Tag Archives: copyediting

Ten tips for your first copyediting job

By Liz Jones

If you’ve focused on proofreading until now, the idea of copyediting can seem daunting. For a start, you’ll probably be working on a Word document rather than a PDF or paper proofs, which means you’ve got far more freedom to make changes. But are you qualified to do the work? How sweeping should your changes be? And how can you tell the difference between what needs to be changed, and what can be left alone? Here are some tips for coping with that first job. 

1. Don’t panic!

First, take a deep breath. You’ve got this. Proofreading and copyediting are on the same continuum – it’s all editing, just at a different stage of the process and therefore with a different emphasis. Copyediting is about preparing the raw text for layout, rather than applying the final polish before publication. (That said, you want the copyedited text to be as clean as possible.) For copyediting, just as for proofreading, it can help to approach the work by considering what can stay the same, rather than what needs to change. The author’s preferences are a good place to start, and if you’re working for a publisher, their style sheet can offer useful guidance on many editorial decisions.

2. Read the brief.

This is your best clue to how much you need to intervene. What is the client expecting? A publisher might offer very clear instructions on the extent and scope of the work, and how much they would like you to change (or not). But what if there is no brief? If you’re working for a self-publisher or a non-publishing business client, the brief might be open-ended or even non-existent. In this case, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Your job as copyeditor is to remove barriers to understanding the text, and make it ready for publication. Consistency, clarity and accuracy are key. Take a look at the CIEP’s FAQs on copyediting for more tips.

3. Assess the work.

You wouldn’t start to build a house without a plan, would you? (Well, I hope you wouldn’t.) It’s probably a smaller job, but likewise you shouldn’t start a copyedit before you’ve assessed the scope of the work. When you quoted for the job, you will have looked at what it involves and should have a good idea of the time it will take. But before you start the edit look again, and more closely. Work out a plan of action. How will you order the necessary tasks? Can you figure out the most efficient way to complete the work to a high standard? (This is crucial if you’re being paid a flat fee.) It can be tempting to get stuck in right away, but a little forward planning can save a lot of time later on. You might also identify problems you need to discuss with the client, such as missing material or a heavier-than-expected level of editing.

A good way to get an overview of the whole document before you start editing in detail is to style the headings first. (It’s also all too easy to miss mistakes in headings when you’re immersed in the main text.)

4. Clean up the text.

Assessing the text (see tip 3) will have given you a good idea of the tasks that can be batched and automated. Lots of editors choose to run PerfectIt at the start of a job, for example, to highlight inconsistencies. Macros (such as those by CIEP member Paul Beverley) can also help you identify things that need editing, and make the necessary changes more efficiently. Cleaning up the text before you start the language editing can help you focus on flow and readability with fewer distractions.

5. Build a style sheet.

One of the key tasks of a copyeditor (aside from actually editing the text) is compiling a style sheet – either starting from scratch, or adding to the one supplied with the job. This helps you as you progress through the edit, providing a point of reference for all the editorial decisions you make. It also helps the client, and eventually the proofreader, so they can understand your working and hopefully won’t arbitrarily undo your editorial decisions.

6. Consider working on the references first.

If the document you’re editing has a lot of references (and it might not!), it can help to work on these first. There are several reasons for this. First, this is another way of gaining insight into the main text before you start to read and edit it in earnest. Second, the references need to be consistent, so editing them all together can be more effective than dealing with them as they arise in relation to the main text. Finally, they can take a surprisingly long time to sort out, especially if you need to check them for accuracy and tidy up formatting. If you’ve got them sorted before you start the main bulk of the editing, you don’t need to worry about spending an unexpectedly long time on them at the end of the job.

7. Work through the text in order.

Although I know plenty of copyeditors who adore references (!), for me this is the fun part. Read through the whole of the text, and make edits as you go to ensure it is consistent, clear and accurate – as in tip 2. It’s a skilful balance between knowing when to leave things alone, and when to tweak things to improve the flow of a sentence, or to help the author express themselves more effectively. Question (almost) everything – but don’t spend too long doing it.

Some questions arise: What is the copyeditor’s responsibility, and what is not? How many times should the copyeditor read the text? The answer is usually ‘it depends’ – on the brief, on the budget, and on the schedule. Keep track changes switched on (unless your client’s specified otherwise), and be careful not to change the meaning of the text. If something’s ambiguous, query it. If a change is unarguable, and can be justified, go for it with confidence. You’ve been hired for your expertise, and your ability to interpret the client’s needs.

