Category Archives: Editorial Excellence

A week in the life of a freelance editorial project manager

What does editorial project management actually involve and where do copyeditors and proofreaders fit into the process? In this post, Julia Sandford-Cooke describes some of the typical tasks she undertakes as a freelance editorial project manager working on educational projects.

The week begins with a review of my To Do list and a check of schedules because To Do lists and schedules are at the core of editorial project management. I’m currently an editorial project manager (EPM) on two large educational projects and I spend a lot of time checking, updating, ticking off and fretting about dates. These days, the scheduling software Smartsheet defines the work of the whole team; some projects have five or six separate schedules for different components, all feeding into each other, dates turning red if one of those components begins to run late.

In fact, if you run your own editorial business you’ll already have skills in getting tasks done on time and within budget for external clients.

I’m drawing attention to this straight away because newer editors sometimes feel that they lack the experience to take on a project management role, that they don’t have the right qualifications or enough in-depth knowledge of how publishing works. But, looking back at my early days as an editorial assistant at an educational publisher, I realise that I’ve been a project manager for most of my career – certainly before I began to define myself as a hands-on ‘editorial professional’. If you’re able to organise, schedule and write polite emails, you’re halfway there – in-house experience isn’t necessary, although admittedly it can make finding project management work easier, not least because of the network of contacts you’ll have built.

What does an EPM do?

So what do I do in a typical week? Well, it depends on the project – I work in educational publishing and a teacher resource is quite different to an online lesson or a printed textbook – but, in general, an EPM is expected to:

  • maintain schedules
  • keep track of spending, including maintaining budget records and raising purchase orders for freelance work
  • commission freelancers, such as copyeditors, proofreaders, fact-checkers and indexers
  • communicate with typesetters or digital teams and make sure they follow the brief and stick to the schedules
  • keep the client informed of progress, via emails and meetings (yes, an EPM does have to be prepared to attend and contribute to weekly or fortnightly video meetings)
  • collate proof comments from the project team – it’s not uncommon to bring together and streamline corrections and queries from the publisher’s content manager, designer and commissioning editor, the awarding body (if the resource is being endorsed), the proofreader, the author, the fact-checker and an internal peer checker, all within a single PDF proof.

I have to fit all this in among other, smaller, editing and proofreading jobs for other clients – yes, back to scheduling again!

Who do EPMs work for?

Most EPMs either work directly with a publisher or – more often these days – work for a ‘packager’ or publishing agency that is contracted with the publisher and completes the projects using a mixture of their own employees and freelancers like me. Examples of UK-based educational publishing agencies (who, incidentally, all have friendly and supportive staff) are Haremi, Just Content and Newgen.

EPMs may be given a company email address while they work on their projects, which I have to admit goes against my sense of being a self-employed person with my own brand identity. However, it does reinforce a feeling of teamwork with colleagues on the project – whether in-house or freelance – and means that people you contact know which business you are representing.

Typical task: commissioning and briefing freelancers

Which brings me to today’s pressing task. I need to commission a proofreader to start next week. As a freelancer myself, I know that ideally jobs should be arranged a few weeks in advance but, of course, the unexpected often happens – projects run late, someone gets Covid – so unfortunately I’m finding it a challenge to identify someone suitable at short notice. I prefer to use an editorial professional who I know will do a good job, who I’ve worked with before or who is recommended by a colleague. When I was looking for an indexer, a team member said, ‘Use this person – she’s awesome!’ And indeed she was. That’s the sort of recommendation project managers look for, and that gets freelancers repeat work.

In this case, the proofreader also has to fulfil certain criteria. They must:

  • have access to, and have previously used, the client publisher’s online systems. Getting set up is a long and complicated business, even before you are confronted with what could be a new and bewildering interface, and time is not on our side.
  • be on the packager’s freelance database. This means they’ve (probably) passed the editorial test, signed a confidentiality agreement and been added to the finance systems so that a purchase order can be raised and they can invoice.

I only contact one person at a time – it’s probably not the most efficient way of working but I don’t want to ask several people and then have to let them down in the admittedly unlikely event of them all being available for the job. It’s made me realise, with my freelance editor hat (tiara?) on, that EPMs value a quick response, whether it’s yes or no, so that they can keep their project moving.

I have adapted the brief to meet the needs of this resource and contact three potential proofreaders. The first is too busy, the second will be on holiday and the third is going on maternity leave. I make a cup of coffee and collate some proofs while I consider who to contact next.

Typical task: collating proofs

This is one of my favourite jobs, especially now it’s done on PDF on my screen and not on a desk covered in reams of A3 pages from five different sources. It’s where my editorial skills come in handy, as I assess all the comments, take out duplications and make a judgement on which corrections to ask the typesetter to make. As I work through, I compile a query log where, for example, the fact-checker has raised author queries or where the designer and the content manager of the publisher have suggested different solutions to overmatter. I upload the PDF and query log to their online system and let the content manager know it’s ready for her to check. She is very efficient so I know she will consider it carefully and get back to me with any questions.

Typical task: checking a digital project

Now I need to check that corrections have been made to my other project, a digital resource, so I log out of one system and log into another. This type of resource is new territory for the whole team so there’s been a constant stream of online messages as colleagues ask for advice. Digital projects will become more common as publishers innovate to meet the needs of the market (in this case, blending remote and classroom learning), and publishing agencies often put out requests for people with skills and experience in digital publishing and associated platforms. Freelancers who have worked on this project and others like it – whether over the longer term as EPMs, or on specific tasks such as proofreading – will be in demand for similar jobs in the future.


Editorial project management can be tiring, frustrating and stressful. On the other hand, it’s exciting and satisfying to see a project through, to watch it develop and to help shape it to be as good as it can be for the market and for the client. If you like a challenge – and what editorial professional doesn’t? – and, of course, if you thrive on schedules and To Do lists, it’s definitely worth considering. Check out the CIEP’s Editorial Project Management course if you want to learn more.

About Julia-Sandford CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke

Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel.

 

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: calendar by rattanakun on Canva, laptop by Jessica Lewis Creative on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

CIEP social media round-up: June and July 2022

The main theme of the CIEP’s social media postings in these two months was different perspectives. In this social media round-up, we look at:

  • Different publishing perspectives
  • Different individual perspectives
  • Different mediums
  • Different meanings
  • Member benefits
  • News
  • Quiz

Different publishing perspectives

There are varied journeys into publishing, and within it. Our posts covered roles within the industry, different aspects of editing and different routes to landing editorial jobs.

Jen Moore, an editorial manager from publisher Thames & Hudson, discusses working with freelancers from an in-house perspective, and shares the qualities that publishers are looking for from freelance editors.

Editing is a substantial part of the publishing workflow, but it’s important to remember it’s not the end. Our production colleagues do the work of getting those books into existence and onto shelves and e-readers. Rich Cutler gives us a brief introduction to two of the latter stages, typesetting and design, and looks at how copyeditors can prepare text for typesetting.

Being a subject expert is a valuable quality in editing. Nadine Catto’s love for words first led her to become a lawyer. But a desire for a less confrontational job led her to become an editor of legal materials for publishers and other legal content providers. She describes how she got into legal editing, and what her work typically involves.

