Category Archives: Professional development

How to guides to help with your professional development.

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.

The 2021 CIEP conference: blog round-up

The CIEP conference took place online in September this year, and, as usual, before long there was a fine crop of blogs reviewing the event. We read them to see how conference newbies, veterans and session presenters experienced #CIEP2021. This round-up post covers:

  • The newbie view
  • Veterans’ verdicts
  • Presenters’ perspectives
  • What next?

The newbie view: ‘I was unprepared for just how much I got out of it’

‘When I joined the CIEP in January, lots of people told me about the value of their annual conference,’ says Philip Ridgers in ‘My first time attending the CIEP annual conference’. ‘I expected to pick up some tips and maybe meet a couple of new people. However, I was unprepared for just how much I got out of it.’ Starting with the networking sessions, Philip said: ‘The most valuable thing I took away was that others struggle with the same things I do.’ Far from meeting ‘a couple of new people’, at one point Philip found himself plunged into a Wonder room with some of the CIEP Council: ‘For a few minutes I was the only other person there! This could have been terrifying, but they were all so welcoming.’ He went on to describe his team’s performance in the quiz (‘we placed last’) and concluded that ‘the conference made me feel like I belonged. It made me want to further my knowledge and get more involved with the editorial community.’ We think he means his editorial knowledge, but who knows, maybe next year Philip will return armed to the teeth with all the quiz-related facts necessary to blow the other teams out of the water.

Eleanor Bolton had a lot in common with many other newbies – she was joining us from somewhere far from the UK: in her case, Houston, Texas. She says: ‘As it was online this year, it was easy to attend despite the time difference … I came away from the conference with a renewed sense of energy, plenty of ideas about future training and business development, and a long list of book recommendations to add to my reading list.’

Alison Gilbert, who had been to last November’s online conference, but not (yet) to an in-person one, translated her own learning points directly into action, by blogging about blogging, specifically ‘Blogging: Making it work for you and your business’, presented by Kia Thomas, Liz Dalby and Claire Bacon. As Alison, inspired by the session, observed: ‘Blogging is as individual as each person’, and with her maths degree and her love of lists, her blog, a list of top-ten blogging tips, testified to this.

Veterans’ verdict: ‘I really felt at home’

Among those who had been to CIEP (or SfEP) in-person conferences, some of them on many occasions, a word used to describe the event was, well, we’ll hand over to Sue Littleford: ‘a triumph. Full stop. How Beth delivers such fabulous conferences year in, year out, I don’t know. Hats off to her and her team!’ Jill French used the same word: ‘it was a triumph’.

It was Annie Deakins’ fifth conference, and at the end of her blog post she helpfully included links to her reviews of a couple of previous conferences, useful for those who wanted to compare the online and in-person events.

The comparisons by our veterans were favourable. Kia Thomas spoke for many, in ‘A post about CIEP2021 and also not entirely about CIEP2021’:

The conference team did a fantastic job of making sure we got as many of the best bits of the ‘real’ conference as we could – brilliant speakers, opportunities to learn things, the famous quiz and, best of all, the chance to catch up with colleagues and make new friends. There were plenty of opportunities for video networking, and the virtual space meant that many were able to attend who wouldn’t have been able to make it in person.

Louise Bolotin singled out Wonder as the tech aspect that made the conference so conference-like for her:

The one thing that made the conference as near a replica to being there in person was the Wonder platform. Browser-based, it allows you to join or form circles with others within a dedicated ‘room’ and chat via webcam. Chatting to colleagues is always one of the best things about attending a conference – the only thing missing was buying each other a drink, but otherwise Wonder ticked an awful lot of boxes.

Sue Littleford enjoyed the international feel:

One clear advantage of an online conference is that far more delegates can attend (we had plenty of members staying up very late indeed, or getting up painfully early, depending on their time zone), but the second advantage is that speakers can also be spread around the world – we had contributions from Canada, the US, Thailand and Australia, as well as from all around the UK.

The ability to catch up later through recorded sessions was invaluable to many, particularly Louise Bolotin, who described herself as ‘frantically rushed off my feet’ with work at the time of the conference. Jill French appreciated this too:

There was the added bonus of staggering some of the delivery beyond the conference with materials including not just digital handouts but hours of recordings to watch back.

Jill also discovered the benefits of networking from home:

As a mainly introverted soul, used to working alone, I did wonder whether the networking side of an online conference could work at all, but it did. I even found that, as I was sitting in my normal work place (true for most delegates I suspect), this was conducive to relaxed interactions where I really felt at home, wait – I really was at home.

There was one final benefit to holding the conference online, something we might call the ‘Hugh Factor’. Jill French explains: ‘Hugh Jackson, a most capable, self-effacing and amusing chair, made entertaining introductions, talks and commentary through the whole event.’ This sort of ubiquity wouldn’t have been as possible in person, and there was something about Hugh’s warm ‘fireside chat’ style that translated particularly well to the screen. Plus, online no one else need see us blubbing. Sue Littleford says: ‘Last year, [Hugh’s] closing words reduced a great many of us to tears … This year, we were ready with our tissues, fortunately: he did it again, dammit.’

Some things don’t change, whether the conference is online or in person. On her Facebook business page, Nicky Taylor talked about ‘Fizzing with energy and new ideas, but aware I need space and time to formulate something coherent and meaningful.’ Many of us can relate to that.

Presenters’ perspectives: ‘It was genuinely fun’

How did the experience compare for the speakers? Although Liz Dalby didn’t relish the prospect of delivering her session on Zoom, she said yes when Beth came knocking, and (in a post entitled ‘Learning to say yes’) she says:

I’m so glad I did say yes, because the session went well – in fact, it was really enjoyable – and we received positive feedback from the people who came and watched and asked questions. I enjoyed it just as much as I’ve enjoyed taking part in panel sessions in the past in real life, or giving short talks and presentations. Which is to say, it was genuinely fun.