8. Query sensibly and clearly.

How you present your queries might be specified in the brief. You might write them as comments on the Word document, or as a separate list, or both. However you present them, try to ensure they are worded clearly, and politely. It can be tricky knowing what to query, but generally you will want to defer to the author on matters of fact or content that you can’t easily check and verify. If a meaning isn’t clear, this will also need to be queried. You might also flag up editorial changes where they deviate from the author’s preferred style to explain why you did something (such as changing gendered pronouns in favour of singular they/their). For more about querying, see the CIEP’s fact sheet.

9. Carry out a final check for consistency.

Many editors run PerfectIt again at this stage, which can help you weed out straggling inconsistencies. But how many times should you actually read the text? If I’m being paid enough, I read everything twice. Once for the edit, then once to check over what I’ve done. I often find things to improve on this second pass. However, if there isn’t the time or the budget to support an entire second read, I would certainly check over all my corrections to make sure I haven’t introduced typos or other inaccuracies.

Also, check your queries. By the time you finish editing, you might find that some of the answers are clear and don’t need to be referred back to the author.

10. Return the edited document(s) with care.

Don’t rush the return: get things in order, check the brief again to make sure you’ve dealt with everything, and make sure your covering email is informative and clear. As well as the edited text, send your queries and style sheet. Let the client know they can ask you if they have any questions about what you’ve done. Once you’ve submitted everything, invoice promptly, put the kettle on and look forward to the next copyedit! All jobs are different, but your confidence and efficiency will increase with each one.

 

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, and freelance since 2008. She specialises in copyediting and proofreading non-fiction, specialising in architecture, art and other practical subjects, as well as highly technical material. She is one of the CIEP’s information team, and is also a mentor in proofreading and copyediting.

 


Photo credits: Getting ready – Johny vino; planning – Glenn Carstens-Peters, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

The right tone: how to edit writing about classical music

By Paul Kilbey

Editing classical music text is much like editing anything else, except that the text continually reminds you that the subject matter is a whole language of its own, but one that resists all attempts at translation or explication. True, classical music has its own vocabulary, but it is insufficient for many reasons: it’s horribly technical, it relies on huge amounts of background knowledge, and half of it is basically Italian. It’s difficult – and that’s an understatement – to capture in writing the essence of how the music feels, to hint at what it really seems to mean.

Try and describe what’s actually going on in a piece of music, and you will either get ludicrously specific very fast, or stay almost hopelessly vague. One of the first questions an editor has to ask is who the text is for: text for academics or knowledgeable classical music fans is quite different from text for newcomers, to the extent that specialist text can feel like its own dialect, much like legalese. Tell a newcomer, for instance, that the major-key exposition’s second subject is in the mediant, and they’ll look at you blankly – and quite right too. Tell an aficionado, and they’ll say, ‘Goodness gracious! You mean it isn’t in the dominant?’

While this is an issue when editing work on any topic, with classical music it is particularly acute. It’s vital to make sure that writers speak consistently in the right register (to borrow a musical term): to put yourself in the shoes of a reader with whatever level of musical knowledge, and make sure that the text will sound right to them. There’s a perpetual debate in classical music concerning elitism: an art form with wealthy patrons and connotations of high culture has to take special care not to appear cut off from society at large. Getting the tone of the text right is therefore a very delicate balance: newbies have to be welcomed with open arms, while connoisseurs must be treated unpatronisingly.

Having a decent knowledge of classical music isn’t a prerequisite for this sort of editorial work, but it’s certainly a great advantage. I studied music at university, and am thrilled to have found one of the few careers (outside actually performing or writing music) in which my knowledge of fugue terminology, Schoenberg opus numbers and the libretto to The Rake’s Progress has been genuinely helpful, rather than something to be irritatingly shown off at bad parties. It’s unpredictable which areas of knowledge will be called upon for a given editing task, but as well as understanding the full gamut of technical terms, from squillo to Personenregie, it’s important to have familiarity with the basics of not just Italian but also German and French. It doesn’t hurt to know how accents work in Hungarian, too. Plus, on occasion, you’ll need to navigate musical scores, to confirm tempo markings or texts or instrumentations. And of course, it helps to know what all the works you’re reading about actually sound like.

All that said, as an editor (and writer), I sometimes regret not studying English – I regretted this even during my degree, in fact, and still treasure the English faculty library pencil I plucked up the courage to buy in my fourth year. But studying music hasn’t just given me an editorial specialism: it’s also given me a different perspective from which to think about language in general. I often find myself reading text out loud, whether I’m editing it or not, because I want to hear how it sounds. I want to hear how the rhythms flow, how the vowels and the consonants arrange themselves as I say them. I listen to the cadences – a precise, analytical term in music, but beautifully ambiguous in language.

