay flexible, and to work with whatever your current circumstances are.

Anything is better than nothing

I’m aware that I could improve my editing speed if I improved my knowledge of using Word. I don’t have time to do a full course on it at the moment, so instead I’ve bought a book on the subject and I’m taking ten minutes every couple of days to work through a few pages. I’m not learning as much (or as quickly) as I would on a course, but I’m still learning something. Each tip I pick up is improving my editing speed.

Maybe you don’t have time to do a course at the moment, but could you listen to a podcast while doing the washing up or when you’re in the car? Again, this comes down to taking a step back and being willing to be flexible: what would be achievable with how your working week looks right now?

I regularly have to remind myself that anything is better than nothing. It’s really easy to get caught up in thinking all your marketing materials have to be perfect, which can lead to never finishing anything – but an imperfect website will reach more clients than a non-existent one.

Get something finished and sent off or published, even if you’re not completely happy with it: send a CV out to publishers even if you’re still completing a training course that you wanted to add to it; publish that blog post even though you’re not completely happy with one paragraph in it.

Reflect

And finally, set a moment aside to think about whether your current approach is working for you.

CIEP member Anna Baildon finds monthly reflections helpful to keep her CPD and marketing on track: ‘Each month I think about what’s gone well, what’s been more challenging and what I’ve learned. A brief look through my diary and my Trello board is usually enough to prompt my thoughts and form some analysis. It’s surprising how much insight this simple task provides. It’s like having a monthly meeting with my boss to bring clarity and focus to my work.’

There’s no ‘right’ way to tackle CPD and marketing; it’s just about finding an approach that works for you, sticking to it when you’re able to, and taking small but consistent steps forward.

About Philippa LewisHeadshot of Philippa Lewis

Philippa Lewis is a freelance developmental editor, copyeditor and proofreader. She works on a mix of speculative fiction and outdoors literature, and lives in North Wales.

 

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: unfocused lights and coffee both by Pixabay on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Forum matters: Creating and editing web content

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

Posts on this topic that are more than a year old might be of only historical interest, given how fast technology changes. The threads referred to in this article have been selected because they link pretty directly to work on websites, but don’t forget that issues of accessibility also apply to (or can be found in relation to) other media, such as PDFs.

Your own website

Although many editors and proofreaders rely on social media to network and expand their business, there is no doubt that having your own website helps establish your professionalism and is a good place for information about you that may get lost on Facebook and Instagram, or when LinkedIn and Twitter revamp their algorithms, or a newcomer takes people up another highway. One member’s request, Advice needed: moving from self-publishing to traditional fiction editing, ranged far and wide and pointed to just that conclusion.

Even if you’ve embraced the idea of developing a website it can be a slog, and a quick reach-out via the forums has kept members on track (‘How best to prioritise?’). After deciding to use a website design company, forum members have asked for recommendations, in threads entitled ‘website’ and ‘Web hosting and domain registrars’. Even that tricky sub-subject of emails has been covered in Email hosting recommendations.

Many CIEP members create and manage their own websites and have shared hard-earned advice on sites and specifics. You may already have chosen a provider, but if you are thinking of managing your own website then maybe you should have a look first at: Squarespace help; Creating a website then Websites again; Portfolio on WordPress website and New member & request for advice.

Members have asked each other for a quick review of their new or revamped websites (see Quid (I proofread your website) pro quo (you proofread mine) and quick website check) and for help on specifics such as T&Cs and Domain Name Extensions, or about the principles of Pricing and its absence on editor websites and the Use of first-person in freelance websites. The number of replies does vary, and sometimes the first one nails the answer, while at other times the discussion ranges so far you feel you’ve attended a mini-course in the subject – see Struggling to be competitive.

There are some topics that apply to more than websites but will certainly add a professional gloss, such as a source to spruce up the background of your profile pic in Useful website to create/edit profile pics or useful advice on accessibility in Text colours and backgrounds – best and worst for legibility? and Q about hyperlinks in Forum signature.

Laptop and notebook

Working on other websites

You don’t have to have created a website to be able to work on one (although it does help), but it is worth doing some training on the subject. CIEP offers two specific courses: Editing Digital Content and Web editing. But the forums are also up there when it comes to learning. We’ve all had an itch when we’ve spotted some bad practice and asked ourselves, should I say something? Read the thread and then decide.

You’d think a business would see editing their website as a no-brainer, but sometimes getting at the content can be tricky. Copyediting of websites and general advice on editing a website offer some useful insights and links.

SEO and accessibility are two aspects that you really need to get to grips with if you are going to offer a good service to website clients, and the forums are full of good advice on: best font/typeface for emails; quote marks and other punctuation for easy reading and accessibility; Rewording a bullet list for a website; Should numbers be spelled out in Websites?; Providing hyperlinks: best practice?

Good luck with your own and other websites. And don’t hold back on developing your skills and sharing your experiences through the CIEP forums.

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credit: laptops by Louise Viallesoubranne, notebook and laptop by Marissa Grootes, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Flying solo: Focusing your website on your ideal client

In this Flying Solo column, Sue Littleford gets deep into the business of editing text for your website.

When it comes to the content of your website, there are four stages: the initial content creation of the text, editing it down to do the job efficiently, making it accessible and keeping your content fresh. Let’s take those in turn. (I’m not going to talk about using images in this article – but keep ’em relevant, keep ’em in small file sizes for faster page loading, use alt text for accessibility and be aware of copyright issues.)

Creating the initial content

To paraphrase Malini Devadas, of the recently (and, I hope, temporarily) mothballed Edit Boost, marketing boils down to (1) understanding what you do and (2) who you do it for, then (3) telling them about it.

Your website (alongside the CIEP Directory, for Professional and Advanced Professional Members), is the easiest place to demonstrate the first two, and do the third.

It’s clear that people don’t give your website much time to make a good first impression. I learned at the 2022 CIEP conference that websites have 50 milliseconds in which to do it.

Your content should therefore be attractive and engaging (how I hate that word ‘compelling’ in this context!), be easy to access in terms of language, layout and colours, and focus on the potential client.

So here’s the biggest piece of advice today: create an avatar of your ideal client, then write for them, specifically.

How can you help them? What problems do you solve? Why should they hire you?

It’s always about them, not about you. That should steer your writing.

Think not about what you offer, but about what your client needs.

Keywords are a big thing

These are the search terms that people use in browsers to find what they need. And as search engines have been developed to work with more natural language, so they now reward keywords that appear in natural writing, rather than being crammed in artificially.

Keywords come in three flavours, depending on their length. The shortest are short-tail keywords, and are a word or two long. Long-tail keywords are little phrases – five words or more in length. Medium-tail keywords fit snugly in between, at three or four words long. This flexibility means that using keywords of different lengths can still make the writing appear natural while getting good search engine optimisation – the SEO you hear bandied about.

