Category Archives: Training

Curriculum focus: Conscious language

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.

Being aware of the language we use is central to all aspects of our profession. The main areas to look at in domain 1: Working as a professional, are in subdomain 1.1: Professional practice and ethics; and also three subdomains of domain 2: Editorial knowledge and practice. This time, I have stripped out the third column, to save space, as there is a large amount of material here, some of which is detailed below.

Knowledge criteriaEditorial competencies, professional skills and attitudes (extract)
1.1.3 Professional ethics• Is alert to the impacts of offensive, biased or non-inclusive material
1.1.4 Professional communication and negotiation• Presents queries concisely and clearly giving adequate detail and proposing solutions where possible
• Communicates politely and diplomatically
• Avoids errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation in communications
2.1.12 Principles of accessibility• Understands the importance of accessibility of print and online materials for all users, including people with disabilities
2.2.1 Grammar, punctuation and usage• Understands and can apply conventions of English grammar and usual practice
• Has adequate command of punctuation
• Has good command of punctuation, vocabulary and other conventions for the variety of English being edited or proofread
• Understands use of common symbols
• Has general knowledge of common English usage as appropriate to the relevant media and audience
• Understands that language develops and changes over time
• Understands the difference between prescriptive and descriptive principles in decisions about usage
• Understands appropriate usage for different audiences and arenas
2.2.3 Voice and tone• Understands reading level, register (degree of formality) and use of terminology appropriate to the type of publication and audience
2.3.2 Judgement of voice• Understands and respects author’s voice but can assess whether suited to the content and the target/likely audience, and appropriateness for context
• Can make changes in keeping with context

Karen Yin’s Conscious Style Guide could be the place to start your search, for anything you need to know about using language to empower the reader. Conscious language is defined here as ‘language rooted in critical thinking and compassion, used skillfully in a specific context’ (About Conscious Style Guide). Another rich resource is the Conscious Language Guide from Healthline Transform.

The American Medical Association’s Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts is essential reading for medical editors.

Writing with Color produces resources including advice for writers, guides and book recommendations centred on racial, ethnic and religious diversity.

The Diversity Style Guide is ‘a resource to help journalists and other media professionals cover a complex, multicultural world with accuracy, authority and sensitivity’. It includes over 700 terms related to race/ethnicity, disability, immigration, sexuality and gender identity, drugs and alcohol, and geography.

The Plain English for Editors course and the associated CIEP guide Editing into Plain English will give you a good grounding in this specific skill. Other useful resources include the CIEP fact sheets Good editorial relationships and Good practice for author queries, and the CIEP focus papers In a globalised world, should we retain different Englishes? and To whom it may concern.

Inclusive Publishing defines inclusive publishing as ‘the methodology and practice of creating a single, typically commercial publication which can be accessed by everyone irrespective of print disability, using mainstream or specialist assistive technology’. The organisation produces resources to improve the accessibility of digitally published material.

The US Book Industry Study Group (BISG) Guide to Accessible Publishing & Cheat Sheets was published in 2019. You can download it for free, although you do have to provide your details to get the download. The content is geared to the US publishing market, but the general information is relevant in all contexts.

The Accessible Books Consortium produces Accessibility Guidelines for Self-Publishing Authors, written by Dave Gunn. It offers clear instructions on how to make ebooks more reader-friendly for all users.

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: pebbles by Il Solyanaya on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

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.

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.

What editors need to know when asking authors questions

The Art of Querying, a new CIEP course, is on its way. Its creator, Gerard M-F Hill, gives
us a speedy tour through questions and queries, and what the course offers editors
and proofreaders.

Is the current King of France bald?

Questions are of many kinds, and not all of them are good questions – or even answerable.

Whatever you edit – advert, magazine, novel or research paper – you soon start asking yourself questions. What does this mean? Where did those come from? How am I supposed to know that? Is that all? Or even just: why? Of course queries should be clear and concise, but it’s good to be constructive too. What makes a good query?

Before you fire off a query, ask yourself what the problem is. You need to have a reason for asking, because the author may not think it is a problem at all. You first identify the problem by analysing what is bothering you. As a result, you will craft a better question and often you will identify an answer (or answers); then the author just needs to say yes (or no, not exactly … more like this).

Might I suggest?

As queries take up the author’s time (as well as yours), it is only common courtesy to keep them as few and as short as possible. So you need criteria to decide when to ask a question, and you also need a range of suitable formulas that you can adapt for each situation. Good questions will help to ensure that you get a usable answer.

Queries can be short, but they don’t have to be abrupt. It pays to be diplomatic. There are good ways to approach an author, to frame a question and to follow up an incomplete answer – and there are some even better ways.

Does it match the brief/blurb?

Who is this publication for? What will readers want to know? What will they expect to find? What are they expected to know already? Will they know all these facts, names, words, idioms, allusions or connections? Will they resent the presentation as either patronising or trivialising?

As an editor, you ask yourself such questions because they are a big part of the expertise that you offer and that your client is paying for. A publisher does not wish to hear of such defects from unimpressed reviewers or disenchanted readers.

Does it make sense?

What is the writer trying to say? Are they getting their message across? Does it make sense? Why is this different from that? You ask yourself such questions on behalf of the reader, who should not be left to wonder and has no way of asking the author to explain.