Sophie Playle, who ran a session on guiding principles for development editing, found she enjoyed presenting on screen more than when she’d done it in person, describing it in her Liminal Pages letter as ‘the perfect middle step between having little presenting experience and presenting confidently in-person. Talking to my laptop in my own living room is far less daunting than standing in front of a crowd! I was still nervous, but nowhere near as much as I was before.’

Jill French was another session leader, presenting on Word styles, and her short mention of the event was notable in its emphasis on the distances all but cancelled out by the online format: ‘A big thank you to Janet MacMillan from Canada who graciously introduced the session I ran from Hampshire.’

What next?

Based on the reviews of this year’s conference, it feels like it hardly matters whether next year’s, scheduled for 10 to 12 September 2022, is online or in person. And the good news is that it’ll be both. There’ll be an in-person event at Kents Hill Park near Milton Keynes, and a virtual element running alongside. After #CIEP2021 there must be many people who feel the same as Annie Deakins, who, looking forward to next year, wrote: ‘If real life isn’t possible, I’ll be just as pleased to see you all online.’


#CIEP2021 on the CIEP blog

Summaries of all of the 2021 CIEP conference sessions are now available on this blog! Don’t miss Hugh Jackson’s opening remarks or Dayita Nereyeth’s heartwarming summary.


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: group call by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

How can corpora help editors and proofreaders?

How often have you needed another word for a common term or phrase to avoid repetition? You can turn to a thesaurus, but there is a much more comprehensive source of inspiration accessible online. Ana Frankenberg-Garcia explains.

To make texts accurate and readable, we are required to evaluate other people’s words and wordings. However, people express themselves in different ways, and it is not always straightforward to tell whether documents need to be changed or how they can be improved. This is especially true when the subject matter, terminology or style of the text at hand is not entirely familiar. Dictionaries, glossaries, style guides and online searches can help, but not always. That is when we turn to more experienced colleagues. But what if they too don’t know the answer? What if they give us conflicting responses? What if it is late at night and we have an early morning deadline? Don’t worry, a corpus can help, and can often help more than any other source you have used before.

What is a corpus?

A corpus is a collection of authentic, machine-readable texts sampled to be representative of the language or language variety we wish to focus on. For example, a corpus consisting of a large number of business letters written by business people going about their normal routine can help us observe how words are objectively used in business correspondence.

How can corpora help?

Imagine you are not sure whether a business email should end in I look forward to hearing from you or I am looking forward to hearing from you. A corpus such as Professor Yasumasa Someya’s free Business Letter Corpus, with one million words of UK and US business letters, will do the trick. Compare the search results for looking forward and look forward.

First, you can see that look forward, with 997 occurrences, is more conventional in business letters than looking forward, with only 161 hits. Note that this is just in UK and US business letters, not the entire internet, so you know exactly where your results are coming from. Next, you can see that corpus software aligns the expression searched in the centre of your screen, which means you just need to scroll down to inspect every single occurrence of it. Reading ‘vertically’ makes finding out how words are used in context much faster and easier than reading linearly, as we normally do. And indeed, if you observe the context of how these wordings are employed, you will notice that looking forward tends to occur in more informal circumstances (eg fun night, great show, long chat), whereas look forward is used more formally (eg favourable reply, challenging career, future opportunity).

Another thing that corpus software does is help you to find out, in seconds, how words are used together.

Imagine you have a blank and can’t think of a verb to go with opinion. If you run a search for opinion in the enTenTen corpus (with 38 billion words of current English), you will not only be able to scroll down results like the ones shown above, where you can spot verbs like give, sway and form, but you can also carry out a further search step where the software automatically counts, ranks and sorts all the words that occur, say, four words to the left of opinion. This will generate a list of words frequently co-occurring with opinion, which you can scroll down and notice verbs like express, voice and share (see right).

Or, even better, you can sort this list to zoom in on just the verbs that occur in the context of opinion (see far right). There is no space here for more examples, but there are countless other ways in which corpora can help editors and proofreaders.

How can editors and proofreaders access corpora?

Until a few years ago corpora were only accessible to researchers, but nowadays anyone with access to the internet can consult one. A good place to start is the no-frills, free, online SkELL (Sketch Engine for Language Learning) corpus. The British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English can also be accessed free of charge. If you want more English corpora, and corpora in many different languages, the incredibly powerful Sketch Engine tool used by big dictionary makers is available for a modest subscription fee.

Anyone who works professionally with language can benefit from corpora. Corpora are, after all, where lexicographers and linguists get the raw material they need to compile dictionaries and other language resources in the first place. Although corpora don’t provide us with black-and-white answers, they do give us access to how words are used in the real world, in ways that allow us to draw our own conclusions. Even when it is late at night and we have an early morning deadline!


This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Editing Matters. CIEP members can access the Editing Matters archive.


About Ana Frankenberg-Garcia

Ana Frankenberg-Garcia is the programme leader of the MA in Translation, University of Surrey. Her research focuses on applied uses of corpora in translation, lexicography and language learning.

 

 

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: letters by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

The 2021 CIEP conference: Don’t get left behind: Career development for freelancers

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Umber Khairi reviewed Don’t get left behind: Career development for freelancers, presented by Suzanne Collier.

Suzanne Collier is both a Careers Adviser as well as somebody with many years of experience in book publishing, so this was a very useful conference session for CIEP members – particularly those who are new to freelance work or who have recently set up their own businesses.

Suzanne said that most of the freelancers who contact her for career advice have one main question: how can we keep up to date? She said that this is a major concern because of the ‘overwhelming speed’ with which the industry is changing and technology is advancing: ‘Publishing almost got dragged into the twentieth century and is now sort of speeding through the twenty-first.’