Short-tail keywords are necessarily more generic: ‘proofreader’, ‘editing’ and so on. The longer the keyword, the more specific it becomes, which is why you need to know the keywords that people type into their search engines.

How do you find out the keywords people use?

There are a number of services available, some paid for, some not. If your website is live, Google’s Search Console will show you the keywords that people already use when finding your site.

Or you can simply search for your service in your browser (like most of the world, I use Google as my search engine, most of the time, anyway) and see what comes up at the bottom of the screen under the heading Related Searches or People Also Ask.

Google screenshot showing related searches

Google screenshot showing what people also ask

There you’ll see what people are typing into Google, which is what you want to incorporate into your content – somehow – so that you are found, too.

For instance, I’m a copyeditor. I don’t proofread – proofreading and I just do not get along. But I know that ‘proofreader’ is the catch-all term for what I do, and people outside the publishing industry will be searching for that, in all probability, or maybe for ‘editor’ far more than ‘copyeditor’. So, I lob ‘proofreader/​proofreading’ into my text whenever I can, even though I don’t offer that service. Google doesn’t read the negative!

Editing the content into shape

Once you’ve created your content (which you can, of course, tweak endlessly even after it’s live) you now need to make it look the part.

I buck the trend, as about 70% of my traffic is on computers, and only 30% on mobile devices (of the mobile devices, tablets barely get a look in. Most weeks, it’s just computers and phones). In most cases, those figures are reversed, I understand (I suspect it’s because I market to publishers and packagers, and people are searching during work hours at their desk; if you market to indie authors, I’d guess those figures flip over in favour of phones).

It’s therefore essential to think of how your content will look on a teensy-tiny phone screen, not just how it looks on your 33-inch monitor.

So that means subheadings (keyword magnets) for ease of navigation, short sentences and short paragraphs.

We editorial professionals do like our words. We use far too many of them (guilty as charged) so here’s a chance to practise your word-cutting on your own text.

Ask yourself what that ideal client of yours wants to know, and will be willing to read. It’s not necessarily what you want to say …

Aside from being visually accessible in terms of paragraph and sentence length, structured around those easy-to-navigate subheadings, you’ll want to make sure the language itself is also accessible. Take a look at a couple of ‘Flying solo’ articles on just this topic: Good communication is accessible and Conscious language and the business-conscious editor or proofreader for some guidance on this.

Then pare away at your text until every word earns its keep – but don’t be so concise that reading it is hard going.

When you’ve finished, your text should be doing a shining job of demonstrating your editorial skills (showing, as much as telling) and speak directly to your ideal client.

Shaping the edited content

When it comes to importing your text to your website, think about possible formatting issues, as you would with any text that is to be published.

Incorporate white space, avoid walls of text and make sure it is easy to find the bit you want. Choose an easy-to-read font, that’s big enough to read comfortably, even on a phone.

If you have things you want your reader to click on, have a button if you can, rather than an in-line link. On my site, the button to email me is pretty visible – different colour, big but not ridiculous.

Accessibility

In 2021 I completely renewed my website, including an entirely new colour palette. One of the hardest parts of the build was to make sure that there was sufficient contrast between text colour and background colour on links and buttons.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are supported by many websites offering to check a page and give instant feedback. My web guy and I spent a couple of hours going back and forth making sure we found colours that worked with the palette I’d chosen (I’d already had my logo redrawn – no going back! But the Coolors site helped us find compatible shades) and passed all the accessibility tests. I see that new colour contrast guidelines are on their way.

Keeping the content fresh

Search engines much prefer sites that don’t look neglected. That means periodically updating your text, whether that’s small tweaks, complete rewrites of a page, adding items to a resources page, posting a blog article regularly, adding new testimonials or adding whole new pages.

Throughout all your updates, do keep that avatar of your ideal client in mind.

But every now and again, as your business grows and you develop as an editor or proofreader, do ask yourself whether your ideal client has also changed. If so, work out a new avatar and then review all your content with that paragon at the forefront of your mind.

If you are getting more firmly established in a niche, you may want to trim your offer to reflect that, and stop targeting the type of client who is no longer a good fit for where you’re taking your business.

If you are adding services – maybe you’re a proofreader who now also copyedits, or now offers manuscript evaluation or developmental editing – then you have a new ideal client. Or one ideal client per service. Again, keep your text under review with that or those ideal clients front and centre of your thinking.


Buy a print copy or download the second edition of Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business from here.

About 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 JESHOOTS.com, person on a computer by Andrea Piacquadio, both on Pexels, screenshots from Google.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Definite articles: Working with websites

Welcome to ‘Definite articles’, a column devoted to the CIEP’s top internet picks, most of which are definitely articles. This time, our theme is working with websites – for clients and for yourself. The CIEP has recently published its own articles on working in digital formats, in ‘Flying solo: Focusing your website on your ideal client’, and ‘Talking tech: Web editors – WYSIWIG or code?’ If you’re a CIEP forum user, you can access our website-related forum wisdom in ‘Forum matters: Creating and editing web content’.

In this issue:

  • Client websites: Learn from the experts
  • Planning and creating your own website
  • Refreshing your site
  • Other platforms
  • If it all goes wrong

Client websites: Learn from the experts

Marketing tips

Websites act as shop windows. So when you’re editing what is essentially marketing copy, it’s worth learning from people who know about marketing. Copywriter Karri Stover, in ‘11 steps to effective website copywriting’, reminds us of the importance of plain language, understanding the reader, including essential information, and readability. On that last point, Stover links to a useful 2013 article by Carrie Cousins at Design Shack, ‘The importance of designing for readability’, which talks about design elements, from subheads (which should be simple, direct and frequent) to how hyphens can break readers’ concentration.

Understanding accessibility and SEO

If you’re working with websites, you should always have at least one tab open at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). This advises on web accessibility and is recommended as a resource on the CIEP’s Editing Digital Content course. Get started with ‘Easy checks – a first review of web accessibility’ and ‘Introduction to web accessibility’.

It’s also essential to have an understanding of SEO (search engine optimisation). Michelle Bourbonniere gives a useful overview of what it is and how to do it. Marieke van de Rakt of Yoast has also written a long blog about the importance of content in SEO. Trickery with links is long gone as a way to improve rankings. These days, SEO is firmly about quality content, as Marieke testifies.

Planning and creating your own website

Every website needs to be planned, and Malini Devadas’s podcast episode ‘How to create a client-focused business’ is a good start in working out how the elements of your offering, including your website, fit together. John Espirian adds to this by taking the long view with a 30-month mindset.

Whether you create your own website or outsource that process is a big decision. A blog by Startups explores the options. If you’re keen on doing it yourself, John Espirian discusses setting up your own website in an article from the archives that includes plenty of useful tips and links. However, as Michelle Waltzman suggests in ‘Stressed about your to-do list? 5 times you should outsource tasks’, if you keep putting it off, you don’t know where to start, or you’ve tried it and it’s gone very wrong, it might be worth considering asking someone else to help you.