If it doesn’t make sense, if the plot or proposition doesn’t add up, if defective grammar is stuffed with malapropisms or other unsuitable words, the reader will soon drift off and never return. The editor aims to prevent any such crisis by smoothing the reader’s path so they can be informed, educated or entertained without being tripped up, distracted or misled.

Are you happy with this?

Where possible, make it easy for the author by presenting your query as a simple choice: A or B? This, that or the other? Would this [rewritten sentence] represent what you are saying?

Have forgotten something?

It’s easy to see that ‘you’ is missing in that sentence. It’s not so easy to spot when a whole topic or aspect of a piece, or the dénouement of a subplot, has been overlooked. The questioning editor keeps a lookout for content that the reader may be expecting, but which is not there.

Easy questions

Why is water wet? This penetrating question from a thoughtful child nonetheless demonstrates that ‘the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer’, though children are not fools. The saying is often attributed to King James I and VI.

In checking the reference (as all good authors should) I found to my surprise that the aphorism did not come from the wisest fool in Christendom, but from Charles Caleb Colton’s Lacon, published in 1820. In non-fiction, references – inadequate, unconvincing, mangled or missing – usually generate half your queries.

Here’s the answer!

Between 2010 and 2019 I regularly ran a session at the SfEP conference on The Art of Querying, and since then I have been expanding this workshop into an online course. It begins with the whole question of questions. For a start, what do you need to ask yourself? Can your author query be answered at all? Is there only one way to answer it? Could it be misinterpreted? Does the text assume the answer to an unspoken question?

The course next looks at questions to ask the project manager, with a checklist, and how and when to approach the author, with examples of how to do it and what not to do. This section discusses practicalities, from typefaces to time zones, alongside the principles and professional ethics that underlie all editorial queries. It Looks Funny examines your five options before you ask anything, followed by advice on formulating queries and notes, with six rules to help you.

Readers struggle with four major problems – inconsistency, ambiguity, omission and error – and each of these topics has a whole section of the course to itself. Different types of content have their own pitfalls, so there are sections devoted to prelims, narrative and argument, vocabulary and terminology, references, tables and artwork.

The Art of Querying is meant to be instructive, stimulating and enjoyable while extending your editing knowledge and skills, with lots of questions (and answers), well over a hundred real-life examples, copious but concise study notes and a variety of exercises to let you think through different solutions, along with a decision tool to determine whether and what to query, six rules you can follow and a dozen checklists for you to download and use. The Art of Querying is also (I hope) a good read and good fun!

Find out more about The Art of Querying

About Gerard M-F Hill

After several years teaching and 16 years driving heavy lorries, Gerard retrained as an indexer and copyeditor. Since 1990 he has worked on over 500 books and mentored over 100 proofreaders.

As a director of SfEP (2007–16) he devised the basic editorial test used by CIEP and as chartership adviser (2016–20) he worked with the chair, Sabine Citron, to obtain the institute’s Royal Charter.

 

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: question mark by Emily Morter; Answers 1km by Hadija Saidi, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

The CIEP Curriculum for Professional Development

The CIEP’s training director, Jane Moody, has been working closely with directors, tutors and the wider membership to create a curriculum for professional development. In this post, Jane explains:

  • why we need a curriculum
  • what that curriculum covers
  • how the curriculum works.

Do we need a curriculum?

Yes, we do! Most professional organisations have a set of skills and knowledge that you need to understand or at least know something about to call yourself a professional in their area. Some test their members on this set of skills (physiotherapists and accountants, for example) before they can call themselves members of their professional body. All expect their members to refresh their skills and learning against this skill set periodically. Continuing professional development, CPD, is expected of all members, no matter their status in the organisation, and this is true of copyeditors and proofreaders as well.

We, as editors and proofreaders, now also have a framework of study – the CIEP Curriculum for Professional Development.

What does it cover?

At first glance, you might think that you won’t need to know about everything in the curriculum. Have a closer look, though. Any publishing professional needs a basic grounding in publishing ethics and law – even if you only scratch the surface, you should at least know something about the moral rights of authors, plagiarism and copyright. If you work as a freelance editor/proofreader, you are running your own business, so you need to know something about keeping records, what HMRC needs to know about you, and how to work efficiently. You will have your own equipment, so a basic knowledge of how to manage your files and keep them secure is essential for your own and your clients’ peace of mind. That takes you to the end of Domain 1 of the curriculum: Working as a professional.

You may be working in-house in a company and, if so, there will be some aspects of business management and practice that may not be immediately relevant to you. The knowledge in this area will, however, be useful to most members working in our profession today.

Even if you never work for a ‘traditional’ publisher with an editorial department, a production department and a marketing department, you will need to understand the basics of a publishing workflow. There are good reasons why some tasks are done before or after others. The more you understand about the industry and its processes, the wider your client base can be and the more useful you can be to your clients.

Working with words means that you need a good knowledge of the English language and its mechanics, and how different people, groups and organisations use the language. You need to be able to judge whether something makes sense, is clear and appropriate for the audience, and to be able to raise queries with an author or client in a concise and sensitive manner.