That’s why I take such joy in editing, I think: I like to make words sing. With just the smallest changes made, so much text can instantly become so sonorous. You can think of grammar, punctuation and syntax conventions as rigid rules, but I like to think of them as tools with which language can be made to sound as elegant as a song, as enthralling as a symphony, as dramatic as an opera.

None of this helps with the basic problem of how to effectively talk about music using language. That’s a problem that may not have a solution at all. But still, if we can never do justice to music through writing, the least we can do is use musical words.

Paul Kilbey is a freelance writer and editor who mainly works on classical music text. He is a Professional Member of the SfEP and lives in Munich.

 

 


Editorial Excellence is the SfEP’s e-newsletter; it aims to spread awareness of and encourage good practice in copyediting and proofreading.


Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

Photo credits: music stand – Andrey Konstantinov on Unsplash; sheet music Marius Masalar on Unsplash.

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

PerfectIt 4: an upgrade

With PerfectIt 4 now available, Dr Hilary Cadman, a long-time devotee of PerfectIt, reviews the updated program.

Daniel Heuman and the team at Intelligent Editing have heeded feedback from users and made this fabulous program even more impressive.

Simpler to start

PerfectIt has always been user-friendly, but now it is even more so, with an expanded Start panel. As soon as PerfectIt launches, it is immediately obvious which style is selected, and you can change it using the dropdown list in the Start panel rather than having to go to the ribbon. Also, with ‘Choose Checks’ upfront, it is quick and easy to see which tests are selected. Previously, if you deselected particular tests when running PerfectIt, it was easy to forget you’d done that, and then wonder why PerfectIt was missing things the next time you ran it (speaking from experience 😊).

Faster and cleaner

A major improvement from previous versions is the speed of PerfectIt 4. The initial step of assessing the document is impressively speedy, with it now taking only seconds for PerfectIt to complete its scan, even if your document is hundreds of pages long or contains lots of tables and data.

Another new feature of PerfectIt 4 that makes it faster is the function to fix errors. Whereas in previous versions the ‘Fix’ button sat to the right of the ‘Locations to check’ window, it now sits within that window, and each location to check has its own ‘Fix’ button. If you drag the task pane to make it wider, the ‘Locations to check’ window expands, making it easy to see each possible error in context. Thus, instead of having to click on a location, look at it in the document to see it in context and then return to the PerfectIt task pane to fix it, you can now work just within the task pane, saving time and effort.

Initially, I found that I was trying to click anywhere in the highlighted location to apply the fix, but once I realised that you need to have the cursor on the word ‘Fix’, it was fine. Activating the keyboard shortcuts (with F6) speeds up the process even more, because you can use one hand to move the mouse down the list and the other to click ‘F’ to apply a fix.

Also new are the little buttons near the top of the PerfectIt side bar that allow you to easily rerun the test that you’re in, or to open the whole list of tests and move on to an earlier or later one if you wish.

Styles made easier

Managing styles is another thing that’s better in PerfectIt 4. Creating a new style sheet based on an existing one used to involve exporting a style sheet, saving it to the desktop and importing it with a new name. Now, the whole thing can be done from within PerfectIt simply by opening ‘Manage Styles’ and selecting ‘New’ – this opens a window in which you can give your new style a name and say which style you want to base it on.

Another welcome style change is that the built-in styles are now preserved, but if you want to make a change to one of those styles (eg to UK spelling), PerfectIt will automatically create a new version of that style sheet (eg ‘My UK spelling’), which you can modify. Also, the built-in styles will automatically update if Intelligent Editing makes changes to them. A further useful new feature is the option to combine style sheets, nominating which style should override the other where they differ.

Finally, the style sheet editor, which works behind the scenes, was always a rather daunting part of PerfectIt, particularly in comparison to the front end of the program. The basic set-up looks much the same, but a welcome improvement is that changes to the style sheet editor now save automatically, rather than the user having to click on ‘Save and exit’ to save changes.

The verdict

I would highly recommend updating to PerfectIt 4. The upgrade is relatively cheap (currently only US$49/year – around £40 – for those already on subscription), and the benefits will be obvious immediately, particular in terms of time saving. Also, for those who are used to previous versions, the interface is sufficiently similar that updating won’t hold up your work.

If you’re still in doubt, why not give it a try. Free trials for permanent licence holders and new customers are now available (and any style sheets that created in PerfectIt 3 will automatically be brought into PerfectIt 4).

Disclosure: Hilary received a 2-year subscription to PerfectIt as an incentive to pen this review.

Hilary Cadman is a technical editor who has been using PerfectIt for nearly 10 years and has produced online courses to help fellow editors get the most out of the program.


This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Editing Matters, the SfEP’s digital magazine.


Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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