She pointed out that freelancers can often feel isolated and invisible, so it’s easy for them to feel hard done by and get left behind. However, the key thing is to remind yourself that this is a job, your job, and you have to make an effort to update skills and keep abreast of developments within the industry. Suzanne emphasised the importance of taking responsibility for your development, and with the availability of many free resources, this does not have to be an expensive proposition.

She said that social media – despite sometimes being a ‘cesspit of hell’ – is a great resource, adding that you need to make it work for your business by finding the right people or organisations to link to. Suzanne advised that you follow publishers, individuals and organisations who are relevant to your business and then stay informed of what they talk about or do.

Suzanne also spoke about the importance of LinkedIn and gave some very clear advice on things that do not work on this platform. These include what you write in your bio: for example, she said you should not put in vague terms like ‘publishing professional’ or write ‘I help people to …’ but instead be specific and focus on keywords and skills. And don’t just wait around till people contact you via LinkedIn, but engage with others on the platform.

Suzanne reminded freelancers that they need to make an active effort to remain connected to their industry by joining networks and by knowing what is happening in their field. She recommended signing up for free news updates relating to their relevant industry, so for example, for book publishing she mentioned Bookseller, BookBrunch, Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch.

Another way of keeping abreast of what’s happening in your field is by attending events; this, she said, you should regard as CPD. At this point in the talk, we learned that many years ago Suzanne was a certified aerobics instructor and she cited the example of being required to have a certain number of hours of training/teaching to keep her aerobics accreditation updated. Freelancers, she said, should use this same logic and invest the time and money needed to attend events like book fairs or conferences – in other words, treat this as part of keeping their ‘accreditation’ current. She said book fairs were a great place to see ‘what was going on and who’s who’ and to meet people in the profession. She mentioned that the Frankfurt Book Fair might be partly virtual this year, so that may be a good opportunity for many people who might otherwise not be able to attend.

Suzanne also pointed out that being thorough in one’s work should extend to researching potential clients as well as industry trends. She said freelancers need to know what is happening in, say, a particular publishing house or genre and suggested making regular visits to bookshops and libraries to see what’s being produced, what it looks like in the finished form and how it’s being marketed.

In terms of free resources, Suzanne mentioned Google Digital Garage (where you can get free online certification for Google products), Codecademy and Coursera and said it was a good idea to check what was available in terms of Adobe training and also to check out the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) Skills Hub. Here, she also said that although the LinkedIn training, Lynda is paid-for training, free trials of this are often available so it’s worth checking on this.

The main thing that Suzanne stressed throughout this conference session was that keeping up to date is not just about updating your tech skills, it is about keeping informed and aware of what is happening in your industry – of the trends (whether in terms of tech or genre), debates, products and other developments – and looking for resources and networks that can inform and educate you. She also identified podcasts as a very useful resource and gave the example of the Extraordinary Business Book Club as one such podcast. Suzanne herself has a weekly careers podcast on her website Bookcareers.com and she recommended that, as an editing and proofreading professional, you should look for, and identify, podcasts that are relevant to your work.

Later on in the session, she answered a question many of us ponder: ‘How important is having a niche area to one’s career progression and opportunities?’ Suzanne’s view was that while this could help you in some ways it could also hinder you and that it was probably better to ‘have some niche areas but also to keep editorial skills transferable’.

This was an inspiring session as it was a reminder of the many advantages of being a freelancer – you get to design and direct your CPD and develop your networks with no office politics or annoying boss being involved! However, as Suzanne Collier made clear in her talk, you do need to be proactive in this and not let yourself become complacent.

Umber Khairi is a new CIEP member and has a background in journalism (print, then news websites, then radio). She took early retirement from the BBC in 2018 and she is co-founder of the independent, journalist-owned magazine, Newsline, in Pakistan. She is a compulsive proofreader. Areas of interest include South Asia, Islamic culture, the news media, current affairs, new fiction and health and nutrition.

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.

Authenticity reading. Part 1: What editors need to know

Authenticity reading, often called sensitivity reading, is a service that all editors should know about, because it plays a valuable role in the publishing process. In the first part of this two-part series, Crystal Shelley explains what authenticity reading is and isn’t, why it’s important and how editors can help their clients by recommending it when relevant.

Here’s what this post will cover:

  • Authenticity reading at a glance
  • Topics that authenticity readers assess
  • Common misconceptions
  • The value of authenticity reading
  • Recommending this service to clients

Authenticity reading at a glance

People want to see themselves, their identities and their experiences reflected accurately in media, but too often the representation on screen or in writing is problematic. One way in which writers can craft stories or text that’s accurate, respectful and validating to those being represented is to hire authenticity readers.

Authenticity readers, commonly called sensitivity readers, evaluate the way an identity or experience is portrayed in writing. They’re usually hired when a writer is writing about topics outside their lived experiences, where it’s easy to get things wrong.

For example, an author may write a story that features a character who has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and if the author does not have OCD, then their portrayal may be inaccurate, stereotyped or harmful. They can work with an authenticity reader who has OCD to evaluate the story and characterisation, similar to how one might consult a subject-matter expert.

Topics that authenticity readers assess

Many people have the impression that authenticity reading is only used for assessing race and cultures, but there are a variety of topics that can be reviewed:

  • Social identities, such as race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, spirituality, disability, body size, socioeconomic status and neurodiversity. Authenticity reading is especially important when evaluating marginalised groups.
  • Experiences that are difficult to capture without having gone through them first-hand, such as being a family caregiver, going through the adoption process or working as a sex worker.
  • Subcultures that often require in-group knowledge to portray convincingly, such as military, gaming or fandom culture.