Even if you outsource the creation of your website, you’ll have to write it. Apply the same marketing, accessibility and SEO principles that we covered in the ‘Client websites’ section above. You might also commission some photography. Sophie Playle describes how she did this in ‘Branding my editorial business: Working with a photographer’. If you’re working with images that are already created, take a look at Chicago Shop Talk’s article ‘Crediting images at an author website’ for principles and tips.

Once you’ve covered the broad brushwork of development, content and images, make sure the little things also look great, including any URLs.

Refreshing your site

If you created your website some time ago, it’s important to interrogate it every so often to ensure it’s working as hard as it can. Luckily, if we forget, ACES, the society for editing in America, keeps us on our toes with articles like ‘Is your website referral-worthy?’ by Molly McCowan and ‘When was the last time you updated your website?’ by Nate Hoffelder. Nate also wrote the helpful ‘18 questions to ask when refreshing your editor website’. If 18 questions are too many, Annie Deakins suggests six website features you should check.

One editor, Letitia Henville, recently went beyond checking and fixing to supplementing her current site with a digital tool for academics, which received 4,000 views in its first three days. Not everyone has the time or resources to do this, but Letitia includes a list of less ambitious alternatives: ‘blog post, webinar, infographic, video, app, tin-can phone or whatever other medium may reach your client population’. As tempting as the tin-can phone is, many editors find that their digital resource of choice is the humble blog, and if yours is ailing Louise Harnby has four ideas to fix it. Recently on Twitter, Lynne Murphy (@lynneguist) recommended a piece about how to keep online readers engaged in long articles. If your blogs are on the lengthy side, take a look.

Other platforms

Don’t forget Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook as part of a digital content strategy. You can see Instagram at its best in ‘The 15 most Instagrammed bookstores in the world’. TikTok has recently been credited with changing the publishing industry as high-profile book lovers share their favourite reads with users. But if all these options make you feel dizzy, Mel Edits has some sage words about timelessness in ‘5 rules of content that will never change’.

If it all goes wrong

Finally, Chicago Shop Talk has helpfully published an article on how to ‘take back’ an online error that could be useful if you’re working with websites or on other digital platforms. One advantage of the internet is that amendment can be instant. In certain circumstances, though, amendments have to be acknowledged and explained, for example if a vital word like ‘not’ has been omitted in a prominent place in the original text, giving entirely the wrong impression and alarming people.

We’ll leave you to think up your own examples.

Thank you for reading. Why not follow the CIEP on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more useful content for editors and proofreaders?

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 by Sigmund, person with mobile phone by by Jonas Leupe, both on Unsplash

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Editing text to make it more accessible

Making text accessible is about more than just using plain language; it’s also about making sure that everyone, including disabled readers, neurodivergent readers and other readers with distinct needs, can make sense of text on a website or screen. In this blog post, Andrew Macdonald Powney suggests some simple ways we can make our text more accessible, whatever its published format.

A pile of computer keys as the background to the blog post title and author: Editing text to make it more accessible by Andrew Macdonald Powney

Four simple ways to make text more accessible

There are many ways that text can be made more accessible (too many for this blog post). Here are four of the easiest and most impactful ways to get started. To learn more, delve into plain language principles (for example through the CIEP’s course Plain English for Editors), or investigate web accessibility (for example by learning about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).

Styling headings

In Word, an editor can make some text look like a heading by increasing the font size and putting it in bold. But a screenreader (software that reads out text on a computer screen, often used by blind or visually impaired people) cannot interpret that. Screenreaders need an unseen ‘tag’ or phrase of code which states that the following words are going to be a heading: they need the editor to style the text as a heading.

When you apply a heading ‘style’ in Word to what already looks like a heading on your screen, Word creates the code tags for you. All future readers will be told it is a heading. Meanwhile, at the editor’s end, the visual formatting to go with that ‘style’ has to be modified just once, and the change will be made to every piece of text to which the style has been applied.

These tags of code allow the screenreader to navigate from heading to heading, and they let the screenreader explain to their human reader that a title is coming.

Shorter and simpler sentences

Short sentences, front-loaded content, active voice: all good advice for writers, and good, too, for the users of screenreaders. A person can change the speed at which the screenreader speaks, but it is still easiest to digest a sentence when the subject and key point come first. And shorter sentences are simpler to hear.

Another advantage of short, direct sentences is that they tend to fit inside a line length. This reduces the chance of a line break mid-sentence – especially if you left-align, as you should for accessibility. Therefore short sentences work across a range of screens and devices. Reading a longer sentence on a narrow screen requires dexterity, concentration, and good vision that not everyone will have. Not everyone can zoom in and out, or scroll back and forth, and still keep track.

Writers and editors may forget that reading itself cannot be taken for granted. The conditions that make it hard to remember what you read – everything from cognitive processing issues to simple tiredness – make complex sentences more of a risk. When the very act of reading takes some effort, no more obstacles need be added.

A blind woman sitting at a computer wearing headphones and using a screenreader

Fonts and formatting

As a general rule, the fewer serifs in a font, the better. Sans serif fonts like Calibri and Arial do a better job of keeping letters distinct. There is less danger of overlap in the ascenders and descenders of adjacent letters. People read by pattern recognition, and when the patterns are easier to spot (because the individual letters are clearer), the text is easier to read.

Regardless of which font you use, don’t create constant mental adjustments with phrases in bold, words in italics and underlines. Displayed quotations, for example, are already pulled out; putting them in italics is an extra cognitive burden.

Alt text

Alt text is text which is an alternative to the image on the page. It is commonly used to stand in for images that visually impaired people can’t see; the sighted reader sees the image, while the screenreader reads out the alt text.

Alt text image descriptions need to be short; if there is too much to say, additional text next to the image would be better. Having said that, alt text still needs to provide useful information. The editor crafting alt text needs to think: what does the author need the reader to take away from this image, which this reader cannot see? ‘Picture of a graph of temperatures’ tells that reader nothing; ‘graph showing that temperature peaked in July at 31°C’ conveys information.

Remember that text may be repurposed

If you usually work on text that is going to finish up as a printed, physical object, then it may seem like certain aspects of accessibility are irrelevant – styling headings to aid screenreaders, for example, or using short sentences to reduce line breaks on narrow screens.

But this text could be repurposed at some point in the future. What you prepare for one format now may need to be repackaged for another medium, on another day. This is something worth bearing in mind when editing any text: can it be edited to ensure accessibility across different mediums? This could help to future-proof the text against whatever else your client may decide to do with it.

About Andrew Macdonald Powney

Andrew Macdonald Powney is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP and the content and quality team leader for APS Group (Scotland).

