Tag Archives: inclusion

Editing outside your experience

The Radical Copyeditor, Alex Kapitan, recently spoke to PEN, the Professional Editors Network, members and guests about how to be a radical copyeditor when editing language that describes the experiences of those outside our own life experiences. Nicholas Taylor shares his takeaways from the event.

The Radical Copyeditor’s seven principles for editing text

The Radical Copyeditor, Alex Kapitan, spoke to PEN, the Professional Editors Network, members and guests about how to be a radical copyeditor when editing language that describes the experiences of those outside of our own life experiences.

Whether it’s race, sexuality, gender, disability, religion or faith, socio-economic background or any of the other many ways we describe ourselves, as editors, we are going to come across texts that describe people who don’t share the same backgrounds and experiences as ourselves. As editors, we are going to come across language that describes those experiences and we need to edit that with sensitivity and awareness.

Being an editor is not about sticking to a set of arbitrary rules, Alex reminds us. It is about being sensitive to language that describes people and affirms their lives and backgrounds, being aware of the rules, where they came from and figuring out which ones to apply, in context. As editorial professionals, we should be considering who those rules serve, where they came from and their impact on marginalised communities. As we know, language is always evolving and as professionals, we should be aware of changes in usage, terminology and trends.

Alex told us about the effects of an author’s choice of words. Language has the ability to:

  • dehumanise,
  • pathologise and
  • invisibilise.

Dehumanising language causes people to look the other way when its targets are suffering, completely othering groups and erasing their voices from the conversation.

Pathologising language stigmatises people who have different experiences. The language used can make people feel that they are ‘wrong’ simply for having those backgrounds or lives and that their lives need to be fixed.

Invisibilising language takes the experiences of people, whether through appropriation or erasure, communicating the idea that a group of people no longer exist. All three of these are particularly problematic and are something that editors should be looking out for.

As always, we are reminded that context matters, but our primary concern should be to avoid harm. Caring for the readers, writers and ourselves is important, Alex reminded us.

Alex took us through seven principles for editing text.

1. Be appropriately specific

Using specific language to describe people, rather than awkward or inaccurate generalisations, is going to be more inclusive. For example, describing ‘LGBTQ+ people’ is not helpful if you are trying to talk about ‘same-sex couples’.

2. Avoid euphemisms

Using euphemisms suggests that the right language is ‘wrong’ or something to be avoided.

3. Counter dehumanising language

Avoid using adjectives as nouns or equating people with a label or condition.

4. Respect self-identification

If people use a certain language, term or phrase to describe themselves, use this. You should not edit this language to make it ‘correct’ if it’s the language they use.

5. Use gender-inclusive language

More than just correcting fireman and postman, use non-sexist, neutral language. Singular ‘they’ works for both those who use this as a pronoun and for more general cases, replacing ‘he/she’ constructions.

6. Be mindful of metaphor

The idea of blackness and darkness vs whiteness and lightness is well-known, especially in fiction, but this language has the power to reinforce stereotypes.

Hands in darkness holding a candle

7. Challenge imperialism

Alex spoke about this from the perspective of someone from the US, but more widely, editors need to challenge the ideas of a collective ‘we’ approach. Who does that ‘we’ exclude when we talk about that?

There are opportunities to develop a more conscious approach to language at every stage of the editing process, from developmental editing right through to proofreading. Whether we are editorial freelancers or in-house editors, we have opportunities to ensure that language is inclusive. Publishers and presses have responsibilities, too, Alex reminds us.

At the heart of this approach is care: care for the reader, the writer and for the editor. The focus should not be on avoiding ‘offence’ or ‘getting into trouble’ but on not causing harm. When we edit, particularly language and topics that fall outside of our own experiences as individuals, we need to be tuned in to the potential to cause harm.

Using conscious language requires a lifetime commitment. It isn’t going to happen overnight and we may find that it feels awkward or clumsy at first. But language is important and we should take the time to learn from others who have experiences outside of our own to fully understand how language works for them.


The CIEP produces resources to help editors and proofreaders. These EDI resources include:

Read about where the CIEP stands on EDI 


About Nicholas Taylor

Nicholas Taylor (he/him) is an editor, proofreader and occasional writer. He specialises in working with LGBTQ+ texts, both fiction and non-fiction, and works to make text more inclusive for the whole LGBTQ+ community. He is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP.

 

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: hands by Anete Lusina on Pexels, candle by Myriams-Fotos on Pixaby.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

The 2021 CIEP conference: Easy English

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Anna Baildon reviewed Easy English: The principles of writing for people with low literacy and what editorial professionals can learn from them, presented by Cathy Basterfield.

What is Easy English?

One of the reasons I attended this interesting session is that Easy English is a new concept for me.