Common misconceptions

Those unfamiliar with authenticity reading often misunderstand what it is and what its intent is. Here are just a few of the common misconceptions I see:

Misconception #1: Authenticity readers seek to censor writers

This is by far the most widespread and damaging criticism of the service, and it’s also untrue. Authenticity readers provide feedback on representation, which allows writers to make informed decisions on how to proceed. A reader may recommend that the writer seriously reconsider elements of their story – or not tell it at all – but that’s out of concern for the harm that may result from the writing. Ultimately, writers aren’t forced to make a change, no matter how egregious their portrayals may be.

Misconception #2: One reader can represent everyone within a demographic

An authenticity reader can only critique based on their own opinions and experiences, and they do not act as a spokesperson for an entire group.

Misconception #3: Authenticity reading can serve as a shield from criticism

Some writers hire an authenticity reader in the belief that their work will become immune to negative reviews or publicity, which is not how it works. First, as mentioned, an authenticity reader does not represent everyone, so they can’t guarantee that another person won’t take issue with what’s written. Second, the writer doesn’t have to do anything with the authenticity reader’s feedback, so just because an authenticity reader has worked on a project doesn’t mean they approve of its contents. Writers should hire authenticity readers because they want to write respectful, accurate representation – not because they want a pass.

Misconception #4: Authenticity reading is used only for fiction

Authenticity reading can be useful for any type of writing, not just for fiction. Whenever a writer is writing about topics or experiences outside what they know, especially those that should be handled with nuance or sensitivity, an authenticity read may be beneficial. I’ve read textbook passages and non-fiction guides as an authenticity reader.

The value of authenticity reading

Developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, formatting, indexing – all of these have their place in the publishing process. While they each serve a different function, they all work towards the same goal: giving readers the best experience possible. Authenticity reading also plays its part, and these are only a few reasons why it’s a valuable service:

When writers write outside what they know, there’s room for error

And when those errors result in misrepresenting, stereotyping or erasing the identities and experiences of communities – especially those that are marginalised – harm can result. Authenticity readers can help minimise that harm.

Research can only go so far

Even if writers do their due diligence by seeking resources to help them understand the unfamiliar, they may not be able to capture it accurately or authentically. Authenticity readers can help fill in writers’ knowledge-gaps and strengthen the work.

Harmful representation can lead to damaging consequences for writers

When representation is poor or harmful, readers might leave negative reviews, critics might blast writers on social media or publishers might cancel contracts. These can all lead to financial losses for writers. Authenticity readers can help writers avoid the mistakes that lead to outcry before publishing.

Recommending this service to clients

Editors are educators who talk with clients about various stages in the publishing process, such as developmental editing, proofreading, indexing and book design. Authenticity reading is a service that editors can talk with clients about too.

We are usually among the first people to read a piece of writing, so we’re often asked for our impressions of the text or the story. If we’re working on a project that we think may benefit from an authenticity read, we can check with the client about whether they plan to work with someone who has first-hand experience of the topics being covered.

If you want to recommend that a client hire an authenticity reader, here are a few options you can suggest for their search:

Wrapping up

Authenticity reading has been around for many years, and it’s only now becoming more understood – and used – as editors, writers and publishers witness the harm that can be done by inauthentic or problematic representation. Editors who recognise the value of this service and who know how to talk to clients about it can be part of the process of doing good. In part 2, I share what you need to know to become an authenticity reader.

About Crystal Shelley

Crystal Shelley is a licensed clinical social worker and the owner of Rabbit with a Red Pen, where she provides editing and authenticity reading services to fiction authors. She is the creator of the Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors and serves on the Executive Committee of ACES: The Society for Editing.

 

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: waves by Joshua Oluwagbemiga; book shelves by CHUTTERSNAP, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Podcasts and editors: what the word nerd heard (part 2)

In the first part of this blog, I explained why I’m a fan of podcasts and how their focus on narrative and storytelling make them particularly appealing to writers and editors.

In this second part, I’ve identified a few shows that I think fellow editors may enjoy – and they’re not necessarily what you’d expect. It’s just a small selection from the two million plus podcast series that are available, so existing podcast fans will probably wonder why I’ve not mentioned their favourite show. Well, I probably don’t know about it – but I’m always looking for new ideas so do put a link in the comments to any podcasts you love.

1. Podcasts about working with words

I only listen to a handful of podcasts that deal explicitly with language. I spend enough of my day wrestling with words as it is. But these are all diverting enough for listening not to feel like work, and could even be regarded as CPD (continuing professional development).

The Editing Podcast: All about writing and editing

Our friends, CIEP directors Denise and Louise, may have given you your first taste of the wonderful world of podcasts. They already have six seasons of bridging the gap between writers and editors, showing that our profession is both approachable and knowledgeable. What better combination? Add to that the fact that their shows are short and they don’t take up all your phone memory, and it’s a must-listen.

By the Book: The power of books and friendship

Here’s another couple of literary ladies, these ones quite different to Louise and Denise. Kristen and Jolenta live by a different self-help book each week, with varying results. For editors, it’s fascinating to note what it is about this genre that appeals to readers. But it’s not so much about how useful the books are, as about how powerful relationships are. Even if you have little in common with their New York lifestyles, these two not only are great role models as friends, but also seem to have helpful and supportive husbands who don’t mind their personal lives being recorded for the entertainment of thousands of listeners.

Because Language (was Talk the Talk): Cutting-edge linguistics

Much of the engaging character of this show also stems from the relationship between the three presenters. They take a very modern and descriptivist approach to language use, which is interesting from an editorial point of view. One might argue that they can be a little too tolerant of certain uses while shutting down others, but that’s the balance that linguists must negotiate.

For another option, Lingthusiasm is probably the best-known linguistics podcast, due to one of its presenters being the author of the excellent book, Because Internet – and it is worth listening to – but I have to admit my mind tends to wander during their lingthusiastic discussions.

