Category Archives: Advice

The A to D of writing multiple choice tests

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

Multiple choice tests are hard to get right. And I’m not just thinking of the time I scored 19% in a school physics test – statistically less than if I’d just guessed every answer. It’s actually really tricky to write high-quality questions and answer options that genuinely assess knowledge and understanding. As with a lot of the topics discussed on this blog, it’s a type of writing and editing that seems easy until you try it.

What do I mean by multiple choice (or multi-choice) questions and answers? They’re the ones with a standalone question (the stem) where the correct answer (the key) is hidden among three or four wrong answers (distractors). The people responding (let’s call them students) have to choose one or more answers from the options given. For example:

What noise does a cat make?

      1. Woof
      2. Moo
      3. Meow [key]
      4. Baa

And what do I know about multiple choice questions? Well, quite a bit. I have edited hundreds, maybe thousands, of them for one of the UK’s biggest test providers over the past 15 years. I’ve also written and edited them for, well, multiple other contexts, including textbooks, revision guides, workbooks and online learning materials.

A good multi-choice test is an objective measurement of a student’s knowledge, which can be taken and marked online, with instant feedback. However, from my experience, authors usually don’t know what a good () – or bad ()– multi-choice test looks like. They might be experts in their subject but they’ve never been taught how to actually write a test. And there’s a lot they should know, involving some pretty complex pedagogical concepts. I don’t have space to go into Bloom’s Taxonomy here but the goal is to ensure that the test is an unobtrusive channel for assessing the student’s knowledge.

So here’s a quick primer, covering four common problems.

Problem A: The question doesn’t make sense

The question must be pitched appropriately for who is taking the test. Unless it’s a Key Stage 2 SATs test, the aim is to find out what students know, not how well they can read or understand long words. Clarity is vital. The wording of question and answers should be concise and unambiguous, assessing knowledge, not literacy skills. There is usually no need to fill the question with irrelevant and confusing information:

Pet cats may be kept inside or outside, or be able to move freely between the house and garden. Sometimes neighbouring cats can enter the house in this way but owners can allow only their cat to come in by installing a special cat flap. How?

What type of cat flap prevents the wrong cats from entering the house?

Students shouldn’t have to waste time under exam conditions trying to work out what they are being asked. The question should be self-contained so that it makes sense without the answers.

My cat Pixel is:

      1. tortoiseshell.
      2. black and white. [key]
      3. ginger.
      4. tabby.

What colour is my cat Pixel?

      1. Tortoiseshell
      2. Black and white [key]
      3. Ginger
      4. Tabby

Avoid colloquialisms and unnecessarily complex language. Of course, you might want to find out whether students know a particular technical term, but the structure of the question should make that intention clear and direct.

A cat is a digitigrade. What does this mean?

      1. It has a different number of toes on its front and back paws.
      2. It walks on its toes. [key]
      3. It stands with its toes flat on the ground.
      4. It has claws.

Technical terms applied in the wrong context might also make for credible distractors.

Opinions differ on negatively phrased questions. Some people argue that they’re confusing, while others say they make students read the question more carefully. I think they’re fine under the right circumstances, and as long as the negative word (eg ‘not’) is obvious (eg formatted
in bold).

Problem B: The distractors are too obvious

I see this issue more than any other. The author knows what they want the students to know but struggles to think of plausible distractors.

What is the common name for the species felis catus?

      1. Cat
      2. Dog
      3. Elephant
      4. Human

If the correct answer can be easily guessed without any background knowledge, the question has failed in its purpose. And a test isn’t the time to try to be funny.

If it’s too hard to think of wrong answers, perhaps it’s the wrong question. Try asking it in a way that allows the distractors to be worth considering. They could be frequent misconceptions, commonly asked questions, otherwise true statements or other related terms or concepts that the student might know. For example:

What is the Latin term for the domestic cat?

      1. Felidae [Latin term for the family ‘cat’]
      2. Felis catus [key]
      3. Panthera [the genus of cats that roar]
      4. Felis silvestris [European wild cat]

All the answer options should have a similar sentence structure that follows on logically from the question. It’s the same principle as wording bullet lists to follow platform sentences – errors may unintentionally draw attention to the wrong (or right) answers.

Cats are crepuscular because they:

      1. they like to knead your laps with their paws.
      2. of their rough tongues.
      3. like to go out at dawn and dusk. [key]
      4. prefers to go out during the day.

Option lengths should be consistent – often, the correct answer is obvious because it is much longer or shorter than the distractors, and phrased slightly differently.

Where does Pixel most like to be stroked?

      1. On his back
      2. Around his face, ears, chin and at the base of his tail, where his scent glands are [key]
      3. On his tummy
      4. On his paws

Pixel deep in thought during a maths test

Avoid ‘All of the above’ – it’s a copout. Students only need to realise that more than one answer could be right to reasonably guess that ‘All of the above’ is the correct answer.

What is a cat’s favourite pastime?

      1. Sleeping
      2. Being stroked
      3. Sitting on laps
      4. All of the above.

With this example, you could also argue that ‘favourite’ implies a single pastime that the cat enjoys more than any other. ‘All of the above’, therefore, is doubly confusing.

‘None of the above’ is also a meaningless option, as it does not identify whether the student knows the correct answer.

On a related note, avoid acronym questions. Not only could a student successfully argue that a collection of letters stands for anything you want it to, but it’s also hard to write realistic distractors for a specific acronym.

What does RSPCA stand for?

      1. Really Special People’s Cats Association
      2. Royal Society for the Protection of Cats and Animals
      3. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
      4. Running Short of Possible Cat Answers

If the test isn’t delivered via software that randomises the position of the answers each time it’s administered, vary the placement of the key throughout the test, to avoid any patterns.

Problem C: The questions and/or answers are ambiguous

This is the opposite problem to the obvious distractors. A student may find that more than one option could be correct, but a multi-choice test doesn’t give the opportunity for students to answer ‘it depends’.

What noise does a cat make?

      1. Woof
      2. Moo
      3. Meow [key?]
      4. Purr [key?]

Authors are sometimes advised to ask students to find the ‘best’ answer rather than the ‘correct’ answer but this rather skates over the need for precise wording. In this case, it would be better to ask a more specific question that tests a higher level of understanding:

What noise do cats make to communicate with humans?

      1. Woof
      2. Moo
      3. Meow [key]
      4. Purr

Don’t ask ‘What would you do?’, as the student could easily defend any answer with ‘Well, I would do that!’. Similarly, avoid anything that could be seen as subjective or absolute:

Why are cats so cute?
Why do cats love fish?
Why does Pixel only come into my office when I’m in a Zoom meeting?

But it’s also important not to be too specific. Avoid closed questions – they limit the distractors:

Are whiskers a type of hair?