Many of us write or edit copy that will be published online, so it’s useful to know some SEO basics to make sure that content ranks well on search engines. Co-founder of Tate & Clayburn Rosie Tate explains how editors and proofreaders can add value to copy that’s destined for the web.

 

Different individual perspectives

Our output also covered ‘conscious language’, that is, respecting the different perspectives of readers (in our editing), and also those of colleagues and clients (in our communications). Conscious editing is being aware of lived experience and varieties of English that are different from our own, and being aware of our own potential assumptions and unconscious bias.

The CIEP community is a generous one – freely sharing editing expertise in our forums. In a ‘Forum matters’ post, our contributors point out that an editor’s job could be described as being entirely about the conscious use of language. And not just about correcting grammar, but being aware of meanings, variations, topics, concerns and intention. Our members share some great resources and advice here.

In her latest ‘Flying Solo’ post, Sue Littleford considers the importance to us, as language professionals, of using conscious language in marketing and selling your services as a freelance editor or proofreader. She encourages us to look closely and critically at our public communication: website text, social media, blog posts and profiles, and responses to client approaches.

The CIEP’s training director, Jane Moody, looks at how editors and proofreaders can become more knowledgeable about conscious language, clearly sets out the objectives to work towards this and lists valuable resources on the subject.

It doesn’t exist yet, but maybe one day there will be software that can improve conscious language in a text. In ‘Talking tech’, Andy Coulson delves into the world of natural language processing (NLP) and AI to find out how we might be able to assess conscious language in the future.

Different mediums

For some, audiobooks seem (unfairly) like ‘cheating’ at reading. For others they are a lifeline, for many reasons. For editors struggling to find time to read for pleasure, it can be a great joy to be able to enjoy books in audio form. Audiobooks are an ideal solution for anyone who is unable or struggles to read print books. Clare Black discusses why she is passionate about audiobooks and explains why her love of listening has created an opportunity for CPD.

Different meanings

A popular read in June was Cathy Tingle’s ‘Finer Point’ post on modifiers. What are they and where should they be placed in a sentence? It’s an aspect of language that many of us are unsure about, or even unaware of. Cathy looks at things that can go wrong with modifiers, and how to avoid them.

Member benefits

June and July saw the launch of two new fact sheets, free for CIEP members. In ‘Editing dialogue’, Stephen Cashmore looks at three aspects of editing written speech that can guide what actions editors should (or should not) take: rules, punctuation and style.

Our fact sheet ‘Editing LGBTQ+ language with sensitivity’ was available for free to everyone throughout June, and is still free for CIEP members now. Learn about terminology and usage, and how to make sensitive edits when working with LGBTQ+ material.

News: the EPWG

The CIEP Environmental Policy Working Group (EPWG) has achieved quite a lot since its first online meeting, just 15 months ago. Read about their work on the CIEP website. And look out, #CIEP2022 attendees! Coming soon are the EPWG’s travel and packing tips for our conference in Milton Keynes, 10–12 September.

News: the conference

The last day for booking an in-person place at the CIEP Annual Conference (Kents Hill Park, Milton Keynes, and online, 10–12 September 2022) was Monday 18 July, but online places are still available. Book before 5pm on Friday 2 September. Highlights include:

  • Whitcombe Lecture by Katherine May
  • After-dinner speech by Reverend Richard Coles
  • Closing plenary session by Ian McMillan

Check out the full programme.

Quiz

Finally, dare you try Quiz 15? Test yourself (just for fun!) on aspects of grammar and usage. Bear in mind, though, there’s not always just one right answer. Sometimes … it depends.

Keep up with the latest CIEP content. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and 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: beach huts by Arno Smit on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Agile approaches to publishing

Many publishers use a traditional model of project management that can make the publishing process slower and less responsive. Steve Martin argues that adopting an Agile approach can benefit both editorial professionals and their publisher clients.

The benefits of Agile approaches

Most publishers use a traditional project management model. Although there are benefits to this approach, there are drawbacks, such as:

  • complex, difficult to understand plans
  • enforced long-term commitments that set rigid expectations
  • a lack of autonomy and empowerment for project managers
  • inefficiencies, especially at scale, including:
    • work passing through too many hands, resulting in miscommunication and rework
    • people doing too many concurrent tasks, leading to mental overload
    • multiple documents doing the same thing
    • problems getting sorted after the fact rather than before
    • difficulties changing direction
    • lots of ‘wait time’.

These issues are usually coped with (at the cost of money, time and quality) and this approach has been around for a long time so isn’t going away. But alternative approaches have evolved over the last few decades, moving away from fixed plans and rigid control structures to a more dynamic approach to change.

One of these is an ‘Agile’ approach to change. It isn’t just a project management methodology – it is a philosophy for effective teamworking. It is described in the ‘Agile Manifesto’, which was created by a number of thought leaders in the technology world. Its principles are as follows:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working deliverables over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

Underpinning these principles are more detailed and useful mechanisms, such as TIA:

  • Transparency – ensure the information about a project, for both assets and performance, is continually captured and accessible.
  • Inspection – analyse and understand the state of the project at any point in time.
  • Adaption – make remedial changes in real time, ideally proactively, to keep things on track.

Agile doesn’t mandate what is done but how it is done. Examples of implementations are ‘Scrum’ and ‘Kanban’, which will be explained below.

The Agile approach goes a long way to minimising the drawbacks of traditional projects. It was, after all, one of the reasons why the Agile Manifesto was created in the first place!

Traditional projects tend to deliver in large chunks, often after long periods of time, meaning customers only start to profit at the end of a project or phase. Agile projects deliver rapidly and incrementally so that customers can start profiting far more quickly.

Finally, given that one of the fundamentals of the Agile Manifesto is empowerment, people who work on Agile projects often get a greater sense of ownership and job satisfaction.

All in all, it is an approach that has potential for the publishing world.

How can editorial project managers, editors and proofreaders benefit?

The publishing world tends to use traditional project management, often working with packagers and third-party service providers. There are reasons why things are as they are, and these evolve in the long term, but for now, a sensible attitude for anyone interested in Agile approaches is to ask: ‘What can Agile do to help me, within wider industry constraints?’

Here is an explanation of a couple of terms mentioned earlier:

Scrum

This uses timeboxes (short periods of time, for example two weeks) by breaking up work items (the backlog) into batches that the team focuses on as their primary goal while also refining requirements for the next time box. The work items as a whole are also looked at in the background to maintain their priority and relevance.

Kanban

A Kanban (or Kanban board) is a pipeline-based approach (like a car production line). Teams pull work items from a backlog in priority order and push them through various customisable work stages until they are done. The backlog is maintained in a similar way to the Scrum one. Free tools such as Trello can be easily set up to operate a Kanban. The picture below shows how a Kanban might look (in this case for someone taking on too much work!).

Personal workload

One of the challenges for a publishing professional is how to track work in a simple way. A to-do list is OK, but a Kanban has advantages. A simple ‘To Do, Doing, Done’ Kanban would show at a glance what is on the go at any time and what stage it is at. A more elaborate Kanban may add workflows that cover each process step – there may be a need for separate boards for editing and proofreading, as their workflows may differ.

It is possible to flag work items as blocked, as a reminder to chase people. To track the personal financial side, project managers can add additional terminating columns for (eg) ‘Send invoice, Awaiting payment, Paid, Done’. Horizontal ‘swim-lanes’ can be used to divide up the work between, for example, different clients.