How you work is critical to getting repeat business – do a good job and you may pick up a regular client; do what you think you need to without learning about how and why and you are not likely to be asked for a second date. The nuts and bolts of copyediting and proofreading processes have been refined over many decades and, no matter who you work for, understanding what you are doing, who for and why matters if you want to do the best job you can. And now you are at the end of Domain 2.

Not all editors/proofreaders will use all the skills and knowledge included in these two domains of the curriculum in their day-to-day work. Nevertheless, as you grow in skills and experience, you are likely to want to broaden your awareness of publishing processes and the breadth of publishing outside your initial comfort zone. Developing your knowledge and acquiring a broad range of skills are essential CPD.

Some people prefer to remain as ‘generalists’, working for many different clients in several genres and subject areas. If this is true for you, you may never need to consult Domain 3. Others like to specialise, some in traditional areas where there is a body of specialist publishing, such as medicine, music, fiction or the law. Each of these specialist areas has its own conventions, specialist knowledge and terminology. Domain 3 covers a few of these specialisms and others will be added – if there is a specialism that you think should be included, copy the template at the start of Domain 3 (page 28), fill it in and send it to the training director.

How it works

Each domain of the curriculum is set out in columns. The first column divides the domain into detailed topics. The second column shows the competencies, professional skills and attitudes expected of a professional copyeditor/proofreader for this topic, and the third lists some resources to support learning in this area. Eventually, there will be a fourth column, which will list the ways in which a copyeditor/proofreader can demonstrate their competency in this area – a test pass or other kind of assessment, perhaps. This is an aspiration for the future.

We hope that you will contribute to keeping the curriculum alive. Have you taken a course that helped to expand your knowledge and skills? Have you come across a book or other resource that is really useful to you in your practice? Do tell the training director about it.

Download the curriculum now

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: book stacks by by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash; cogs by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

Eight ways to optimise your CIEP membership upgrade

The CIEP’s Admissions Panel shares eight things that members can do to make their upgrade applications straightforward, and hopefully successful.

What the Admissions Panel needs from you

The CIEP’s membership structure, with its four grades, is one of our core member benefits. It’s designed to help you, our members – to enable you to show the world that you have verifiable experience and qualifications. It’s also designed to contribute to the stated purpose of our chartered Institute: to uphold and promote the highest of editorial standards.

The Admissions Panel, which assesses upgrading applications, may seem a rather shadowy entity. Except for the professional standards director, who chairs the Panel, not even the CIEP Council knows who its members are. Panel members never have direct contact with applicants – it is all done through the CIEP office – and the anonymity of applicants is rigorously upheld. If a Panel member thinks they might know who an applicant is, they withdraw from handling or discussing the application and it is dealt with by other Panel members.

The Panel has a dedicated forum where details of applications are discussed daily – for example, deciding how many training points to allocate to a course they have not encountered before. All upgrades that are refused must be discussed on the forum and the grounds for refusal agreed, and a second Panel member must check the application in detail.

The Admissions Panel is interested in core skills (copyediting and/or proofreading) – where and how you learned them, the experience you have in exercising them and (for the professional grades) what your clients thought of your work in using them. You should complete your application with this very much in mind. The detail on the website will guide you.

In the course of Panel discussions, certain issues arise repeatedly, and we’d like to clarify how you can help us with these, so that we can in turn help you. We so much appreciate it when you remember to do this or realise how helpful that is! Here are eight tips your Admissions Panel would like to share with you.

1. Approach the upgrade process as you would an editorial job

  • Understand the brief, do what’s asked and do it to a professional standard. This means you need to read the upgrade pages of the website carefully. That is your brief: all the instructions you need are there. It also means keeping your upgrade application confidential, just as you wouldn’t go on Twitter, for example, to discuss a job application.

2. Begin building your application early

  • You’ll have a much better chance of providing us with complete and accurate information if you add to your upgrade application as you proceed with your training and work experience, rather than trying to assemble all the information later on. Our system saves all the information as you enter it, and you can return to it, edit it and add to it as and when you like. Nobody will see your application until you decide it’s ready and submit it.
  • An important free toolkit to help you complete your upgrade is included in the members’ area. Under Going Solo Toolkit follow the business records link to find a suite of spreadsheets. As well as helping you to keep good records for your business, two of them in particular will keep you on the right lines when applying to upgrade, because they log the information the Panel needs. Fill in the work record and training and CPD spreadsheets, delete the green-headed columns that the Panel does not need to see, and upload them with your upgrade application. Sorted!

3. Know what the core skills are and make sure you have
them covered

  • Do you know the difference between the core skills and other editorial skills? The CIEP core skills are copyediting and proofreading, and they are fundamental to your upgrade. Look for the flagged courses in the list of examples of training courses in the members’ area of the website, under professional development.
  • If the course you want to know about is not on the examples list and you are unsure about points for particular training, contact the professional standards director to ask. They can also answer your queries about whether a client or employer is considered to be a publisher for the purposes of upgrading: that is, whether that client or employer can assess your work in terms of the editorial standards that the CIEP regards as essential.