      1. Yes
      2. No
      3. Sometimes
      4. Meaningless fourth distractor

Problem D: The test isn’t tested

It’s not always possible to try out the questions before using them, but they should at least be run past a colleague. You might know what you mean but other people might not.

As with any edited text, develop a style guide that encompasses any aspects that could be inconsistent – the use of numbers, units and punctuation, for example.

Remember to provide students with clear instructions on how you expect them to take the test. Ensure they know what learning objectives, topics or concepts are being tested, and whether they can refer to notes or use aids such as a calculator.

Tests that are to be administered live (as opposed to being used as self-revision in a textbook) should be kept on a spreadsheet that states clearly when and how the questions have been used.

If possible, keep anonymised data on how students answered each question. There’s quite a bit of analytical science relating to this but, for general tests, all that’s really important is to ask the following:

  • Were there any distractors that nobody chose?
  • Were there any answers that everyone got right?
  • Can variations in students’ results be explained by their different levels of knowledge alone?

Learn from the data and revisit the test to change elements as necessary. Consider, too, whether a multi-choice test format is suitable for assessing everything that needs to be assessed. A bit like this blog post, some topics lend themselves to longer, more evaluative responses, and can’t be properly examined within the constraints of a few options.

But, done right, are multiple choice tests effective tools for assessing learning, useful revision aids and direct channels for measuring knowledge? Well, yes – all of the above …

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has more than 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. When she’s not hanging out with other editors (virtually or otherwise), she writes and edits textbooks, proofreads anything that’s put in front of her and posts short, often grumpy, book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.

 


Photo credits: multiple cats – The Lucky Neko; hand and paw – Humberto Arellano; whiskers – Kevin Knezic, all on Unsplash

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

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

Uncovering the value of your work

By John Niland

In a recent conversation, a copyeditor posed the following question: How can I justify a higher rate, when I’m ‘just’ being asked to review a couple of thousand words of text?

I hear a similar question nearly every week, from accountants, lawyers, web designers, video producers, trainers … all professionals who are constantly being asked to ‘just’ do something. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if certain clients use the word ‘just’ to devalue a job, even before a professional ever gets to quote for it.

Nevertheless, I had to issue a gentle challenge to my copyeditor friend. It is apparent to me that she is already doing more to devalue her work than her client is. Can you see how?

You may wish to take a moment to reflect back before reading on. What’s the problem with the way that she is looking at value?

Context

Value is all about context, as the following story illustrates. A father once said to his son, ‘You graduated with honours. As a reward, here is a car I acquired many years ago. It is now several years old. But before I give it to you, take it to the used-car dealership and tell them I want to sell it and see how much they offer you.’ The son went to the used-car place, returned to his father and said, ‘They offered me £1,000 because it looks rather old.’ The father said, ‘Take it to the pawn shop.’ The son went to the pawn shop, returned to his father and said, ‘The pawn shop only offered £100 because it is such an old car.’ The father asked his son to go to a car club and show them the car. The son took the car to the club, returned and told the father, ‘Some people in the club offered £50,000 for it since it’s a Nissan Skyline R34, an iconic car and sought after by many.’

In the usual telling of the story, the father then lectures his son: ‘The right place values you the right way. If you are not valued, do not be angry, it means you are in the wrong place. Those who know your value are those who appreciate you. Never stay in a place where no one sees your value.’

Extrinsic value

So far, so good. However, there is a more fundamental point to this story: that value is extrinsic (ie based on context), rather than intrinsic (ie based on content). It’s not the condition of the metal that defines the value of the car, any more than the quantity of text defines the value of the copyediting job. It’s not the age of the car, any more than it’s the age of the copyeditor. Nor is it even the mileage of the car, any more than it’s the experience of the copyeditor.

The copyeditor is looking in the wrong place to find her professional value. As professionals, we will never find our full value in the content of our work: it’s the context that makes our work valuable. Needless to say, this distinction often produces howls of protest from purist practitioners. ‘What! No! It’s the quality of my writing / design / coaching etc that’s the key to my value!’ Well … not really. Most clients see quality as fitness to purpose and the value of that purpose lies squarely in the client’s world (context) … not in your content. No matter how good your content is.

Let’s walk through another illustration. Two web designers draft identical webpages: same text, same images, same design, same call-to-actions. One of those pages sits on a busy site, on a ‘crossroads’ often visited because of links from partners and associates. The other page is part of a standalone website, rarely visited, with no links. Which page has the most value? Which page would you spend most money to enhance?

Not content

Value depends on context, not content. When I work with my professional clients to fully master this distinction, it’s often quite liberating. They become much more fluent in the issues of their chosen client world; hence more compelling in first meetings. Their time-management improves – often quite dramatically – as they align their hours with the value added by their work. Over the course of a few months, they often learn to double and triple their fees, because they are no longer competing with generalists and instead can point to the true benefits of their unique value-centred approach. Younger professionals learn that they don’t need to first amass years of experience, but can differentiate themselves early on in their career, simply by becoming masters of context, not content.

There are many practical skills to learn here. Let’s look at some opening questions that our copyeditor friend might ask, to focus on the context (rather than the content) of her work. Here are some examples:

  • How will the client judge the success of this project?
  • Who will be making that assessment? When and how?
  • What impact could this project have on sales/engagement/signups, etc?
  • What’s their experience/history so far? What happened last time they tried to engage someone like me?
  • What other initiatives are going on that we should take into account?

You can quickly craft some of your own questions, to fit your style and market. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself if your questions are about them and their world, or about you and the work you are being asked to do. If it’s the former, you are well on your way to uncovering context, wherein lies the real value of your work.

Of course, there are challenges along the way. There are clients who block professionals from context. There are agents and middlemen who could not care less. There are last-minute clients who constantly suffer from hurry-sickness and just don’t have time for a value conversation. This is when your own self-worth is vital. Whatever happens, you know you don’t belong in a place where people don’t want to see real value. So find better clients and move on.

© John Niland, August 2020

John Niland runs regular webinars for professionals to improve the value of their work. See www.selfworthacademy.com/webinars/ for the current schedule. John’s book ‘The Self-Worth Safari’ is available on Amazon.

 


The CIEP’s Pricing a Project guide looks at preparing quotations for editorial work.


Photo credits: Plant in coins – Micheile Henderson; Nissan Skyline – Ondrej Trnak, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Emma Easy, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Ten tips for your first copyediting job

By Liz Jones

If you’ve focused on proofreading until now, the idea of copyediting can seem daunting. For a start, you’ll probably be working on a Word document rather than a PDF or paper proofs, which means you’ve got far more freedom to make changes. But are you qualified to do the work? How sweeping should your changes be? And how can you tell the difference between what needs to be changed, and what can be left alone? Here are some tips for coping with that first job. 

