Category Archives: Professional development

How to guides to help with your professional development.

Curriculum focus: References

In a new regular feature for The Edit, training director Jane Moody shines a light on an area of the CIEP’s Curriculum for professional development.

Knowledge of referencing comes into Domain 2, Editorial knowledge and practice, subdomain 2.2, Editorial knowledge. The competencies that a copyeditor/proofreader would be expected to have are shown in the middle column. A basic understanding of each of the referencing systems is essential, even if you rarely come across them in your day-to-day work.

Knowledge criteriaEditorial competencies, professional skills and attitudesResources to support learning/CPD
2.2.4 Citations, references and bibliographies• Has ability to recognise and edit Harvard, Vancouver and short-title systems
• Is aware of typical styles and variations (data required, ordering/punctuation of data, elision, capitalisation, use of italic and bold)
• Knows the difference between citation (details of a source or authority) and quotation (wording taken from a source or authority)
• Understands how to treat quotations
• Has ability to order bibliographies, cite academic publications, online sources and manuscripts, deal with/create multiple bibliographies
• Understands need to cross-check for consistency
• Understands and can handle footnotes and endnotes
• CIEP suite of courses Copyediting
• CIEP suite of courses Proofreading
• CIEP course References
• Guides to different referencing styles (New Hart’s Rules, Chicago, APA, MLA etc.)

So where do you go to gain this knowledge? As the introductory note indicates, there are more resources than can be listed in the curriculum itself, which lists some obvious resources in the third column, in addition to the general ones given in the introduction. The CIEP online course References goes into great detail about the topic and includes several pages of links to useful resources. If you need to deal with citations, references and bibliographies on a regular basis, this course will help you to master them. The CIEP’s new ‘References’ fact sheet also provides an introduction and brief overview of this subject.

Judith Butcher’s Copy-Editing (4th edition) covers the basics of bibliographical references in chapter 10. The Chicago Manual is now in its 17th edition. Part III covers ‘Source citations and indexes’ – a full third of the book. The manual is available online and some helpful resources are freely available there. One page you might find useful if you work with author–date referencing systems is the Chicago style citation quick guide. This page gives examples of different reference-list entries accompanied by an example of a corresponding in-text citation. If you need more detail, there is a link to the full contents page but, frustratingly, that’s the end of your free access and you need a subscription to get to the text of the manual itself. On the CIEP blog (25 November 2020), the ‘wise owls’ talked about references, too.

Many institutional libraries provide excellent guidance on referencing and citations. For example, the De Chastelain Library of the Dundalk Institute of Technology has a useful page analysing Harvard referencing. The Open University library has a publicly available page (Quick guide to Harvard referencing) that is very useful. The University of Sheffield library includes video tutorials on referencing, among other useful topics such as detailed referencing style guides that you can either consult online or download as PDFs. Some services are generally available; some are only fully available to alumni. If you are associated with an education institution, you may be able to access Cite Them Right, from Bloomsbury, for example. Cite Them Right demonstrates the principles of referencing and how to avoid plagiarism, and you can create an accurate reference in a variety of styles.

There is a wealth of information available to help authors to create accurate references in the correct style for their publisher. It’s a shame that they rarely consult these resources – although the time spent correcting authors’ idiosyncrasies is the bread and butter of many a CIEP member, so perhaps it’s just as well that they don’t!

About Jane Moody

Jane has worked with books for all her working life (which is rather more years than she cares to admit), having started life as a librarian. She started a freelance editing business while at home with her two children, which she maintained for 15 years before going back into full-time employment as head of publishing for a medical Royal College.

Now retired, she has resurrected her editorial business, but has less time for work these days as she spends much time with her four grandchildren and in her garden.

 

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: library by Skitterphoto on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Why should editors and proofreaders attend the London Book Fair? Tips from two first-time attendees

This blog post discusses tips and impressions from two CIEP members attending the London Book Fair for the first time. Should you bother with all the seminars? Is it worth handing out business cards? And isn’t it all a bit overwhelming? Let’s hear what Aimee Hill and Andrew Hodges have to say …

Our first London Book Fair

It’s spring in the UK and the London Book Fair in early April was an energising way to start socialising in person again! This year was our first Fair, and we showed up not knowing what to expect. Even knowing how huge the event was, the size of the hall was still astonishing. Here are some tips and advice to help you navigate the event.

Aimee says …

Come with goals

Turning up to the London Book Fair with concrete goals is essential. Whether it is worth it depends entirely on what you want to get out of the Fair. And the whole event is so large and bustling that, without goals, it is very easy to wander around aimlessly staring at the rows upon rows of stands.