The Allusionist: Exploring language in society

Helen Zaltzman explores language in relation to everything from cookery books to the censorship of Brazilian newspapers to Dickensian theme parks. It packs a lot into 20 minutes or so, and sheds a lot of light on both American and British culture, including the latest thoughts on sensitive language. The transcripts are particularly comprehensive, with lots of supporting material and enough links to get lost in for the rest of the day.

Something Rhymes with Purple: Jolly japes with Gyles and Susie

Everybody loved Susie Dent’s interview at last year’s CIEP conference and her etymological podcast with National Treasure™ Gyles Brandreth is just as entertaining. Both presenters are incredibly erudite, but wear their learning lightly (unlike Gyles’s famous jumpers) as they spark off each other while discussing the words of the week. It’s also quite funny to hear these respectable celebrities discuss sex and swearing so openly.

For ideas for more podcasts about language and writing, check out the suggestions at Podchaser and Book Careers.

2. Podcasts about narrative and storytelling

You may have noted that, for me, the appeal of my favourite podcasts often comes from the interaction of the presenters, and how they construct their narrative.

It’s the same for these podcasts, which focus on broader themes – real experiences and the world around us.

The Moth: The art of (true) storytelling

This is the original performance-storytelling podcast – real-life anecdotes told live on stage without notes. From an editorial viewpoint, it’s about constructing a compelling narrative but, on a more emotive level, it’s about life experiences across different times and cultures. Some stories are funny, some are tragic, some are compelling, all are memorable.

Don’t miss a lovely story by Mr PerfectIt himself (I nearly crashed the car when I heard the name Daniel Heuman), the amazing experience of an astronaut struggling to swim, or my absolute favourite – a woman remembers how reluctantly collecting milk-bottle tops for charity became something much greater than she expected.

Also check out spin-offs like The Dublin Story Slam, which features mostly Irish storytellers recounting their experiences. Mortified is another variant on the theme, in which adults read out their own teenage diaries on stage, with comical and cringeworthy results.

Spooks and Bogles: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

Actor, author and historian (and – disclaimer – my friend) David Kinnaird found himself short of an audience at the start of last year’s lockdown so, with typical energy and panache, he used his considerable knowledge and performance skills to write and perform a weekly podcast about Stirling’s history and ghost stories. If that sounds a little esoteric, well, that’s part of the charm, but David’s research and storytelling is exemplary. And in fact, after around 70 episodes, it’s broadened its focus to Scottish, and sometimes Irish and English, folklore – the starting points for fascinating explorations of history, politics and the nature of reality.

For context, start at the beginning with Dead Man Talking.

99% Invisible: Putting the visual world into words

This one’s a lesson in style for non-fiction editors – every episode succeeds in vividly explaining the influence of design and inventions on the world. Presented by the memorably named Roman Mars, each of these mini-documentaries about architecture or technology or town planning or ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ by the Baha Men* will have you repeating random facts at everyone you meet.

They’ve covered almost literally everything – but several episodes are about books and here’s a recent episode, The Clinch, about the sexy covers of romance novels.

*If you’re interested in the origin stories of cheesy pop songs, an honourable mention goes to this uplifting episode of Every Little Thing, about the origins of that wedding-reception classic, ‘Cha Cha Slide’.

How I Built This: The stories behind the brands

Another memorably named presenter, Guy Raz, interviews entrepreneurs of brands you may or may not have heard of about their experiences of starting, running and sometimes leaving businesses. It sounds horribly dry and capitalist but it’s actually very engaging – another lesson in how storytelling works in factual contexts too. Guy’s politely probing interviewing style results in some candid revelations from CEOs. Look out for him making a point of asking both women and men how they balanced work with childcare, and also note the answers to his most famous question … was your success due to skill or luck?

As a daily Duolingo user, I like this episode about the surprising story of the world’s top language-learning app.

Beautiful Anonymous: A weekly tribute to empathy, openness and honesty

It’s a simple premise. New Jersey comedian Chris Gethard chats with an anonymous caller for an hour. They tell their life stories in their own words, so you get perspectives from those whose voices you may not normally have a chance to hear. Some callers have rather dull lives; others certainly do not – but it’s all about what it is to be human.

There are more than 270 episodes so far. Chris himself recommends his favourite early episodes in this article.

And finally …

My Dad Wrote a Porno: The best editing podcast of all

You’ve probably heard of this one – it’s one of the most popular British standalone podcasts and has picked up numerous celebrity fans. And it really is all about writing and editing! Jamie and his friends read out – and comment on – his dad’s explicit but amateurish porn novels. It’s both hilarious and, er, educational, in more ways than one. They’re quick to pick up on inconsistencies, factual errors (especially involving body parts) and structural issues – showing that readers do notice such things. The spin-off book was a marked-up manuscript – I’ve got a copy right here next to Hart’s Rules.

And you’ll never think of pomegranates in the same way again.

Enjoy listening and do tell me about your own favourite podcasts – the more obscure the better!

About Julia Sandford-Cooke

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has spent more than 20 years in publishing. When she’s not listening to podcasts, she writes and edits textbooks, speaks very bad Dutch 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: play/pause by Thomas Breher from Pixabay; Listen by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

When publishing contacts move on, and how to keep moving as a freelance editor

Leena Lane reflects on the importance of career moves and development – for freelance editors and for the people they work with – and focuses on thoughts regarding:

  • career paths
  • choosing freelance or in-house
  • networking
  • benefits of CIEP membership

I often take 15 minutes before starting work, especially on Mondays and Fridays, to scroll the news headlines across both current affairs and updates within the publishing world.

Posts which can make me both joyful and wistful at the same time are the ‘I’ve got news’ tweets. An individual who has been my main contact at a publishing house is making a career move to another company or is going freelance themselves. This has happened twice since COVID-19 hit and is no real surprise as people reflect on their lifestyle and commute, their career path, or just feel the need for change.

