Definite articles: Working with websites

Welcome to ‘Definite articles’, a column devoted to the CIEP’s top internet picks, most of which are definitely articles. This time, our theme is working with websites – for clients and for yourself. The CIEP has recently published its own articles on working in digital formats, in ‘Flying solo: Focusing your website on your ideal client’, and ‘Talking tech: Web editors – WYSIWIG or code?’ If you’re a CIEP forum user, you can access our website-related forum wisdom in ‘Forum matters: Creating and editing web content’.

In this issue:

  • Client websites: Learn from the experts
  • Planning and creating your own website
  • Refreshing your site
  • Other platforms
  • If it all goes wrong

Client websites: Learn from the experts

Marketing tips

Websites act as shop windows. So when you’re editing what is essentially marketing copy, it’s worth learning from people who know about marketing. Copywriter Karri Stover, in ‘11 steps to effective website copywriting’, reminds us of the importance of plain language, understanding the reader, including essential information, and readability. On that last point, Stover links to a useful 2013 article by Carrie Cousins at Design Shack, ‘The importance of designing for readability’, which talks about design elements, from subheads (which should be simple, direct and frequent) to how hyphens can break readers’ concentration.

Understanding accessibility and SEO

If you’re working with websites, you should always have at least one tab open at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). This advises on web accessibility and is recommended as a resource on the CIEP’s Editing Digital Content course. Get started with ‘Easy checks – a first review of web accessibility’ and ‘Introduction to web accessibility’.

It’s also essential to have an understanding of SEO (search engine optimisation). Michelle Bourbonniere gives a useful overview of what it is and how to do it. Marieke van de Rakt of Yoast has also written a long blog about the importance of content in SEO. Trickery with links is long gone as a way to improve rankings. These days, SEO is firmly about quality content, as Marieke testifies.

Planning and creating your own website

Every website needs to be planned, and Malini Devadas’s podcast episode ‘How to create a client-focused business’ is a good start in working out how the elements of your offering, including your website, fit together. John Espirian adds to this by taking the long view with a 30-month mindset.

Whether you create your own website or outsource that process is a big decision. A blog by Startups explores the options. If you’re keen on doing it yourself, John Espirian discusses setting up your own website in an article from the archives that includes plenty of useful tips and links. However, as Michelle Waltzman suggests in ‘Stressed about your to-do list? 5 times you should outsource tasks’, if you keep putting it off, you don’t know where to start, or you’ve tried it and it’s gone very wrong, it might be worth considering asking someone else to help you.

Even if you outsource the creation of your website, you’ll have to write it. Apply the same marketing, accessibility and SEO principles that we covered in the ‘Client websites’ section above. You might also commission some photography. Sophie Playle describes how she did this in ‘Branding my editorial business: Working with a photographer’. If you’re working with images that are already created, take a look at Chicago Shop Talk’s article ‘Crediting images at an author website’ for principles and tips.

Once you’ve covered the broad brushwork of development, content and images, make sure the little things also look great, including any URLs.

Refreshing your site

If you created your website some time ago, it’s important to interrogate it every so often to ensure it’s working as hard as it can. Luckily, if we forget, ACES, the society for editing in America, keeps us on our toes with articles like ‘Is your website referral-worthy?’ by Molly McCowan and ‘When was the last time you updated your website?’ by Nate Hoffelder. Nate also wrote the helpful ‘18 questions to ask when refreshing your editor website’. If 18 questions are too many, Annie Deakins suggests six website features you should check.

One editor, Letitia Henville, recently went beyond checking and fixing to supplementing her current site with a digital tool for academics, which received 4,000 views in its first three days. Not everyone has the time or resources to do this, but Letitia includes a list of less ambitious alternatives: ‘blog post, webinar, infographic, video, app, tin-can phone or whatever other medium may reach your client population’. As tempting as the tin-can phone is, many editors find that their digital resource of choice is the humble blog, and if yours is ailing Louise Harnby has four ideas to fix it. Recently on Twitter, Lynne Murphy (@lynneguist) recommended a piece about how to keep online readers engaged in long articles. If your blogs are on the lengthy side, take a look.

Other platforms

Don’t forget Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook as part of a digital content strategy. You can see Instagram at its best in ‘The 15 most Instagrammed bookstores in the world’. TikTok has recently been credited with changing the publishing industry as high-profile book lovers share their favourite reads with users. But if all these options make you feel dizzy, Mel Edits has some sage words about timelessness in ‘5 rules of content that will never change’.

If it all goes wrong

Finally, Chicago Shop Talk has helpfully published an article on how to ‘take back’ an online error that could be useful if you’re working with websites or on other digital platforms. One advantage of the internet is that amendment can be instant. In certain circumstances, though, amendments have to be acknowledged and explained, for example if a vital word like ‘not’ has been omitted in a prominent place in the original text, giving entirely the wrong impression and alarming people.

We’ll leave you to think up your own examples.

Thank you for reading. Why not follow the CIEP on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for more useful content for editors and proofreaders?

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: header by Sigmund, person with mobile phone by by Jonas Leupe, both on Unsplash

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

A Finer Point: About that

It’s flexible, helpful and often loaded with meaning. Cathy Tingle explores the magic in the simple word ‘that’.

I love that; that is, I love the word that is ‘that’. Why’s that? Context and clarity. And Kate Bush.

‘That’ can be magical in its use of context

‘That’ is ‘a multifaceted word’ according to Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, which lists it as a demonstrative pronoun, a demonstrative adjective, a demonstrative adverb, a conjunction and a relative pronoun. Five functions, none of which we are likely to consciously assign to the word as we use it unless we are linguists; we will just know, from context, what this ‘that’ is for. Now that’s magic.

‘That’ also often needs a context wider than the sentence in which it appears, which can make it indispensable in communication and creativity. In terms of communication, we’ve all felt the power after a long introduction of a conclusive ‘That’s why …’ that brings together all that has gone before. That’s probably why we hear it a lot from politicians.

One of the facets of ‘that’ described in Fowler’s is that ‘the simple demonstrative adjective that is distinguished from the definite article the in that it points out something as distinct from merely singling out something’. So in terms of pointing out something to a greater and greater extent, we might go, say, from ‘hills’ to ‘a hill’ to ‘the hill’ to ‘that hill’, the sort that Kate Bush describes running up, in a song that has now become part of the soundtrack of not one but two generations, decades apart. The poet Philip Larkin, in ‘Home is so sad’ (The Whitsun Weddings, 1964), ends a description of a mournful-looking room with a pointed two-word sentence: ‘That vase.’

‘Running up a hill’, ‘Running up the hill’, ‘A vase’ and ‘The vase’ simply don’t create the same effect. In each of these works, ‘that’ is loaded with a meaning that the narrator entirely understands and that we get a revelatory glimpse of, simply by seeing its significance to them.

‘That’ directs the reader

The inclusion of ‘that’ is often necessary to make meaning clear. As Lynne Murphy described in her 2022 CIEP Conference session ‘Are editors changing the English language?’, as language gets densified we lose the small, common words. ‘The’ and ‘of’ have been major casualties. However, the 1959 publication and wide dissemination of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, cited by Murphy as a key event in the decline of ‘the’ and ‘of’, is also identified in excellent articles by Stan Carey and Carol Saller as a factor in the incorrect deletion of ‘that’ by people who edit text. Specifically, by trying to ‘omit needless words’, as Strunk and White advised we should, we sometimes mistakenly identify ‘that’ as one of them.