Find out who is visiting and meet them

Twitter is a great source for finding out who is at the Fair before you go. While I was there, I met up with some other editors I know, including Andrew Hodges, past course mates who had found themselves in the same industry, and in-house publishing people who I’d previously only chatted to on social media. It is a valuable chance to say a quick hello to connections.

Go to seminars that interest you, but don’t overdo it

The seminars throughout the event are invaluable. There are few better ways to get insight into the industry than the talks that LBF put on. If you work with independent/fiction authors, the seminars hosted at Author HQ give insight into the different concerns and interests of your clients. They are also all recorded, so you can catch up on the ones you missed and rewatch the ones you were too tired to pay attention to. Extra tip: if your goal for the Fair is just to go to these seminars, there are digital tickets that give you access to the recordings without having to trek to London.

Be emboldened to socialise

In my opinion, networking is just a fancy word for socialising. While the Fair is primarily a corporate, work-focused event, there is space for getting to know a diverse range of people across the industry. Informally, the queues for coffee are long enough that you are likely able to strike up a conversation with those around you. In a more organised sense, the Wednesday offers opportunity for drinks socials all over the fair. In particular, both the Society of Young Publishers and the Independent Publishing Guild provide space for people to get together.

Andy says …

First impressions

After all that online networking and professional development in a box room under the stairs, it felt amazing to be around people! I spent the first hour walking around grinning, dazed by all the stands and people there to discuss books. Was it smaller than usual? Was Author HQ normally three times the size? I had no idea, and I didn’t care. It felt massive and a bit ‘out of this world’.

When I described it to a friend, she said the book fair sounded like a political party conference: its core had a corporate feel, with people paying lots of money for stands … and with loads of interesting stuff happening around the edges.

There was a traditional publishing crowd brokering deals in a part of the Fair we weren’t allowed to access. I got a small taste of this when I met a representative from a German publisher promoting titles to be considered for translation into English.

The logistics

If you have a long train journey to get there, two days will probably be enough. Don’t forget to bring water and preferably a packed lunch. Chairs for visitors are in short supply, and as Aimee points out, while you can sit down to watch all the interesting talks, don’t overdo them as you may end up feeling fatigued!

Where should editors hang out?

Well, that depends on your goals. If you want to network with publishers, there are loads of stands to visit. My favourite place was Author HQ, where the indie authors were mostly hanging out. There were great talks on energising the writing process, publishing successes with Amazon KDP, and on making UK publishing less London-centric.

My experience in book translation inspired me to hop over to the literary translation centre too. Broadly speaking, the translators felt closer to academia and activism, while the indie author crowd were more entrepreneurial. Despite their differences, both crowds were bursting with creativity and a love of books!

ALLi’s tenth birthday party was a highlight, where I chatted with several indie authors. I learnt a lot about the relative merits of different publishing services and by the end of the evening we were discussing reversals and character development in short stories.

I was sad the CIEP didn’t have a stall at the Fair this year, but the pandemic is far from over and the decision to wait was sensible. I bumped into Alison Shakspeare and got chatting to Aimee Hill over coffee, and it was good to know there were other CIEP members there.

Is it worth it?

Was the LBF an investment that will bring me a return? In the narrow sense, I have no idea, and that’s not why I went. My reason for attending was to get to know and understand how publishing works a bit better. This wider-picture perspective will inform my future edits and interactions with publishers and indie clients.

And that’s why you should go – at least once.

The Fair has given me a taste for in-person events now, and a new-found energy. Next up is Cymera in June – bring it on!

About Aimee Hill

Aimee Hill supports independent authors with communicative line editing. She primarily works with science fiction and fantasy authors.

About Andrew Hodges

Andrew Hodges runs an editorial business called The Narrative Craft in Edinburgh, UK. He loves line-editing fiction and ethnography and enjoys chatting with science fiction and fantasy authors about worldbuilding and point of view issues whenever he can.

 

 

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: wall of books by Eugenio Mazzone on Unsplash, London Book Fair by Andrew Hodges.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

What resources does the CIEP offer?

The CIEP offers a wide range of support and professional development material on proofreading and copyediting. In this post the Institute’s information team summarises the resources available to our members and to the public.

Here’s what we’ll be looking at in this post.