 

 

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: keyboard letters by Pixabay on Pexels, blind person using a computer by Chansom Pantip on Shutterstock.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Wise owls: how do you save time when editing?

We asked our parliament of wise owls, all Advanced Professional Members, to share some of the things that have helped them to become faster, more efficient editors over the years. Answers ranged from macros, checklists and templates to a healthier work–life balance and the confidence gained from experience.

Sue Browning

My main tip for speedy editing is to slow down and take a breath before you dive in. I find it helpful to approach large projects in phases, doing basic analysis (headings/structure/style), clean-up and formatting first, followed by my main text editing pass, then a final consistency check and spellcheck. This is all driven by checklists (and sub-checklists). While trundling through the initial, somewhat mechanical, stages may feel like delaying the core task of editing, I find it settles me into each project in a series of familiar steps so that even a new or challenging job feels more under control by the time I start looking at the text.

Another more obvious timesaver is my stylesheet template with combo boxes that contain the most common alternatives for each style point, making setting up my initial sheet very quick. Thanks to Hazel Bird and her helpful blog post for bringing this useful technique to my attention.

Next is keyboard shortcuts, both for frequent operations, like switching between windows and desktops, all the usual Word commands, and for my many macros. I have a lot of keyboard shortcuts, but I learned them slowly, converting the often-used ones to muscle memory, making room in my brain for the next batch.

But probably my biggest practical timesaver is PhraseExpress, a text expander, which I use for emails, author queries/explanations, and any bits of text that I find myself typing repeatedly, including things that I frequently mistype, like my email sign-off. PhraseExpress’s web look-up function also saves me ages when checking references.

Finally, there is the confidence that comes with experience. I know my major clients’ style preferences pretty well (and have PerfectIt stylesheets to help), my grammar and punctuation are pretty sound, and I no longer angst over every comma (just some of them 😉).

Liz Dalby

I’d say that three things in particular have made me a more efficient copyeditor.

  1. Learning to do the language editing late in the process. When I started freelancing, my instinct was to sit down at the text and work through it from beginning to end, reading every word and working on everything that needed doing all at once, as I encountered it. Over the years I have learned – by trial and error, and also by discussing best practice with other editors – to work in a series of passes. Broadly speaking, I start by styling the headings, which gives me an overview of the structure. Then I focus on some of the basic cleaning up I can do, and applying global style decisions based on my own observations of the text, plus the brief and the house style (if there is one). Once the text is in better shape, only then do I start to read it from beginning to end, smoothing out the language as I go, and continuing to add to the style sheet. The language editing isn’t the final pass, because after that there will be a series of checks (depending on the brief and the budget). But it’s nowhere near the beginning! This has made my process massively more efficient – and accurate.
  1. Working within my limitations. Like (probably) all freelancers, my initial instinct was to work ALL the hours in order to establish my business and make a good living. Now I know that I do my best work when I only do about four or five hours of pure editing per day, and take breaks at weekends. I hate working in the evening, so I hardly ever do it. This all keeps me fresh, and able to work quickly. It took me a long time to figure this out. I should have listened harder to advice from more seasoned freelancers! But it is hard to put this into practice until you have built up a steady stream of well-paid work.
  1. I’m passionate about this last one: I approach a text asking myself what can stay the same, rather than what I can change. This can save unnecessary work, and it can also help to build a better relationship with the author, who can see that you’re not making change for change’s sake. However – it’s still important to recognise when fundamental changes are required, and do all of the work that’s needed. Judging this takes experience, and even then it’s possible to get it wrong.

Sue Littleford

Chatting with other editors, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who’s slowed down a bit over the years! We think it’s because we know better what we’re doing, where our weak spots are, and we don’t skip things because of inexperience. But, of course, I’ve had to fund that time by finding efficiency savings.

I’m wedded to checklists. They save time by making sure I cover all the steps I need for onboarding or handover and can tick off each requirement as I’ve done it. I also have checklists where I’m required to nudge the English one way or the other (US to UK, for instance), for handling collected volumes and, indeed, for any repeated sequence of tasks.

As anyone who has done the CIEP Efficient Editing course will know, another key is to do things only once, and in the right order – checklists are your friend for this.

A second go-to is PerfectIt – I always, always run it at the end of the job (making it a game between me and it), but I also run its Summary of Possible Errors report at the start, a quick way to give me a good view of the condition of the manuscript, and start thinking about style decisions without making premature changes (discount for CIEP members – you’ll need to be logged in). PerfectIt works best on PCs, but a limited functionality version is available for Macs. I have style sheets for each repeat client.

Finally, I use templates (for my checklists, my style sheets, my word lists and so on, tailored for each repeat client, and a generic version for new clients, which then becomes the tailored template), and a text expander for frequent emails (handover, for example) or author queries text. No reinventing the wheel for me!

Michael FaulknerMichael Faulkner

These are my top tips for speeding up the mechanics of the editing/proofreading process:

  • Buy the biggest monitor, with the highest resolution, you can manage. When I moved from a 27″ to a 32″ monitor, my work rate greatly accelerated.
  • Download two amazing free utilities: AquaSnap and TidyTabs. Using them in combination, you can access and organise all open programs/documents with no clutter. I keep the largest part of screen real estate for the document(s) I’m working on but have everything else off to the side, tabbed and ever ready.
  • Download a (free) text expander to add frequently used words or even large blocks of text with a couple of strokes. I use FastKeys. You can also use it to build macros.
  • Create a Word template for every kind of project you work on (I have half a dozen fiction templates and eight templates for different types of legal publication); populate each template with a Word style for every conceivable character or paragraph element you’re likely to need for that particular type of project; and add a keyboard shortcut for every style you might want to invoke more than a couple of times. Using styles in this way I can tame a 15K-word chapter, which contains only direct formatting and is full of displayed quotes, different heading styles, lots of levels of numbered subheads and the like, in 15 minutes.
  • This one is a question of do as I say, not as I do 😊. Use macros. I’m scared of macros because they have caused unwanted (and unnoticed) wholesale changes in the past that have got me in trouble – but when you master them they’re incredibly powerful.

Hazel Bird

When it comes to speeding up the editing process, one thing I’ve found indispensable is master documents. This is a feature of Microsoft Word that allows you to combine many documents together and work on them as if they were a single document. Master documents have a reputation as being tricky to handle and unpredictable, but in my experience only the first of those characterisations is true. If you ever need to work on multiple related documents at once (such as multiple chapters in a book), it’s worth taking a course on master documents or reading up on how they work. Once you’ve learned their quirks (the ‘tricky to handle’ bit), the seeming unpredictability mostly becomes clear and they open up a paradise of efficiency. It was a revelation to me when I first realised that I could do a PerfectIt run or fix a problematic phrase on five, ten or even a hundred related documents all at once. I’ve found master documents most powerful in my encyclopedia work, where they have allowed me to seamlessly edit and check millions of words at a time. And, of course, this can lead to quality improvements too, as it makes implementing consistency easier.