4. Understand the requirements for your grade

  • All applications for the professional grades have to be supported by the three pillars of training, experience and reference(s). No one of these can make up for a shortfall in another, and if a pillar is missing your application will fall down.
  • For Intermediate membership, the importance the CIEP attaches to training as a basis for your career is reflected in the proportions of the minimum requirements: six training points to one experience point. At least four of these training points should be in the core skills.
  • For Professional membership, you need to show that you have a more extensive grounding in the core skills. You will probably also have done training in further editorial skills.
  • For Advanced Professional grade, you need to provide evidence of recent continuing professional development (CPD), in addition to your core skills training. To be considered for the topmost grade of CIEP membership you are expected to have had training that is more advanced. Continual acquisition of skills and knowledge is a mark of advanced professionalism. The Panel will take into consideration a variety of CPD, but it has to be recent – within the 36 months before the date of application.

5. List all your relevant training

  • Don’t assume that if you have listed extensive experience but little or no training the Panel will credit you with the necessary training points. You may have been trained on the job earlier in your career – if so, tell the Panel! The Panel can allocate training points to this if they have enough information about it. Who delivered it? When did it take place and how long did it go on? What did you learn? Did it involve being mentored? Was it assessed?
  • If you have gained a degree or diploma in publishing or journalism, or a related field, the Panel will be interested primarily in any editorial modules you have done, so do give details of what was covered in these modules.
  • Skills such as development editing, structural editing and editorial project management can be counted towards your upgrade, as long as you have enough evidence of the core skills too. Do list any training in these. If they form part of your work experience, indicate what proportion of your work was in these areas. The Panel will be able to allow a small proportion of the minimum hours for the grade to be from one of these activities.

6. Exclude irrelevant information

  • Any further information you give should be concise and relevant. Please don’t attach a discursive account of your career. If you need to give additional information, confine it to a paragraph or a list in the further information section of the form. Personal information is not relevant; if you include personal information, there is a danger it might identify you, which will hold up your upgrade as it will have to be transferred to another Panel member to assess.
  • Training or experience in translating, writing, teaching writing, teaching English, indexing, typesetting or marketing is not relevant to your upgrade so there is no point in listing details of these. Copyediting or proofreading your own work also cannot be counted.
  • Only training and work in copyediting and/or proofreading English (any variety) will count; training or work in other languages will not. This is because membership of the CIEP indicates to your prospective client or employer that you have attained a certain standard of competence in editing and/or proofreading English. If a training course is taught in a language other than English, the Panel cannot assess its content. And your experience of editing in a language other than English does not attest to your competence in editing English.

7. Present your upgrade documents well

  • It may seem a strange thing to have to say to editorial professionals – but do proofread your application! The Panel is often surprised at the errors and typos that come through on upgrade forms and uploaded documents. Remember that you can save your upgrade form and return to it as often as you like to check and edit it before you submit it. Remember, too, that your upgrade application is showcasing your professional competence.

8. The Panel will only ask for additional things from you if they
are necessary

  • If the office contacts you with a question from the Panel, it’s because they need to know the answer in order to give your upgrade the best chance to succeed.
  • If the Panel asks you to take the CIEP’s editorial test, it will be for a good reason. If you have an extensive work history for publishers but little or no formal training, you can demonstrate that you have a grasp of the core skills of copyediting and proofreading by passing the test. If you have worked only, or mainly, for organisations or individuals that
    are not considered to be publishers for the purposes of upgrading, you will be asked to take the test. The expertise of such clients or employers is not in copyediting or proofreading and they may not know what the professional standards are, but this work can still be
    counted for your upgrade if you can demonstrate – by passing the test – that you know
    what they are.
  • Of course, you don’t have to wait for the Panel to ask you to sit the test – you can do it before you apply and include the result on your form.

The professional approach and high standards that you bring to your work for your clients are equally relevant to your application to upgrade. Read all the information and instructions and use the tools provided to help you. Good luck!

If you’re preparing to upgrade your membership, don’t forget:

  1. Approach the upgrade process as you would an editorial job.
  2. Begin building your application early.
  3. Know what the core skills are and make sure you have them covered.
  4. Understand the requirements for your grade.
  5. List all your relevant training.
  6. Exclude irrelevant information.
  7. Present your upgrade documents well.
  8. The Panel will only ask for additional things from you if they are necessary.

Start your membership upgrade now

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: tiles by Andrew Ridley; Please stay on trail by Dan Gold, 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 development editor

Harriet Power gives us an insight into her typical working week, with a focus on development editing.

This article covers:

  • what the job of a development editor involves
  • the typical process for a textbook
  • the typical process for a professional development book
  • marketing and professional development.

I began my editorial career in-house, and very much learned how to development edit on the job. I was never given any formal training; instead I learned through a mix of instinct and informal guidance over the course of eight years working for educational publishers like OUP and Pearson. My last in-house position was as a development editor for OUP, where I mainly developed GCSE humanities textbooks.

I went freelance in 2017. Since then most of my work has been for educational publishers, though I’ve also started to work on prescriptive non-fiction over the past year or so.

I really enjoy development editing. I love getting stuck into a manuscript to make sure it really works. I love that combination of creativity and logic needed to solve any problems. I love working closely with authors and feeling like I’ve made a real difference.

What my job involves

For non-fiction, development editing all comes down to the simple question of does this book deliver what the reader wants? In this way I think it’s actually quite objective.