  • CIEP resources
  • guides
  • fact sheets
  • focus papers
  • the CIEP blog
  • newsletters and
  • what’s coming up in 2022

CIEP resources

Our information team works with experienced editorial professionals and industry leaders to provide trusted advice and practical knowhow on working with English language texts. These range from tips on getting started, gleaned from practitioners’ years of experience, to the fine details of editorial markup and proofreading etiquette, plus insights into evolving usage and when to recognise it’s an ‘it depends’ situation rather than a rule of grammar.

Guides

Our guides provide a basic introduction to the various skills and knowledge needed to work as an editorial professional. Digital versions of all the guides are free for CIEP members. They encompass such diverse subjects as editing cookery books, pricing freelance projects, working with self-publishers, and editing scientific research articles.

 

 

Fact sheets

Fact sheets are brief introductions to a topic or issue related to practical aspects of editing or proofreading, or working as an editor or proofreader. They aren’t comprehensive but give tips related to the topic and a list of further resources. There are currently over 20 factsheets and the number is growing; topics range from macros and gendered language to scope creep and emotional wellbeing.

Editors work on all kinds of text, from marketing materials, theses and reports to blogs and websites. However, a core area of work for many editors is still books, for print or online publication. All books are different, but many adhere to a standard basic structure. This helps the author and the publisher order the information, but more importantly it helps the reader navigate the finished book, making it a truly useful and accessible resource.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Anatomy of a book

As soon as you agree to take on work for a client, or to complete a task for a colleague, you are under an obligation to ensure the work is completed as agreed. But whether you are a business owner or an employee you will always have other tasks on your to-do list: juggling expectations and moving deadlines, managing yourself and others, chasing invoices and marketing your services, as well as coping with personal matters that may have an impact on your capacity to work. Do you have a plan for how to cope if disaster strikes?

MEMBER RESOURCE: Building a business resilience and disaster plan

Focus papers

Focus papers explore an aspect of the English language or editorial practice that:

  • challenges assumptions
  • offers a new perspective on, illuminates or addresses a problem
  • helps readers better understand the value of professional editing, either their own practice or as potential users of editorial services (or both!).

They are written by well-known and expert names in their field, including CIEP honorary president David Crystal, linguist Rob Drummond and editor Sarah Grey.

If only the whole world had a language in common, war could be avoided. Thatʼs what LL Zamenhof thought when he developed Esperanto in 1887. Esperanto wasnʼt meant to replace anyoneʼs home language, but it would create a common ground for people from different backgrounds. It would make communication easier and more direct, reducing the need for go-betweens like translators and interpreters.

FREE RESOURCE: In a globalised world, should we retain different Englishes? by Lynne Murphy

Serendipitously, just hours after the CIEP asked me to write about whom, an email landed in my inbox. It included this: ‘Patients whom have already received notification …’.

MEMBER RESOURCE: To whom it may concern, by Jeremy Butterfield

 

The CIEP blog

The CIEP blog aims to provide useful and entertaining articles for anyone interested in editing, proofreading, the English language, starting and managing an editorial business, and publishing more widely.

Whether it’s race, sexuality, gender, disability, religion or faith, socio-economic background or any of the other many ways we describe ourselves, as editors, we are going to come across texts that describe people who don’t share the same backgrounds and experiences as ourselves.

Editing outside your experience, by Nicholas Taylor

 

Editorial judgement calls for an understanding of context, for knowing your stuff when it comes to technical matters (whether that’s the finer points of grammar or the finer points of Word or the finer points of inorganic chemistry, if that’s your niche), for knowing when to press ahead and when to leave well alone, and for knowing what resources you need and how to use them. Each of these skills can also be applied to the way you run your business.

How can we apply editorial judgement to our businesses?, by Sue Littleford

Newsletters

We produce two bi-monthly newsletters: The Edit for members, and Editorial Excellence for anyone who wishes to subscribe. Both highlight new resources and blog posts on a particular topic or theme.

Coming in 2022 …

And there’s more to come … In 2022 we hope to publish guides on developmental editing, legal editing, and corporate and marketing communications. There will be fact sheets on keyboard shortcuts, editing LGBT+ content and medical editing, and focus papers by Laura Summers and other well-known names. No doubt the wise owls will appear more than once on the blog, alongside regular contributors including Sue Littleford and Andy Coulson.

Wrapping up: CIEP resources

Now you know what CIEP resources are available, have a look at the ones that are relevant to you. Don’t forget:

  • You can download free fact sheets and focus papers (and even more if you are a CIEP member).
  • Guides provide handy introductions to the skills and knowledge needed to work as an editorial professional.
  • The CIEP blog is updated with new content regularly.