It’s worth saying that this way of working doesn’t suit everybody and there are other methods (such as Paul Beverley’s FREdit macro) of tackling repeated issues across multiple documents. Also, if you want to use master documents on very large numbers of files, you may find your computer limits what you can achieve. However, if like me you feel most comfortable in your editing when you have everything visible all in one place, then master documents are worth a look.

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: owl by Hoover Tung  on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Core business documentation for freelance proofreaders and editors

In this post, Hazel Bird takes a look at the documentation that can help freelance proofreaders and editors to keep on top of the business side of things – from scheduling and accounting to thinking about CPD and business strategy.

Your style sheets are slicker than a greased exclamation mark and your handover notes template is perfectly balanced between conciseness and comprehensiveness. Your macros are practically doing the editing for you (well, not quite …) and you have shortcuts set up with author queries to handle just about anything a client can throw at you.

In other words, you’ve got this editing thing down pretty well. But what about your wider business? What strategic and administrative documentation have you set up and how well is it working for you? Does it enable you to understand what’s going on in your business now, what happened in the past and how to achieve your future goals?

This post looks at some of the core non-editorial documentation you might want to consider setting up. The list is based on the lessons I’ve learned over 13 years as a full-time freelancer – simply put, this is a list of the documentation I wish I’d established and used from the get-go.

It’s important to note from the start that these ‘documents’ don’t necessarily have to be separate – it’s perfectly OK to address two, three or more of the functions below in a single document if that’s what works best for you.

1 Scheduling and workload

Let’s start with the absolute basics. You’ll need somewhere to write down all the work you have booked in, any prospective work beyond that, and all the key dates. You might also want to estimate how many hours each block of work will take you. From this basic information, you can then plan long term (so you know when you’re free for additional work) and short term (so you can see in detail how you’ll meet your immediate commitments).

There are endless options for scheduling, from a humble spreadsheet (such as Google Sheets) to project management software (such as Trello) to business management tools (such as 17hats). I record my schedules and key tasks in a database and then pull the information out into a spreadsheet that shows me week by week, in a highly visual way, how much work I have booked in over the next year (long-term planning). I also use this data to draw up a handwritten plan every two weeks showing exactly when I will complete what I’ve got coming up (short-term planning).

This is a simplified mock-up of one of my two-week plans. On the left is a list of all the projects that will have some sort of activity over the next two weeks. Brackets signal projects that are in the background and very unlikely to require active work; ticks mean I have inputted all work for the project into the grid on the right. In the grid, the circled numbers are days of the week and an exclamation mark means I have holiday or some other potentially disrupting commitment on that day. Non-paid work and general admin are not scheduled as my project scheduling deliberately leaves time free for those tasks over the course of the week. I do, however, note down specific events, such as the client calls and webinar. ‘X’ is an important one – it means ‘answer emails and do any other bits and pieces that need to be done today’. As I complete projects and work, I cross them off (the cross-outs in this mock-up are as if I were halfway through day 2 of week 1).

2 Word counts, fees and time

This is where you get into the nitty-gritty of your day-to-day work. How quickly can you edit? Does it vary by client, type of work or subject matter? Are you happy that the amount you’re being paid fairly compensates you for the amount of work you’re putting in? Can you make a reasonable estimate of how long a potential project might take?

Recording word counts, fees and the time you take will enable you to answer these questions and many more. The answers will feed into your reporting (see below) and also help you to control your workload (and hence take care of your mental wellbeing).

Whatever system you choose for your scheduling will likely have the ability to record these details, or you might want to set up a specific spreadsheet for this purpose (or, if you’re a CIEP member, you can use the Going Solo toolkit ‘work record’ spreadsheet). For time tracking, some people use tools such as Toggl, which can integrate with other software.

3 Finances

You’ll need some sort of way of tracking invoices raised, whether they’ve been paid and any expenses. Obviously this should be in a format that enables you to meet the tax reporting requirements in your region. Beyond that, the level of detail and the format are up to you. You might find specialist software helpful, but a spreadsheet (perhaps with some conditional formatting to flag when an invoice is overdue) can be more than enough. You might even just add a couple more columns to your scheduling spreadsheet to record when a project has been invoiced and paid. If you’re a CIEP member in the UK, you could try the Going Solo toolkit ‘accounts’ spreadsheet.

A hard-earned tip is to actively track your cashflow too. By this I mean forecasting when you expect future payments to arrive (for all upcoming projects – not just the ones you’ve already invoiced) and your anticipated expenses (including the ‘salary’ you pay yourself). Although this can take a bit of time, it can really help your mental wellbeing as it avoids surprises. Susie Jackson has a lot of great tips on clear financial thinking for freelancers.

4 Leads, enquiries and quotes

This is all about tracking who’s contacted you and why, the outcomes, the status of any ongoing discussions (eg if you’ve sent out a quote and are waiting for feedback) and the details of any organisations you’re interested in approaching in the future.

The scale and format of this document will vary hugely from freelancer to freelancer, depending on the nature of their business and what they’re trying to achieve. You might want a complex CRM-type system that enables easy day-to-day tracking and communication with clients, or a simple spreadsheet might equally serve you very well. Just make sure your chosen tool has the capacity to record everything you’ll want to report on (see ‘Strategy and reporting’ below).

5 Marketing

I’m very much not a marketing expert, so I like to keep this as simple as possible. However, if this is an activity that you enjoy or that is particularly important to you at the moment (eg if you’re pivoting your business in a new direction), you might want to give this more space within your business. Louise Harnby’s posts are a perennial favourite in the editing community on the topic of marketing.

My major marketing activities are my website, my blog and my CIEP directory entry. For my website and directory entry, I keep an ongoing list of tweaks plus, if I’m building up to a major update, a more substantial document where I rewrite my content. For my blog, I used to have a separate spreadsheet but I now track my posts in WordPress’s native interface, which I’ve found has saved a huge amount of time.

All of my marketing activities are heavily influenced by my strategy document (see below).

6 Log of positive feedback and lessons learned

As advocated by Erin Brenner and many others, the ‘win jar’ is a hugely important morale booster, especially for freelancers who spend much of their time working in isolation. Whether you choose an actual jar, yet another spreadsheet or an A1-size poster of your greatest hits to hang on the wall, it’s wise to remind yourself of all the positive comments you’ve received. After all, if you don’t keep in mind what your clients appreciate, it’s harder to deliver on their needs.