I developed my first book a few months into my first job as an editorial assistant. (This was for a small publisher where editorial assistants basically did everything and you really had to hit the ground running.) I was given minimal guidance and hardly had a clue what I was doing … except instinct meant that I did. Because we all know what makes a good textbook, having relied on them over six or so years of schooling. So I started asking questions like, ‘Does this chapter give enough detail to answer an exam question on this?’, ‘Is this explanation too difficult for GCSE students to understand?’ and ‘Are these checkpoint questions unambiguous and answerable?’

It turns out these were the right sorts of questions to ask, and I still rely on them today.

When a textbook lands on my desk

When I’m asked to develop a textbook manuscript, it typically arrives with a whole host of extra documents: my brief, the author brief, the syllabus, a sample design, a sensitivity checklist, etc. So I spend a bit of time reading through all of this, trying to get the project clear in my head, and then make a list of things I need to check for each chapter (or even each double-page spread). The main purpose of this checklist is to make sure the author’s done what the author brief asks of them. (Which in turn implies the book delivers what the reader wants.)

The checklist might cover things like:

  • word count (is there too much material or not enough?)
  • spec match (does the book cover everything on the syllabus?)
  • features (has the author included the right number of features – like exam tips, discussion points, etc – and are they treated consistently?)
  • activity questions (are they answerable; have answers been provided, and do they actually answer the questions?)
  • artworks/images (are they appropriate, relevant, varied; are there the right number?).

Then I’ll work through each spread or chapter checking everything off. I might also do a fair bit of line editing, particularly where the text is unclear or unobjective. I’ll probably end up doing some fact-checking (even though it’s not an official part of the job), and I’ll keep an eye out for anything that could potentially cause offence and flag this up (even though there might also be a separate sensitivity review).

The development edits I do for publishers always include querying the author and taking in their revisions as part of the job. On some days, it feels like quite a lot of my time is spent wording diplomatic queries. Sometimes I have to ask an author to do a lot of work (without the publisher paying them any more for it), and they can’t simply say ‘no thank you I’d rather not’ in the same way an indie client can.

So even though it slows me down, I’m always careful in explaining why a major edit is important. I try to provide solutions/suggested rewrites, because I know the authors are busy (most of them are practising teachers). And the more help and direction I give, the more likely the author won’t go off-piste. That’s important when I have to take in their responses. I’ve found over the years that being really clear about what you want, and giving specific examples of what’s needed, helps to mean the revisions you get back are more likely to be on target.

One thing I really enjoy about development editing textbooks is trying to make sure controversial topics are covered in a balanced, objective way. This might mean being very careful over the wording of a spread on euthanasia, for example. So even though development editing is largely about ‘bigger picture’ stuff, I still have to focus on individual sentences or even words. For example, to make sure the wording of a list of arguments for and against euthanasia doesn’t accidentally make it look as if we’re favouring one side over the other.

When a professional development book lands on my desk

Another week, one of my publishers might hand me a professional development book where the brief is much less detailed (often amounting to little more than ‘can you edit this one please?’). This might easily turn into a combined development edit and copyedit. Basically, I’ll do a copyedit but if a manuscript has bigger issues then I’ll also point these out and help the author to fix them. So here I don’t have a prescribed checklist, as such, but I’ll ask questions like:

  • Is there enough detail to be able to take this advice away and act on it yourself? (One book I worked on almost doubled in size to make sure we’d answered that question.)
  • Does the book answer the question it sets out to solve? (One book ended up with a different title as a result.)
  • Does this book explain everything in a way that a beginner can understand?
  • Is the overall argument logical and persuasive?

I find development editing to be the most ‘thinky’ work that I do. You have to hold the whole book in your head in a way that isn’t so necessary with copyediting or proofreading. Edits can be more complex (and explaining why they’re so necessary can require careful thought). So I’m happy when I get weeks where I can switch it up with a bit of copyediting or proofreading or something else for light relief.

Marketing and professional development

Until the pandemic hit, I’m ashamed to say I put minimal effort into marketing and not much more into professional development. But that’s changed over the past six months or so. Now I try to set aside an hour a day for one or the other.

Last year I decided it might be a good idea to do some proper training in development editing (better late than never, right?). I couldn’t find much on offer but did sign up to EFA’s 8-week course on non-fiction development editing, which was really great. I also bought Scott Norton’s classic, Developmental Editing (which I still need to finish).

This year I’ve been working my way through a small pile of craft books on how to write non-fiction. I’d definitely recommend reading craft books if you want to get into development editing – they really help you to understand how good books work and what they should contain. Three I’d particularly recommend for non-fiction are:

  • Rob Fitzpatrick’s Write Useful Books. (This really changed my mindset on how to write great prescriptive non-fiction, and I’ve got quite evangelical about it.)
  • Ginny Carter’s Your Business, Your Book. (This’ll give you a really solid grounding in the elements that make up a strong professional development book.)
  • Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato’s Thinking Like Your Editor. (Twenty years old but full of interesting, still relevant ‘insider’ advice on what publishers are looking for from ‘serious’ trade non-fiction.)

Summing up

This article has covered:

  • training and career paths to development editing
  • typical working processes
  • marketing and professional development for development editors.

About Harriet Power

Harriet Power is an education and non-fiction editor, a Professional Member of the CIEP, and co-author of four GCSE Religious Studies revision guides (this last one was a surprise even to her). She worked in-house for eight years before going freelance in 2017.