Which CIEP resource has been most useful to you so far? Which one are you planning to read next? Let us know in the comments. If you don’t already receive our Editorial Excellence newsletter, click on the button below to subscribe.

I’D LIKE THE NEWSLETTER

About the CIEP information team

Liz Dalby, Cathy Tingle, Julia Sandford-Cooke and Harriet Power are the CIEP’s information commissioning editors. If there’s a topic that you think could be covered in a blog post, fact sheet, focus paper or guide, drop the team a line at infoteam@ciep.uk.

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credit: man reading by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

Forum matters: Editorial judgement

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

Whether to start a post and how to reply to posts are the first decisions CIEP members need to make when taking part in the forums, but the all-encompassing art of editorial judgement reveals itself in almost every thread.

In mid-January, a forum search on ‘editorial judgement’ brought up 15 pages and 441 threads – including on language, taking on clients and choosing tools – in just the previous six months. This highlights how editors need to use judgement in all aspects of their editing life.

Peer judgement

A key aim of the CIEP is that its forums should be a safe space for discussion, and if anyone feels unfairly judged or affected by a post the moderators are there to help to address this. But such interventions are rarely needed.

The forums are more often a source of judicious advice for members who have been overwhelmed by circumstance (both short and long term) and who, unable to make a clear decision, are worried about making errors of judgement (see Thoughts on not coping). Responses range from sympathetic support (because although the experience is new to you, somebody else has already been there), to incisively helpful (because there is always a tool to deal with the problem and with all the years of experience among CIEP members, somebody will know what it is).

Editing judgement

Punctuation insists on being quirky and, in a profession that strives for consistency, this can be a major irritation. In Dialogue, Kia Thomas reminds us how to deal with the quirky in fiction:

as for conforming, I suppose it all depends. Some editors prefer to bring everything in line with an external style guide, whereas others are quite happy to stick with the author’s choices if they’re used consistently (leaving aside, of course, the fact that they’re very often not). It’s a case of judgement – some style choices are so unconventional that they may be distracting, and that may not be what the author wants. For example, a lack of quote marks in literary fiction often means the author is deliberately playing with conventions for effect, and readers will tolerate or even enjoy that. In genre fiction, it may distract readers from the characters and the story.

Don’t even mention capitalisation. Actually, do mention it on the forums: you never know what the ensuing discussion will reveal. As you can see in West/west/Oriental/oriental?, not only do the replies offer practical solutions to finding a suitable answer, but we get a bit of practical philosophy as well (thanks, Luke Finley):

Often there aren’t truly definitive answers to these questions, so subjective judgement is involved. My approach is to err on the side of caution, but not to live in fear of making a mistake. Generally if people see you’ve said or written ‘the wrong thing’ inadvertently, and are open to reconsidering it rather than [being] defensive, they’re OK with that.

As Luke’s thoughts show, a key focus of the forums is language, particularly in the context of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). As Karyn Burnham said on the LGBTQ terminology thread:

we are in no position to offer judgement on any of these issues, only to respect the views of those groups affected and to strive to communicate these views effectively. Professionally, I find discussions like this in the forums extremely helpful and informative, and hopefully they will lead to an improvement in my approach to sensitive topics in the future.

Whatever your editing conundrum, you are going to have to choose the right answer by making a judgement call. The Fact checking thread is a great illustration of what you need to bear in mind.

Client judgement

Before you even begin editing you may need to exercise judgement about whether or not to take on a client. Anxieties about potential jobs can stem from inexperience (or the dreaded imposter syndrome), finance (whether the fee offered covers the time needed), worry about shutting off future work (if you say no this time, will they come back) or red flags (unfortunately there are people out there who want ‘owt for nowt’). All these worries often appear on the forums – see, among others, New client dilemma – advice needed.

Once you’ve taken on a job the judgement calls don’t stop. Page ranges in citations deals with a perennial problem when dealing with student papers: what is the ethical amount of editing you should do?

Judging tools

A wide diversity of client needs can be serviced, as you can read in editing for clients with special needs. This thread points to a variety of tools and approaches to help a partially sighted client. As Christina Petrides points out, the editor–client relationship is also crucial:

It will become easier once you’ve built up a good relationship with [the client] and they trust your judgement, so be as transparent and clear in what you are proposing as possible, and stick to it.

So, making a judgement call is a fact of life in editing and, as John Firth points out in Starting a sentence with ‘So’:

It’s tricky to decide whether something is so serious that you need to call it to [the client’s] attention, but your professional judgement is what [they’re] paying for.