At the same time, though, a modest log of lessons learned can be a really valuable tool. I always make sure to briefly write down when something doesn’t go to plan – for example, if I take on a project with red flags and then regret it, or if it turns out partway through a process that a client wasn’t fully clear on some aspect of my service. I then make sure to plug the gaps by taking action to avoid the same thing happening in the future – for example, by updating my checklist of ‘things to consider’ when evaluating a potential new project or by updating my quote package so future clients hopefully won’t experience the same misunderstanding in the future.

7 CPD log and planning

It can be helpful to keep a list of the continuing professional development (CPD) activities you’d like to do. Otherwise it can be easy for months or even years to slip by in which you’ve completed an awful lot of projects but not furthered (or even maintained) your skillset at all. It can be particularly helpful to use this document to plan the time and financing needed for any ‘big’ courses, such as learning a brand new skill. But it’s also good to jot down books, podcasts, websites and the like that you can use to help you keep up to date with whatever developments are relevant to your field. Again, CIEP members could use the Going Solo toolkit ‘training and CPD’ spreadsheet for this.

8 Terms and conditions

If you’re working with non-publisher clients then you’ll probably want a document you can share with them that lets them know the legal and practical implications of doing business with you. I think of my T&Cs as a document that evolves with my business and I update it at least annually.

9 Strategy and reporting

Not everyone starts their business with a fancy formal business plan. But at some point you’ll probably find it helpful to write down all those ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybe I coulds’ and ‘I think I’d like tos’ in a single place to keep track of them. The purpose of this document is to set out what you want your business to do for you and how you plan to achieve that.

Your goals can be as grand or as simple as you like. For example, you might want to write a detailed financial and marketing plan to help you completely change your client base over the next three years. Or you might prefer to keep things roughly as they are but achieve a modest hourly rate increase each year.

Where this becomes really powerful is when you pair it with reporting on how your business has performed in the past. I’ve written about how and why I write an annual report for my business here and here. Once you understand your past performance, you’re better able to set realistic future goals and make wiser decisions about what you want your business to achieve for you.

I do my strategy and reporting in Google Docs and use this information to populate to-do lists in Trello with the actions I’ve chosen to keep me on track. Your reporting data will come from all the sources above – you’ll just be viewing it in the rear-view mirror.


In choosing how to address each of the areas above, keep in mind that your documentation should be flexible, manageable and focused on outcomes rather than tracking for its own sake. It should also be capable of evolving – after all, who knows what you will want your business to be doing in five, ten or even twenty years’ time?

Resources

The Going Solo toolkit, which is free to all CIEP members, includes a collection of Excel spreadsheets that are set up to record most of the information covered in this post.

The Editor’s Affairs (TEA) is another series of Excel spreadsheets designed specifically for editors to keep track of their business data.

The short book The Paper It’s Written On: Defining your relationship with an editing client, by Karin Cather and Dick Margulis, is helpful for crafting your own T&Cs.

About Hazel Bird

Hazel Bird is a freelance editor and editorial project manager who works with businesses, charities, public sector organisations, publishers and authors around the world to deliver some of their most prestigious publications. She tries to see the detail and the big picture all at once – the wood and the trees – and has learned over the years how important good documentation is in achieving that!

 

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: notebook by Jessica Lewis Creative on Pexels, two-week plan by Hazel Bird, laptop and notebook by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Dealing with the death of a client

In this post, Vanessa Wells reflects on what happened when one of her repeat indie clients died unexpectedly. The CIEP information team also give some practical tips for dealing with the death of a client.

Vanessa’s experience

I’ve been editing for a decade and last week had my first experience of the death of a client.

This fellow was a repeat client. He’d been nominated and shortlisted for awards for his excellent books. He was the type who paid literally within five minutes of receiving my invoice. He was thoughtful and appreciative of the editing process. In short, he was the ideal client.

I was going to edit his next novel shortly; he just wanted a few more weeks to tweak the manuscript. Meanwhile, I’d come down with Covid, and when I saw online the news of his death, I was gutted – perhaps made more emotional by feeling physically depleted but also because it was yet another good person gone: I’d lost a dear friend early on in the pandemic and a former student died by suicide this year. Aside from no longer having this great writer to work with, I started to wonder why his death hit me as it did.

The author–editor relationship

The longer I edit, the more I appreciate writers’ craft. I really am impressed with their abilities and, in those with perhaps less skill, their tenacity and courage. I don’t take lightly the idea that we are here to collaborate with authors, rather than rewrite their work as we see fit. What they produce deserves to be treated with respect, and how we interact with them and their text should be a safe space. Sometimes the vulnerability they reveal is shocking. There are projects where we are the first person to read what they have written. David Shannon wrote Howul while his wife thought he was watching footy every night in his den. So there can be a creative and intellectual intimacy with an editor that a writer doesn’t have with others. The more vulnerable the author, the more they are opening their heart to someone whose metaphorical red pen they fear. The trust they are placing in us to provide constructive suggestions can be immense.

Conversely, we might be the first person to validate their efforts. Perhaps their labour of love has been denigrated by others as just a hobby. We may be coaching someone who’s kept their desire to write a secret or an untried exercise for decades. The analogy to writers birthing their babies may be a bit hackneyed, but I’m very conscious of the midwifery role I play.

As a sensitive person, I know what it feels like to be corrected. I bear that in mind in the wording of my comments and suggested edits, regardless of whether my feedback is gently critical or laudatory (and usually it’s a delicate balance of the two). I often feel like I learned the dynamics of this from my twenty years of teaching, also moulded by my own student experience of both kind and mean teachers. We have the power to inspire or wound (be it as editors or just in everyday life), and sometimes we can discern something of our clients’ personalities from their first emails to us. A tentative little dance underlies their questions, which can make us feel sympathetic and perhaps already a little protective of them in the process they’re about to take on.

I think this special type of relationship is not common to many professions, and the resulting connection that is lost upon a client’s death can leave us feeling gutted.

Financial considerations and the future

A friend commented that my author’s death must have come as a financial blow, too – which it did. I hadn’t asked him for a non-refundable deposit as I knew how reliable and accommodating he was. (And, in fact, fate unexpectedly dropped a new indie client in my lap the same day.) But even if I had been more proactive about using my usual contractual practices with him, I certainly would never have kept the deposit. Perhaps if there were different circumstances with, say, a single author and an executor, I might consider pursuing my balance owing if I had (almost) finished an edit. But as an editor, I believe my business is as much about the writer as the text, and I would not be comfortable pursuing payment no holds barred.

I hope that one day my client’s wife will look me up in his email and offer to let me read his sequel. I appreciated him for his work, not the income. From what I’ve seen in social media posts about him since his death, he was widely admired for his character as much as his skill. I’m sorry to have lost him as a client, but I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to work on such excellent writing. Another loss during this difficult period, but another blessing to recognise in my career as an editor.

Blue skies, sir!