1. Don’t panic!

First, take a deep breath. You’ve got this. Proofreading and copyediting are on the same continuum – it’s all editing, just at a different stage of the process and therefore with a different emphasis. Copyediting is about preparing the raw text for layout, rather than applying the final polish before publication. (That said, you want the copyedited text to be as clean as possible.) For copyediting, just as for proofreading, it can help to approach the work by considering what can stay the same, rather than what needs to change. The author’s preferences are a good place to start, and if you’re working for a publisher, their style sheet can offer useful guidance on many editorial decisions.

2. Read the brief.

This is your best clue to how much you need to intervene. What is the client expecting? A publisher might offer very clear instructions on the extent and scope of the work, and how much they would like you to change (or not). But what if there is no brief? If you’re working for a self-publisher or a non-publishing business client, the brief might be open-ended or even non-existent. In this case, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Your job as copyeditor is to remove barriers to understanding the text, and make it ready for publication. Consistency, clarity and accuracy are key. Take a look at the CIEP’s FAQs on copyediting for more tips.

3. Assess the work.

You wouldn’t start to build a house without a plan, would you? (Well, I hope you wouldn’t.) It’s probably a smaller job, but likewise you shouldn’t start a copyedit before you’ve assessed the scope of the work. When you quoted for the job, you will have looked at what it involves and should have a good idea of the time it will take. But before you start the edit look again, and more closely. Work out a plan of action. How will you order the necessary tasks? Can you figure out the most efficient way to complete the work to a high standard? (This is crucial if you’re being paid a flat fee.) It can be tempting to get stuck in right away, but a little forward planning can save a lot of time later on. You might also identify problems you need to discuss with the client, such as missing material or a heavier-than-expected level of editing.

A good way to get an overview of the whole document before you start editing in detail is to style the headings first. (It’s also all too easy to miss mistakes in headings when you’re immersed in the main text.)

4. Clean up the text.

Assessing the text (see tip 3) will have given you a good idea of the tasks that can be batched and automated. Lots of editors choose to run PerfectIt at the start of a job, for example, to highlight inconsistencies. Macros (such as those by CIEP member Paul Beverley) can also help you identify things that need editing, and make the necessary changes more efficiently. Cleaning up the text before you start the language editing can help you focus on flow and readability with fewer distractions.

5. Build a style sheet.

One of the key tasks of a copyeditor (aside from actually editing the text) is compiling a style sheet – either starting from scratch, or adding to the one supplied with the job. This helps you as you progress through the edit, providing a point of reference for all the editorial decisions you make. It also helps the client, and eventually the proofreader, so they can understand your working and hopefully won’t arbitrarily undo your editorial decisions.

6. Consider working on the references first.

If the document you’re editing has a lot of references (and it might not!), it can help to work on these first. There are several reasons for this. First, this is another way of gaining insight into the main text before you start to read and edit it in earnest. Second, the references need to be consistent, so editing them all together can be more effective than dealing with them as they arise in relation to the main text. Finally, they can take a surprisingly long time to sort out, especially if you need to check them for accuracy and tidy up formatting. If you’ve got them sorted before you start the main bulk of the editing, you don’t need to worry about spending an unexpectedly long time on them at the end of the job.

7. Work through the text in order.

Although I know plenty of copyeditors who adore references (!), for me this is the fun part. Read through the whole of the text, and make edits as you go to ensure it is consistent, clear and accurate – as in tip 2. It’s a skilful balance between knowing when to leave things alone, and when to tweak things to improve the flow of a sentence, or to help the author express themselves more effectively. Question (almost) everything – but don’t spend too long doing it.

Some questions arise: What is the copyeditor’s responsibility, and what is not? How many times should the copyeditor read the text? The answer is usually ‘it depends’ – on the brief, on the budget, and on the schedule. Keep track changes switched on (unless your client’s specified otherwise), and be careful not to change the meaning of the text. If something’s ambiguous, query it. If a change is unarguable, and can be justified, go for it with confidence. You’ve been hired for your expertise, and your ability to interpret the client’s needs.

8. Query sensibly and clearly.

How you present your queries might be specified in the brief. You might write them as comments on the Word document, or as a separate list, or both. However you present them, try to ensure they are worded clearly, and politely. It can be tricky knowing what to query, but generally you will want to defer to the author on matters of fact or content that you can’t easily check and verify. If a meaning isn’t clear, this will also need to be queried. You might also flag up editorial changes where they deviate from the author’s preferred style to explain why you did something (such as changing gendered pronouns in favour of singular they/their). For more about querying, see the CIEP’s fact sheet.

9. Carry out a final check for consistency.

Many editors run PerfectIt again at this stage, which can help you weed out straggling inconsistencies. But how many times should you actually read the text? If I’m being paid enough, I read everything twice. Once for the edit, then once to check over what I’ve done. I often find things to improve on this second pass. However, if there isn’t the time or the budget to support an entire second read, I would certainly check over all my corrections to make sure I haven’t introduced typos or other inaccuracies.

Also, check your queries. By the time you finish editing, you might find that some of the answers are clear and don’t need to be referred back to the author.

10. Return the edited document(s) with care.

Don’t rush the return: get things in order, check the brief again to make sure you’ve dealt with everything, and make sure your covering email is informative and clear. As well as the edited text, send your queries and style sheet. Let the client know they can ask you if they have any questions about what you’ve done. Once you’ve submitted everything, invoice promptly, put the kettle on and look forward to the next copyedit! All jobs are different, but your confidence and efficiency will increase with each one.

 

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and freelance since 2008. She specialises in copyediting and proofreading non-fiction, specialising in architecture, art and other practical subjects, as well as highly technical material. She is one of the CIEP’s information team, and is also a mentor in proofreading and copyediting.

 


Photo credits: Getting ready – Johny vino; planning – Glenn Carstens-Peters, both on Unsplash

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

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

Wise owls: managing money

It’s coming up to the end of the UK tax year (5 April) – the CIEP’s wise owls have turned their thoughts to keeping track of income and outgoings.

Liz Jones

Here are some things I’ve learned about managing money in 12 years of freelancing:

  • Tax is a potential killer. I’m happy and proud to pay tax, but it’s one of the things I’ve found most challenging to manage in terms of cash flow, especially in years when I’ve taken a few weeks’ ‘maternity leave’. It’s really important to set aside more than you think you’ll need: if your earnings fluctuate, so will your tax bills. I’ve found paying an accountant to be a worthwhile cost to help me get my tax calculations right and understand how I can make the most of allowances.
  • It’s essential to get into a position where you’re not depending on a particular payment being made on time in order to pay vital bills such as the rent or mortgage. Even with the best clients, timely payment is not 100% reliable.
  • I never justify charging clients a high rate by citing my circumstances. As it happens, mine is the main income for my family, but that’s irrelevant to them. They’re paying for my work, not to support my lifestyle.
  • I use FreeAgent to manage my invoicing, and my accountant takes the information directly from this to complete my tax return. It’s not free but it’s saved me a lot of time over the past few years.
  • I chase invoices as soon as they go overdue. After once losing nearly £2,000 on an unpaid invoice when a client went into administration, I also invoice regularly in smaller stage payments for large jobs, to mitigate the risk of a client going bust.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin

My nickname is The Spreadsheet Queen! I use spreadsheets for everything, although I’m barely proficient in Excel. No matter, as you don’t need to be. I created a spreadsheet to track my invoicing just by setting up a few columns with headings such as date, client, what the job was, PO number (if applicable), how much I billed, when I invoiced, when the money is due, etc. I have extra columns for notes and to tick off when my client has paid. I also have a spreadsheet for tracking client hours, with my per hour rate in a column. I bill some of my clients monthly, so I can tot up jobs on the tracking spreadsheet and transfer the billable sum to my invoicing one.