How do we know whether ‘that’ is needless? As Stan Carey describes, we do it by assessing whether we’re being led up a garden path if it’s not there. Have we misunderstood the meaning on the first reading of a sentence and had to retrace our steps? Carol Saller points out that this is more likely with certain constructions: ‘Retain [“that”] after verbs like “believe,” “declare,” and “see”’. All right: let’s see what happens if we don’t.

I believe elves who claim to make footwear throughout the night are imaginary.

They declared an interest in ponies at the age of eight was common.

She could see a unicorn-riding, fire-eating headteacher existed in the minds of the children.

Welcome back after all those garden-path trips prompted by the omission of ‘that’ after ‘believe’, ‘declared’ and ‘see’. If you avoided these misunderstandings, well done! But a busy, perhaps preoccupied, reader might not. Saller quotes the AP Stylebook on ‘that’: ‘Omission can hurt. Inclusion never does.’ Carey quotes John E. McIntyre’s Bad Advice: ‘When that is there and does no harm, take your hands off the keyboard.’

That, that and that

‘That’ isn’t all creativity and clarification, however. It can be a source of puzzlement to authors, editors and proofreaders. Here’s some quick guidance on that/which, that/who and ‘that is’.

That/which: which?

For a comprehensive and entertaining look at this common problem, head to Riffat Yusuf’s ‘That which we call a relative clause’. For basic principles, read on.

In the UK in particular, we sometimes use constructions like ‘the pencil which is red is mine’. ‘Which’ here is used in the same way as ‘that’ – ‘for critical information’ (Ellen Jovin, Rebel with a Clause, p294). Whether ‘that’ or ‘which’ is used isn’t as important as whether we include a comma before it. As Butcher’s Copy-editing says: ‘The punctuation distinction is the crucial one’ (p164). So we could write any of the following:

The pencil that is red is mine (mine is the red one)

The pencil which is red is mine (mine is the red one)

The pencil, which is red, is mine (there’s one pencil. It’s mine. It happens to be red)

‘The pencil, that is red, is mine’ is not something we could write, because ‘that’ can’t herald the sort of optional information that we convey by including pairing, or parenthetical, commas.

That/who

‘A person can be a “that”.’ (Dreyer’s English, p18) ‘That refers to a human, animal, or thing, and it can be used in the first, second, or third person.’ (Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition, 5.56) So it’s possible to use ‘that’ for a person (‘the designer that did great things with my text’), although ‘who’ is often the first choice of people who work with words.

‘That is’

‘That is’ is a construction we often see, alongside equivalents like ‘namely’, in general non-fiction or academic text, and it’s a tricky one to punctuate. Some authors place a comma before it and nothing afterwards, or put it in parenthetical commas. What should we do? Chicago gives good advice: to precede it with a dash or semicolon and follow it with a comma (CMOS, section 6.51). I’ve given an example in the introduction to this article, so go and have a look at that.

Resources

Bush, K (1985). Running up that hill (A deal with God). EMI.

Butcher, J, C Drake and M Leach (2006). Butcher’s Copy-editing, 4th edition. Cambridge University Press.

Carey, S (2020). That puzzling omission. Blog. stancarey.wordpress.com/2020/05/31/that-puzzling-omission/

Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition (2017). University of Chicago Press.

Dreyer, B (2019). Dreyer’s English. Century.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern Usage (2015), ed. by Jeremy Butterfield. Oxford University Press.

Jovin, E (2022). Rebel with a Clause. Chambers.

Larkin, P (2012). The Complete Poems, ed. by Archie Burnett. Faber & Faber.

Saller, C (2021). When to delete ‘that’. CMOS Shop Talk blog. cmosshoptalk.com/2021/08/12/when-to-delete-that/

Yusuf, R (2021). That which we call a relative clause. CIEP blog. blog.ciep.uk/relative-clause/

About Cathy Tingle

Cathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, is a copyeditor, proofreader, tutor and CIEP information team member.

 

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: Arrow by Ralph Hutter, pencil by GR Stocks, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Editing text to make it more accessible

Making text accessible is about more than just using plain language; it’s also about making sure that everyone, including disabled readers, neurodivergent readers and other readers with distinct needs, can make sense of text on a website or screen. In this blog post, Andrew Macdonald Powney suggests some simple ways we can make our text more accessible, whatever its published format.

A pile of computer keys as the background to the blog post title and author: Editing text to make it more accessible by Andrew Macdonald Powney

Four simple ways to make text more accessible

There are many ways that text can be made more accessible (too many for this blog post). Here are four of the easiest and most impactful ways to get started. To learn more, delve into plain language principles (for example through the CIEP’s course Plain English for Editors), or investigate web accessibility (for example by learning about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).

Styling headings

In Word, an editor can make some text look like a heading by increasing the font size and putting it in bold. But a screenreader (software that reads out text on a computer screen, often used by blind or visually impaired people) cannot interpret that. Screenreaders need an unseen ‘tag’ or phrase of code which states that the following words are going to be a heading: they need the editor to style the text as a heading.

When you apply a heading ‘style’ in Word to what already looks like a heading on your screen, Word creates the code tags for you. All future readers will be told it is a heading. Meanwhile, at the editor’s end, the visual formatting to go with that ‘style’ has to be modified just once, and the change will be made to every piece of text to which the style has been applied.

These tags of code allow the screenreader to navigate from heading to heading, and they let the screenreader explain to their human reader that a title is coming.

Shorter and simpler sentences

Short sentences, front-loaded content, active voice: all good advice for writers, and good, too, for the users of screenreaders. A person can change the speed at which the screenreader speaks, but it is still easiest to digest a sentence when the subject and key point come first. And shorter sentences are simpler to hear.

Another advantage of short, direct sentences is that they tend to fit inside a line length. This reduces the chance of a line break mid-sentence – especially if you left-align, as you should for accessibility. Therefore short sentences work across a range of screens and devices. Reading a longer sentence on a narrow screen requires dexterity, concentration, and good vision that not everyone will have. Not everyone can zoom in and out, or scroll back and forth, and still keep track.

Writers and editors may forget that reading itself cannot be taken for granted. The conditions that make it hard to remember what you read – everything from cognitive processing issues to simple tiredness – make complex sentences more of a risk. When the very act of reading takes some effort, no more obstacles need be added.

A blind woman sitting at a computer wearing headphones and using a screenreader

Fonts and formatting

As a general rule, the fewer serifs in a font, the better. Sans serif fonts like Calibri and Arial do a better job of keeping letters distinct. There is less danger of overlap in the ascenders and descenders of adjacent letters. People read by pattern recognition, and when the patterns are easier to spot (because the individual letters are clearer), the text is easier to read.

Regardless of which font you use, don’t create constant mental adjustments with phrases in bold, words in italics and underlines. Displayed quotations, for example, are already pulled out; putting them in italics is an extra cognitive burden.