In the end, apply that invaluable mantra when using your editorial judgement: context is key.

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credit: snowdrops by manfredrichter on Pixabay.

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.

A week in the life of the CIEP’s information team

The information team is made up of the information director (currently Abi Saffrey), plus commissioning editors (at the moment Cathy Tingle and Liz Dalby; Harriet Power and Julia Sandford-Cooke will join the team in early 2022). We work quite closely as a team, though we all work slightly differently. We have varying areas of interest outside the core skills of copyediting and proofreading, too, and this helps when we come to divide up work between us.

The information team editors are paid for 15 hours per month of their time, so the work is very much part-time and must fit in around other client work, plus various caring responsibilities such as looking after children, not to mention outside interests and downtime. In practice, this means we tend to spend a little time most days on information team work, as there’s always something to be done!

What we work on

The work is a combination of dealing with small tasks as they arise, commissioning and compiling recurring content for the two newsletters (columns, book reviews and round-ups), and commissioning or writing one-off blog posts or fact sheets, plus longer-form focus papers and guides. We also look at material on the website that needs updating or rewriting, and we answer various questions from members and other interested parties via our team email address. We all write content when necessary, such as blog posts and fact sheets, and Cathy also compiles the quiz – a bimonthly feat of humorous ingenuity.

Who we work with

Abi is our main interface with the Council, but we also all communicate directly with various Council working groups, such as the Values Working Group (ValWG) and the Environmental Policy Working Group (EPWG). We also sometimes work with other directors, especially the training, marketing and communications directors. To get resources laid out and looking as they should, complete with CIEP branding, we work with the design team via the CIEP’s design coordinator, Rich Cutler.

Cycles of work

A typical week, if there is one, is therefore a combination of ‘keeping things going’ – answering emails, communicating with regular contributors, making corrections to existing resources – and working on new resources and content. We all watch what’s happening in the forums, to see what members might need, and we stay in touch with the wider world via Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, for example, to find ideas and contributors from the CIEP and beyond. If there are patterns to our work, they are governed by where we are in the publication cycle of the two newsletters – they go out in alternating months. Each of us usually has several longer-term resources that we’re working on at any given time.

The content we produce is both inward-facing (for members of the CIEP) and outward-facing (for non-members of the CIEP). The Edit and Editorial Excellence are our two newsletters, for members and non-members respectively. These help us highlight new resources and other relevant content. Each issue has a loose theme, which we decide in advance. Both newsletters are a real team effort, with content drawn from all three of our remits and the many contributors we work with. Abi also runs the blog, as she has done for several years, and a lot of our content is hosted there and linked to from the newsletters.

Team spirit

We keep in touch with each other via Slack, which enables us to work together although we are in distant corners of the UK – Cathy is in Scotland, Abi in the east of England and Liz in the southwest. There’s usually a conversation going on about some resource or other, or a task that needs doing or a decision to be made, and occasionally personal things such as birthday cake, children with colds, or holidays. We all understand that we have other commitments, so although we all try to respond as quickly as we can, we’re not on call 24 hours a day. Although we rarely meet in person, especially right now, the regular communication we share helps us feel like a proper team. When so much of what we do in our professional lives is done alone, this is a real pleasure.


Check out all of the CIEP’s resources!


 

About the CIEP’s information team

The CIEP’s information team works with contributors across the globe on guides, focus papers, fact sheets and, of course, blog posts. If you’ve got an idea for a resource, get in touch: infoteam@ciep.uk

 

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: information by Philip Strong; info by Giulia May, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A Finer Point: The vocative comma

Cathy Tingle updates a column of Christmas past for a festive reminder of what one kind of comma can teach us.

As I am an editor, my favourite Christmas carol – obviously – is ‘God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen’ because of the vocative comma (the one before ‘Gentlemen’). This type of comma is particularly important in creative works, as I discovered a few years ago when I cast my eye over a friend’s unedited novel and encountered characters being addressed directly without this comma: ‘I really don’t know Marion’, ‘Did you see Marion?’ (Marion was the addressee in both) and ‘Trying to sober up Richard?’ (as Richard was asked at the end of a party). The meaning conveyed in each case is quite different from what the writer was intending, as in the old classic ‘Let’s eat Grandma’.