Despite working remotely as a freelancer, and having shared the stress of many deadlines and also those punch-the-air moments of success, I often come to regard these clients as ‘colleagues’ of a sort. When they move on, it stirs up conflicting thoughts and feelings.

Sadness

I’ll miss them! They’ve been great to work with and a friendly contact over many years. Sometimes I’ve known them start as the newbie enthusiastic/stressed editorial assistant, move up within the company to assistant editor, commissioning editor, and then move away to be editorial director.

Excitement

I’m genuinely pleased for the individual – their skills, character and contribution have been recognised and rewarded. They’ll be fabulous at their new position.

Trepidation

In the past, losing a personal contact has sometimes meant losing regular work with that company – how can I prevent that happening this time? How can I make contact with their replacement? How can I shine out from the pool or list of freelancers they’ll see on arrival, and how can I cultivate relationships with a wider team at the same company?

Opportunity

New doors to push? As they move on, might they be able to use my services within their new company, or introduce me to someone who will? Time to polish the website, Twitter profile, CIEP Directory entry, LinkedIn profile, etc, and prepare for some self-marketing.

Wistful reflection

After ‘slowing down’, even just for a year, in terms of career-focused work to start a family, it can be challenging to make it back to where you hoped to be. Relatively few publishers offer part-time or job-sharing as a serious option for key editorial roles.

Though many people appear to succeed and ‘do it all’, a long commute, high childcare costs and having no family locally made a full-time in-house position increasingly difficult for me. I started freelancing to bridge this phase of life until I could find the right in-house role again, but it has quietly turned into a more permanent path.

There have been many pros:

  • the rich variety of clients and projects
  • flexibility
  • focus groups in my own house (aka lots of bedtime stories, Middle Grade critiques and YA rejections)
  • focus groups in my community (aka being a primary school governor and seeing what parents, teachers and children are really reading, needing, thinking).

There have also been some negatives:

  • missing that buzz from being part of a regular team
  • lonely moments
  • erratic income at times
  • and a few regrets:
    • Should I have tried to get promoted one more level before having kids?
    • Should I have taken less parental leave?

Constructive reflection

As a freelancer, how have I still tried to progress in my career?

This is where the CIEP has been instrumental in keeping me on track and also in strengthening my resolve that being a freelancer can be just as fulfilling and valid for me as being an in-house editor.

Since joining, and upgrading twice, I’ve come to appreciate this group of editing professionals more each year: some on a similar path juggling career and family; some going freelance to provide variety they perhaps couldn’t find within just one publishing company; others continuing to work in-house − all striving to provide excellent editorial service within the industry.

One fantastic resource to guide career progression is the new CIEP Curriculum for Professional Development which details what editors and proofreaders need to know, and how they can acquire that knowledge.

In lockdown I’ve finally met up with my regional group, albeit on Zoom, and have bounced ideas around and received some really valuable tips and advice from both new and experienced members. The CIEP’s annual conference – online in 2020 and 2021 – is a wonderful opportunity to meet with editorial professionals, to learn and to laugh.

As I turn back from news-scrolling to my current project, I congratulate those moving on and progressing in their career in publishing, especially those who are, only now in 2021, finding chinks of fairer access and representation – there’s still so much more to be done. Within the community of the CIEP, I feel challenged to stay alert and fresh in my own career.

About Leena Lane

Leena Lane is a Professional Member of the CIEP  and is a member of its Berkshire local group and Run On. Leena provides editorial services to publishers and authors, specialising in children’s Middle Grade and Young Adult books. She’s committed to making stories more representative for all young readers.

 

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: signposts by Javier Allegue Barros; doors by Robert Anasch, 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 a corporate editor

Books aren’t the only collections of words that need editing. Corporate editor Louise Marsters shares her experience of communications, brand and business publishing, including the types of projects that need an editorial eye.

People can get very excited when you say you’re an editor. They think: best-selling books! Glossy magazines! Influential newspapers! Their enthusiasm drains when you clarify: ‘corporate stuff – you know, like annual reports and accounts’. ‘Oh, right,’ they say.

Little do they realise the reputation-enhancing effects to a company or brand of a well-told story or clearly communicated strategy – and how visual identity can pull the words together.

Dry but fun

Let me come clean: I wanted to be a dentist. But school physics and chemistry required an application that I couldn’t muster. English, meanwhile, seemed to require no application at all. It just clicked.

A business degree in communications followed, as did junior marketing communications jobs at a couple of corporate law firms. The only aspect of the work that I genuinely loved, though, was the writing and editing: client newsletters, legal manuals, tender responses. Dry stuff – but if I, a non-lawyer, could make sense of the content, the clients stood a chance too.

One of those firms was big enough to have its own publishing team. Writing and editing was all they did – all day. And they needed another member. The dry stuff was supplemented with whizzy brochures, website and intranet content, annual reviews, pro bono reports and, the holiest of grails for me, a new style guide. Getting to grips with design, photography and branding was all part of the deal – and the fun.

Just do the words

Thinking some more study might help my career prospects, I did a master’s degree in communications and media, before packing a (very large) bag and leaving Australia for the UK.

Another law firm job ensued (sigh) but it wasn’t long before the expat bush telegraph in London spread word of a job at a multinational oil and gas company – in corporate reporting.

‘In what?’ I spluttered. ‘The annual report and accounts? But I’m not an accountant.’

‘No, you just do the words,’ they said.

‘Oh, okay. When do we start?’

‘September, for publication in April. About 180 pages. And you have to put together the annual review and the financial and operating information at the same time. And edit the notice of meeting. Then, in the summer, you can research our competitors’ annual reporting suites and project manage a big report about energy economics. Oh, and sort out the style guide.’

Gulp.

Mission control

‘Doing’ corporate reporting meant project managing, working with designers, writers, printers, typesetters, photographers and online gurus, not to mention senior executives, board members, the company secretary’s office, content providers, lawyers and accountants – across the UK and the US.