Work in progress (WIP) limits

A Kanban can help manage overload. One way is by tracking WIP limits. It has been proven that the ‘keep chucking new work in at one end and get it moving to appear busy’ approach is a terrible idea. Finishing work, not just starting it, is what adds value. High WIP means swapping between different tasks (‘context switching’), which has a negative impact on productivity and quality. It is far better to finish five jobs in sequence effectively than five at once badly. Unfortunately, the second approach is sometimes necessary, but a Kanban highlights this and allows time to be better managed and, perhaps, trigger negotiations with clients. Over time, sensible WIP limits will become clear, and when to say ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ will become a more empirical decision.

Throughput

In Kanban, throughput – the amount of work delivered over a given period – is as important as deadlines. Monitoring throughput and proactively fixing problems improves the chance of hitting future deadlines. More advanced Kanban tools provide reports such as cumulative flow diagrams to show at a glance whether someone is productive or ‘stuck’, and if so, where. These have a learning curve so a simple ‘green’ or ‘red’ flag, or counting task completions per month, might give the project manager insight while they learn how the graphs work.

Project management

A client may permit the use of a Kanban tool, even if it is to simply mirror their main Gantt chart. If so, once such a board is created, team members can be invited to join it to collaboratively manage work and update progress. Most Kanban tools allow attachments, comments, sign-offs and more. Having everything in one place reduces email chatter. This gives a holistic view of where people are, who is overloaded, who is stuck and what is going slowly.

If the project involves sensitive documents, it will be necessary to talk to the IT department about what can and cannot be stored externally at online providers to ensure security requirements are met (one could store links to internal document libraries as a compromise).

Collaboration opportunities

The collaboration aspect of Agile methods can also bring benefits. Here are some examples:

  • Progress coordination – in a fast-moving environment where many people are concurrently involved, having a daily ‘stand-up’, in person or online, works far better than written progress reports in terms of keeping people on track. All or some of the team assemble every morning to share what they have completed, what they are working on and what impediments they face. The meeting should be no more than ten minutes so any detail would be discussed away from the stand-up.
  • Key delivery meetings – Project launch, planning, and other meetings (face to face or online) should include as many involved parties as sensibly possible, even if just for scheduled timeslots within the meeting. This means that queries and issues can be discussed in person and written communication should, where possible, be relegated to confirmation and follow-up.
  • Quality management – Regular (eg fortnightly) retrospectives (QA reviews) reviewing what went well, what did not go well and what can be improved are recommended to ensure lessons are learned while they are fresh in the mind as opposed to waiting until the end-of-project review.

Hopefully, this gives a flavour of what Agile is and how it can help publishing projects. The best way to start is to do a little more research and dive in. Good luck!

About Steve Martin

Steve recently moved into the publishing world after many years gathering experience in Project Management, mainly in and around the IT industry. He has completed the CIEP’s first two proofreading courses and the Editorial Project Management (EPM) course, and as well as now being able to engage in a fresh and interesting career where he can make use of new and existing skills, he is very, very pleased to have finally understood why MS Word kept auto-replacing the hyphens that he typed with long dashes without asking it to.

 

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: cranes by Mike van Schoonderwalt on Pexels, Kanban board by Dr ian mitchell, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons, team meeting by fauxels on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Editing theses and dissertations Q&A with Kate Haigh

Often when students ask a proofreader to look at their thesis or dissertation, this is their first experience of working with an editorial professional. Advanced Professional Member Kate Haigh shares her experiences and tips for success.

What services do you offer in relation to theses/dissertations?

I generally only offer proofreading services for work that is to be submitted for assessment. With permission from supervisors, I also offer copyediting services.

My website goes into detail on this because I think the terms ‘proofreading’ and ‘copyediting’ are not always very clear to those outside the traditional publishing world. Even ‘copyediting’ doesn’t exactly nail the service I provide, as it’s more of a general language edit. I will flag contentious language but I don’t generally deal with style (though can address passive/active verbs), and I don’t deal with structure.

I don’t fact-check or comment on the key arguments. This is where working on theses and dissertations differs from almost all other types of work because of plagiarism and collusion concerns.

My Ts and Cs detail what the services include so that my clients are clear on what I will be doing and what to expect. Also, universities often have rules on what a proofreader/editor can or can’t do; it’s essential that the student is aware of those and passes those details to me because I don’t want to intervene more than is allowed and jeopardise their studies.

Why did you decide to start working in this field?

When I was on my year abroad in Germany as part of my degree, I had to write a dissertation in German. My tutor suggested I get the text proofread, which was something I’d never have thought of and in fact might have considered it cheating since I thought I was being assessed for my German-language skills. The reality was that the content was what mattered, though if my German hadn’t been understandable, the content would have been lost.

This process stuck with me and so when I was setting up Kateproof in 2010, I did a SWOT analysis and realised that students would benefit from my services. At the time, I lived in a very student-populated town so it felt like a great marketing opportunity. I was able to make connections with local universities and took things from there. Once my web presence got established and word-of-mouth referrals started spreading, I built a client base of students and academics across the UK and the world.

Do you have a subject specialism?

No, I make sure to emphasise to clients that I am not a specialist in their field, but my more generalist approach often helps to ensure clarity. Acronyms and jargon exist in theses and dissertations just like in many other publications, so this distance from a topic can help, especially if readability is a concern.

That said, I recommend that students writing very technical theses find someone with more of a maths/science background.

What types of students/clients do you work with?

I now mainly work with postgraduates on longer dissertations and theses or on articles being submitted for publication that might become part of their thesis. I do work with undergraduates but my minimum fee means this is often not the most cost-effective option for a 3,000-word essay.

I work for students of all backgrounds, whether English is their first or fifth language. Imagine if you’ve spent four years working on a thesis – you’re too close to the text. Passing the file to a proofreader is often a relief for them, as a fresh pair of eyes will pick up on things that might otherwise have been missed.

What do you enjoy about working on theses/dissertations?

Over the years, I’ve realised I much prefer working directly with clients. It’s great to have the rapport and relationship with a client as I find it’s much easier for both parties to have clear boundaries and expectations on what I will do.

I’ve also got clients who are academics now but I started working with them at master’s level so it’s great to keep that client relationship going.

I love the variety, not just of topics but also with style guides and reference systems. It feels like I am learning while working and that’s always a positive. It’s great for quizzes, too.

What are the benefits to students of engaging an editorial professional to work on their thesis/dissertation?

Different universities will have different grading rules but if the text isn’t clear or has numerous errors and inconsistencies, that will have an impact on the grade or on whether a student passes or fails.

If funds are tight, students can get friends or family to proofread the work, but the specific benefit of working with an editorial professional is that we have years of experience doing this and usually have software to help us pick up on the finer details.

How far in advance would you advise students to contact an editorial professional?

This comes down to the size of the project and the flexibility of the schedule. As a rule, I would advise getting in contact at least one month in advance for a thesis or long dissertation. Shorter documents might be possible to fit in around other projects, but last-minute requests often command a premium, especially if it needs to be done at the weekend (I don’t offer weekend work but know other proofreaders who do).

I know lots of PhD students have appreciated having a firm deadline to work to for sending me their final draft – it gives them a focus and a bit of positive pressure to get the work done.

How long does it take to edit a thesis?