 

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: handdrawn lightbulb by Mark Fletcher-Brown; Together, we create! by “My Life Through A Lens”, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Is proofreading a good side hustle?

Proofreading has long been touted online as a good way to supplement a regular income – the side hustle. This post by Louise Harnby examines the notion, and explores the challenges.

In this post, we’ll look at the following:

  • What is a side hustle?
  • The problem with the terminology
  • Proofreading as a side hustle – popular but problematic
  • Do I need training?
  • Who am I competing with?
  • Who hires professional proofreaders?
  • How will I find work?
  • Additional considerations

What is a side hustle?

A side hustle is the term used to describe part-time work that’s done alongside a person’s regular job. Side hustles can be long-term or short-term gigs, and they’re popular because they allow people to dip their toes in the proverbial water rather than fully committing to a career change.

For some, they’re essential, either because their day jobs aren’t generating enough income to meet their costs of living or because their day jobs don’t come with an income at all – for example, those bringing up children or caring for dependants.

The problem with the terminology

In the editorial world, there’s resistance to the terminology owing to the negative connotations of hustle.

Editorial work is about attention to detail, about respecting a client’s voice and brand, about shaping and smoothing text rather than butchering it.

And editors and proofreaders do love their dictionaries. Which doesn’t help matters given hustle’s lexical association with pushiness, pressurised selling, prostitution, and worst of all, fraud.

Since professional self-employed editors and proofreaders spend a chunk of their time trying to build trust with clients searching for editorial support in what is essentially an unregulated global market, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that mention of a hustle makes them twitchy!

Proofreading as a side hustle – popular but problematic

Let’s put the terminology to one side. Can proofreading work be done on the side? Yes. Can a proofreading business be set up overnight? In name, certainly. However, the reality is that unless you already have clients waiting in the wings, you’re going to have to do what every self-employed business owner does – find them, or enable them to find you. Which means marketing.

Furthermore, you’re going to have to find those that you’re a good fit for, and that means skilling up.

Training takes time to complete and marketing takes time to bear fruit. For that reason, if you’re looking to earn extra income quickly, proofreading makes for a poor side hustle.

Do I need training?

Side hustlers in the making might be wondering if training is necessary. Put yourself in a potential client’s shoes. Even if you’re a mega marketer, such that you get in front of your clients quickly, persuading them to hire you requires them trusting you to do a great job.

Trust can be earned in more than one way, but training’s part of the equation. When the tap starts dripping or a plug starts sparking, I don’t want someone messing around with my plumbing and electrics if they haven’t made the effort to ensure they know what they’re doing.

Clients who want help with their words feel the same way about having their text polished. And so they should. The work we do will cost them tens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of pounds. Proofreaders charging for their services owe it to their clients to be qualified to do a great job.

Plus, we don’t know what we don’t know. Prior to carrying out editorial training, I had no clue what a publisher expected from a proofreader. Training solved that problem. One thing I learned is this: a good command of spelling and grammar is just the tip of the editorial iceberg.

Here’s just a smidgen of the skills my publisher clients expect from a proofreader – issues that once read like gibberish to my untrained eye.

  • Marking up page proofs with BSI proof-correction symbols
  • What to do with overmatter
  • How to manage orphans and widows
  • How to check running heads
  • Handling stacked hyphens on rectos
  • Checking that references are styled according to APA or Harvard

 

Who am I competing with?

Something else the side hustler should consider is the competition. This is not a barren marketplace, alas. There are tens of thousands of editorial professionals out there already, many of whom run their businesses as full-time enterprises. They:

  • are highly trained, often with specialist skills and knowledge
  • are very experienced and have portfolios to prove it, and
  • have been around for a while so know how to be found and where to get work.

That said, there is always room for new proofreaders and editors because most of the work these days is done digitally, which means the market is global. And just as people join the profession, so others leave it.

However, it would be a mistake to think that competing in the proofreading market is just about supply and demand. It’s a digital world, which means the name of the game is visibility.

Who hires professional proofreaders?

First, the good news. Anyone who works with words and cares about their meaning and readability will be interested in hiring a proofreader. This short list of potential clients only scratches the surface.

  • Academics
  • Business owners
  • Educators
  • Independent authors
  • Marketing and communications agencies
  • Packagers and project management agencies
  • Publishers
  • Students

That’s the easy bit. The harder bit is that not all clients know what kind of editorial help they need. And so, even if they ask for something called ‘proofreading’, and that’s what you’re offering as a side hustle, it might be the last thing they need. Literally.

In fact, they might need specialist structural or stylistic help that doesn’t fall under the scope of proofreading at all. Proofreading is a final quality-control check after other rounds of editing.

So if you’re thinking about offering this service as a side gig, make sure you and anyone you work with understand the precise scope of the work you’re offering.

Failure to do so could lead to disappointment, complaints and requests for refunds, thereby turning your side hustle into an upfront hassle.

How will I find work?

Getting work means being visible. Either the client has to find you or you have to find them, meaning anyone looking to earn an income from proofreading needs to have marketing skills as well as proofreading skills.

That’s a necessary time-sucker that any independent editorial pro needs to wrap their head around from the get-go.