A multitude of angels – sorry, angles

Commas cause most people who work with words to pause for thought now and then, and they can’t possibly be covered in one short column. Why? Because there is just so much to say. Larry Trask, in the Penguin Guide to Punctuation, divides the comma population firmly into four types: the listing comma, the joining comma, the gapping comma and bracketing commas. In his recent CIEP guide on punctuation Gerard M-F Hill takes on the brave task of simplifying Trask’s model, and consequently gives the comma ‘with minor exceptions … two functions in prose’: isolating and listing. But it takes an action-packed 22-page chapter to elaborate fully on these functions and their exceptions.

Elsewhere, John Seely, in the Oxford A–Z of Grammar and Punctuation, identifies seven roles for commas if we omit their use in numbers. And The Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition) devotes sections 6.16–6.55 – that’s 40 sections – to them.

Even if we could square up these various ideas about how many uses commas have (and it’s tough: Fowler’s deals with this by following New Hart’s Rules), comma use is, according to David Crystal in Making a Point, sometimes simply a matter of taste, because it’s linked to psycholinguistics. ‘One person says, “I need a comma to make the meaning of this sentence clear”; another finds the same sentence perfectly understandable without a comma. It’s because they have different processing abilities.’

So, because things are hectic enough at this time of year, how about we look at just one type of comma, the vocative, which many experts including Seely and Trask don’t even cover directly? Who knows, it might tell us a small thing about commas in general.

Merry gentlemen, or not so much?

Back we go, then, to ‘God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen’. This is interesting because, of course, it’s often rendered as ‘God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen’, and indeed I spent my childhood picturing a group of jolly old chaps. (My friend Judith spent her childhood thinking that the lyrics included the words ‘to save us all from Santa’s power’ – it’s ‘Satan’s power’ – but that’s another story.)

In fact, ‘rest you merry’ used to be a recognised phrase, meaning ‘rest well, be happy’. Dickens, in A Christmas Carol (1843), actually changed the title to ‘God Bless You Merry Gentleman’, in the words of a boy singing outside Scrooge’s door. There’s no comma at all in my 1946 edition, which isn’t to say Dickens didn’t put one in the original, but the point is that he made ‘God Bless You’ the unbreakable phrase in this line (and those who punctuate before ‘Merry’ are making ‘God Rest You’ the unbreakable phrase), whereas ‘God Rest You Merry’ is the title’s original unbreakable phrase and so the comma should follow that. As we wrote about this carol’s title in last year’s festive CIEP quiz, ‘if you’re interested in the impact of punctuation, it’s an interesting exercise to omit the vocative comma, then move it slowly up the sentence from the end, displaying its power to change meaning’. There you are – something to do once the presents are opened on Christmas Day.

‘“No punctuation” is the ultimate marker of semantic tightness’, as David Crystal says in Making a Point. Commas create breaks between words, to put it simply, and if there’s no comma we tend to read the words as one block. There’s something about the special confusion experienced in response to the lack of a vocative comma that makes you appreciate this fully.

If you’d like to further explore the comma nuances in ‘God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen’, complete with a cappella musical accompaniment, may I recommend to you a short video, new for the 2021 festive season, by RamsesThePigeon. It really is a gift.

No comma, no confusion

But what if the lack of a comma before a name doesn’t cause confusion? One thing the vocative comma has been suffering from is a sense that it has become non-essential in phrases like ‘Hi John’. Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl), in The Grammar Devotional, valiantly tries to explain why it’s necessary in such cases:

In Hi, John you are directly addressing John, which means the punctuation rules of direct address apply. From a comma-rules standpoint, Hi, John is no different from Thanks for coming, John or Wow, John, what were you thinking?

Yet the comma after ‘Hi’ is used less and less. In November 2019, Ellen Jovin of @grammartable lamented on Twitter: ‘If people I communicated with still used vocative commas after “hi,” I would have continued to use them. But they look at me as though I have three dangling participles if I even bring up such a thing.’ Are we losing the vocative comma in this formulation because there is very little scope for misunderstanding without it, as with 2019’s giddy pre-Covid inter-generational put-down ‘OK Boomer’? Whatever else you thought of it, and however you capitalise it, this phrase is certainly not punctuated. So perhaps we’re slowly discarding all punctuation except what’s absolutely necessary for comprehension.