My outgoings are minimal – I’m mindful that expenses are tax-deductible (mostly). My biggest expenses are my CIEP fees (and conference, if I decide to go) and my trade union subs. Then there are costs for software, and, occasionally, stationery, plus fees for my accountant and PC fixer (an essential expense!). Again, I track all these on a spreadsheet – it’s useful to see how much I’m spending per year, including versus how much I’m making. I aim to limit expenses to 5% maximum of my turnover, but it’s usually below that.

I check my business bank account on my phone daily to see what’s gone in (or out). Yes, I have a separate business account – I find it easier to track income and expenses without having to trail through my supermarket shopping, Spotify subs and utility bills. It’s not possible to separate business and personal completely, but it’s about 99% foolproof. I set aside 20% of every invoice as it’s paid – it goes into a dedicated savings account for my tax bill after my accountant has filed my tax return. Setting that aside also stops me from thinking I have more disposable income than I actually have.

Hazel Bird

Managing money is about finding a system that suits your business model. For example, if you’re raising lots of low-value invoices, it might be worth paying for a system that raises, sends and tracks invoices for you, and integrates this data into an accounting package. I’ve seen CIEP members recommend the likes of Crunch, FreshBooks and QuickBooks for this purpose. I tend to raise fewer high-value invoices, so I use an Excel template (which I complete and convert to PDF) and do my tracking in Google Sheets. This lets me geek out with functions to create my own personalised reports. It also means I have no money-management-related expenses beyond the time I take.

It’s definitely not essential to have an accountant, especially if your finances are simple. But naturally this means keeping on top of current tax and accounting requirements, particularly if you’re registered for VAT or invoicing clients in jurisdictions outside the UK. Members often raise very helpful threads on these topics on the CIEP forums.

Finally, there’s a stereotype that freelancers never complete their tax returns until the week they’re due – and then discover we owe the government far more than we expected. I’ve always consciously avoided that approach, because it’s important to me to know my exact tax liability and ensure my cash flow will cover it. To make this as painless as possible, I tend to be one of those insufferable people whose accounts are always up to date. This is inevitably a bit tedious, but it shouldn’t be too tedious. Your system should slot into your work as seamlessly as possible. Money management should serve our businesses, not the other way around.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

A wise man – a mentor from my early days as a freelancer – once said to me: ‘Put aside your tax money before you spend it.’ He also advised separate bank accounts. So I have a bank account into which all of my business income goes, and as soon as I have a receipt I put a percentage of it into a savings account to cover tax and National Insurance. I set the percentage slightly over what my tax will be, so that I save something each year just by hiving off my tax money.

I don’t use anything other than Microsoft Excel to manage my business income. I have a spreadsheet with columns for date, project name, invoice number, ingoings and outgoings, with a reminders column for payments due for bills and the mortgage. I have separate sheets for the money put aside for tax, business expenses and income from clients. That way, when my tax return is due my business income and outgoings are all present in one handy file.

These two systems have always allowed me to know how much I have, and to be certain that I can’t dip into crucial money that will need to be paid to HMRC.

Sue BrowningSue Browning

My key advice is to do things as you go rather than leaving them to pile up and need sorting out later. Sent an invoice? File it and record it on your income sheet. Renewed your CIEP subscription? File the invoice/receipt and record it on your expenses sheet. I give each invoice and expense a unique reference. Then each month, I download my business bank statement and reconcile it with the invoices issued, marking up each item on the statement with its reference number in my accounts. This reconciliation takes me less than half an hour each month. I do everything electronically, scanning paper receipts on the rare occasions I receive them. I also use a program called Cushion for scheduling, time-tracking and invoicing so my information is all in one place, but do what works for you.

I also put about 20% of my month’s income into a savings account earmarked for tax. This means I don’t dread the total when I submit my return. My accounts spreadsheet has a totals worksheet that collects the monthly figures and gives me an annual total. Come tax return time, I have only to refer to that sheet, knowing that all my invoices and receipts are in order, so my tax return takes me about half an hour. That’s when I am grateful to past me for taking a few minutes regularly to keep on top of things.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. First, know your money style. Are you disciplined? Does it trickle through your fingers? Track your invoices, and pounce on any that become overdue the first day they’re overdue. Don’t be shy. You’re in business, not pursuing a hobby. Be polite but firm, and repetitive – it works in most cases. Don’t be afraid you’re ‘nagging’ – you’ve done the work, so your client should pay up! Budget for your business and household expenses: work out what you want to spend on training, marketing, CIEP membership and conference attendance, materials, resources and overheads – and know when those become due.

Work out what you need to live on, likewise. Use that knowledge to help you set the hourly rate you want to earn. A simple spreadsheet of your invoices with a running total can be used to forecast your tax and National Insurance bill. According to your money style, either save enough from each paid invoice to pay the tax on that invoice or do your tax return as early as you can and set up a direct debit with HMRC to pay in monthly instalments (more like a PAYE scheme, and there’s no temptation to dip into your tax pot before you pay it to HMRC). With interest rates so low, the satisfaction of knowing you’re paying down that tax bill rather than saving the money and earning on it may balance out easily. Attend HMRC webinars on business expenses and filling in your tax return.


If you’re starting out on your freelance journey, the CIEP’s guide Going Solo covers the finance basics, including tax and record-keeping obligations.


Photo credit: owl – Dominik VO on Unsplash

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Dealing with imposter syndrome

By Lisa de Caux

The Manchester CIEP local group meets every three months, and chooses a discussion topic in advance. ‘How to deal with self-doubt, lack of confidence and imposter syndrome’ was a very popular topic with those who attended the January 2020 meeting.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines imposter syndrome as ‘The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills’. Meanwhile, googling ‘imposter syndrome’ brings up more than three million search results. And a quick survey of the CIEP’s forums reveals that it’s a problem familiar to many editors.

I posted on LinkedIn ahead of the meeting to elicit thoughts on #ImposterSyndrome. I had a fantastic response, and people were so willing to share their experiences, just as they were later in person. We had a lively and engaged meeting – we all had stories to share, from the newbies among us to more experienced members.