For most long theses, I ask for two to three weeks for the work. I try to give students the best possible price I can and a bit of leeway in the schedule enables this. For shorter documents of say 10,000 to 20,000 words, I ask for a week. If a deadline requires it, I can speed up but editing and proofreading are all about the detail and that takes time. I will always do my best but if I have to work quicker than usual, quality might suffer.

What common issues do you encounter while working on theses/dissertations?

Since really clarifying my remit, I have learned how to successfully manage expectations, but this took time. In my first year of freelancing, a student said she was disappointed I hadn’t made the text ‘more academic’, so I learned from this and made it clear that’s not what I do.

Another common issue is with schedules and deadlines: I only have one pair of eyes and, in busy periods, the schedule I book for a student is often the only time I have available for their work. If they miss the deadline, I can’t always fit the work in. It is then additional stress for the student and of course lost earnings for me. This is why I don’t recommend booking the work in too far in advance because, from experience, that’s when scheduling issues occur.

Do you have any standout successes?

I don’t have specific permission to discuss clients’ work in detail (part of my confidentiality guarantee) but one of the things I love about working with students is when I get feedback to say they have passed their course.

I had a client recently who had already submitted their dissertation twice and had one last submission allowed, which is when he contacted me. Whether it was due to my proofreading or his content changes, I don’t know, but he sent me a lovely message to say he’d passed.

Finally, what are your top three tips for students who are looking for an editorial professional?

  1. Be clear with what you want from the proofreader/editor. If your expectations don’t match my service offering, either I can explain what I will do or you can find someone who offers a different service. It’s best to be as clear and open as possible.
  2. When sending the sample, make sure it’s representative of your work. I base my quote on this so if the sample is worse than the rest of the file, I might charge you more than it should cost. If the sample is substantially better than the rest of the file, this might have implications for the schedule as the work will take longer, and, as per my Ts and Cs, I might need to change the quote.
  3. Find an editor/proofreader you trust, especially if you are being asked to pay some of the fee up front. Ask friends/colleagues if they have a recommendation; look for someone being a member of a reputable organisation (such as, but not restricted to, the CIEP).

About Kate Haigh

Kate Haigh is a freelance proofreader and copyeditor who works with a range of clients; this includes working with students and academics to help get dissertations, theses and articles ready for submission. She set up Kateproof in 2010 and is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP.

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: motarboard lights by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash, library by andrew_t8 on Pixabay.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Editing theses and dissertations Q&A with Marieke Krijnen

Marieke Krijnen uses her own experience of academic studies to provide editorial support to PhD students whose first language is not English. We asked her to share her working practices and her tips for success.

What services do you offer?

I offer copyediting, proofreading, document formatting and reference formatting services to PhD candidates. The service that most of my clients pick is copyediting, which is of course a spelling, grammar, typo and consistency check but also includes improving word choice and usage, fixing overly long sentences and pointing out things that are not clear.

I also check that references are complete and correctly formatted and that university guidelines are followed. Reference formatting is my second-most-used service. Clients send me their list of references, which I format according to the required citation style. I also look each one up and make sure the author name, title, journal name and other details are spelled correctly.

Why did you decide to start working in this field?

I got my PhD in 2016 and was doing my first postdoc in 2016–17. After nearly experiencing a second burnout, I knew academia wasn’t for me in the long term. I needed to earn more money, work less and have more flexibility and at the same time security. I think that owning one’s own business can bring a lot of security, because you can always get more work and more clients and no one can make you redundant; I know not everyone agrees with this.

My writing and level of English had always stood out to others, and they often asked me to read things over for them. I decided to see if I could make money providing editorial services.

I had a lot to learn, of course, and slowly discovered the world of editing associations, editing training, style guides and edibuddies. I was extremely pleased with what I found (a bunch of people nerding out over punctuation and usage) and essentially never looked back.

Do you have a subject specialism?

I edit almost exclusively in the social sciences and humanities. I do not at all trust myself to edit something from the life sciences or physics. While I don’t get involved in the content of dissertations, I can often understand which terminology is common in the field and which terms may actually be a mistake or a false friend (I work with many ESL clients). I very often look things up regardless of what I think is the case, but if I were working in a discipline that’s not my own, I would spend all my time looking things up. Not fair to the client!

What do you enjoy about working on theses/dissertations?

I enjoy learning about new research and ideas, and I thoroughly enjoy the process of supporting someone during the last stages of their PhD. I know from experience how intense things get in the final months, so to be able to be there for them and reassure them feels very rewarding. PhD students are the only clients I make an exception for in terms of being available during weekends and evenings.

What are the benefits to students of engaging an editorial professional to work on their thesis/dissertation?

I think the biggest benefit is having a second pair of eyes go over their work, reassuring them that things are complete and consistent. Clients often tell me: ‘No one has read and engaged with my thesis as closely as you have.’ And it’s often true: I’m the first person who reads the entire document from cover to cover, engages with it, tries to understand what it says, and checks all the details at the same time. Sadly, most supervisors and jury members simply don’t have the time to do this.

While an editor should not do a candidate’s work for them, having someone check that all elements are in place and correct or that all citations are present in the reference list can relieve a lot of last-minute stress before submission of the thesis. Moreover, I’ve heard from clients that working with me provided them with the motivation to continue writing and finish their thesis, as they had to send it to me by a certain date.

How far in advance would you advise students to contact an editorial professional?

I generally book out around three months in advance for larger projects such as theses. I like to have a month for a full thesis edit, so contacting me as far as possible in advance is the best. I need to draw up a contract, I need an email from the supervisor confirming that editing is allowed, I need to find out how I will get paid … The earlier all this is set up, the better.

What should students look for in a potential editorial professional?

They should make sure that the editor has had editing training or has other editing credentials. The editor should have some form of online presence (a directory listing, a website) with information about their training, experience and skills. If testimonials are provided, this is even better. Vetted editors can be found in the CIEP Directory, for example, which lists Professional and Advanced Professional Members only.

PhD candidates can also ask their colleagues if they can recommend an editor. I get most of my work through referrals. If someone says they had a great experience with an editor and online research seems to confirm that the person is qualified and professional, I would say go for it. Check that the editor is responsive, draws up an agreement (either via email or in a separate document), and asks for supervisor permission.

What are students’ main concerns or worries about engaging you?

The cost of my work can be a bit of a shock to clients. I am usually paid with university funds, so most PhD candidates don’t pay me out of pocket, but some do (note that in many western European countries, PhD salaries are not that low).

I have heard from clients that while they were worried about paying so much at first, they did not regret it, because they realised afterwards how much they got in return. They were unaware of how many checks are involved in editing, the extent to which an editor goes to check and double-check things and make the writing consistent, the style sheet that is drawn up, the level of support they receive during the final stage of their PhD and so on.

I can imagine some clients are worried about an editor changing the meaning of things, but a good editor is always careful. For example, the editor makes a suggestion in a comment instead of changing something and always uses tracked changes so the client can see exactly what was changed.

What common issues do you encounter while working on theses/dissertations?

I have encountered instances of plagiarism. Usually, universities run a plagiarism check on submitted PhDs, so if I catch it before that happens, I can signal it to the client. Depending on how egregious the plagiarism is (is it entire pages? Is it just a few sentences the client forgot to provide a citation for?), I either flag it, leave a comment about it, and move on or send back the work and tell them I can’t work on it any more.