A simple lesson

I still keep in touch with my high-school English teacher, now in his mid-80s, and as you might expect, along with the chat about how my kids and his grandkids are doing, occasionally punctuation comes up. In a letter in 2019, he said, ‘I used to try to teach various classes that punctuation was in many instances more important than spelling: I could make out that “ejog” (as I had to once) was meant to be “hedgehog” from the material round about, but if the punctuation was misplaced or non-existent the sense was lost.’ He continued by revealing his tried-and-tested example: ‘I tended to use “Stop Toby” (our dog) v. “Stop, Toby”.’ Well, then: perhaps the vocative comma can teach where no other comma types can reach. With my own vocative comma firmly in place, it only remains for me to wish you a lovely festive season, everyone.


An earlier version of this column was published in Editing Matters, Jan/Feb 2020. CIEP members can access all issues of Editing Matters in the archive.


Resources

The Chicago Manual of Style (2017). 17th edition. University of Chicago Press.
David Crystal (2016). Making a Point. Profile, 2016.
Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol (1946); reprint Penguin 1984.
Mignon Fogarty (2009). The Grammar Devotional. St. Martin’s Press.
Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, ed. by Jeremy Butterfield (2015). 4th edition. Oxford University Press.
Gerard M-F Hill (2021). ‘Punctuation: A guide for editors and proofreaders.’ CIEP guide. ciep.uk/resources/guides/#PEP
New Hart’s Rules (2014). Oxford University Press.
RamsesThePigeon. ‘Where Is the Comma in “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” Supposed to Go?’ YouTube video. youtube.com/watch?v=sxfxy-3dGz0
John Seely (2020). Oxford A–Z of Grammar and Punctuation. Oxford University Press.
RL Trask (1997). Penguin Guide to Punctuation. Penguin.

About Cathy Tingle

Cathy Tingle is a copyeditor, tutor and member of the CIEP’s information team.

 

 

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:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

10 etiquette tips for editors

Editor Jennifer Glossop recently shared her top ten etiquette tips for editors with the Toronto CIEP local group. Here, Katherine Kirk details those tips, and explains why they’re in that top ten.

The Toronto CIEP local group invited Jennifer Glossop to speak about author–editor relationships. A guest speaker at the 2018 and 2019 Toronto mini-conferences, Jennifer has worked as an in-house and freelance editor for over 35 years, has taught editing and has written a number of children’s books.

The Toronto group generously invited non-locals to join, and it was an absolute pleasure to learn from Jennifer. I had put her tips into practice within 24 hours! Jennifer shared with us her finely tuned (but ever-evolving) list of etiquette rules for editors:

  • Make a good first impression.
  • Communicate often and promptly.
  • Put it in writing.
  • Praise the author and the work. Criticise only the work.
  • Be sincere and honest.
  • Know when to give in and do so gracefully.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions.
  • Avoid the temptation to lecture.
  • Keep your feedback helpful.
  • Remember whose work it is.

Though some of these tips may seem obvious to experienced editors, Jennifer says it’s often the obvious things that we forget about, and that’s when we get into trouble.

1. Make a good first impression

Whether meeting in person or online, Jennifer reminds us that first impressions last forever. She suggests finding a personal connection with the author, so that you can see each other as people rather than as red marks on a page. We should show an understanding of and enthusiasm for the author’s work. Let them know we are in their corner and be excited to work with them.

Even if you have no knowledge at all of the subject they’ve written about, you can turn that into a strength by saying you’re coming to it without any preconceived ideas or prejudices. Jennifer also points out the impact of a professional website as a first impression, and she encourages us to emphasise our experience on it.

Once you’ve connected with the author and gained their trust in you, you need to help them trust the process, and the best way to do that is by ensuring that they understand the timeline, stages of editing, what to expect from you and what they are responsible for. Freelancers should make sure the scope of work is clear and agreed upon by both parties, and this is the time to discuss payment.

Finally, you need to find out about the author’s vision and goals for the book, and to do so, you need to listen to them and ask them questions. This will guide you in the type of feedback you give them. Get on the same page about the manuscript; this can also avoid disasters later, like the editor thinking the book is a tragedy when the author intended it as a comedy.

2. Communicate often and promptly

It’s important to be reachable, stay in touch and meet deadlines. This is a basic courtesy and Jennifer didn’t dwell on it, but the CIEP’s Code of Practice expands on it, saying, ‘A fundamental requirement in the good handling of any material is to raise major queries without delay and other minor queries in batches as convenient to all concerned’. (COP 5.3.2a)

Be sure to define your boundaries and politely affirm them if necessary.

3. Put it in writing

Back in the day, Jennifer would discuss the job on the telephone, and post letters to clients. She tried always to keep a written record of what was discussed on the telephone, since our memories can’t be trusted. These days, email makes everything a lot easier, but she says the same principles in writing those letters apply.