Alt text

Alt text is text which is an alternative to the image on the page. It is commonly used to stand in for images that visually impaired people can’t see; the sighted reader sees the image, while the screenreader reads out the alt text.

Alt text image descriptions need to be short; if there is too much to say, additional text next to the image would be better. Having said that, alt text still needs to provide useful information. The editor crafting alt text needs to think: what does the author need the reader to take away from this image, which this reader cannot see? ‘Picture of a graph of temperatures’ tells that reader nothing; ‘graph showing that temperature peaked in July at 31°C’ conveys information.

Remember that text may be repurposed

If you usually work on text that is going to finish up as a printed, physical object, then it may seem like certain aspects of accessibility are irrelevant – styling headings to aid screenreaders, for example, or using short sentences to reduce line breaks on narrow screens.

But this text could be repurposed at some point in the future. What you prepare for one format now may need to be repackaged for another medium, on another day. This is something worth bearing in mind when editing any text: can it be edited to ensure accessibility across different mediums? This could help to future-proof the text against whatever else your client may decide to do with it.

About Andrew Macdonald Powney

Andrew Macdonald Powney is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP and the content and quality team leader for APS Group (Scotland).

 

 

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: keyboard letters by Pixabay on Pexels, blind person using a computer by Chansom Pantip on Shutterstock.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Wise owls: how do you save time when editing?

We asked our parliament of wise owls, all Advanced Professional Members, to share some of the things that have helped them to become faster, more efficient editors over the years. Answers ranged from macros, checklists and templates to a healthier work–life balance and the confidence gained from experience.

Sue Browning

My main tip for speedy editing is to slow down and take a breath before you dive in. I find it helpful to approach large projects in phases, doing basic analysis (headings/structure/style), clean-up and formatting first, followed by my main text editing pass, then a final consistency check and spellcheck. This is all driven by checklists (and sub-checklists). While trundling through the initial, somewhat mechanical, stages may feel like delaying the core task of editing, I find it settles me into each project in a series of familiar steps so that even a new or challenging job feels more under control by the time I start looking at the text.

Another more obvious timesaver is my stylesheet template with combo boxes that contain the most common alternatives for each style point, making setting up my initial sheet very quick. Thanks to Hazel Bird and her helpful blog post for bringing this useful technique to my attention.

Next is keyboard shortcuts, both for frequent operations, like switching between windows and desktops, all the usual Word commands, and for my many macros. I have a lot of keyboard shortcuts, but I learned them slowly, converting the often-used ones to muscle memory, making room in my brain for the next batch.

But probably my biggest practical timesaver is PhraseExpress, a text expander, which I use for emails, author queries/explanations, and any bits of text that I find myself typing repeatedly, including things that I frequently mistype, like my email sign-off. PhraseExpress’s web look-up function also saves me ages when checking references.

Finally, there is the confidence that comes with experience. I know my major clients’ style preferences pretty well (and have PerfectIt stylesheets to help), my grammar and punctuation are pretty sound, and I no longer angst over every comma (just some of them 😉).

Liz Dalby

I’d say that three things in particular have made me a more efficient copyeditor.

  1. Learning to do the language editing late in the process. When I started freelancing, my instinct was to sit down at the text and work through it from beginning to end, reading every word and working on everything that needed doing all at once, as I encountered it. Over the years I have learned – by trial and error, and also by discussing best practice with other editors – to work in a series of passes. Broadly speaking, I start by styling the headings, which gives me an overview of the structure. Then I focus on some of the basic cleaning up I can do, and applying global style decisions based on my own observations of the text, plus the brief and the house style (if there is one). Once the text is in better shape, only then do I start to read it from beginning to end, smoothing out the language as I go, and continuing to add to the style sheet. The language editing isn’t the final pass, because after that there will be a series of checks (depending on the brief and the budget). But it’s nowhere near the beginning! This has made my process massively more efficient – and accurate.
  1. Working within my limitations. Like (probably) all freelancers, my initial instinct was to work ALL the hours in order to establish my business and make a good living. Now I know that I do my best work when I only do about four or five hours of pure editing per day, and take breaks at weekends. I hate working in the evening, so I hardly ever do it. This all keeps me fresh, and able to work quickly. It took me a long time to figure this out. I should have listened harder to advice from more seasoned freelancers! But it is hard to put this into practice until you have built up a steady stream of well-paid work.
  1. I’m passionate about this last one: I approach a text asking myself what can stay the same, rather than what I can change. This can save unnecessary work, and it can also help to build a better relationship with the author, who can see that you’re not making change for change’s sake. However – it’s still important to recognise when fundamental changes are required, and do all of the work that’s needed. Judging this takes experience, and even then it’s possible to get it wrong.

Sue Littleford

Chatting with other editors, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who’s slowed down a bit over the years! We think it’s because we know better what we’re doing, where our weak spots are, and we don’t skip things because of inexperience. But, of course, I’ve had to fund that time by finding efficiency savings.

I’m wedded to checklists. They save time by making sure I cover all the steps I need for onboarding or handover and can tick off each requirement as I’ve done it. I also have checklists where I’m required to nudge the English one way or the other (US to UK, for instance), for handling collected volumes and, indeed, for any repeated sequence of tasks.

As anyone who has done the CIEP Efficient Editing course will know, another key is to do things only once, and in the right order – checklists are your friend for this.

A second go-to is PerfectIt – I always, always run it at the end of the job (making it a game between me and it), but I also run its Summary of Possible Errors report at the start, a quick way to give me a good view of the condition of the manuscript, and start thinking about style decisions without making premature changes (discount for CIEP members – you’ll need to be logged in). PerfectIt works best on PCs, but a limited functionality version is available for Macs. I have style sheets for each repeat client.

Finally, I use templates (for my checklists, my style sheets, my word lists and so on, tailored for each repeat client, and a generic version for new clients, which then becomes the tailored template), and a text expander for frequent emails (handover, for example) or author queries text. No reinventing the wheel for me!

Michael FaulknerMichael Faulkner

These are my top tips for speeding up the mechanics of the editing/proofreading process:

  • Buy the biggest monitor, with the highest resolution, you can manage. When I moved from a 27″ to a 32″ monitor, my work rate greatly accelerated.
  • Download two amazing free utilities: AquaSnap and TidyTabs. Using them in combination, you can access and organise all open programs/documents with no clutter. I keep the largest part of screen real estate for the document(s) I’m working on but have everything else off to the side, tabbed and ever ready.
  • Download a (free) text expander to add frequently used words or even large blocks of text with a couple of strokes. I use FastKeys. You can also use it to build macros.
  • Create a Word template for every kind of project you work on (I have half a dozen fiction templates and eight templates for different types of legal publication); populate each template with a Word style for every conceivable character or paragraph element you’re likely to need for that particular type of project; and add a keyboard shortcut for every style you might want to invoke more than a couple of times. Using styles in this way I can tame a 15K-word chapter, which contains only direct formatting and is full of displayed quotes, different heading styles, lots of levels of numbered subheads and the like, in 15 minutes.
  • This one is a question of do as I say, not as I do 😊. Use macros. I’m scared of macros because they have caused unwanted (and unnoticed) wholesale changes in the past that have got me in trouble – but when you master them they’re incredibly powerful.