This post covers what came out of that meeting, focusing on imposter syndrome and editorial professionals. I’ve included a list of helpful resources at the end.

What is imposter syndrome?

I’ve shared the dictionary definition, but let’s talk about it in a less formal way. It’s the feeling that ‘I’m not good/qualified enough’. It’s about self-doubt and lack of confidence. We set ourselves exacting standards as we work on clients’ projects, and this tends to carry through into the standards we set for ourselves and our businesses. You don’t want to feel as though you haven’t met your own expectations.

Most of the people at our meeting were freelancers, so we concentrated on this area. As a freelancer, especially working from home on your own, you can experience feelings of isolation. While one of the benefits of being a freelancer is a lack of structure, which allows self-direction and taking control of your business, the flip side of this is there is no one to automatically check in with you. When you’re an employee, you have appraisals and regular meetings with your manager to provide validation, and you have conversations with colleagues about questions and minor hiccups while making a cup of tea. As a freelancer, there is no built-in interaction with people – you must build it yourself. It’s one of the reasons the CIEP’s forums are so popular – they provide a chance to talk to others who understand where you are coming from.

The CIEP has a newbies forum, where I posted about imposter syndrome after our meeting. It struck a chord with a lot of members. While imposter syndrome may be more common for newbies, it can come back in waves for more experienced professionals. As we moved through our meeting, we talked about how imposter syndrome might be triggered by changing your business’s direction (for example, moving from non-fiction to fiction) or by taking the next step professionally (for example, upgrading to a higher level of CIEP membership). Instead of taking pride in your achievement, you may feel anxiety in case people think that standards must have dropped for you to have succeeded. When something new and unexpected happens, you may feel that you *should* have known. Then imposter syndrome builds up and you discount your experience.

Recognising it

Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced editor, imposter syndrome reflects the level of stretch you’re going through and how far out of your comfort zone you are. We all agreed that it’s particularly important to acknowledge this feeling if it starts to take over more of your thoughts. It can impact your mental health, and then you need to take action. We talked about the practical impact of imposter syndrome too – for example, the knock-on effect on the way you quote for work. Imposter syndrome can encourage you to be apologetic about raising rates, especially for existing clients. Whether you’re thinking about your mental health or the practical impact, a strategy to cope with imposter syndrome needs to be found.

Overcoming imposter syndrome

The group suggested lots of ideas. Some come from external support (for instance, talking to people) and some are internal support mechanisms (like creating a win jar). What suits one person won’t necessarily suit another. Call it what you will – this is an individual demon/monster/battle to face.

We recognised that, as a newbie, you have less experience and less chance of positive feedback to turn to. At this stage, talking to people is so important. Then, as you complete more projects, you will, hopefully, receive good feedback. An even better weapon against imposter syndrome is repeat work. It’s a real vote of confidence in your service. Although experience brings great benefits, we spent a lot of time talking about coping strategies that are useful to all.

Coping strategies

You can record positive feedback in a notebook, a ‘sunshine file’ or a ‘win jar’. You could have a gratitude journal. It’s so useful to have tools that you can constantly keep updated. A ‘win jar’ is a jar you keep on your desk, where you leave positive feedback (for instance, a complimentary email). If you feel like you need it, reach in and pull out a win to read. A sunshine file is a similar concept. Since our meeting, I’ve created a Word document where I save screen shots of positive feedback.

Another way to cope is to understand the value that you provide – not everyone can do what you do. How do you track improvements over time? What experience and training do you have? When you’ve found a typo or factual error, what impact would it have had on the document if you hadn’t found it? Keep track of these achievements!

At the meeting, we were keen to embrace talking to friends and colleagues – CIEP local groups and forums really come into their own here. Attending face-to-face courses or professional development days can provide reassurance about what you do know.

Finally, our conversation moved gently into the positive side of self-doubt. A little (in moderation) will keep you learning and trying harder. It will improve your business. It may lead to a particular type of training. I was surprised to discover that a long course (like the PTC proofreading course) is not completed by everyone who signs up for it. Completing training acts as a confidence boost!

There’s such a lot to think about – at the end of the discussion, we were all ready for our mid-meeting comfort break.

You are not alone

I’ve focused on the editorial profession, but imposter syndrome does not have industry boundaries and it does not respect your level of experience. I recently caught up with a friend who’s an oncology consultant. I explained about writing this blog and asked if she’d come across imposter syndrome. She smiled in recognition – yes, she often feels it and often talks about it with her medical colleagues.

Every conversation gives me the clear message: you are not alone.

A lot of us are going through it, including the people you assume are absolutely fine. You can find a coping strategy that suits you. My own battle with imposter syndrome will continue, I’m sure. If you’re battling too, I wish you the very best!

Helpful articles and blogs

Mental Health Today: Imposter syndrome
Northern Editorial: Time to kill the monster
KT Editing: Imposter syndrome and editing
The Avid Doer: Imposter syndrome: Intuition in disguise?
Harvard Business Review: Overcoming imposter syndrome
Louise Harnby: I’m a newbie proofreader – should I charge a lower fee?

 

 Lisa de Caux is a CIEP Intermediate Member and coordinator of the Manchester CIEP local group. She specialises in editing and proofreading for business. Lisa is a career changer, and spent many years as a chartered accountant before becoming a proofreader.

 


Face-to-face interaction with peers can help with imposter syndrome and provide a great boost to confidence and motivation. A recent blog post covered upcoming in-person CPD, and the CIEP’s local groups meet regularly. (And don’t forget that booking for the first CIEP conference opens later this month!)


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

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

In your own words

By Claire Bacon

How to recognise and avoid plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious offence which can damage a writer’s professional reputation. In many cases, researchers are not aware of plagiarism in their research papers. Understanding what plagiarism is and how to avoid it could save published work from retraction. In this post, I explain the different types of plagiarism and give tips on how to recognise and address them when editing.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism means presenting the results and ideas of somebody else as your own. The AMA Manual of Style1 describes four types of plagiarism: direct plagiarism, mosaic plagiarism, paraphrasing and insufficient acknowledgement.

Direct plagiarism is using exactly the same words as somebody else without quotation marks or without crediting the original author. For example:

Plagiarised: We believe that researchers do not claim the words and ideas of another as their own; they give credit where credit is due.

Not plagiarised: As stated in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, ‘Researchers do not claim the words and ideas of another as their own; they give credit where credit is due.’

Mosaic plagiarism combines ideas and opinions of somebody else with your own, without crediting the author. Take a look at the following paragraph:

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. In 90% of cases, lung cancer is caused by long-term tobacco smoking, but some cases have been reported in people who have never smoked. In this prospective study, we investigated the effect of avoiding smoking on the incidence of lung cancer in a large European cohort.