Cathy described Easy English as ‘writing for people who haven’t got functional literacy’. She showed us examples of Easy English documents which made it clear that this is the polar opposite of the writing styles we often work with as editorial professionals. But Cathy emphasised the myriad texts which we encounter in our daily lives and which are inaccessible to many people.

Cathy has many years’ experience in speech pathology and working with people who use non-verbal communication. Our chair, Hugh Jackson, noted that Cathy pioneered the development of Easy English, so we were in good hands. Delegates contributed some thought-provoking questions, most of which Cathy answered in the time available.

Why do people need Easy English?

Easy English caters for people with the lowest levels of literacy. This may be related to a disability or other reasons. It was sobering to consider the impact of being unable to access information that I take for granted – Cathy mentioned the significant health, social and economic consequences – and to see data showing that a surprisingly large proportion of adults do not have the literacy to manage day-to-day tasks.

Easy English is most commonly used for information that people need, such as health information or terms and agreements. (I learned that there is an accessible information standard that all NHS and adult social care providers in England are legally required to follow.) Easy English is generally not used for the cultural, leisure and news content which people with higher literacy read for pleasure and engagement reasons. Cathy said that research shows that people with low literacy do want to read these richer types of material. This demonstrates an even greater potential for applying Easy English approaches.

One very interesting point Cathy made was that Easy English can be effective for people with higher literacy levels. She gave an example of a document about court proceedings that was useful to someone at an intensely stressful and emotional time.

Some nuts and bolts

Cathy used example texts to demonstrate some Easy English techniques. We learned that we should use:

  • a lot of white space
  • directly relevant illustrations (not photographs) to help convey the meaning of the text
  • short words and sentences
  • minimal punctuation
  • positive phrasing
  • bullets to separate items in a list.

I liked the idea of ‘unpacking the language’ so that the meaning becomes accessible.

Headlines I’ll remember

  • It’s hard to write in Easy English!
  • Access to written information should not be a reading test. It should be enabling.
  • Access to information is a right. ‘Access’ means that a person reads, understands and knows what they can do.

I agree with conference organiser Beth Hamer that Cathy gave us ‘a different perspective’ and challenged our assumptions. I can see that Easy English is related to plain English and Easy Read, but that it goes further. I would like to explore these specialisms after I’ve completed my core training. In the meantime, it will be interesting to spot opportunities where I can use the principles in more subtle ways in my work.

Thank you to Cathy, who joined us live from Melbourne where it was late evening.


Useful resources

Cathy’s website: https://accesseasyenglish.com.au

CIEP guide: Editing into Plain English https://www.ciep.uk/resources/guides/#EPL

CIEP training course: Plain English for Editors https://www.ciep.uk/training/choose-a-course/plain-english-editors/


Anna Baildon is an Entry-Level Member and is relishing CIEP training to strengthen her expertise. She has worked in niche librarian roles in higher education and has significant experience in wrangling non-fiction copy into a publishable state. Anna has degrees in English literature and librarianship and a lifelong affinity with words. She plans to freelance, offering both copyediting and proofreading services.

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

The 2021 CIEP conference: Conscious and inclusive editing: Understanding conscious language and the editorial role

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Suzanne Arnold reviewed Conscious and inclusive editing: Understanding conscious language and the editorial role, presented by Crystal Shelley.

Words can uplift, empower and inspire, says Crystal. But they can also invalidate, marginalise and erase. ‘Language … has the power to perpetuate stigma and stereotypes and to misrepresent.’

Editors have an opportunity to help authors recognise and replace potentially harmful language before it’s published.

What is conscious language?

Conscious language is rooted in compassion, choosing words to reflect our intention.

For example, many wheelchair users dislike the phrase ‘wheelchair-bound’ because it implies the chair is a negative thing, whereas they see it as a tool that helps them go about their daily lives. So if we say that someone is wheelchair-bound, it’s often inaccurate and can be stigmatising.

‘Many conscious language issues are unintentional’: most of us don’t deliberately offend or upset people. The problem is using words or phrases unthinkingly or out of habit – perhaps terms that we were taught as children or hear other people use.

Why care?

This isn’t about the author’s intent, but the impact on readers.

Language conveys our values and beliefs, and so, unintentionally using harmful language can affect reputation. It can also, of course, have real-world consequences, including negative reviews, bad publicity, even cancelled contracts or financial loss.

What can editors look out for?

First, don’t worry if this seems daunting. We all have to start somewhere and learning can be an ongoing process.

To help us watch out for potentially problematic language, Crystal gave the following pointers, with examples.