Hazel Bird

When it comes to speeding up the editing process, one thing I’ve found indispensable is master documents. This is a feature of Microsoft Word that allows you to combine many documents together and work on them as if they were a single document. Master documents have a reputation as being tricky to handle and unpredictable, but in my experience only the first of those characterisations is true. If you ever need to work on multiple related documents at once (such as multiple chapters in a book), it’s worth taking a course on master documents or reading up on how they work. Once you’ve learned their quirks (the ‘tricky to handle’ bit), the seeming unpredictability mostly becomes clear and they open up a paradise of efficiency. It was a revelation to me when I first realised that I could do a PerfectIt run or fix a problematic phrase on five, ten or even a hundred related documents all at once. I’ve found master documents most powerful in my encyclopedia work, where they have allowed me to seamlessly edit and check millions of words at a time. And, of course, this can lead to quality improvements too, as it makes implementing consistency easier.

It’s worth saying that this way of working doesn’t suit everybody and there are other methods (such as Paul Beverley’s FREdit macro) of tackling repeated issues across multiple documents. Also, if you want to use master documents on very large numbers of files, you may find your computer limits what you can achieve. However, if like me you feel most comfortable in your editing when you have everything visible all in one place, then master documents are worth a look.

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: owl by Hoover Tung  on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Core business documentation for freelance proofreaders and editors

In this post, Hazel Bird takes a look at the documentation that can help freelance proofreaders and editors to keep on top of the business side of things – from scheduling and accounting to thinking about CPD and business strategy.

Your style sheets are slicker than a greased exclamation mark and your handover notes template is perfectly balanced between conciseness and comprehensiveness. Your macros are practically doing the editing for you (well, not quite …) and you have shortcuts set up with author queries to handle just about anything a client can throw at you.

In other words, you’ve got this editing thing down pretty well. But what about your wider business? What strategic and administrative documentation have you set up and how well is it working for you? Does it enable you to understand what’s going on in your business now, what happened in the past and how to achieve your future goals?

This post looks at some of the core non-editorial documentation you might want to consider setting up. The list is based on the lessons I’ve learned over 13 years as a full-time freelancer – simply put, this is a list of the documentation I wish I’d established and used from the get-go.

It’s important to note from the start that these ‘documents’ don’t necessarily have to be separate – it’s perfectly OK to address two, three or more of the functions below in a single document if that’s what works best for you.

1 Scheduling and workload

Let’s start with the absolute basics. You’ll need somewhere to write down all the work you have booked in, any prospective work beyond that, and all the key dates. You might also want to estimate how many hours each block of work will take you. From this basic information, you can then plan long term (so you know when you’re free for additional work) and short term (so you can see in detail how you’ll meet your immediate commitments).

There are endless options for scheduling, from a humble spreadsheet (such as Google Sheets) to project management software (such as Trello) to business management tools (such as 17hats). I record my schedules and key tasks in a database and then pull the information out into a spreadsheet that shows me week by week, in a highly visual way, how much work I have booked in over the next year (long-term planning). I also use this data to draw up a handwritten plan every two weeks showing exactly when I will complete what I’ve got coming up (short-term planning).

This is a simplified mock-up of one of my two-week plans. On the left is a list of all the projects that will have some sort of activity over the next two weeks. Brackets signal projects that are in the background and very unlikely to require active work; ticks mean I have inputted all work for the project into the grid on the right. In the grid, the circled numbers are days of the week and an exclamation mark means I have holiday or some other potentially disrupting commitment on that day. Non-paid work and general admin are not scheduled as my project scheduling deliberately leaves time free for those tasks over the course of the week. I do, however, note down specific events, such as the client calls and webinar. ‘X’ is an important one – it means ‘answer emails and do any other bits and pieces that need to be done today’. As I complete projects and work, I cross them off (the cross-outs in this mock-up are as if I were halfway through day 2 of week 1).

2 Word counts, fees and time

This is where you get into the nitty-gritty of your day-to-day work. How quickly can you edit? Does it vary by client, type of work or subject matter? Are you happy that the amount you’re being paid fairly compensates you for the amount of work you’re putting in? Can you make a reasonable estimate of how long a potential project might take?

Recording word counts, fees and the time you take will enable you to answer these questions and many more. The answers will feed into your reporting (see below) and also help you to control your workload (and hence take care of your mental wellbeing).

Whatever system you choose for your scheduling will likely have the ability to record these details, or you might want to set up a specific spreadsheet for this purpose (or, if you’re a CIEP member, you can use the Going Solo toolkit ‘work record’ spreadsheet). For time tracking, some people use tools such as Toggl, which can integrate with other software.

3 Finances

You’ll need some sort of way of tracking invoices raised, whether they’ve been paid and any expenses. Obviously this should be in a format that enables you to meet the tax reporting requirements in your region. Beyond that, the level of detail and the format are up to you. You might find specialist software helpful, but a spreadsheet (perhaps with some conditional formatting to flag when an invoice is overdue) can be more than enough. You might even just add a couple more columns to your scheduling spreadsheet to record when a project has been invoiced and paid. If you’re a CIEP member in the UK, you could try the Going Solo toolkit ‘accounts’ spreadsheet.

A hard-earned tip is to actively track your cashflow too. By this I mean forecasting when you expect future payments to arrive (for all upcoming projects – not just the ones you’ve already invoiced) and your anticipated expenses (including the ‘salary’ you pay yourself). Although this can take a bit of time, it can really help your mental wellbeing as it avoids surprises. Susie Jackson has a lot of great tips on clear financial thinking for freelancers.

4 Leads, enquiries and quotes

This is all about tracking who’s contacted you and why, the outcomes, the status of any ongoing discussions (eg if you’ve sent out a quote and are waiting for feedback) and the details of any organisations you’re interested in approaching in the future.

The scale and format of this document will vary hugely from freelancer to freelancer, depending on the nature of their business and what they’re trying to achieve. You might want a complex CRM-type system that enables easy day-to-day tracking and communication with clients, or a simple spreadsheet might equally serve you very well. Just make sure your chosen tool has the capacity to record everything you’ll want to report on (see ‘Strategy and reporting’ below).

5 Marketing

I’m very much not a marketing expert, so I like to keep this as simple as possible. However, if this is an activity that you enjoy or that is particularly important to you at the moment (eg if you’re pivoting your business in a new direction), you might want to give this more space within your business. Louise Harnby’s posts are a perennial favourite in the editing community on the topic of marketing.

My major marketing activities are my website, my blog and my CIEP directory entry. For my website and directory entry, I keep an ongoing list of tweaks plus, if I’m building up to a major update, a more substantial document where I rewrite my content. For my blog, I used to have a separate spreadsheet but I now track my posts in WordPress’s native interface, which I’ve found has saved a huge amount of time.

All of my marketing activities are heavily influenced by my strategy document (see below).

6 Log of positive feedback and lessons learned

As advocated by Erin Brenner and many others, the ‘win jar’ is a hugely important morale booster, especially for freelancers who spend much of their time working in isolation. Whether you choose an actual jar, yet another spreadsheet or an A1-size poster of your greatest hits to hang on the wall, it’s wise to remind yourself of all the positive comments you’ve received. After all, if you don’t keep in mind what your clients appreciate, it’s harder to deliver on their needs.