She recommends the ‘praise sandwich’ approach for written communication, as it can soften the blow of criticism and make the author more willing to act on it. The filling of the sandwich should not be only criticisms, but rather explaining what you did, and what you expect the author to do next.

Jennifer also recommends sending longer communication like editorial reports as attached documents so that they are more easily referenced and don’t get lost in the inbox.

4. Praise the author and the work. Criticise only the work

There is no such thing as too much praise, and even if it feels saccharine or artificial when you’re writing it, if you are being sincere and honest, and use it properly, it can be a very powerful editorial tool. Writers crave praise, and it will soften the criticisms.

Criticism can feel very personal when it relates to sensitivity issues. Jennifer suggests framing those queries from the reader’s perspective and recommending an authenticity read if necessary. It helps to remind the author of how wide (and how diverse) their audience might be, and why using conscious language is important.

5. Be sincere and honest

Editors should not lie to authors or make empty promises about their potential for publishing success. That said, you can stretch the truth a little and tell authors their writing is a little better than it is.

Jennifer says, ‘Honest criticism is the greatest gift you can give. Clear and well-thought-out criticism is useful. Criticism for the sake of saying something can be damaging.’ Editors who want to master the art of querying might want to sign up for the CIEP’s new course.

6. Know when to give in and do so gracefully

Jennifer adds, ‘Even if it’s through clenched teeth.’ Choose your battles and if the hill of the serial comma is not worth dying on, let it be. It’s not your book.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions

Jennifer says that sometimes editors need to take on the responsibility of being the ‘designated idiots’ in order to fully understand the text and make it clear for the readers who come after us. She cautions us to be careful how we phrase our questions so that they are specific and useful.

8. Avoid the temptation to lecture

Although Jennifer has spent many years teaching us to edit, and many of us have been teachers at some stage in our lives, she reminds us that we are here to edit, not to teach the author. She recommends letting the author come to you with questions where they need clarity, but generally keeping explanatory notes brief and sticking to what is necessary.

Your client might not need to know the difference between a dependent and independent clause, or they might not care. Don’t come across as a ‘tutting school marm’ or condescending.

9. Keep feedback helpful

There are three types of feedback someone can give, Jennifer explains. The first is appreciation, which we might expect from friends. The second is evaluation, which we get from reviewers or examiners, and which can feel demeaning. The third, which editors should strive for, is coaching, where you tell the author what’s wrong, how to fix it and praise them for doing it well.

Jennifer suggests avoiding telling an author to do something beyond their ability or against their wishes. She also suggests breaking your feedback down into a logical and manageable sequence of steps, and helping the author to navigate it, especially for developmental or structural edits.

Jennifer usually starts her feedback with a phone call, as she believes that editing should be a dialogue between author and editor. She sometimes teaches authors techniques for processing the information she’s given them.

10. Remember whose book it is

Remind yourself that this is the author’s book, not yours, and never put your own ideas, jokes or voice into it. It is their book, and they might have spent years creating it, so be sensitive towards them and the text.

Saying ‘this is not my book’ doesn’t mean giving up on doing the best job you can; you’re still a part of its creation, and that should be enough for you to care about doing the work properly.

If you laid out the scope up front, didn’t make assumptions or have expectations about the text, and got everyone on the same page about those expectations and responsibilities, then your role will be clear and you can make the writing shine within the limits of your brief.

Some authors like to acknowledge editors for the role they play in bringing the text to life, by mentioning them in the acknowledgements or in the front matter. Jennifer says this is up to the author and editor to negotiate, but it’s fine to say no and ask for a testimonial or referral instead.

Wisdom sharing

Jennifer’s advice focuses on putting the person first, and encourages us to see the human behind the words we’re editing. It was amazing to be able to pick the brain of someone with so much experience, and yes, we did gush profusely about Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which Jennifer edited.

I left the meeting with a fullness in my heart at the thoughtfulness that informs her editing, and the generosity of editors who are willing to teach each other and help the whole profession grow. The CIEP’s local and international groups are a great space for sharing editorial wisdom, and they’re well worth a visit.

About Katherine Kirk

Katherine Kirk (Gecko Edit) edits fiction and tabletop role-playing games for clients based mostly in the USA. She lives halfway up a volcano in Ecuador and can be found every Thursday at Cloud Club West on Zoom – though she might put on a bunny hug disguise and sneak into more Toronto group meetings in the future.

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credit: Answers by Hadija Saidi on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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