Ask yourself whether the language is:

  • disrespectful (eg using ‘pow wow’ to describe a meeting at work strips the term of its cultural significance)
  • stigmatising (eg ‘crazy’ – even if it’s not being used to stigmatise those with mental illness or whose behaviour seems ‘different’, it may provoke an unintended emotion in the listener or reader)
  • inaccurate (eg ‘wheelchair-bound’)
  • biased (eg default ‘he’)
  • excluding (eg referring to ‘both’ genders)
  • outdated (eg ‘oriental’, ‘senile’)
  • dehumanising (eg ‘illegal immigrant’ – we may think of phrases such as this as ‘the norm’, but they strip people of their humanity and individuality)
  • presumptuous (eg Columbus ‘discovered’ America – people lived there long before he arrived)
  • judgemental (eg ‘suffers from’)
  • rooted in oppression.

How can editors raise these issues with authors?

Don’t feel afraid that you’re trying to impose your own views or biases on the text. We raise these issues because ‘they may interfere with the author’s ability to get their message across effectively to readers’.

And that’s the key to giving feedback – keep it focused on the reader and potential unintended effects on them. Keep it constructive and professional, offer suggestions for other wording they could use and share links to relevant resources.

Find out more

You can learn more from Crystal’s blog posts. She also sells conscious language toolkits (one for writers and one for editors), which include lists of problematic terms explaining why they could do harm and suggesting alternatives.

The Conscious Style Guide is another good source of information.

In summary

This statement of Crystal’s reminds us why it’s worth making the effort:

‘Most readers won’t notice the absence of harmful language, but they’ll notice its use.’

Suzanne Arnold is an Advanced Professional Member who specialises in copyediting and proofreading non-fiction for adults.

 

 

 

About the CIEP

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

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

‘Non-native’ and ‘native’: Why the CIEP is no longer using those terms

EDI director Luke Finley and community director Vanessa Plaister explain why the CIEP is calling time on the terms ‘native speaker’ and ‘non-native speaker’.

What’s the problem?

The phrases ‘native speaker’ and ‘non-native speaker’ are still common in our field and related areas such as translation and ESL teaching. But there’s a strong argument that they are unhelpful at best and that at worst they perpetuate assumptions about language competence that have an exclusionary effect.

The CIEP has been keeping up to date with that thinking. Increasingly, those of us writing as the CIEP have instead used more precise phrases. Now, we’ve decided to make that decision formal: the CIEP style guide will ask its authors not to use ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ to differentiate English speakers according to where they’re from, where they’re based or which variant of English they use.

Why are we doing this?

Whether we mean to or not, when we identify someone as ‘non-native’ we relegate them to an ‘out-group’ – we other them. And, beyond geography, the word has possible connotations about what else that person is excluded from, including rights, status and language.

Boosting belonging

Does an accident of birth make a language – particularly when that language has myriad global variants – inherently more ours than someone else’s?

Many of us would answer ‘no’ – yet when we don’t consciously reflect on it, it’s all too easy to position those Englishes hierarchically or competitively. British and US English vie for first place based on their respective histories; Australian, Irish, Canadian, New Zealand and South African English follow on closely – and the rest straggle along at the back. It’s no coincidence the winners in that race are mostly majority-white, ‘Western’ nations – the nations that colonised and imposed English on the others, or the ones in which those colonisers settled.

Sharing ownership

In fact, while we may consciously reject vehemently the idea that English language competence is tied to racial identity (or presumed racial identity based on skin colour), it’s worth reflecting candidly on the mental picture that forms when we use the words ‘native English speaker’. Even if you genuinely think of someone from the Punjab, the words can act as a dog whistle to others who think they know what you really mean. And that’s an unacceptable risk in the context of the CIEP’s global membership.

If it ever did – because it is a language formed over centuries of global influences – English no longer belongs inherently to one geographical community. It’s the language of global communication, spoken fluently by more people than any other. And that fluency can come from acquiring English as a first language or from learning it more formally.

Challenging assumptions

As all editors learn, being fluent in a language is far from enough to make you a good editor. Significantly, those who learn it as a second or other language often have a better, more systematic understanding of its grammar and how to describe it than those who’ve used it all their lives. And while fluency may imply that a person has a more instinctive way of choosing their words, a larger vocabulary and a comfort with slang or idiom, is that necessarily always an advantage? These things may make a language richer, but they don’t necessarily allow us to communicate clearly, quickly or as widely as possible within a global marketplace.

What’s the alternative?

As is so often the answer: it depends.

When we see the words in context, we will think about what our writers really mean.

In many cases, the solution may be to refer to people using English as a first language or as a second or other language.

But even then, this might be tied up with an ill-founded hierarchy of competence – with assumptions about who can speak, and edit, English effectively. Perhaps we mean simply a multilingual author or someone still learning the language. Perhaps we’re talking specifically about the linguistic foibles or needs of that individual.