Everyone ‘in house’ was an author or an approver. And their opinions (down to how the name of a report should appear on its perfect-bound spine) were as varied as the audiences (aka stakeholders) for whom the financial reporting publications were destined: investors, analysts, regulators, auditors, employees, customers, journalists.

I was mission control, scheduling, cajoling, influencing and, alongside those more senior, diplomatically helping the company to agree a single, unified story for the year. Only then could I copyedit the content, collate changes, query, get sign-off and submit for typesetting.

Proofreading – what felt like the purest of the editing work – came for a week or two (or three) before ‘going on press’ for each project. We’d camp out in a meeting room for the duration, bulky A3 proofs methodically arranged across the table and floor, bulldog clips and red pens in plentiful supply. Bliss.

Words before politics

After six ‘seasons’ of corporate reporting, it was time to move countries again: this time Switzerland. Not speaking much of any of its four official languages meant that working in a communications or editing capacity was as likely as my becoming a champion skier. The answer? Freelancing.

The network I’d built up and the lessons I’d learned from 12 years of corporate life meant I had a valuable launch pad.

I worked first for people I knew and who knew how I could help them. Then, as they moved around, they’d seek me out again, or new clients would find me. Being able to focus on words, not politics, was an unexpected upside.

Joining the CIEP was another upside. Training, upgrading, being mentored – plus the famous directory – all helped professionalise me as an individual editor, when I didn’t have a company name or job title to offer instant credibility.

Reputation, reputation

Fundamental to editing for a business or brand is understanding that the quality of what they publish is essential to their reputation.

Clients worth working with can see that editing is a crucial quality-control tool in producing professional communications – communications that enhance credibility and inspire trust. And they needn’t be big companies. Niche consultancies and independent charities, for example, have the same reputational needs.

Now back in the UK, this corporate editor’s work recently took in:

  • proofreading brand and imagery guidelines for a global management consultancy
  • proofreading a review of past financial reporting for a FTSE 100 pharmaceutical company
  • proof-editing the ESG (environmental, sustainability and governance) section of an annual report for a FTSE 100 beverage company
  • proofreading and cross-checking the print and interactive website versions of an annual report for a global engineering and architecture firm
  • developing detailed writing and editorial style guidelines for a large independent charity aiming to professionalise its communications
  • copyediting (and partly copywriting) the content of the same charity’s annual report to create a consistent tone of voice

and even included:

  • proofreading – out loud, in a pair – the financial statements of an annual report for a FTSE 250 food ingredients company
  • filling in every single page number and cross reference of a 152-page annual report for a British fashion brand

… but not all in one week!

Lately I’ve also:

  • attended a webinar about how companies will soon be obliged to report against the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures
  • written a blog piece for the CIEP
  • agreed ongoing work with a niche investment pitch agency to edit business plans for start-up companies
  • cast an editorial eye over friends’ websites, flyers or articles, for respite.

Words in context

I often feel there’s been a perverse logic to my career. Having started in broad marketing communications roles, I’ve managed to narrow work down to the ‘bits’ I really like: words, grammar, tone, style. But it’s that broadness that gives you the context in which those bits sit – and allows you to deliver a meaningful edit. And, yes, I genuinely love that.

About Louise Marsters

Louise Marsters edits communications and business content for corporate clients. Working in-house in corporate and financial communications taught Louise to shift her brand from ‘perfectionist’ to ‘pragmatic perfectionist’. Her colleagues even developed a strapline: Has it been Louise-d? Louise is a Professional Member of the CIEP, and a member of the plain language organisation Clarity.

 

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: Louise’s headshot by Jeremy Mason; report by San Kaÿzn on Unsplash; lighting by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Podcasts and editors: what the word nerd heard (part 1)

In this first of two blog posts, Julia Sandford-Cooke introduces us to podcasts and looks at how they can be a useful development tool for editors. She answers the following questions:

  • What is a podcast?
  • Do you have to pay for them?
  • Who listens to podcasts?
  • What can podcasts be about?
  • OK but how does this all tie in with editing?
  • Don’t know where to start?

I have to admit something that you might find shocking. Brace yourself …

I don’t listen to BBC Radio 4. No, not even The Archers.

In fact, I haven’t listened to live radio, or live TV for that matter, for years. But I somehow still manage to be well informed on topics that interest me. In fact, spend any time with me and one thing I’m likely to say (other than ‘How can the dishwasher be full already?’) is ‘I heard [insert fascinating fact] on a podcast’.

According to my aptly named Podcast Addict phone app, I’ve spent 91 days listening to podcasts since 2016. Last week alone, 10 hours and 36 minutes of my time were accompanied by podcasts. So I must have spent 10 hours and 36 minutes on my morning walk, cooking, tidying, cleaning and, yes, dealing with the dishwasher. It’s just like listening to the radio – any task that would otherwise require me to listen to my own thoughts can be carried out while listening to other people’s. It’s my own form of curated content.

What is a podcast?

Podcasts are a form of on-demand audio media. Many people, at least in the UK, seem to think they are simply radio shows you download from the BBC website. Well, some are, but you’re missing out if that’s the extent of your podcast experience. The majority are standalone audio recordings, usually part of a series, researched, recorded and produced specifically for listeners to access via their computer, tablet or phone. You can download episodes to listen to when you want, or you can stream them if you have a reliable WiFi connection.

Episodes can be any length, from five minutes to a couple of hours. Most of those I listen to are between 20 and 50 minutes long – again, like a radio show. But unlike radio shows, many have transcripts, along with images, on their websites, so people who are unable to hear or have difficulty taking in spoken information can still access the content.