How much do you intervene?

I do not intervene in the content/argument of the thesis. I intervene when something is ambiguous or unclear, leaving a comment explaining what precisely is ambiguous and why (ie, ‘it could mean this but it can also be read as that; please clarify what was meant’). I also frequently intervene when I suspect that a ‘false friend’ was used. For example, if someone writes that a neighbourhood is characterised by a high level of promiscuity, and I know that person’s first language is French, I go to my dictionary, look up ‘promiscuité’, and see that it means ‘overcrowding’. This is one of my favourite things to do, and I have a list of such terms now that I can refer to. I keep my (digital) French, Italian, German, Dutch and Spanish dictionaries open at all times for this reason.

Finally, what are your top tips for students who are looking for an editorial professional?

If you want to engage a good editor, start looking for one months in advance!

Second, make sure editing is allowed at your institution, because a good editor will ask for your supervisor’s permission.

Finally, try to have an idea in advance of which kind of English you want to use in your thesis (British, Canadian, US spelling?), which university guidelines are in place regarding writing style and which citation style you will use. A good editor will ask all these questions once you contact them, but if you have this information for them already, they will be grateful.

About Marieke Krijnen

Marieke Krijnen is an academic copyeditor and an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She obtained a PhD in Political Science and has a background in Arabic and Middle East studies and urban studies. In her free time she enjoys trains, birds, and playing violin. She’s on Twitter as @MariekeGent and her website is www.mariekekrijnen.com.

 

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: students graduating by RUT MIT, students studying by Brooke Cagle, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

CIEP social media round-up: April and May 2022

If the past few weeks have been something of a blur, let us assist you by at least reminding you of all the great new editing and publishing content the CIEP shared in April and May. Thanks to all the contributors, and also to everyone who liked, commented, clicked on a link or shared our content. That support is hugely important, and we appreciate you!

References

One of the themes in our new blog content for April and May was the much-dreaded task of editing references.

Checking and styling references is a time-consuming job that requires a great deal of focus. Sue Littleford writes, ‘When I’m copyediting, the references can take longer than the main text.’ In our Flying Solo series, Sue provides us with welcome time-saving solutions in how to edit references more efficiently (and more profitably).

Thankfully, there are tools at our disposal to make editing references less excruciating. In our Talking tech series, Andy Coulson looks at how Find and Replace and using wildcards can speed up editing and styling references.

For editors and proofreaders, the CIEP forums are a great place to share tips, and seek advice, on all aspects of editing. Our forum moderators searched the threads for our members’ experiences and came up with a round-up of invaluable referencing tips.

References may be something that you don’t have to deal with very often in your area of editing; however, a basic understanding of each of the referencing systems is essential for a well-rounded knowledge of the job. The CIEP’s training director, Jane Moody, looks at how editors and proofreaders can become pros at dealing with references.

The CIEP’s comprehensive course on References is ideal for those wanting to improve their knowledge of the subject.

And for those who want a taster of what you should know about References, our fact sheet is available free for CIEP members. (This link will only work if you’re logged in to the CIEP members’ area.)

Subjects and specialisms

If you speak to a dozen editors you’ll probably find that workloads, workflow and tasks will vary from individual to individual. In addition, some of us are subject experts or genre specialists working with publications that benefit from specific background knowledge and/or experience. In April and May, we posted content that showcased specialisms.

In a popular blog post, four CIEP members discuss their particular areas of expertise – cookbooks, school textbooks, RPGs (role-playing games) and construction – to give a flavour of some editorial niches that may be new to you.

Lisa Davis is a children’s editor and points out that children’s books tend to get, mistakenly, lumped together as one genre. She discusses age appropriateness in children’s literature, how to tell whether content is suitable for specific age ranges, and considers the importance of who is reading the book and how it gets into their hands.

A popular post was Harriet Power’s insight into how she became a development editor and what her freelance working week looks like. Development editing is a term that can prove a bit mysterious even among editors!

Catherine Booth’s excellent article on medical editing sparked some debate on whether a medical background is essential for becoming a medical editor. It’s evident that there are many editors editing outside of their subject expertise, using transferable skills in publications where their training maybe comes from experience rather than formal study. Our pathways to work as editors are certainly fascinating!

The CIEP and CPD

Early May was the deadline for CIEP membership renewal. To remind members of what the CIEP has to offer, five editors discuss what they gain from being a member of the CIEP, and why they renewed their membership for another year.

Local group meetings are an enriching aspect of being part of the CIEP. Carla DeSantis discussed the advice presented by Malini Devadas at a recent Toronto CIEP local group meeting on how freelance editors can earn more money.

We heard from a new CIEP member, too. Taylor McConnell, a new freelance editor whose specialist area is social sciences, describes how he got into proofreading and editing, and what his weeks typically look like.

The London Book Fair returned this spring as an in-person event. Two CIEP members, Aimee Hill and Andrew Hodges, attended for the first time and recorded their thoughts and experiences. Should you bother with all the seminars? Is it worth handing out business cards? And isn’t it all a bit overwhelming? They give their tips, advice and first impressions.

Resources we promoted in April and May

Web and digital content

Whether you are a potential client looking for a web editor or an editor looking to diversify. the CIEP has resources.

We have an online course on Web Editing which will give you the skills to help you to work efficiently and harmoniously with website designers.

The CIEP Editing Digital Content course is ideal for editors who want to expand their capabilities and understanding into content that is not published in printed form. The course explains the key differences between print and digital media.

Looking for a professional web-content editor? The CIEP’s Directory of Editorial Services lists members with proven qualifications, substantial experience and good client references.

Medical editing

We promoted two recent additions to our content on medical editing – a fact sheet and a guide to Editing Scientific and Medical Research Articles, which are free for CIEP members.

Why not check these out and consider whether our course on Medical Editing is of interest?

Conference

Don’t miss out! Have you booked yet?!
The 2022 CIEP conference will be held at Kents Hill Park, Milton Keynes, and online, from 10–12 September 2022. Join us this September! There will be plenty of opportunities to network and socialise, in person and online.

The deadline for booking an in-person conference place is 5pm on Friday 8 July; the deadline for an online place is 5pm on Friday 2 September.

Exercise bank

We promoted ways to back up your learning via the Exercise Bank. It’s a collection of individual exercises – based on real pieces of work – covering proofreading, copyediting and English grammar, and providing practice in support of our core training courses. There’s a discount for CIEP members.

 

Quiz 14

Last – but not least – you really should test your language knowledge and pun tolerance with our fun new quiz!


Keep up with the latest CIEP content. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and 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: grass by jplenio on Pixabay.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Editing in specialist areas

It can be easy as a freelance editor to be drawn into editing one type of material (or get stuck in a rut editing one type of material) and not realise what else is out there. This blog post brings together four editors working in diverse areas – cookbooks, school textbooks, RPGs (role-playing games) and construction – to give a flavour of editorial niches that may be new to you. We asked them why they particularly like working in a specific genre, and what they feel is unique about editing that genre.

Wendy Hobson: Cookbooks

Wendy Hobson specialises in cookery and lifestyle, and wrote the CIEP Guide How to Edit Cookery Books.

For me, a good cookbook is not ‘non-stick’; it lives in the kitchen and is used and abused until the pages are stuck together with egg white and dusted with cocoa. I get great satisfaction from the work involved in making sure each book is as good as it can be. Here are a few pointers on what is involved.