Or it could be that the phrase just marks out the subject as someone from a different background to the writer. In such cases, it may be that not only the words ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ but the distinction itself is unnecessary. In those instances, we might decide instead to delete the words.

In short, the terms ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ are imprecise, potentially racially loaded and fraught with issues of ownership and power – of who gets to define what is a ‘good or bad’, ‘correct or incorrect’, use of a language. This is why, as an association of members centred in the UK but spread across the world, those of us responsible for positioning the CIEP securely within that global editing community have decided to stop using them.

About Vanessa and Luke

Vanessa Plaister has been the CIEP’s community director since 2018. Luke Finley became the CIEP’s first equality, diversity and inclusion director in early 2021.

 

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: globes by Duangphorn Wiriya on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

Gendered language and children’s books

By Philippa Neville

Gender representation is, quite rightly, a hot topic in children’s publishing. I grew up in the nineties, whose media provided a diet of kind women in floral dresses, powerful men in shirts and ties, little girls with dolls and nail varnish, and little boys with footballs and dirty habits. Stepmothers were universally evil and headteachers were almost always men. Of course, plenty of girls loved dolls and many little boys adored football, but I often wonder what the world would have looked like for me if I’d been presented with casts of female doctors, astronauts and builders, and male ballet dancers, homemakers and babysitters. Happily, things are changing across all forms of media, and it is our responsibility, as children’s editors, to lead the way in showing children that there are possibilities beyond the normative roles of ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

I am an in-house copyeditor for Ladybird, and my colleagues and I are mindful of how we represent gender in our books. Ladybird is committed to creating diverse books for all children, and part of this commitment is about representing gender in a way that does not pigeonhole according to normative stereotypes. In 2018, The Observer carried out a study of the top 100 children’s books of the previous year. It found that those books were 50 per cent more likely to have a male leading character, and that he would often play a stereotypically masculine role. Male characters were twice as likely to have a speaking role in the books, and a fifth of the books did not include female characters at all.

We know that the media has a huge part to play in shaping children’s worldview. Ladybird is invested in presenting a varied gendered landscape, ensuring, in particular, that a mixture of genders are given the starring role. Much of this work is done by the commissioning editors, and I’m regularly delighted by my colleagues’ commitment to finding stories that play with and challenge stereotypes.

As a copyeditor, part of my role is to interrogate language choices. When a manuscript is handed to me from the commissioning team, one of my jobs is to look out for language that might subtly encourage stereotypical thinking and to then make it as gender neutral as possible. In children’s books, a common example of this is in job titles, so any ‘firemen’, ‘fishermen’, ‘headmasters’ and ‘air hostesses’ become ‘firefighters’, ‘fishers’, ‘headteachers’ and ‘flight attendants’ under my pen. Likewise, I change the words ‘mankind’ or ‘manmade’ to ‘humankind’ and ‘made by humans’, though the latter often requires some light rephrasing.

I also look out for opportunities to swap one gendered pronoun for another, or to use gender-neutral pronouns, where the swap makes for a non-stereotypical outcome. For example, I might change ‘My neighbour said that I could borrow his lawnmower’ to ‘My neighbour said that I could borrow her lawnmower’ or ‘My neighbour said that I could borrow their lawnmower’. For those that are unsure, it is perfectly acceptable to use ‘they’ or ‘them’ as a singular third-person pronoun.

Children’s books that fight against stereotypical gender roles are becoming more and more common, and I believe this will continue. The success of Particular Books’ Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls in 2017 kicked off a flurry of non-fiction children’s titles about brilliant women, and its effect continues to ripple through the industry. I hope to see the industry’s concern with combatting gender stereotypes extend to more representation of other gender identities, and to see more trans and non-binary characters taking up leading roles in children’s titles.

It is vital to remember that gender is only one beam of the diversity rainbow. We must also pay close attention to how we represent race, disability, sexuality and social mobility in our books, ensuring that we reflect the diverse landscape of experiences that exist within our world. At Penguin Random House, we want, through our new hires and authors, to reflect UK society by 2025. As creatives, we can lead the way in presenting children with a wider worldview – one in which there is room for everyone. Society is still on the long road to equality, but through our books we can reflect reality, broaden horizons and show the adults of tomorrow that they are represented in books or can be anything they want to be.

Philippa Neville is a copyeditor at Ladybird Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House Children’s. She works on titles from both their trade and licensing lists, which range from short picture books to longer books about science, nature and fairy tales. She has been in the industry since 2011 and has a background in primary educational publishing.

 


CIEP members can now download a fact sheet and a focus paper on gendered language from the Resources page of the website.


Proofread by Cathy Tingle, Advanced Professional Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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