One of the many wonderful things about podcasts is that it’s very easy to create your own. Three of my friends (separately) started shows during last year’s lockdown – everyone can have a voice, though whether they have an audience is another matter and that, as with books, is down to promotion and word of mouth.

Do you have to pay for them?

Podcasts are generally free to access. However, a downside is that many have to keep stopping for adverts from their ‘sponsors’, which is a bit tedious if you’re used to ad-free media. But you can always fast-forward through them, and it’s worth putting up with the ads if it means the shows remain free. Others are funded by fans donating to Patreon or similar crowd-funding platforms – I support my friend David’s historical storytelling in Spooks & Bogles, for example, and the entertaining and erudite Strong Songs has more than 1,250 subscribers willing to pay a monthly fee to hear about the songwriting techniques behind their favourite tracks.

Most podcast apps and platforms, such as Spotify, are free for the basic service. I chose to pay £2.99 several years ago to get the premium version of my app and I still think it was a great investment.

Who listens to podcasts?

Well, who watches TV or plays football? Anyone who wants to. Anyone who can. Recent statistics suggest that 55% of the American population has listened to a podcast, and about 18% of people in the UK listen to at least one podcast every week. They are particularly popular in South America.

Some research suggests podcast listeners are ‘loyal, affluent and educated’ – and not necessarily young. I know a man in his mid 70s who likes nothing better than to plug in his headphones to spend some introvert time with the latest episode of his favourite science show.

Far from being the latest newfangled fad, podcasts are really pretty mainstream. It’s estimated that 14.6 million people in the UK listen to podcasts (numbers have shot up since the pandemic started).

They have been around for quite a while by today’s technology standards. They first began to gain momentum in 2004, to the extent that ‘podcast’ was declared word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary in 2005. There’s even an International Podcast Day™ on 30 September. Interestingly, organisers used to describe it as an opportunity ‘to educate current and future consumers about podcasting and advance the podcasting discipline’ but now simply say it is ‘a celebration of the power of podcasts’. An example, perhaps, of the impact of their recent popularity?

What can podcasts be about?

Part of the mainstream appeal comes from the huge variety of subjects that two million different podcast series inevitably bring.

Statistics indicate that British listeners are most likely to download podcasts in the genres of sport, news/politics and comedy (mostly produced by the ubiquitous BBC). There are apparently 18 different daily news podcasts in the UK alone but, sport, news and politics not being topics on which I wish to spend my leisure time, I subscribe to only a couple of the current top 100 iTunes podcasts, which is surprisingly few considering I follow more than 50 podcasts overall.

Personally, I prefer documentary-style factual content or autobiographical shows. In the mood for onstage anecdotes? Play The Moth. Hungry? Play The Sporkful. Fancy a bit of contemporary socioeconomic theory (and who doesn’t)? Play Freakonomics.

Podcasts can be fiction too, and the format allows for original approaches to dramatic audio production. I enjoyed the thriller Carrier (soon to be filmed for Netflix) but that’s because its star Cynthia Erivo can do no wrong. But most scripted shows are ‘docudrama’ style, often based on the discoveries of a (fictional) investigative reporter, and I find these get tiresome pretty quickly. I’d rather read a novel.

OK but how does all this tie in with editing?

  • There’s the obvious thematic link. Many podcasts are about language, linguistics, writing, publishing or editing. Our very own Denise and Louise host The Editing Podcast, a must-listen for writers and editors alike.
  • Then there’s the structural link. My favourite shows are less obviously related to my profession but, in my opinion, are just as immersed in narrative and storytelling, as I’ll demonstrate in the second part of my blog.
  • Podcasts are collated, compiled and edited just like books. Producers choose what to keep and what to remove. Like books, they have tropes and formats that we come to expect, from an introductory clip to capture our attention to carefully selected background music. John August, in the first episode of Launch (a podcast about publishing his novel), does a fine job of identifying some of these. (He’s also very nice about copyeditors.)
  • Listening to podcasts improves my general knowledge. You can choose which podcast you listen to but you don’t necessarily know what they’ll be talking about so you never know when the history of barbed wire, the story of Wigan Casino or the fact that certain species of baby spider eat their mothers will come in handy. Many’s the time that I’ve run to Google to find out more about something I’ve just heard.
  • Listening also increases my awareness of other cultures and beliefs, and (because I listen to so many American shows), my awareness of how other cultures view my own. Admittedly, I roll my eyes at the frequent, outdated criticisms of British food (Gastropod, I’m looking at you) or mentions of generic ‘British accents’, but it’s nevertheless illuminating to appreciate that stereotyping works both ways.
  • I spend so much time with the written word that spoken language provides a useful balance, with its own layers of meaning and surprise. Surely I’m not the only person not to know that apparently ‘pho’ (the soup) should be pronounced ‘phar’? (Disclaimer: I can’t be sure that it is – I just heard it in a podcast.)

Don’t know where to start?

With so many podcasts to choose from, it can be hard to identify the ones you’ll enjoy most. What are you interested in? Websites like Podchaser group shows by genre – business, technology, comedy, audio drama and so on – or check the iTunes charts to see what’s popular in the UK at the moment.

If you have a hobby or special interest, from quilting to paddleboarding, there’s bound to be a podcast (or several) that covers it. Or perhaps you’d like to hear the stars of your favourite 2000s TV show (like The West Wing, The OC and Gilmore Girls) reminiscing. Ten years ago, backstage gossip might have been in book format but today it’s actors and the production team interacting.

Just browse until something catches your interest and then stream it online – via a website or on Spotify – or download it to an app, which I prefer because it’s portable.

Still looking for ideas? The second part of this blog will give you a few more starting points.

About Julia Sandford-Cooke

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has spent more than 20 years in publishing. When she’s not listening to podcasts, she writes and edits textbooks, speaks very bad Dutch 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: Listen by Nick Fewings; podcasting set up by Will Francis, both on Unsplash.