There are lots of ways to be visible, some better than others, depending on what types of clients you want to proofread for.

  • Emails, letters and phone calls are good options if you want to get on the radar of publishers and packagers.
  • Content marketing is a slow but powerful burn for those wanting to be found on Google and social media by authors, students and academics.
  • Freelance directories can be a good source of work, though are often the first port of call for clients looking for cheap and fast.
  • Many professional editorial associations such as the CIEP have editorial directories that can be good lead generators for appropriately qualified proofreaders.

Proofreading might seem like your ideal side hustle but you must factor in regular time to get the work in the first place. There’s too much competition not to do so.

Additional considerations

Finally, don’t forget the additional business-critical responsibilities that come with the job, even if it is on the side.

  • Will you need indemnity insurance to protect yourself?
  • Will the income you earn need to be declared to the relevant authorities? Will there be tax implications? Might your additional income affect any state benefits you receive?
  • Do you have funds in place for training and marketing? Both have costs to them.
  • Do you have access to an environment that will allow you to concentrate and work without interruption?
  • Do you have industry-standard hardware and software, and know how to use it?
  • How many hours a day do you have available, and will you be able to meet clients’ deadlines? High-quality proofreading is labour-intensive work. Even experienced full-time proofreaders will need at least a week to proofread a novel. Being realistic about the time required is essential.

Summing up

Proofreading can be used to supplement income from another job. Many full-time professional proofreaders started their editorial journey by doing it on the side.

Don’t forget that being a proofreader means becoming one first – via training. And making your side hustle viable means being found by those who need your services – via marketing.

It can be done – just not overnight.

Want to become a proofreader?

The CIEP has loads of support and information to help you get started.

And Louise Harnby has a selection of books and courses to help you on your journey.

About Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby

Louise Harnby is a professional fiction editor with 30 years’ publishing experience, and specialises in working with independent crime, thriller and mystery writers.

She is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP and co-hosts The Editing Podcast with Denise Cowle.

 

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:

 

Reviving my editing business

By Louise Bolotin

Like many freelancers, I was hit hard by the pandemic. 2020 started well enough, including a huge two-month project for a Commission. But in the week before we went into lockdown last March, I ran into deep trouble. First, as businesses battened down their financial hatches, all the projects I’d had booked in up to mid-June were cancelled by my clients. And then the local weekly newspaper where I’d worked as their subeditor for several years rang to say they were laying me off. In the space of a few days, I lost 100% of my work. Utter despair and panic set in because after the final week of that lucrative Commission job, I had nothing – for the first time in 15 years of working for myself.

Normally I’d never admit this, but I was not alone. I heard countless similar tales from other freelancers. For a few weeks I seriously contemplated getting a supermarket job. I had bills to pay, after all. I even got as far as half-heartedly filling out some of an application form for one supermarket. But I reminded myself that I still wanted to be my own boss, rather than someone’s employee. So as the public clamoured to ‘build back better’, I resolved to do the same, as there was no point dwelling on what I’d lost.

Once the shock had settled, it was time to roll up my sleeves. Under lockdown, I had plenty of time to review what I needed to do to bring work back to me – I’d let a few things slide for a while because when you are busy you’re often too busy to do marketing essentials. I also thought about what I didn’t want so I could make the big decisions. One thing I definitely didn’t want was to commute again. I’d worked at the newspaper one day a week, sometimes two, but the prospect of sitting on a train for 45 minutes each way in the middle of a pandemic was now unthinkable.

Despite the prospect of no income for goodness knows how long, I pledged to do a minimum two things every day that might generate work, and I also felt I could afford to spend a bit to earn a bit as I qualified for the government’s SEISS grant.

First, it was time to invest in a new website and logo. My then website was 10 years old and looked dated and unprofessional. Within a few weeks of launching my new look, my site analytics were showing increased visits and enquiries.

Next, it was time to up my CPD. First in my sights was the CIEP’s Medical Editing course, something I’d planned to do for a while but not got round to. Under lockdown I had time to get cracking. I completed the course in October and then paid for a freelance directory entry on a specialist network with the aim of finding medcomms work. That is starting to pay off.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists I have access to a huge suite of free courses run by the Federation of Entertainment Unions. In April I joined their webinars on Cash Flow Planning and Freelance Finance to get a quick grip on loss of income. These helped ease some of the financial stress I was experiencing. I also did the FEU’s Grow Your Business via Email Marketing webinar in August – it was both useful and inspiring. Within days I’d opened a Mailchimp account and am now sending a monthly newsletter to my clients. Late last year, I attended the FEU’s course on goal-setting. I’d never done this before, but I set two goals for this year and I’m reviewing them every month. One was to find three new long-term contracts – two of them found me in December.

There were other things – signing up to some paid-for freelancing newsletters that signpost work opportunities and yet more webinars, and joining a Slack community for journalists that was hugely valuable in providing camaraderie and support for lockdown stress and mental health.

Among my ‘two things a day’ pledge, this was a good time to update my various directory entries, including my CIEP one. I polished my CV and opted to spend more time on LinkedIn engaging with colleagues. I scoured job sites most days to look for freelance work. I got commissioned by a national newspaper to write a feature on being separated from my husband under lockdown. My NUJ branch also hired me to update my training courses on the business of freelancing and run them for branch members on Zoom.