Eye for detail: All the usual editorial rules apply in terms of consistency, accuracy and clarity of ingredients, quantities, timing, techniques and the like. Many people follow recipes to the letter so it’s my job to make sure that letter isn’t a ‘b’ in the wrong place – think tbsp/tsp hot spice!

Experience: Each book is unique, cooks are seldom writers, they may be used to restaurant quantities and they rarely do international conversions, so there’s a lot to think about.

Creativity: A book is a unique expression of the author’s passion and I must make sure the reader can prepare food that showcases that passion. There’s a fine line between applying editorial rules and squeezing the life out of a text.

Pragmatism: I imagine rolling my sleeves up before I start and going through each step as though I am cooking the recipes. What is missing? Is the technique clear? How come I’m halfway through before I discover I should have soaked the ingredient overnight!

Market-led: The text needs to match the reader. How frustrating for a beginner to stumble on ‘heat to hard crack stage’! How infuriating for an expert to find a lengthy explanation of how to whisk!

I enjoy the challenge of making sure this is all seamless and the reader never stumbles as they reproduce the food as it was meant to be served.

For more information, see How to Edit Cookery Books, the CIEP Guide free for members to download.

Harriet Power: School textbooks

Harriet Power spent eight years working in-house for educational publishers, and school textbooks still form the core of her freelance business.

I never sit in bed at night and read textbooks for fun, but I do genuinely enjoy editing them. In a nutshell, what I like most about textbook editing (particularly for KS3 or GCSE) is the puzzle of explaining tricky topics in an accessible, objective, succinct but still accurate way.

One of the things that I think is fairly unique to school textbooks (at least compared to a lot of fiction or trade non-fiction) is the issue of space: there’s always a word count limit and there’s usually too much to fit into the space available. The GCSE textbooks I work on often have a rigid structure, where one double-page spread equals one topic.

So let’s say we’ve got room for 1,000 words on the topic of abortion in a GCSE Religious Studies textbook. Those 1,000 words have to work really hard to introduce and explain abortion, present religious teachings on it, then give arguments for and against it – all in a way that’s accurate but accessible enough for teenagers to understand, and as ‘objective’ as possible so the author (or publisher) doesn’t appear to be favouring any particular position. That takes a lot of skill, and I love working with authors to cram as much information as possible into those 1,000 words without sacrificing accuracy, objectivity or accessibility.

I also like editing textbooks because to me it feels worthwhile. I think knowledge is a really powerful way to make the world a better place and I get satisfaction from helping, in my own small way, to make it accessible to teenagers.

Rachel Lapidow: Role-playing games (RPGs)

Rachel Lapidow is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader who works on RPGs, board games, comics and manga.

When I first got into freelance copyediting over five years ago, I initially wanted to edit science fiction and fantasy novels. But after working on RPGs I discovered that they are one of my favourite types of projects due to their mix of technical writing and fiction.

Role-playing games (commonly referred to as RPGs) are games where you get to make a lot of decisions about how you want to approach certain tasks. For instance, when it comes to fighting do you want to be sneaky and stealthy, seeking out your enemies under cover of night? Or do you prefer to be brash instead, and boldly announce your presence to your foes? Tabletop RPGs (aka TTRPGs, the most popular of which is probably Dungeons & Dragons) are collaborative games often played in person. One person acts as the game moderator (aka GM) and the other people play as characters that they’ve created.

In RPG books there are sections, such as rules, equipment types and game conditions, where things are laid out in a simple, concrete manner. Other portions are written with more lyrical prose in order to better build the world of the game. Sometimes these latter sections read more like short stories. Because there are often a lot of different chapters, a style sheet is critical to make sure that language is used consistently. Many independent game creators don’t have house style guides, so it’s often the copyeditor’s responsibility to create and maintain one. Your style sheet should make it clear how game terms – like spells and abilities – are treated.

Getting to edit and proofread RPGs has led me to meet so many wonderful game creators, writers, illustrators and fans, and my love of science fiction and fantasy frequently comes in handy. While I wouldn’t say that editing an RPG is as fun as playing one, it is still a process that I really enjoy.

A bag of RPG dice

Julia Sandford-Cooke: Construction

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke became a specialist in construction after working for the Construction Industry Training Board.

If you can build a picture of what someone is like from their CIEP Directory listing, I’m not sure what mine says about me. Clients don’t seem as interested in ‘escape rooms’ and ‘Norfolk’ as in the line that reads:

Construction: bricklaying, Building Regulations, built environment, carpentry, construction industry legislation, health and safety, planning/surveying, plastering.

This surprising specialism developed when I came to manage the publishing team at the Construction Industry Training Board in 2004. I had little knowledge of construction, but I did have plenty of experience producing vocational resources at Harcourt Education (now absorbed into Pearson).

Our bestseller was the weirdly named ‘GE700: Construction Site Safety’, at that time a 1,000-page ringbinder explaining the statutory health and safety duties of construction site managers. ‘The Yellow Book’, as customers fondly called it, was updated each year by our internal specialists, in line with changes to legislation.

Now, of course, it’s updated online in real time, but then we were constantly immersed in the details of vital legislation such as the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, for which we also produced guidance in partnership with the Health and Safety Executive.

From GE700 came spin-offs for all levels of site staff. We used to say if one life was saved as a result of our publications, it was all worthwhile. As a freelancer, this experience has informed my choice of project, including writing three books on plastering, and my attitude towards educational resources of all kinds. As an editor, it’s important to know I’m making a difference.

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: cookbook by micheile, dice by Alperen Yazgi, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

The CIEP’s proofreading exercises: a preview

Annie Deakins leapt at the opportunity to review and proofread the exercises in the CIEP’s new Exercise Bank. In this post, she explains what she reviewed and how she did it.

I was asked by Jane Moody, the CIEP’s training director, if I was interested in reviewing a bank of resources being drafted for CIEP members to practise proofreading. I absolutely was interested! I would act as a guinea pig by reviewing the proofreading exercises in the Exercise Bank, and then proofreading the material as part of the job. So, what did the review involve, and what’s in the bank?

In this article, I’ll cover:

  • My role in the review
  • An overview of the exercise bank
  • How to proofread an exercise
  • Tips and support
  • Benefits

My role in the review

This was the sequence of the tasks I carried out:

  1. Do an exercise (as a practice proofread).
  2. Compare my answer to the model answer and note any differences.
  3. Read the commentary explaining the model answer.
  4. Compare the model answer with the final published version (if appropriate).
  5. Record how long it took to do the exercise.
  6. Repeat steps 1–5.
  7. Proofread all the materials – instruction/brief, exercise, model answer, and commentary – by finding typos and inconsistencies. Note down any queries for the training director to review.
  8. Provide feedback on each exercise: suitability, appropriateness of level, how easy/hard I found them, time taken and suggest changes for improvements.

An overview of the exercise bank

There are nine proofreading exercises in the bank. Permission was obtained from the authors and/or publishers to introduce errors for the purpose of proofreading practice. The exercises vary in difficulty from level 1 (reasonably straightforward, no complex elements) increasing to level 3 (complex, detailed exercises; may include complex figures/graphs/illustrations and/or references or other elements). The exercises are a variety of lengths, so I could pick and choose to fit them around my schedule.