In this example, the phrase highlighted in bold has been copied directly from another source and no citation has been given. You can fix this by rewording the sentence and citing the appropriate reference:

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. The majority of cases are caused by long-term tobacco smoking (Smith et al. 2016), but some cases have been reported in people who have never smoked. In this prospective study, we investigated the effect of avoiding smoking on the incidence of lung cancer in a large European cohort.

Paraphrasing is rewording sentences and retaining the original meaning without crediting the author. This is an easy mistake to make but describing an idea in your own words does not make the idea your own – credit must still be given to the original author. If the Smith et al. 2016 reference were removed from the example above, this would be an example of plagiarism by paraphrasing.

Insufficient acknowledgement is not citing the source material. This means the reader cannot distinguish between your ideas and those of others. For example:

Plagiarised: CD200 influences the outcome of organ transplantation in animal models. In this study, we explored the impact of CD200 on post-transplantation outcome in human recipients.

Not plagiarised: CD200 influences the outcome of organ transplantation in animal models (Glaser et al. 2018; Jones et al. 2019). In this study, we explored the impact of CD200 on post-transplantation outcome in human recipients.

Avoiding plagiarism by insufficient acknowledgement can be tricky because common knowledge does not need to be cited in a research paper. Nobody would cite Watson and Crick’s 1953 publication when describing the structure of DNA, for example. But it’s not always clear what is common knowledge and what isn’t. Something that is well known to an author may not be so well known to readers who are not experts in the field. In this case, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you are unsure whether a fact is common knowledge or not, ask the author to include the citation.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association2 also describes self-plagiarism, which is presenting an author’s previously published results and ideas as new. Writers are often surprised to learn they can plagiarise their own work. To avoid this, ensure the relevant source is cited when referring to results and conclusions that have already been published.

Now let’s take a closer look at why authors plagiarise and how you can tackle plagiarism when editing.

Publish or perish (or plagiarise?)

Researchers are under extreme pressure to publish their work. The more papers they publish, the better their chances of securing essential funding to continue their projects. This brutal ‘publish or perish’ scenario is probably the main reason for deliberate plagiarism in academic publishing.

Life is even harder for the non-native English-speaking researcher. They may solve their writing difficulties by searching the existing literature for templates of good-quality writing to use in their own papers. This is often not deliberate plagiarism, but the consequences are still severe. Professional language editors can help avoid this by giving their clients the freedom to write in their own words, safe in the knowledge that their ideas will be clearly expressed after the editing process.

Encourage your clients to think about what they want to say before they start writing. Their manuscript should be centred on a specific research question. The background information that is given, the materials that are used, the results that are presented, and the literature that is discussed should all focus on explaining and answering this question. This template will help your clients to distinguish between their own ideas and those that need to be cited.

Stay out of trouble

Plagiarism is a serious offence which is often committed by accident in research writing. Authors are ultimately responsible for the content they put forward for publication, but editors (and proofreaders) should query anything they suspect may be plagiarised. Keep an eye out for text that is phrased differently from the author’s usual style, and for any facts or figures without sources. Listen to your professional intuition!

1 AMA Manual of Style (10th Edition), page 158.
2 Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th Edition), page 16.

Claire Bacon is a former research scientist and an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She edits manuscripts for non-native English-speaking scientists and works as a copyeditor for The Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.

This article was published on Claire’s blog on 28 January 2020. Many thanks to Claire for granting permission to amend and republish it.


On 1 March, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders becomes the Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading, following the granting of a royal charter. Read the Chartership FAQs, keep an eye on our social media feeds over the coming days, and next week read the first CIEP blog post!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/thesfep
Facebook: www.facebook.com/EditProof
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/the-ciep/


Photo credits: Books Aaron Burden; Laptop – Glenn Carstens-Peters, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Scammy editors, cautious editors, and the clients in between

By Kia Thomas

Recently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: ‘Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?’

I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.

I received another email straight away: ‘Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.’ Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.

Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammers, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.

Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.

I think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.

Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question ‘Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?’ in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards ‘Always get payment first’, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards ‘Never pay first’, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.

The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.

I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.

And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.

It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.

 

Kia ThomasKia Thomas spent 11 years in the arts before becoming a freelance fiction editor at the beginning of 2016. She specialises in contemporary romance and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. Kia lives in South Tyneside, and she can often be found networking with her colleagues in online spaces (ie spending too much time on Twitter).

 

This article was originally published on Kia’s blog on 4 February 2020. Many thanks to Kia for granting permission to amend and republish it.


Photo credits: notebook Kiwihug, baggage – Waldemar Brandt, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Coping with criticism

By Liz Jones

One of the most exciting things about freelancing, but also one of the hardest, is that feeling that the buck stops with you. You’re in control of the work you do, keeping the business going. You’re entirely responsible. On a good day, this can be exhilarating. It’s a buzz to win a new contract or client. There’s nothing quite like sending off a massive invoice for a job well done – a direct and tangible result of your efforts. And it’s a real kick to be praised for excellent work.

The flip side of this is that we also need to be prepared for feedback that isn’t so good. We’re all human, and sometimes we have off days, and we miss things, or misunderstand an aspect of a brief. Sometimes there’s a distance between what the client expects and what we think they want. Or maybe a document is just in such bad shape that it’s all we can do to make it better, and it’s still not going to be immaculate – at least, not in that timeframe, with that budget. Perfection is never a helpful aim.

How we deal with criticism of our work matters. Bad feedback can take a huge mental toll if we’re not careful. It’s not simply a question of avoiding it entirely, as it’s bound to happen sooner or later, no matter how careful we are. But there are strategies that can help us cope with it more effectively, and perhaps even turn it into a positive experience (eventually).

I tweeted about this recently: https://twitter.com/ljedit/status/1217800318932656129

My Twitter thread was in response to a client having commented on some things I’d missed in a proofread, some of which were debatable, but several of which were not – in an ideal world I would have caught them. My response to the client, after sleeping on it (and yes, after initially getting indignant and defensive, and stomping around the kitchen), was a succinct acknowledgement of the things I’d missed, while also drawing attention to the fact that it had been a heavily corrected set of proofs; no proofreader can catch everything. I also thanked them for their feedback. Later I received a positive response from the client, and more work. I think as a result of our exchange both sides felt heard, and also reassured that our good working relationship was intact.

Professional resolution

I shared the experience on Twitter because receiving bad feedback can be such a lonely experience, but probably a fairly universal one in our profession. It received quite a few likes and shares, and some responses indicating that I wasn’t alone. So, based on my own experiences of responding to criticism in the past 12 years (let’s just say I’ve improved over time), plus conversations with colleagues, here are some tips for managing in this situation.