At the same time, though, a modest log of lessons learned can be a really valuable tool. I always make sure to briefly write down when something doesn’t go to plan – for example, if I take on a project with red flags and then regret it, or if it turns out partway through a process that a client wasn’t fully clear on some aspect of my service. I then make sure to plug the gaps by taking action to avoid the same thing happening in the future – for example, by updating my checklist of ‘things to consider’ when evaluating a potential new project or by updating my quote package so future clients hopefully won’t experience the same misunderstanding in the future.

7 CPD log and planning

It can be helpful to keep a list of the continuing professional development (CPD) activities you’d like to do. Otherwise it can be easy for months or even years to slip by in which you’ve completed an awful lot of projects but not furthered (or even maintained) your skillset at all. It can be particularly helpful to use this document to plan the time and financing needed for any ‘big’ courses, such as learning a brand new skill. But it’s also good to jot down books, podcasts, websites and the like that you can use to help you keep up to date with whatever developments are relevant to your field. Again, CIEP members could use the Going Solo toolkit ‘training and CPD’ spreadsheet for this.

8 Terms and conditions

If you’re working with non-publisher clients then you’ll probably want a document you can share with them that lets them know the legal and practical implications of doing business with you. I think of my T&Cs as a document that evolves with my business and I update it at least annually.

9 Strategy and reporting

Not everyone starts their business with a fancy formal business plan. But at some point you’ll probably find it helpful to write down all those ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybe I coulds’ and ‘I think I’d like tos’ in a single place to keep track of them. The purpose of this document is to set out what you want your business to do for you and how you plan to achieve that.

Your goals can be as grand or as simple as you like. For example, you might want to write a detailed financial and marketing plan to help you completely change your client base over the next three years. Or you might prefer to keep things roughly as they are but achieve a modest hourly rate increase each year.

Where this becomes really powerful is when you pair it with reporting on how your business has performed in the past. I’ve written about how and why I write an annual report for my business here and here. Once you understand your past performance, you’re better able to set realistic future goals and make wiser decisions about what you want your business to achieve for you.

I do my strategy and reporting in Google Docs and use this information to populate to-do lists in Trello with the actions I’ve chosen to keep me on track. Your reporting data will come from all the sources above – you’ll just be viewing it in the rear-view mirror.


In choosing how to address each of the areas above, keep in mind that your documentation should be flexible, manageable and focused on outcomes rather than tracking for its own sake. It should also be capable of evolving – after all, who knows what you will want your business to be doing in five, ten or even twenty years’ time?

Resources

The Going Solo toolkit, which is free to all CIEP members, includes a collection of Excel spreadsheets that are set up to record most of the information covered in this post.

The Editor’s Affairs (TEA) is another series of Excel spreadsheets designed specifically for editors to keep track of their business data.

The short book The Paper It’s Written On: Defining your relationship with an editing client, by Karin Cather and Dick Margulis, is helpful for crafting your own T&Cs.

About Hazel Bird

Hazel Bird is a freelance editor and editorial project manager who works with businesses, charities, public sector organisations, publishers and authors around the world to deliver some of their most prestigious publications. She tries to see the detail and the big picture all at once – the wood and the trees – and has learned over the years how important good documentation is in achieving that!

 

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: notebook by Jessica Lewis Creative on Pexels, two-week plan by Hazel Bird, laptop and notebook by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Dealing with the death of a client

In this post, Vanessa Wells reflects on what happened when one of her repeat indie clients died unexpectedly. The CIEP information team also give some practical tips for dealing with the death of a client.

Vanessa’s experience

I’ve been editing for a decade and last week had my first experience of the death of a client.

This fellow was a repeat client. He’d been nominated and shortlisted for awards for his excellent books. He was the type who paid literally within five minutes of receiving my invoice. He was thoughtful and appreciative of the editing process. In short, he was the ideal client.

I was going to edit his next novel shortly; he just wanted a few more weeks to tweak the manuscript. Meanwhile, I’d come down with Covid, and when I saw online the news of his death, I was gutted – perhaps made more emotional by feeling physically depleted but also because it was yet another good person gone: I’d lost a dear friend early on in the pandemic and a former student died by suicide this year. Aside from no longer having this great writer to work with, I started to wonder why his death hit me as it did.

The author–editor relationship

The longer I edit, the more I appreciate writers’ craft. I really am impressed with their abilities and, in those with perhaps less skill, their tenacity and courage. I don’t take lightly the idea that we are here to collaborate with authors, rather than rewrite their work as we see fit. What they produce deserves to be treated with respect, and how we interact with them and their text should be a safe space. Sometimes the vulnerability they reveal is shocking. There are projects where we are the first person to read what they have written. David Shannon wrote Howul while his wife thought he was watching footy every night in his den. So there can be a creative and intellectual intimacy with an editor that a writer doesn’t have with others. The more vulnerable the author, the more they are opening their heart to someone whose metaphorical red pen they fear. The trust they are placing in us to provide constructive suggestions can be immense.

Conversely, we might be the first person to validate their efforts. Perhaps their labour of love has been denigrated by others as just a hobby. We may be coaching someone who’s kept their desire to write a secret or an untried exercise for decades. The analogy to writers birthing their babies may be a bit hackneyed, but I’m very conscious of the midwifery role I play.

As a sensitive person, I know what it feels like to be corrected. I bear that in mind in the wording of my comments and suggested edits, regardless of whether my feedback is gently critical or laudatory (and usually it’s a delicate balance of the two). I often feel like I learned the dynamics of this from my twenty years of teaching, also moulded by my own student experience of both kind and mean teachers. We have the power to inspire or wound (be it as editors or just in everyday life), and sometimes we can discern something of our clients’ personalities from their first emails to us. A tentative little dance underlies their questions, which can make us feel sympathetic and perhaps already a little protective of them in the process they’re about to take on.

I think this special type of relationship is not common to many professions, and the resulting connection that is lost upon a client’s death can leave us feeling gutted.

Financial considerations and the future

A friend commented that my author’s death must have come as a financial blow, too – which it did. I hadn’t asked him for a non-refundable deposit as I knew how reliable and accommodating he was. (And, in fact, fate unexpectedly dropped a new indie client in my lap the same day.) But even if I had been more proactive about using my usual contractual practices with him, I certainly would never have kept the deposit. Perhaps if there were different circumstances with, say, a single author and an executor, I might consider pursuing my balance owing if I had (almost) finished an edit. But as an editor, I believe my business is as much about the writer as the text, and I would not be comfortable pursuing payment no holds barred.

I hope that one day my client’s wife will look me up in his email and offer to let me read his sequel. I appreciated him for his work, not the income. From what I’ve seen in social media posts about him since his death, he was widely admired for his character as much as his skill. I’m sorry to have lost him as a client, but I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to work on such excellent writing. Another loss during this difficult period, but another blessing to recognise in my career as an editor.

Blue skies, sir!

Pink blossom being blown from a tree in front of a blue sky

Practicalities: What to do if your client dies

If you are aware that your client has a terminal illness (you might, for example, be working on their memoirs), you should agree in writing the steps to take in the event of their death. This may cover who will contact you with news of their death, the proportion of the fee to be paid, and what to do with the manuscript.