Pink blossom being blown from a tree in front of a blue sky

Practicalities: What to do if your client dies

If you are aware that your client has a terminal illness (you might, for example, be working on their memoirs), you should agree in writing the steps to take in the event of their death. This may cover who will contact you with news of their death, the proportion of the fee to be paid, and what to do with the manuscript.

You may, in fact, find it helpful to include such information in your contracts as a matter of course – and to include similar information for the client in the event of your own death or incapacity while you are working with them.

Be sensitive to the feelings of your client’s family and/or colleagues – and allow time for yourself to grieve, if necessary. Similarly, if you have only just found out that your client has died after chasing a response or asking for a new draft, try not to feel guilty if you think your approach seemed insensitive. You couldn’t be expected to know what had happened.

If you have completed the work and wish to be paid, you will need to be proactive. Again, try not to feel guilty – if you have completed the work and fulfilled your part of the contract, you have the right to be paid as part of the business transaction.

Corporate clients and publishers are likely to have accounts departments, which will be independent of your contact and have their own email address. Write to them, explaining the situation. They will use their internal processes to find out the status of your payment. For example, if your contact died before raising a purchase order, the accounts department should identify an appropriate colleague who can verify your work and raise the PO retrospectively.

For individual clients, such as self-publishing writers, the executor of their will is responsible for ensuring their debts are paid but this might take months or even years. You might feel it’s not worth pursuing and that it’s more prudent to write it off.

If you send out email newsletters or other forms of marketing, remove your client’s name from the mailing list immediately.

If your contact was a corporate or publishing client, and you wish to keep working for the organisation, find out who is covering their work or replacing them and politely introduce yourself. Outline some of the projects you’ve worked on for your client and the benefits your work brought. This is the same approach you might take if your contact had simply left the company.

About Vanessa Wells

Vanessa Wells is a fiction editor and an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She lives in London.

 

 

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: clocks by Giallo, blossom by Recal Media, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Ten signs of possible plagiarism

Plagiarism in textbooks and other non-fiction resources is easily overlooked during production – but picking it up after publication is too late. Julia Sandford-Cooke raises some red flags that might suggest an author has copied their content from the web, and suggests some next steps if you think text is being reused without permission.

Plagiarism is a common problem in non-fiction texts – and probably in fiction texts as well but, as that’s not my specialism, this post focuses on non-fiction content, specifically text copied from websites.

If authors have been commissioned by a publisher, they will have been briefed about the importance of avoiding plagiarism. However, publishers often don’t have processes in place, or the budget to buy software, to check whether content is original. It may not be part of the development editor’s, copyeditor’s or proofreader’s brief to check for plagiarism (exactly who has this responsibility is beyond the scope of this post) but, ethically, you should be aware of signs of copying – and your client will be very grateful if you pick up plagiarism before the resource is too far down the line.

Why might authors plagiarise?

You may have seen headlines about plagiarised text in cookery books and even memoirs, but I think it’s rare for an author to deliberately plagiarise content. Text is more likely to be inadvertently copied.

It’s very easy to simply copy and paste text from a website into a Word or Google document. Authors may do so while carrying out research, and then forget to change the wording when they use it in their book or article.

Some authors believe that text copied from the internet is not covered by copyright laws – but it certainly is! Experienced authors sometimes reuse their own text that has been published elsewhere but normally (at least in educational publishing) the original publisher retains the rights to this text, so a different publisher cannot reuse the same text without permission, even if the author is the same.

Other authors may think that copied text comes under the ‘fair use’ rule of thumb, in which short excerpts don’t need permissions clearance, but this only covers content that is clearly presented as a quotation or excerpt, with a proper citation – not unattributed text taken from elsewhere without acknowledgement.

Ten possible plagiarism red flags

If you are working in Word, turn on Invisibles (click ¶ on your Word Home toolbar).

Content may have been copied from the internet if you spot some of the following:

  1. Non-breaking spaces (°) where you wouldn’t expect them. Authors rarely consciously use these in original content; however, it’s not always a sign of copying. For example, if the document has already been edited, you may see non-breaking spaces legitimately used between numbers and units (eg 2°km) to stop them being separated by breaking over a line. Otherwise, regard them as a warning sign.
  2. Soft returns ( ) instead of hard returns or paragraph marks (¶). Again, it’s unlikely that authors would deliberately use these, unless they are confident in working with highly formatted content. Web tools, however, often convert hard returns into soft returns when formatting in HTML.
  3. Random and irrelevant hyperlinks that may be hidden by reformatting – hover your mouse over the text to reveal them. You could right-click to reformat the link in the usual blue, underlined style, to draw attention to it.
  4. A sudden switch from UK- to US-style punctuation or vice versa (for example, from using spaced en rules to using unspaced em rules – see Example 1 below).
  5. Sudden, inconsistent use of -ize spellings if the prevailing style is -ise spellings. It can be an indication that content has been copied from an American website. Of course -ize spellings are acceptable in UK style but most British authors would choose -ise spellings, unless their specialism is, for example, business or economics. In any case, it is the inconsistency that raises the red flag here.
  6. Sudden, inconsistent use of capitalisation that differs from the author’s previous style (eg Principles of Management, the Client).
  7. Content that isn’t quite relevant or is too vague. In Example 1, the key term should have been ‘demographic movement’, as specified in the syllabus.
  8. A sudden change in style or tone, for example using more complex grammar or technical words that have not been used before, or a colourful turn of phrase that seems out of character.
  9. Marketing-speak in what should be objective content (see Example 2).
  10. Specific facts, figures and statistics – if they seem odd or out of date, check them online (for example, when text that was supposedly written recently mentions a scheme launched four years ago as if it were new).

Example 1

Supplied text: Key term: Demography is the study of the growth, structure, and movement of human populations. It focuses on enumerations (censuses), which take stock of a population at a moment in time, and also flows of vital events—births, deaths, marriages, and migratory movements.’

Giveaways: Change in tone; author hasn’t previously used the Oxford comma; sudden inclusion of an unspaced em rule; content not quite relevant to surrounding text; key term should be ‘demographic movement’, not ‘demography’. Pasting the text into Google reveals an exact match to Encyclopedia.com, including the punctuation. Although it could be argued that this short extract is ‘fair use’, a word-for-word mapping to a definition is not ideal.

Comment to the author: This text is copied from Encyclopedia.com. Please can you rewrite it in your own words, and also consider relating more directly to demographic movement, to clarify the concept for learners?

 

Example 2

Supplied text: Government funding for new business start-ups has no age limits. Any creative entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas, determination and solid business plans can apply for loans to help them get started. Remember you have to repay the money, with interest, over terms of up to five years. Over 10,000 businesses have taken advantage of these start-up loans since the scheme was launched in May 2012. Will you be next?’

Giveaways: Sudden change from a formal tone to a chatty marketing tone, which addresses the reader directly; reference to launch year implies it was recent when the text was written; figure of 10,000 possibly low for a ten-year period.