  • Dissociate yourself. It can be incredibly painful to have work criticised. It may even feel like a personal attack – but it (generally) isn’t. Remember that you are not your work. Even if it’s fallen short in some way, it doesn’t mean you have.
  • Don’t panic! Your first reaction might be to assume that you’ve messed things up completely and lost a valuable client. But feedback, even if it’s negative, is generally a good sign. It means the client is interested in an ongoing working relationship and building a dialogue with you. They don’t want to lose you, they just want to keep lines of communication open so you understand better what they need in future.
  • Give yourself time. Your instinct might be to write back immediately, to try to sort everything out right away. However, my advice would be to give yourself as much time to reply as you reasonably can. Sleep on it if possible. The more quickly you write back, the more defensive you’re likely to be, and the situation won’t be helped by heaping it under a load of excuses.
  • Assess the criticism. As I said, criticism is painful, and it’s even more painful to look it directly in the eye. But this is important: you need to understand what you did wrong. This means acknowledging to yourself as well as the client that you made silly mistakes, or were distracted for some reason, or were trying to do too many things at once.
  • You need to address the criticism, of course. It’s good to deal with all the points raised, even if only to say ‘yes, I should have caught that’. Own your mistakes; apologise briefly if necessary. Try to avoid lengthy justifications. Do stick up for yourself if you feel the client is being unfair, but don’t bang on about it, or retaliate with accusations about unreasonable expectations. This is not the point at which to try to renegotiate the contract.
  • If you honestly didn’t know how to do something before, don’t just stumble on in ignorance, hoping you’ll get away with it again in future. Take the opportunity to plug the gaps in your knowledge.

How far should you go to fix things?

This can be tricky. It might be your instinct, because you’re a nice person, to ask for the files back to go over them again. You might want to make the new corrections yourself. You might even think you should charge the client less than agreed. But don’t be too hasty; the client probably isn’t expecting any of this. Don’t over-compensate for something fairly minor. Reassure the client that you will look out for the points they’ve raised in future work, and make sure you don’t make the same mistake(s) again.

Red flags and abusive relationships

Although I wrote that criticism of work is not generally a personal attack, it’s worth remembering that on rare occasions, it is. I’ve been in situations, and I know many other editors have too, where criticism is not warranted, or is out of all proportion to the supposed misdemeanour. Most clients are entirely professional in their dealings, but a tiny minority are unscrupulous, even abusive. If you reach a point where everything you do for a client is criticised, and your professionalism is being called into question (even after you’ve conducted an honest appraisal of your work), or you’re made to put in more work than you’re being paid for to ‘atone’ for a string of supposed infractions, then it’s time to walk away.

As freelancers who often work alone, we can be vulnerable to a particular kind of toxic power struggle where we are made to feel useful, needed, part of a team – and as a result end up giving a client far more than they are paying us for. This can happen quite insidiously, so we should be vigilant in our setting and maintaining of boundaries in working relationships.

 

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, freelance since 2008. She works for a number of non-fiction publishers, agencies and individuals, and specialises in highly illustrated books on architecture, art and culture, as well as tech and electronics.

 

 


Editor and Client: building a professional relationship is an SfEP guide that aims to help freelancers understand the needs of their clients, and to give clients a clear awareness of freelancers’ requirements to do a good professional job.


Picture credits: Girl with head in hands – Caleb Woods; And breathe – Max van den Oetelaar,  both on Unsplash

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

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

Assume nothing, question everything

Five key questions to ask a potential client

By Jo Johnston

1. What services do you need?

Hands up who’s had a client asking for proofreading when they meant rewriting, or editing which later turned into needing a project manager to liaise with stakeholders?

Phew … glad it’s not just me.

Most of us editors can share funnies or horror stories about how a client has misunderstood something key during the briefing stage, or how we, as the supplier, may have failed to clarify something that later is glaringly obvious.

So if you offer more than one type of editorial service, double-check that your client understands the differences between them.

The definitions of copyediting and proofreading can vary from company to company, so don’t assume that just because the client is a communications professional, the definitions they use are identical to yours. And make sure you have the brief in writing in email or confirmed in a phone call, so that you can iron out any creases in understanding.

Takeaway: Include an outline of service definitions on your website or create a PDF handout to share at the briefing stage.

2. What’s the deadline and delivery method?

Some clients assume that you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for their work to land; others understand that you may be juggling a range of projects.

So a vital first question is, ‘when’s the delivery date?’ Even if your client doesn’t have a date in mind, set one yourself. This gives you a goal to work towards and you can schedule in other work around the project – just as you would if you were working in-house.

Everyone has working preferences. So what format do they want to work in – Google Docs, Word, or PDFs? How do they want any amendments shown – as tracked changes and comments or edited directly in the document?

‘Assume nothing, question everything’ is the mindset you need when starting a new project.

Takeaway: Make sure that details such as the deadline or preferred way of working are listed in your project proposal.

3. Will you accept my rate and working terms?

Some freelancers say that they lack confidence when talking about the bees and honey, and let’s not even mention working terms.

It may be tempting to leave this bit until last, after you’ve established a good client relationship first, but don’t leave it so late that you’ve spent bags of time discussing the brief or even visited head office, only to find out that they won’t budge on your price and won’t sign your contract.

Being clear about prices upfront on your website could lead to an increase in higher quality clients. It may help to get rid of time-wasters or those trying to ‘pick your brains’.

Takeaway: State your rates and terms clearly and in writing, either on your website or project proposal.

4. Can you tell me about your target audience or how you will use the resource?

Most of the time, a copyeditor or proofreader is part of a much wider project team. You may have been drafted in at the last hurdle to make sure everything’s tickety-boo, or right from the beginning – as is often the case with developmental or substantive editing.

Whatever stage the project is at, you need to be brought up to speed. Find out who the project is aimed at and how it will be used. It will help you to do a much better job if you know why you’re doing it.

And don’t forget to include research within your project proposal – it’s perfectly OK to charge for background reading and familiarisation.

Takeaway: Ask to see a project brief, terms of reference or target audience research.

5. Can you give me feedback once the job is complete?

The job’s done and dusted. A week, a fortnight … darn it … a few months go by, and you’ve heard diddly-squat from your client.

One way to avoid this state of paralysis is by saying at the briefing stage that you’d like feedback once the work is complete. You may not feel you need this kind of reassurance, but you do need to make sure that the project is finished and won’t bounce back in six months.

Some clients are up against print deadlines and may not have time to respond – you’re not an employee after all. So it’s worth keeping all this in mind and not taking silence personally.

Takeaway: Get client feedback on the radar. It paves the way for you to ask for a testimonial in the future.


What are your key questions when liaising with a prospective client? Let us know how you go about starting a project.


SfEP Professional Member Jo Johnston has been working as a copywriter and editor for 20 years. She started off in the public and non-profit sectors, but now helps to finesse the marketing work of all business types from ambitious start-ups to global giants. As part of its social media team, Jo posts professionally as the SfEP on LinkedIn. Elsewhere on social media, she unashamedly shares countless photos of her beloved Labrador.