You may, in fact, find it helpful to include such information in your contracts as a matter of course – and to include similar information for the client in the event of your own death or incapacity while you are working with them.

Be sensitive to the feelings of your client’s family and/or colleagues – and allow time for yourself to grieve, if necessary. Similarly, if you have only just found out that your client has died after chasing a response or asking for a new draft, try not to feel guilty if you think your approach seemed insensitive. You couldn’t be expected to know what had happened.

If you have completed the work and wish to be paid, you will need to be proactive. Again, try not to feel guilty – if you have completed the work and fulfilled your part of the contract, you have the right to be paid as part of the business transaction.

Corporate clients and publishers are likely to have accounts departments, which will be independent of your contact and have their own email address. Write to them, explaining the situation. They will use their internal processes to find out the status of your payment. For example, if your contact died before raising a purchase order, the accounts department should identify an appropriate colleague who can verify your work and raise the PO retrospectively.

For individual clients, such as self-publishing writers, the executor of their will is responsible for ensuring their debts are paid but this might take months or even years. You might feel it’s not worth pursuing and that it’s more prudent to write it off.

If you send out email newsletters or other forms of marketing, remove your client’s name from the mailing list immediately.

If your contact was a corporate or publishing client, and you wish to keep working for the organisation, find out who is covering their work or replacing them and politely introduce yourself. Outline some of the projects you’ve worked on for your client and the benefits your work brought. This is the same approach you might take if your contact had simply left the company.

About Vanessa Wells

Vanessa Wells is a fiction editor and an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She lives in London.

 

 

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: clocks by Giallo, blossom by Recal Media, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Resources round-up: Copyright

Welcome to this round-up of resources from the CIEP. This time, our subject is copyright.

How much you need to know about copyright as a publishing professional will vary according to the role you have within the publishing process. The resources in this round-up should get you started in understanding the basics, and at the end we’ll point you towards three courses that will teach you the principles of copyright in more detail.

An overview of copyright

Before launching into the details of copyright, it’s worth taking some time to understand what it is and does. The CIEP’s new fact sheet ‘Copyright’, by Pippa Smart, is a great start here. It covers what copyright is and who owns it, how copyright works can be used, moral rights, and instances where you don’t need permission, plus details like copyright layers and the Berne three-step test, all from a UK perspective. Soon this fact sheet will be available to members only, but it’s currently available for a limited time to non-members too.

Detailed guidance

Once you’re ready to look at copyright in more detail you can find information on the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) website, with links to the UK government’s Intellectual Property Office and other official guidance. The UK government is a good source of detailed information on copyright, including a list of exceptions to copyright.

Check out these fact sheets from the UK Copyright Service, too: UK copyright law, using the work of others, understanding fair use and obtaining permission to use copyright material.

Resources by publishers and authors

It can be especially useful to look at copyright from the point of view of publishers and authors. The Publishers Association has produced guidance, as has the Society of Authors. As far as self-publishing goes, Pippa Smart recommends this blog post from the ALLi website about one independent author’s use of song lyrics. Resources by US-based Helen Sedwick on lyrics and images are also useful for self-published authors.

Bookshop sign

Copyright by the book

A book that many editors will already own is Butcher’s Copy-editing, and Section 3.7 is devoted to copyright permissions and acknowledgements. There are also chapters about copyright within other books about the wider publishing process:

  • Inside Book Publishing by Giles Clark and Angus Phillips (Routledge, 2019) – Chapter 12 is on rights sales.
  • The Professionals’ Guide to Publishing by Gill Davies and Richard Balkwill (Kogan Page, 2011) – Chapter 8 is about understanding how rights and permissions work.

If you want to delve deeper, try:

  • Copyright Law for Writers, Editors and Publishers by Gillian Davies in association with Ian Bloom (A & C Black, 2011), reviewed on the CIEP website.
  • Publishing Law by Hugh Jones and Christopher Benson (Routledge, 2016).

Courses on copyright

If you’d like more confidence in understanding and working with copyright, a training course may be a good option. The CIEP offers Copyright for Editorial Professionals, an online self-study course of around 30 hours, and the PTC offers Copyright – the basics, an online, half-day course, and Essential copyright for publishers, an e-learning module.

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: Laptop and notebook by Maya Maceka, bookshop sign by César Viteri, both on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

CIEP social media round-up: August and September 2022

Our social media team takes you through the CIEP content we’ve shared on our social media platforms during August and September 2022. This time, the emphasis falls on fiction.

Editing fiction

Several blog posts from August and September had the theme of fiction editing. There’s a common misconception out there that fiction editing is just a form of rather intense reading that you could carry out while sitting in a soft armchair drinking a mug of cocoa.

The first article listed here, which forms part of our curriculum for professional development, is by Jane Moody, our Training Director. She gives a detailed table of the competencies, skills and attitudes that we should be able to evidence as a professional fiction editor. Cocoa is optional.

One of the best sources of advice for CIEP members about how to become a fiction editor – or any type of editor – are the CIEP forums. This ‘Forum matters’ article points you in the direction of some of the best places to access information about fiction editing.

Rachel Lapidow edits role-playing games. The style sheets for such complex projects are detailed – the style sheet of her current work-in-progress is 60 pages long! She shares the structure of her style sheets and the process of creating them, and shows us how they can be useful for fiction editing too.

While you might think the main focus of fiction editing is dealing with fantasy, Sue Littleford reminds us that we also need to think about facts. Keeping records about your current work in order to optimise your future work is essential for editors of any subject matter, and fiction is no different. She describes three ways to keep records and introduces the CIEP’s free spreadsheet designed for record keeping.

‘Definite articles’ is our pick of recent editing-related content from all around the internet – and, in this edition, themes included the language of fiction, dialogue and character, plot, story and scenes, and the business side of fiction publishing.

The writing software Scrivener has some enthusiastic fans among the writing community. Scrivener allows you to restructure a piece of writing much more easily than is possible in Microsoft Word. In his ‘Talking tech’ column, Andy Coulson investigates whether Scrivener might also be a useful tool for developmental editors of fiction.

And in the editorial department …

Agile planning

An ‘Agile’ approach to planning – and the changes that occur in that planning – is a style of teamworking. It’s a project management model more familiar in the world of technology. Its principles make a priority of individuals, deliverables, collaboration and response to change. Steven Martin considers whether the Agile approach might work in publishing.

Project management

What does editorial project management actually involve and where do copyeditors and proofreaders fit into the process? In this post, editorial project manager Julia Sandford-Cooke describes her typical week and some of the tasks she often undertakes. Check out the CIEP’s Editorial Project Management course if you want to learn more.

Translation editing or copyediting?

Gwenydd Jones is an experienced translator. Early in her career she noticed clients were asking for ‘translation editing’ – with the term ‘editing’ being used very loosely. She explains what’s involved in the field of translation editing and considers how it shares similarities with copyediting.

Apostrophes

George Bernard Shaw hated them, but could we do without them? Is it time to ‘kill apostrophes’ or would that be ‘just plain wrong’? In her regular column ‘A Finer Point’, Cathy Tingle goes in search of the genuinely useful apostrophe and makes some interesting findings.