The Exercise Bank covers a variety of topics including fiction and non-fiction, published through traditional channels, or by businesses and self-publishers. Examples include: a chapter from a business book that was traditionally published; an extract from a self-published novel by a first-time author; the programme for a conference by a medical organisation; a story from a traditionally published children’s magazine; and a market report for a technical industry (print finishing).

Each exercise includes background information and a brief which explains the task. Sometimes a house style is provided. If a house style is not provided, you are asked to compile a style sheet.

How to proofread an exercise

Open the file and check all the components are present. In the case of this bank of exercises there will be a brief or cover letter, exercise, model answer (or two), commentary, and final clean copy (if applicable).

Brief

Read what the brief requires. There might be a particular emphasis on layout, or a need for amendments to be kept to a minimum because of a tight publishing schedule. There may be a need to respect the author’s voice, particularly in fiction.

Errors

Examples of errors to be found range from a missing full stop at the end of a paragraph to erroneous capitalisation or the wrong word or term. Others include layout issues and tables that are incorrectly formatted, or wrongly entered numbers.

When something amiss jumps out at you, it’s okay to brag inwardly about the error caught (oh yes, that was sneaky). Add any errors missed (oh no, that was sneaky!) to your personal list of areas for improvement.

Queries

The model answers include examples of author queries to indicate where confusion is present in the text. Indeed, tips accompany the exercises on how to differentiate mark-up between instructions to the typesetter and queries to the client. So valuable. Model queries show how to be fair, polite and respectful.

Explanations

Checking the exercise against the model answer was the best part for me – I managed to resist the temptation to peek before finishing the task … When reading the explanations in the commentary, there were always learning points for the reasons behind the mark-up in the model answer.

Tips and support

  1. If the text is too distracting with, say, small font or too much colour in a leaflet, enlarging content by zooming in on the PDF can help identify errors.
  2. Prior knowledge of BSI symbols is useful. Guidance is given if you have not used proofreading stamps before. I recommend doing the CIEP’s Proofreading 1: Introduction course before proceeding with the level 1 bank of exercises.
  3. A range of model answers are given to show the variety of mark-up methods used and how the marks should appear.
  4. Support is given with resources, e.g. links are provided for the Adobe Acrobat DC video tutorials and help pages for assistance with marking up PDFs, whether that’s using commenting tools, sticky notes, or BSI symbols.

Benefits

The exercises are self-paced with no need for a tutor. They work in the same way as Margaret Aherne’s Proofreading Practice book which can be bought through the CIEP (with a discount for members).

Proofreading speed and accuracy increase with practice and confidence. Once you can calculate how many words you can proofread in an hour, it makes it easier to quote for work from prospective clients.

I had already completed CIEP’s suite of proofreading courses, but reviewing these exercises helped me further improve my proofreading skills and gave me confidence in my ability to spot errors and catch inconsistencies. Tackling the proofreading exercises also gave me the confidence to book my place on the CIEP proofreading mentoring scheme. I highly recommend them.


In addition to the proofreading exercises described here, there are seven copyediting exercises and three on grammar.

Visit the Exercise Bank

If you would like to add an exercise to the bank, please get in touch with the training director: training@ciep.uk.


About Annie Deakins

Annie Deakins taught in Essex (via Paisley) for 30 years. She started CIEP proofreading training in 2016 and is an Intermediate Member. She proofreads non-fiction, education, and children’s books. She is a Partner Member of ALLi. Her job portfolio includes tutoring, and she blogs as #TallTartanTalks.

 

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: colourful shelves by Maarten van den Heuvel; Practice/Practise by Brett Jordan, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Context is everything: how learning a language shed new light on my editing practice

In this post, which moves from Hollywood film stars to the hairdressers and Dutch language textbooks, Julia Sandford-Cooke explores how learning a new language helped her to reflect on her professional skills.

I often think about Antonio Banderas. Well, not the Spanish actor specifically, but rather his character in the 1999 film, The 13th Warrior. He plays Ahmad, an Arabic-speaking scholar improbably taken prisoner by Norse warriors whose chief interests are picking fights and gossiping around the campfire. In a famous (and possibly unintentionally hilarious) sequence, Ahmad quietly observes their chatter. It is initially unintelligible (the actors are apparently speaking modern Norwegian) but, as time passes, English words creep in, indicating his growing understanding, until he’s suddenly able to insult their mothers with astounding fluency and a confident grasp of complex grammar. Subsequent dialogue is in English, which now represents what we understand to be the language of the Norsemen.

These days, the movie is remembered almost as much for this scene as for being one of Hollywood’s biggest financial failures, allegedly making a $130 million loss. It’s a clever and memorable cinematic concept but, in my experience, not a very realistic way of learning a foreign language.

Gossip goal

I sit in the hairdressing salon, my face as fixed in concentration as Ahmad’s, while the stylists and customers chat in rapid Dutch. After just over a year in the Netherlands, I, like him, would love to decode the juicy gossip around me but merely listening to a new language will not miraculously make me fluent in it. I can make out the odd word but it certainly doesn’t pop out as English (well, apart from ‘Netflix’ and ‘weekend’). Instead, it just sounds vaguely familiar and by the time I’ve looked it up in my mental dictionary (‘“makkelijk” … I know that one … “Difficult”? No … “Important”? No … ah, I have it! “Easy!”’) the conversation has moved on and I still have no idea what they’re talking about. And as for speaking to them – well, I won’t be insulting their mothers any time soon or, more likely, complimenting them on such a flattering cut ‘n’ colour. But it’s my ultimate objective to be able to take part in their conversations.

It’s all about confidence

Antonio Banderas’ first language is, of course, Spanish, so it’s somewhat ironic that his character hears familiar words as English. My Amsterdam friends whose first language is Spanish all learned English at school and now speak it fluently and rapidly. If they forget the odd word, it doesn’t matter – they just keep on talking and we understand them just fine.

Significantly, they’re also much more likely than the first-language English speakers I know to have focused on learning and speaking Dutch since moving here. Yes, it is true that everyone can speak English here so there is an argument that it’s not worth the hassle, but personally, I feel that if you want to integrate in a country, you should at least make an effort to learn its language. In any case, I’ve found that just because they can speak English doesn’t mean they will, which is fair enough, I suppose. And it’s also pretty useful to understand what you’re being told in emergency situations, or on public transport.

Perhaps the habit of learning languages is more ingrained in those who do not speak English as their first language. It’s pretty common for these immigrants – both adults and children – to switch between three or four languages. Much of it is about confidence – going out onto the unforgiving streets knowing you’ll make mistakes and trying not to care.

My personal lack of confidence is mixed with an equally unhelpful stubborn pride. I insist on conducting business in bad Dutch in shops and cafés and while having my COVID-19 vaccination, even if waiters insist they don’t understand my slight mispronunciations or I get jabbed in the arm I sleep on. And then I go home and cringe at the fool I’ve made of myself. Speaking isn’t even my forte in English so it’s no wonder I struggle so much in Dutch. It’s some consolation that my Spanish-and-English-speaking friends admit that learning Dutch as an adult is hard because our confidence drops as we get older and we’re more aware of the implications of getting it wrong.

So how do these experiences affect my editing practice?

Learning Dutch has made me look at my work from several new perspectives.