 


Photo credits: Trees Evan Dennis, Laptop – Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash; Mabel the Labrador – Jo Johnston.

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

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

 

 

 

 

Climate crisis: what can we do?

With increasing awareness of humans’ negative impact on the environment, people are realising that new choices have to be made. Caroline Petherick, who has been living an eco-friendly lifestyle for well over a decade, has summarised the changes and decisions she has made to lower her carbon footprint and ecological impact.

Here are the things I’ve been doing; some of them might appeal to you or turn into a springboard for something else you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

  • Banking: The easiest of the lot, and one of the most effective: I have two savings accounts, a current account and a social enterprise account at Triodos Bank. I want to use a bank that truly supports ethical and sustainable enterprise and behaves in an ethical way itself.
  • Working: My office is paperless, as much as possible. I’ve never worked on hard copy. I have a drawer called ‘scrap’ where I keep paper printed on one side only, then if I do need to print or write something, I use that rather than new paper. (Paper used on both sides helps light the wood burner – or it could be shredded and used in a compost bin.)
  • House sharing: My house has three bedrooms, and now that my children have grown up I share it with others, who contribute towards the costs (the government Rent a Room Scheme allows £7,500 pa free of tax); the sharing provides company and means that my per person emissions are much reduced.
  • Food: I share my house with vegans, and while I’m not vegan myself, I have found a vegan ‘cheese’ I’m happy with – Violife – along with my fave ever milk (Rice Dream with hazelnuts and almonds) – and so now I don’t consume any dairy. (No butter, either: I buy Feral Trade’s olive oil.) I also have a local organic veg box, and I shop in my local farm shop, fish shop and butcher (where I buy wild venison about once a fortnight). I do go to a supermarket occasionally – a high street Co-op – but only for rare and weird things like poppadoms and Nakd bars.
  • House heating: In 2007, after my partner died suddenly, I took out the night storage heaters (too expensive to run), stacked their bricks up against an internal wall, and just in front of them, put a wood-burning stove made out of an old gas cylinder.
    Until last year, that was the only heating in the house, and in winter, the temperature could drop to around 10 degrees in the early mornings. Last year, I cashed in a pension fund to buy Planitherm windows and patio doors, and their extra insulation and passive solar gain has made a huge and welcome difference. I also bought some infrared wall panels (only 300w!) to heat the building fabric, the furniture and the humans, not the air. That helps reduce the condensation and the concomitant mould. And recently, I added a couple of dehumidifiers; they produce some heat (again, they’re only about 300w each), but their main advantage is that because the air is drier, it doesn’t feel so cold. And the mould has gone. (But in winter, I’ll still be wearing my long johns, padded waistcoat, thick slippers and Bob Cratchit mittens to work in!)

  • Cooking, washing, drying: The wood burner has a flat top (the gas bottle’s upside down), so in winter that’s good for cooking on. In summer, we use an induction hob. There’s also an electric fan oven that we use occasionally. The washing machine is A++ rated, and I use washballs, not detergent. We line dry when possible – there’s a rotary line behind the house, and in a 20-foot-long lean-to are three drying lines (plus firewood storage). The tumble dryer gets used when the washing’s been hanging out for a week and still isn’t dry.
  • Cleaning: I have a limited selection of cleaning products, which can be used for cleaning just about everything: white vinegar, bicarb of soda and Ecover products.
  • Water heating: The house has four large immersion heater cylinders, which were originally hooked into the Economy 7 night storage system, and I turned them off years ago. There are now two electric showers with instant hot water; for the wash basins and kitchen sink it’s cold water, and for washing up it’s a kettle on the wood burner in winter and an electric kettle in summer. Works fine!
  • House lighting: We only have lights on in a room that someone’s in. Well, that’s the idea, anyhow. We find ourselves going round the house turning lights off after each other. We’ll get there in the end! Meanwhile, I use Bulb as my electricity supplier (we don’t have gas).
  • Loo roll, kitchen roll: Always recycled. I hate the idea of putting trees – even trees grown as a crop – down the loo.
  • Transport: One day I’ll buy an EV, when the second-hand prices have dropped far enough. (There are government grants available in the UK for the installation of EV charging points.) In the meantime, my car, a 2006 Nissan, constitutes by far the biggest element of my carbon footprint. But as I live a good hour’s walk from the nearest bus stop (two services a day) or railway station (four) and cycling here is suicide – death by brake failure on the downhills or by heart failure on the up – I’m going to keep running some sort of car for the foreseeable future. I car share as much as possible, and use the car to connect with railway trains from our local town. And from January onwards, for my overseas journeys, it’ll be surface only: no flights until there are proper sustainably fuelled aircraft. Long-distance rail is great! For bright ideas (and armchair travelling), check out the Man in Seat 61.

  • I’ve started going to local council meetings, to push for action, not words. Result thus far? Well, while at the October meeting they told me that if I wanted do something useful I should write a piece for the parish magazine [ahem] in the November meeting, they agreed to get local people out, spade in hand, to plant trees. There are already regular litter picks, and now we’re pushing Cornwall Council to install solar PV in the local social housing estate. That’s a start!
  • I’m a member of (and so subscribe to) humanitarian and planet-minded groups, including Amnesty International, Avaaz, 38 Degrees, Toilet Twinning, TreeSisters, the South West Coast Path Association, the National Biodiversity Network, the RSPB, the Woodland Trust and the Marine Biological Association.
    Plus, I get (and read!) newsfeeds from the National Oceanography Centre, the Marine Conservation Society, the Met Office, and the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
    I support Global Citizen, SumOfUs, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, WWF, WaterAid, the CoaST Network (sustainable tourism), Open Democracy, Freedom United, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Rescue, Save the Whales and Greenpeace by signing their petitions and giving donations.
  • In September, I went to the annual conference of the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth. But you don’t need to wait for next year’s conference – just go there! Visit its website for ideas and inspiration: www.cat.org.uk
  • At last I have another source of income: an old storehouse on my land that I’ve been converting over the years into a holiday cottage with a difference. It’s off-grid, so people can come and holiday by the sea and at the same time learn hands-on about living by using alternative energy sources – wood, and the sun (and I’m saving up for a small wind turbine). You could come and try living off-grid, too!
  • Finally, there are loads more ideas in a book I’ve just finished editing – The Carbon Buddy Manual: your practical guide to cooling our planet by Dr Colin Hastings – due to be published in spring 2020.

In the early 1990s – before the days of websites – Caroline Petherick, with a partner and 4 young children in tow, somehow managed to find the SfEP. Having taken its early copyediting courses, she’s never looked back, and now works for one publisher and a wide range of businesses and independent authors.

 


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

Photo credits: Leave nothing but footprints – Abi Saffrey; Iceberg and sky – Ruslan Bardash on Unsplash; Green growth – Matthew Smith on Unsplash

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