Working through the menopause

It is encouraging to see increasing numbers of conversations about menopause and perimenopause. Members of the CIEP forums shared their varied experiences of working through the menopause, which Liz Dalby has gathered here. This post also includes some links to helpful resources.

Networking and conferencing

September is usually the month of our annual CIEP Conference, so networking is on our minds. The word strikes fear into those of us of a more introvert nature. In this article, BookMachine’s Laura Summers puts paid to the image that networking has to be awkward or scary. And while networking is about making new connections and building on existing relationships, it’s also about learning and confidence-building. All things that you’ll experience at our annual conference, which you’ll be hearing about in various blog posts in the weeks to come!

The CIEP Annual Conference took place on 10–12 September 2022. Our theme was editing in a diverse world. It was our first hybrid conference (with sessions available online as well as in person); and it was our first in-person conference since 2019. Look out for blog posts in the near future on the sessions and some conference experiences from our delegates.

Our speakers did not disappoint, and special thanks go to Katherine May, Reverend Richard Coles and Ian McMillan.

CIEP Language Quiz 16

Finally, dare you try Quiz 16? It’s all about aspects of punctuation, grammar and usage when editing fiction.

Keep up with the latest CIEP content. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Photo credit: wheat field by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Ten signs of possible plagiarism

Plagiarism in textbooks and other non-fiction resources is easily overlooked during production – but picking it up after publication is too late. Julia Sandford-Cooke raises some red flags that might suggest an author has copied their content from the web, and suggests some next steps if you think text is being reused without permission.

Plagiarism is a common problem in non-fiction texts – and probably in fiction texts as well but, as that’s not my specialism, this post focuses on non-fiction content, specifically text copied from websites.

If authors have been commissioned by a publisher, they will have been briefed about the importance of avoiding plagiarism. However, publishers often don’t have processes in place, or the budget to buy software, to check whether content is original. It may not be part of the development editor’s, copyeditor’s or proofreader’s brief to check for plagiarism (exactly who has this responsibility is beyond the scope of this post) but, ethically, you should be aware of signs of copying – and your client will be very grateful if you pick up plagiarism before the resource is too far down the line.

Why might authors plagiarise?

You may have seen headlines about plagiarised text in cookery books and even memoirs, but I think it’s rare for an author to deliberately plagiarise content. Text is more likely to be inadvertently copied.

It’s very easy to simply copy and paste text from a website into a Word or Google document. Authors may do so while carrying out research, and then forget to change the wording when they use it in their book or article.

Some authors believe that text copied from the internet is not covered by copyright laws – but it certainly is! Experienced authors sometimes reuse their own text that has been published elsewhere but normally (at least in educational publishing) the original publisher retains the rights to this text, so a different publisher cannot reuse the same text without permission, even if the author is the same.

Other authors may think that copied text comes under the ‘fair use’ rule of thumb, in which short excerpts don’t need permissions clearance, but this only covers content that is clearly presented as a quotation or excerpt, with a proper citation – not unattributed text taken from elsewhere without acknowledgement.

Ten possible plagiarism red flags

If you are working in Word, turn on Invisibles (click ¶ on your Word Home toolbar).

Content may have been copied from the internet if you spot some of the following:

  1. Non-breaking spaces (°) where you wouldn’t expect them. Authors rarely consciously use these in original content; however, it’s not always a sign of copying. For example, if the document has already been edited, you may see non-breaking spaces legitimately used between numbers and units (eg 2°km) to stop them being separated by breaking over a line. Otherwise, regard them as a warning sign.
  2. Soft returns ( ) instead of hard returns or paragraph marks (¶). Again, it’s unlikely that authors would deliberately use these, unless they are confident in working with highly formatted content. Web tools, however, often convert hard returns into soft returns when formatting in HTML.
  3. Random and irrelevant hyperlinks that may be hidden by reformatting – hover your mouse over the text to reveal them. You could right-click to reformat the link in the usual blue, underlined style, to draw attention to it.
  4. A sudden switch from UK- to US-style punctuation or vice versa (for example, from using spaced en rules to using unspaced em rules – see Example 1 below).
  5. Sudden, inconsistent use of -ize spellings if the prevailing style is -ise spellings. It can be an indication that content has been copied from an American website. Of course -ize spellings are acceptable in UK style but most British authors would choose -ise spellings, unless their specialism is, for example, business or economics. In any case, it is the inconsistency that raises the red flag here.
  6. Sudden, inconsistent use of capitalisation that differs from the author’s previous style (eg Principles of Management, the Client).
  7. Content that isn’t quite relevant or is too vague. In Example 1, the key term should have been ‘demographic movement’, as specified in the syllabus.
  8. A sudden change in style or tone, for example using more complex grammar or technical words that have not been used before, or a colourful turn of phrase that seems out of character.
  9. Marketing-speak in what should be objective content (see Example 2).
  10. Specific facts, figures and statistics – if they seem odd or out of date, check them online (for example, when text that was supposedly written recently mentions a scheme launched four years ago as if it were new).

Example 1

Supplied text: Key term: Demography is the study of the growth, structure, and movement of human populations. It focuses on enumerations (censuses), which take stock of a population at a moment in time, and also flows of vital events—births, deaths, marriages, and migratory movements.’

Giveaways: Change in tone; author hasn’t previously used the Oxford comma; sudden inclusion of an unspaced em rule; content not quite relevant to surrounding text; key term should be ‘demographic movement’, not ‘demography’. Pasting the text into Google reveals an exact match to Encyclopedia.com, including the punctuation. Although it could be argued that this short extract is ‘fair use’, a word-for-word mapping to a definition is not ideal.

Comment to the author: This text is copied from Encyclopedia.com. Please can you rewrite it in your own words, and also consider relating more directly to demographic movement, to clarify the concept for learners?

 

Example 2

Supplied text: Government funding for new business start-ups has no age limits. Any creative entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas, determination and solid business plans can apply for loans to help them get started. Remember you have to repay the money, with interest, over terms of up to five years. Over 10,000 businesses have taken advantage of these start-up loans since the scheme was launched in May 2012. Will you be next?’

Giveaways: Sudden change from a formal tone to a chatty marketing tone, which addresses the reader directly; reference to launch year implies it was recent when the text was written; figure of 10,000 possibly low for a ten-year period.

Comment to the author: This text is very marketing-orientated and seems to have been taken from [website]. Please amend it to take it further from the source material, and include some more recent figures.

Next steps if you suspect plagiarism

What should you do if you spot enough of these warning signs to make you suspect that some of the content is plagiarised from the web?

First, check for yourself: copy and paste suspect text into Google then, if it matches or nearly matches a source, note the link.

Reword the text if that’s the most efficient solution, or if you think the author won’t be able to do so within the time available, but do let them know.

Be polite but direct when telling authors they have plagiarised content – they will probably know it’s wrong and that they are guilty, especially if you can provide the exact URL they’ve used. I’ve had responses ranging from mortification to ‘It’s a fair cop! I’m impressed you noticed!’ but no author has refused to reword their text under these circumstances.

