Specialist Q&A – working on maths books

Specialist Q&A graphicOur editorial industry is made up of people carrying out a huge range of tasks across many different sectors. Although we are bound by common aims – to make text consistent, accurate and clear – our chosen areas of work can differ in fascinating ways.

Sam Hartburn is a proofreader and editor of maths and education books. She has answered some questions on one of her specialisms: maths.

1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

I have a degree in mathematics, and I worked as a software developer for 13 years. For the last two years I’ve been a freelance proofreader and editor, focusing on maths and education.

2. How long have you specialised in this particular kind of editorial work, and how did you get started?

I’ve specialised in maths since I started doing editorial work. I started out with the PTC’s Proofreading by Distance Learning course, then spent a lot of time researching and emailing educational publishers. I also got to know some other maths specialists in the SfEP, who have been very generous in passing on work. After a couple of ‘lucky breaks’, where my email arrived on the right screen at the right time, my business has grown steadily.

3. What specific knowledge, experience or qualifications do you need?

Obviously you need a good knowledge of maths, to A level or beyond. For academic work LaTeX is very useful, as this is what most maths researchers use to write their papers.

4. How do you go about finding work in this area?

In the same way as for any other area – emails to publishers, the SfEP directory, networking and so on!

5. What do you most enjoy about the work?

I love answer checking – sometimes I get to spend the whole day just doing maths problems!

6. What are the particular challenges?

Layout can be a big challenge. Textbooks tend to have a lot of features and diagrams, and it’s important to place these correctly, which can lead to pages overrunning or large areas of white space. Trying to sort it out is like doing a jigsaw puzzle.

7. What’s the worst job you’ve had – and/or the best?

It’s very hard to pick a worst or best job; I’ve learned so much from all of them! I’m very proud of the video editing job that I’ve just finished: I project managed the building of 200 video tutorials for GCSE maths, which will be a fantastic resource for students.

8. What tips would you give to someone wanting to work in this field?

There’s a lot of work around, but it won’t just come and find you! Do everything you can to make sure that people know what skills you have and what you have to offer.

9. What is the pay like – and are there any other perks?

I’ve found the pay to be quite good; I think it is a bit higher than for general editorial work. As for perks, some of the workbooks I’ve proofread have been suitable for my children, so (with permission) I’ve printed pages out for them to do. The general education books I’ve worked on have also given me some great ideas for activities to do with the children. I’m not sure that they always see this as a perk though!

10. What other opportunities do you think editorial work in this area might lead to?

Online and video lessons is a rapidly expanding market, and I’m hoping that there will be plenty of editorial opportunities in this area.

Maths is also enjoying a surge in popularity at the moment, with great books being written by people like Simon Singh and Matt Parker, so there should be lots of opportunities outside of education as well.


Sam Hartburn is a self-confessed maths geek with an eye for detail and a way with words. She proofreads and edits material about mathematics and related subjects, from early years through to adult education and academic research, including online lessons and video tutorials.


Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.

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

1 thought on “Specialist Q&A – working on maths books

  1. Sarah Wilman

    Hi Sam
    I really enjoyed reading your Q and A article about Maths editing.
    Here at Haremi we are always delighted to hear from people with specialist Maths editing skills!


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