Comment to the author: This text is very marketing-orientated and seems to have been taken from [website]. Please amend it to take it further from the source material, and include some more recent figures.

Next steps if you suspect plagiarism

What should you do if you spot enough of these warning signs to make you suspect that some of the content is plagiarised from the web?

First, check for yourself: copy and paste suspect text into Google then, if it matches or nearly matches a source, note the link.

Reword the text if that’s the most efficient solution, or if you think the author won’t be able to do so within the time available, but do let them know.

Be polite but direct when telling authors they have plagiarised content – they will probably know it’s wrong and that they are guilty, especially if you can provide the exact URL they’ve used. I’ve had responses ranging from mortification to ‘It’s a fair cop! I’m impressed you noticed!’ but no author has refused to reword their text under these circumstances.

If you are working for a publisher, inform your in-house contact. Keep your report objective – state that you have identified some possible instances of plagiarism that you’ve marked up (or amended) and discussed with the author. Of course, if huge chunks of text have been copied, inform the publisher immediately so they can take steps to rectify it, minimising the impact on the budget and schedule.

Whatever the case, don’t ignore the problem. Section 3.1.3 of the CIEP Code of Practice states: ‘Members should be familiar with the main provisions of the current relevant legislation … in particular relating to … the reproduction of copyright material belonging to third parties. They should endeavour to ensure that these provisions are adhered to and bring any suspected infringement to the attention of the client.’

Even if it’s not technically your job to spot plagiarism, you have a duty to draw attention to it.

About Julia-Sandford Cooke

Julia Sandford-CookeAdvanced Professional Member and CIEP Information Team member Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has clocked up nearly 25 years in publishing. When not editing textbooks, she posts short, grumpy book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews, and would like to get on with writing her novel if only work didn’t keep getting in the way.

 

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: peacock feather by Magda Ehlers and mountain by Chris Czermak, both on Pexels.

Posted by Julia Sandford-Cooke, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

How to network better

Laura Summers of BookMachine explores networking benefits, tips and more.

From small beginnings in 2010, starting as a group of colleagues coming together to talk about the book publishing industry, the BookMachine community has grown to become a global organisation. During this time I’ve met hundreds of editors and proofreaders. I remember some of them really well because they’ve stood out against the crowd by their ability to network.

Instead of simply telling me or anyone they’re networking with about themselves and leaving it at that, these professionals show their ‘interest’. They do this by asking insightful questions and aim to be the ‘interested’ person in each discussion or conversation they’re in.

Even if you’re not a networking fan, it’s one of the easiest ways to form connections that might lead to new opportunities. Thankfully, living in today’s digital world means we have online communities that make networking easier for all of us (introverts, extroverts and ambiverts!) to connect.

Not convinced that networking is for you? Here are three reasons to get started.

1.  Spread the word

If you’re a freelance editor or proofreader, networking is an essential way to let people know what you do. Having an up-to-date website is a great start, but to ensure that the right opportunities come your way, you need to connect with others and tell them specifically about what you can do for them.

Networking isn’t limited to talking with potential clients. When you network with other freelancers, along with gaining advice and friendships, you can create partnerships and offer your clients a better service. For example, if you are an editor you can partner with a copywriter to offer your clients more skills.

2.  Understand industry trends better

I read The Bookseller online daily, but there is still so much more to know about the industry. The more people you speak to and connect with, the more you understand current trends in the industry. This, in turn, gives you a deeper understanding of what’s important to your clients and their businesses.

Having more industry knowledge also gives you the added bonus of having more professional topics to talk about during meetings – whether you’re a freelancer or an in-house professional.

3.  Gain more confidence

This one is simple. The more you meet and talk to people, the easier it gets.

Convinced about networking but unsure where to begin?

Explore membership organisations

As well as using CIEP membership to connect with editors and proofreaders through virtual and in-person events and the CIEP forums, consider joining BookMachine’s vibrant community to interact and learn during mixers, virtual hangouts and in-person events. If you want to mix a bit of exercise with networking and check two things off your list at one go, you could even come for our ‘Walk & Talk’ events!

If you’re a publishing hopeful, perhaps in the early stages of your career, think about the Society of Young Publishers (SYP). Attending SYP events and conferences, signing up to be a member and applying for their mentorship programme can help you get your foot in the door and teach you how to network better. Since it’s a volunteer-run organisation, you can even get involved with their online and in-person events if you have something to offer.

Leverage social media

Whether it’s BookTok, Bookstagram or #BookTwitter, there are plenty of ways for you to find fellow publishing professionals and connect with them on social media. Following some of the most valuable and popular accounts within publishing can help keep you in the loop and give you the opportunity to join discussions, conversations and events.

When it comes to social media, don’t underestimate the power of hashtags and the ability to squeeze yourself into a conversation when possible. Try keeping an eye on (or follow) hashtags like #workinpublishing, #publishing and #joinbooks.

Five valuable publishing-related accounts to follow on Twitter: The CIEP; BookMachine; Publishers Association; The Publishing Post; BookBrunch.

Use LinkedIn wisely

When you connect with someone, send a note. Introduce yourself and include a few words about what you do and why you’re interested in connecting with them.

Twitter will cap your tweets at 280 characters, but on LinkedIn, there’s no such limit when you post. But the key is to keep your interactions short and sweet – people have limited attention spans and time when networking. The goal is to make yourself memorable and interesting within that short interaction.

Be helpful

Another useful way to stand out is to answer questions using advanced search. Both Twitter and LinkedIn have great search capabilities. Think about the questions you had when you started out. Or even questions you had two months ago. Search those questions and variations of them on these sites.

What you want is to be helpful to those in your industry and around you. Offer answers, insights, or even follow-up questions to make the discussion more interesting. Don’t worry about sharing your tips and secrets – collaborating and boosting others in your industry is an ideal way to start networking.

Step forward as a speaker

Another idea to network and simultaneously showcase your skills is to pitch yourself as a speaker or as part of a panel at any relevant event. Pitch ideas to event organisers and highlight your areas of expertise so they can introduce you and your work to a wide audience. You can find plenty of these events when you start following and interacting with publishing professionals and publishers on social media.

Have a positive attitude

Finally, networking may seem challenging but try to think about it in terms of building relationships, friendships and long-lasting connections. The more people you know and speak with, the better and easier it will be for you to find the right opportunities to help your career thrive. On a personal level, it’ll also boost confidence in your intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships.

Also, it’s easier once you get started – I promise!

About Laura Summers

Laura Summers is the Director of BookMachine, the fast-growing global Community and Creative Agency specialising in book publishing. Her mission is to provide every publishing professional with the knowledge, ideas and connections to help them to progress in their careers. Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraSummersNow. Connect with Laura 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: maze by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash, networking meeting by Redmind Studio on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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