If you are working for a publisher, inform your in-house contact. Keep your report objective – state that you have identified some possible instances of plagiarism that you’ve marked up (or amended) and discussed with the author. Of course, if huge chunks of text have been copied, inform the publisher immediately so they can take steps to rectify it, minimising the impact on the budget and schedule.

Whatever the case, don’t ignore the problem. Section 3.1.3 of the CIEP Code of Practice states: ‘Members should be familiar with the main provisions of the current relevant legislation … in particular relating to … the reproduction of copyright material belonging to third parties. They should endeavour to ensure that these provisions are adhered to and bring any suspected infringement to the attention of the client.’

Even if it’s not technically your job to spot plagiarism, you have a duty to draw attention to it.

About Julia-Sandford Cooke

Julia Sandford-CookeAdvanced Professional Member and CIEP Information Team member Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has clocked up nearly 25 years in publishing. When not editing textbooks, she posts short, grumpy book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews, and would like to get on with writing her novel if only work didn’t keep getting in the way.

 

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: peacock feather by Magda Ehlers and mountain by Chris Czermak, both on Pexels.

Posted by Julia Sandford-Cooke, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

An author’s experience of being edited

Aaron Wilkes is a prolific school textbook author. In this blog post, he talks about his experiences of being edited and shares the things that have made the editing process easier for him.

I’ve been in the ‘writing game’ for quite some time now, perhaps nearly 20 years, and I’ve been either the sole author, co-author or ‘series editor’ for over 80 student textbooks, revision guides and online resources, from Key Stages 1 to 4. I’m a history teacher by trade – it was my full-time job up to a few years ago – but, in my spare time, I’ve written for Stanley Thornes (that then became Nelson Thornes), Folens and, most recently (for the last ten years), Oxford University Press. Over the years, I’ve worked with lots of editors, both in-house and freelance, and thought I’d share my experiences of being edited and how some editors have really helped make the whole editing process easier (or in some cases, harder).

Friendly introductions

Firstly, it’s just really nice to get a friendly introductory email. I don’t expect War and Peace, but a simple ‘Hi, I’m … and I’ll be working on … etc, etc’ with a phone number is always appreciated. A quick chat over the phone can be lovely too. In fact, a quick chat is often worth its weight in gold because it gives me a chance to put a ‘voice’ to the comments and feedback I’ll get.

Now I completely understand that both writers and editors are really busy, but sometimes it can be helpful to just have a 10–15-minute conversation about things. I’m sure we’ve all received text messages that we’ve looked at and thought ‘I’m not sure how to take that’. It can be the same with feedback on manuscripts. Depending on the day I’m having, the feedback can sometimes be taken ‘wrongly’. This is where an initial chat on the phone can help, just so I feel more familiar with the editor and ‘get them’ a bit more. Writing is quite a lonely profession – you tend to sit on your own, in the quiet, for long periods of time – and when it comes to making revisions, the offer of a chat is sometimes really nice.

I’ve been working with an editor who is new to the team at OUP and she always signs off her emails by saying if you don’t want to spend lots of time answering via email, just give me a call and we’ll chat things through. Most of the time I respond by email, but sometimes it’s really nice to talk. Open lines of communication are a really important part of the process.

Woman talking on a mobile phone at her office desk

Solution-focused feedback

Another part of the process that I really value is the way I get my feedback. Personally, I don’t mind at all if an editor makes minor changes (though I still want Track Changes to show me what they are!). I write lots of words that make up lots of sentences, so will sometimes mess up the way I structure a sentence, or simply ‘overwrite’ something that can be expressed more succinctly. The editors I find easiest to work with simply fix these problems with minimal fuss. I like it when that happens – I trust the editor to get that right. And when I’ve had a conversation with the editor already, when I’ve chatted on the phone, it makes me value their changes more because I think that they understand me a little.

With slightly larger changes, in my opinion, the best editors are the ones that help you out! They throw me a bone when something reads a little ‘off’. I might have pored over the paragraph for over an hour, and in my eyes I’ve made it as good as it can be. If an editor thinks there should be a change to the ‘thrust’ or shape of the paragraph (or perhaps the whole spread itself), it is so incredibly helpful if they help out a little and shape it how they want to. It’s so nice when I read in the comments at the side of a Word document, ‘I think this might read a little better like this: [and then they construct, or part-construct the text] – have a look and let me know what you think.’ Most times I will just accept these changes.

Feedback that doesn’t overwhelm

When I get an edited manuscript back it’s usually accompanied by a load of mark-ups and comments via Track Changes. If there are loads of comments and changes – and the manuscript is awash with different coloured text where revisions have been made – it can be a little daunting (and demoralising). In recent years, I have asked my editors to clean it up a little before I get it back. Especially if the manuscript has gone to two or more people, and they’ve all made comments – do I really need to see the whole discussion? As I mentioned before, I’m happy for the changes to be made and sent back to me for a final ‘yes’ (it’s nearly always ‘yes’).

In a similar vein, feedback from OUP arrives in two forms – and I like it. The manuscript is edited and I get feedback via comments and Track Changes. All good. Then, at the next stage (when the first proof is ready), I get a ‘queries grid’, which is a Word document that acts as a conversation between reviewer, editor(s) and me. This is the part of the process that is sometimes done over the phone, and is where the quality of the relationship between editor and author is important. These grids are used to track decisions made together about queries.

Typewriter typing the text "rewrite... edit... rewrite... edit... rewrite"

Concrete examples

Another particularly powerful idea is to actually show an author the direction you want them to go in. I’ve just undertaken a new project in which the style of writing is a little different to what I’m used to. The editor simply exemplified what was required – she gave a WAGOLL. This is something that most teachers are familiar with – What A Good One Looks Like. I think this is key for getting the best out of an author – model what you want them to do.

I think this is especially important with new authors. I regard myself as a bit of an ‘old lag’ now. It’s never my first rodeo when I get a new book contract, but I know (because they’ve told me) that new authors find it really helpful to be shown what needs to be done. I’m not entirely sure that sending them a ten-page document covering what needs to be included is particularly helpful – it’s just a ‘wall of words’ – so in my experience the most productive new author meetings are the ones where you sit round a table (or on Teams) and have an experienced author come up with five, eight or ten top tips or ‘golden rules’ for writing spreads. I’ve done this several times with new author teams where I’ve sat with them and explained how a spread is formed and how the process works for me.


I enjoy and value working with editors, and have always embraced the process. I’ve become really friendly with several editors, and have even phoned them to pick their brains on little issues that have cropped up when working on other projects. To their credit, they have always been most helpful, and I have returned the favour several times when I’ve been contacted by editors who wanted a chat about something that they were struggling to get their head around. I realise that every editor–author relationship will be different, but I hope the things that have helped the editing process to go more smoothly for me might help other editors and writers out there too.

About Aaron Wilkes

Headshot of Aaron WilkesAaron Wilkes has over 20 years’ experience in teaching history and writing school textbooks. During this time he’s written or contributed to over 80 textbooks, revision guides and online resources. He leads the PGCE Secondary History course at the University of Warwick and is the co-creator and owner of the online history journal practicalhistories.com.

 

About the CIEP

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

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Photo credits: pencils by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash, woman on phone by Vlada Karpovich, typewriter by Suzy Hazelwood, both on Pexels.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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