The hard labour paid off and work has come back – in November I was fully booked for the first time since lockdown. And I learned the following:

Resilience matters: I’ve always been strong, and have bounced back from some of my life’s most challenging situations. I drew on that in 2020 to rebuild my business, bank balance and sanity. Never underestimate the power of keeping going – you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.

Envy is pointless: I felt irrationally furious at some colleagues who were still busy. Why them? Why not me? Especially the ones who’d only just started freelancing. But who knew what trouble they too might be in? For all I knew, just because they seemed busy, it didn’t mean they too weren’t struggling. I felt better when I let go of the envy and focused on building back.

It’s OK to ask for help: I’m not great at this, but I did. I was honest on social media, in the forums of my professional bodies and to friends offline about being in a hole and needing work. This helped keep my spirits up and some CIEP colleagues were kind enough to put work my way. I have since given interviews on how freelancers were hit and what I did to get back on my feet. I hope that helped others.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin began her career in journalism, turning her attention to the editorial side after a decade. She still writes occasionally, but has been a freelance editor since 2005 and is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She specialises in working with companies on business documents, alongside copyediting a few books every year. An NUJ trainer on the business aspects of freelancing, she took her own advice when the pandemic struck.


Photo credits: empty train by Carl Nenzen Loven; small business fighting for survival by Gene Gallin on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Getting to grips with grammar and punctuation

By Annie Jackson

Do you go cold when you hear the words ‘dangling participle’? Does the mere mention of a comma splice or a tautology make you anxious? Do you have a faint memory, perhaps from primary school, that people who write ‘proper’ English never start a sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But’? Perhaps you’ve been flummoxed by the terms used in the school materials that you’ve had to work with while homeschooling your children (you are not alone: see this article by the former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen).

Actually, you almost certainly know much more about grammar and punctuation than you realise. The ‘rules’ are often no more than old-fashioned preferences or prejudice, and may not be relevant anyway. It all depends on the text: a novel for young adults, an information leaflet for patients at a doctor’s surgery, or an annual report for a major company – each requires a very different approach. The tone in which the document is written, and the intended readership, will dictate how strictly grammar and punctuation rules should be applied.

If you work with words, in any capacity, and you feel that your knowledge could do with a brush-up, then the new online course from CIEP, Getting to Grips with Grammar and Punctuation, could be just what you need.

Why both grammar and punctuation?

Let’s see how the Collins Dictionary defines grammar: ‘the ways that words can be put together in order to make sentences’. It defines punctuation as ‘the use of symbols such as full stops or periods, commas, or question marks to divide written words into sentences and clauses’.

This explains why these two subjects have to go hand in hand. Grammar is about putting words together; punctuation helps the reader to make sense of those words in the order in which they have been presented. Used well, the grammar and punctuation chosen should be almost imperceptible, so that nothing comes between the reader and the text. If they are used poorly, the reader will be confused, may have to go back over sentences as they puzzle out the meaning, and may eventually stop reading as it’s just too hard to figure out.

For the want of a comma …

Take this well-known example. ‘Let’s eat, Grandma’ is a friendly invitation for Granny to join the family meal. If you remove that tiny comma, the poor woman is at the mercy of her cannibal grandchildren.

More seriously, a misplaced comma can have huge legal and financial implications (see ‘The comma that cost a million dollars’ from the New York Times).

Poor grammar can have unintentional comic effects (dangling participles are particularly good for this, as you can see here). It could even affect your love life (see this Guardian article ‘Dating disasters: Why bad grammar could stop you finding love online’).

So it’s worth knowing the rules you must follow, and those that can sometimes be ignored.

Why this course?

Getting to Grips with Grammar and Punctuation is for anyone who works with words. It aims to:

  • clarify the basic rules of English grammar
  • clarify the rules of English punctuation
  • discuss some finer points of usage and misusage
  • explain the contexts in which rules should or need not be applied.

This course alternates units on grammar and punctuation, with two basic units followed by two that go into more detail. Each unit has several sets of short, light-hearted exercises on which you can test yourself to see how well you have taken in the information. The penultimate unit discusses finer points of usage, and finally, there are three longer exercises on which to practise everything you’ve learned from the course. There is no final assessment for the course, but every student is assigned a tutor and is encouraged to ask for their help if any questions arise as they work through it.

There is an extensive glossary of grammatical terms as well as a list of resources, in print and online, for further study. This includes a number of entertaining and opinionated books on grammar which will prove, if nothing else, that even the pundits don’t always agree.

By the end of this course, you should have a clear idea of some of the finer points (and many of the pitfalls) of English grammar and punctuation. You should have developed some sensitivity to potential errors, acquired greater confidence, and learned strategies to make any written work you deal with clearer, more effective, more appropriate and even, perhaps, more elegant. And we hope that you will have found it interesting and entertaining at the same time.

Annie Jackson has been an editor for longer than she cares to admit. She tutors several CIEP courses and was one of the team who wrote the new grammar course. Despite many years wrestling with authors’ language, and before that a classics degree, she realises there’s always something new to learn about grammar.

With thanks to the other members of the course team who contributed to this post.


Photo credits: books by Clarissa Watson on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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