Being a beginner.

It’s humbling to start from scratch. There’s so much I don’t know and I have to work very hard to know it. I’ve been in the conscious incompetent stage of learning for quite a while now. It simply isn’t easy, whatever Ahmad might think. I hope this awareness makes me more empathetic with writers and other people I interact with professionally. And of course, this doesn’t just apply to learning a language – it applies to learning any skill.

Being an expert.

At the same time, it reminds me that I’ve been through the editorial wilderness and emerged, after more than 20 years, with a huge experience and solid skills that clients value. It’s taken a lot of work and effort to get here but it has been worthwhile. I can prove to myself that persistence pays off.

Keeping me alert.

Editing is an intellectually stimulating profession. Learning a language before and after work often feels like yet another way to tire my brain. But it also exercises slightly different aspects of my mind, and just watching Netflix of an evening feels less and less of a constructive way to spend my time.

Brushing up on my grammar.

I have to admit that it draws attention to my tenuous grasp of grammatical theory. The argument that ‘children can learn a language without trying and therefore so can you’ just doesn’t fly. I have to consciously decode the word order following a coordinating conjunction or the effect of an inactive word form. My middle-aged mind has to consciously think ‘Ah, that’s a modal verb, which sends the second verb to the end of the clause as an infinitive’. That’s not a thought the average toddler has.

Understanding mistakes.

Anyone who has edited the writing of those for whom English is an additional language will have noticed particular mistakes relating to the authors’ translations of their thoughts into English. There are plenty of examples from Dutch speakers but recently I passed a woman trying to explain to someone that he could get the item he wanted from the ‘warehouse’ down the road. She meant department store – warenhuis in Dutch. It is illuminating to realise why certain errors occur.

Drawing attention to learning methods.

I’m a textbook editor but I rarely open my Dutch textbook, other than to check the grammar rules. Interaction is key (whatever Ahmad might think). Purists may sniff at the gamification of language learning in apps such as Duolingo and Babbel but actually, I find their bite-sized, repetitive and memorable methods convenient and engaging. I currently have a 467-day streak in Duolingo, meaning I’ve actively practised my Dutch on the app every day for about 15 months. But I combine it with watching (or trying to watch) Dutch movies, listening to Dutch music (Dutch rhymes in a very satisfying way) and having fairly regular face-to-face Zoom lessons. Julie, my lovely tutor on iTalki , is endlessly cheerful and patient, even when I’m clearly speaking complete nonsense. And, of course, there’s no substitute for immersing myself in everyday situations like, for example, going to the hairdresser. All of this suggests that those who produce learning materials should think holistically – no single method is enough – and, of course, no student approaches learning in the same way.

So I often think of Spanish-speaking Antonio Banderas as an Arabic-speaking scholar listening to Norwegian-speaking actors speaking English to represent speaking Norse. Learning a new language is hard. But one day I too will be able to decode the gossip and maybe even join in – without cursing anyone’s mothers. Not intentionally, anyway.

About Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke

Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has spent more than 20 years in publishing and just over one year in Amsterdam. When she’s not speaking bad Dutch, 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.

 

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: Amsterdam canal by Ethan Hu; Dutch flag in Amsterdam by Luca Lago, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

The CPD in the work we do

In this post, Abi Saffrey thinks about the ways in which we develop our professional selves while doing the job we do – an often overlooked form of CPD.

This article considers:

  • Informal conversations and guidance
  • Seeing a task from a different perspective
  • Observing colleagues and peers
  • Procrastinating on the internet
  • Teaching others
  • Writing an article
  • Continuing professional development

It’s highly likely that most of the people reading this post have put some formal training on their professional development plan for 2022. I certainly have every intention of signing up for the CIEP’s Plain English for Editors online course, or perhaps the References one. I also have some of the Publishing Training Centre’s e-Learning modules to work through.

When building our development plans, we often dismiss or forget the informal learning that we do every day while working. There are so many ways to learn new skills, adapt current ones, deepen our understanding, broaden our experiences – these are perhaps harder to label than a training course, but equally important in keeping our careers, and businesses, on track.

Informal conversations and guidance

Whether working for an organisation or ourselves, we have networks of people that we talk to. In an office or via an instant messaging tool, we can ask colleagues quick questions, or perhaps jump on a video call to discuss an idea.

Even a more formal meeting can be a learning opportunity, not just about how to carry out a task but how to communicate about it, finance it or improve it.

For those of us who work at home alone, having conversations with peers can remind us of our professional sense of self, and I find that after one of those conversations, I’m more proactive and productive.

Seeing a task from a different perspective

It’s very easy to focus on how we race through a task that we do often, and I suspect we’re all a bit prone to forgetting the actions that sit around that task. With my editorial project management work, I can gain insights into how copyeditors and proofreaders work, into what designers and typesetters need to know, into the priorities of the publisher – and I can take that and apply it to my own editing or proofreading (as well as future project management).

Taking a step back and thinking holistically about a project can be informative and rewarding, remind us of the bigger picture, and perhaps help us identify areas for more formal CPD.

Observing colleagues and peers

This is easier when working in an office with someone, clearly. I learnt so much from those around me as an employee, and when working in a client’s office as a contractor.

I’m in an accountability group, and on one of our professional retreats we spent a session looking at how we’d edit different types of texts – we all had different approaches and talked about which approach worked best for each text. With a bit of planning, this could work well over a video call or even in an online chat forum.

Talking of online chat forums, the CIEP member forums are full of gems covering every aspect of editing and running an editing business.

Procrastinating on the internet

Twitter, hey? It’s a right time-sink. How about that Wordle game? At least you can only play it once a day, but then did you read the articles about how to get better at it?

This may be the wrong thing to say, BUT there is value in procrastinating on the internet. So many of us scold ourselves for spending a bit too long on social media platforms, but there are great things in among the pyramid scheme promotions, political despair and, of course, cats. There are relevant blog posts, discussions, contacts being made, creativity being sparked, unknown terminology being discovered, different approaches to the same problem and the worldwide #StetWalk movement.

Teaching others

Teaching someone else how to do something that we know how to do is a fabulous way to reinforce our own knowledge. It can help us to realise how much we do know, and often highlights what we still don’t know. There is a lot of value in rewinding our understanding and trying to build up that understanding in someone else. That word you use all the time? They don’t know it. Those who learn from us can ask questions that we might never have thought of, and finding out you didn’t know what you didn’t know will be a revelation.

Writing an article

Write about what you know. Tailoring an article to the intended audience is a skill, and writing has the same benefits as teaching. For editors, writing also has the added value of building empathy towards those whose words we work with. When this article comes back from its proofreader, I will be nervous about what corrections may have been made. And once this is published, I’ll wonder about what kind of reception it will have. Receiving feedback help us to better give feedback (and give better feedback).

Continuing professional development

The skills that we need change and evolve, as do the industries we work in. Let’s welcome informal professional development into our work lives, and acknowledge that which already exists. I’ve covered the kinds of learning I’ve benefited from throughout my career – share yours in the comments.

About Abi Saffrey

Abi Saffrey is an editorial project manager, copyeditor and the CIEP’s information director. In 2022, lots of her informal CPD will come from working with her CIEP Council and information team colleagues.

 

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: snowdrop by Kiwihug; Toronto perspective by Nadine Shaabana, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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