Tag Archives: The Edit

A week in the life of a puzzle editor

Sudokus, crosswords, wordsearches … they all need editing. In this post, Vanessa Souris describes a typical week in her work as a puzzle editor.

I work part-time for Puzzler. I am the editor of six puzzle magazines, proofread three of my colleagues’ titles, and am also currently working on a one-off British-themed puzzle magazine that will be released next year.

My background as a puzzle editor

Although I am British, I went to university in Australia and lived there for six years, followed by 13 years in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. Moving back to England in 2020 was a real culture shock for me and my children, who were both born in the Middle East.

I used to teach English as a second language to university level, but never really went back to it after my children were born as the hours just didn’t work for me and my young family. I fell into editing when a former teaching colleague asked if I would be interested in copyediting textbooks, as the publishing company he worked for required editors with Middle Eastern teaching experience. I completed training with the CIEP, and have worked part-time as an ELT copyeditor, proofreader and assessment item writer ever since.

I applied for the role with Puzzler last year, and when they found out I had lived in Australia, I was recruited to edit primarily Australian titles.

The database

The majority of the puzzles I work on are generated on a special program and then edited individually. We produce crosswords, arrowords, code words, kriss krosses, wordsearches, logic puzzles, sudokus – you name it, we edit it!

We have a huge database made up of tens of thousands of clues, but the computer doesn’t always select the best one for the job. We have different readerships for different magazines, and we have to take them into consideration when editing puzzles. For example, one magazine might be very celebrity-focused, whereas another might take itself a bit more seriously.

A lot of the editing work I do is on the database itself, where we can tag clues as being suitable for British audiences, Australian or both. Because I work on Australian titles, I have to remove clues that Australian readers won’t recognise and add Australian clues and cultural references. Some recent examples have been removing PLIMSOLL (the shoe) from the Australian database as this word is simply not used in Australia, and adding DROP BEAR as an Australian clue (that carnivorous native animal that preys on unsuspecting tourists).

The database is a constant work in progress, and we are always trying to make sure the content is relevant and interesting. It has been compiled over the last 40 years, so some of the clues and words can be outdated or occasionally considered offensive today, and I am part of the Diversity and Inclusion team that identifies and amends clues on an ongoing basis.

A crossword being filled in

The puzzles

Throughout, I have to consider what makes a good puzzle. For example, the computer may generate a crossword which contains seven words ending in -ed or -ing, so I will change most of the words in the software to add variation. We also have to be aware of rude words that may be inadvertently spelt out; for example, if I input REDRUTH in a list of words for a wordsearch about Cornwall, the program will alert me that the word TURD will show up in the grid!

I really enjoy setting the starter letters on a code word puzzle. After I have edited the words on the grid itself, I have to play around to find the best combination of letters that will provide a route for the reader to solve the puzzle. It’s a tricky balance to give enough clues to make it solvable, but not so that it gives away all of the remaining words without a challenge. And the readers will write in and let me know if I get that balance wrong!

After I have compiled an issue, I edit our magazine template including the editorial page and competition details in InDesign, and the puzzle files are sent off to the designers. They return a flatplan of the magazine, where I proofread any text, then go through and make sure the grids, clues and solutions all match up, and that there are no anomalies in the design. I also proofread three other titles for my colleagues in this way.

An ideal job for a word nerd

I really enjoy the work with Puzzler. It’s varied, fun and interesting, and I am part of a super-supportive team. Earlier this year it also led to a really enjoyable side project, where I edited a 10,000-question pub quiz book (you know who to call if you’re ever looking for a quiz teammate!).

I think my ELT experience comes in really useful, as a lot of language teaching is about guiding people towards working things out for themselves. And of course, a basic love of and interest in words and language runs through all of ELT, editing and puzzles.

About Vanessa Souris

Vanessa is a copyeditor and proofreader who spends half her week editing for Puzzler magazines, and the other half editing and writing ELT materials. She has recently moved back to the UK after 20 years living in Australia and the UAE, and specialises in editing teaching materials for Middle Eastern markets. She is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP and can be found on 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 credits: sudoku by blende12, crossword by stevepb, both from Pixabay.

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.

Talking tech: Scrivener

In this Talking tech column, Andy Coulson takes a closer look at the writing software Scrivener, and investigates how it might also be useful for development editors, especially in fiction.

Header image of pen and notepaperWith any writing, if you ask most people what tools they use, Microsoft Word is likely to be the first thing that comes to mind. However, Scrivener is a tool for writers that its developers describe as a tool that ‘combines all the tools you need to create a first draft’. I’m going to take a look at Scrivener and see what it does and whether it might be a useful tool for us as editors and proofreaders to consider.

Scrivener has been around since 2006 and the current version (3.0) is available for Windows, Mac and iOS. It combines a word processor, outliner and tools to manage research. While this might sound like your familiar Word environment it offers a different, more flexible and freeform way to organise your work. The ‘Getting Started’ document in Scrivener describes a number of scenarios, but one in particular that felt familiar to me was where you might produce some parts of a written piece quickly and easily, but struggle with others. The process of producing a draft then involves linking those bits that are clear and filling in the gaps and the more unclear bits. Scrivener allows you to develop a process that lets you capture and reorganise those bits in a way that would be far more difficult in Word.

Features

Screenshot from Scrivener showing the sidebar on the left and document in the middle

Scrivener projects are not just a text file like Word (although Word files are a bit more complex than that): they are a collection of files that Scrivener refers to as a project. You can decide on your own organising principle, but for this article I will use the model the ‘Getting Started’ document in Scrivener uses. The key element is the binder, the sidebar in the interface that has a stacked list of all the elements of the project, which you can see on the left of the screenshot above. The content you are writing all sits within a ‘Draft’ folder. Under this there are top-level folders for chapters, second-level folders for parts and then documents, some of which have subdocuments containing the text.

Breaking up a large writing task in this way also helps to support the writing process (or any long project) by giving you a smaller task to aim at. Scrivener includes further tools that build on this, like writing targets. These allow you to set a target word count for the whole draft and for each writing session, which can help with motivation. The model of breaking, say, a chapter into smaller files can also help as it allows you to see your progress more clearly. There is also a ‘Composition Mode’ that is very clean and sparse if you find the distraction-free approach helps with writing.

One of the big differences from Word is that you can associate synopses and notes with each document. The synopsis is always linked to the document, and this can be viewed in the Outline and Corkboard tools to allow you to get different overviews of your whole project. Notes can then be used to keep any ideas that don’t need to be in the text, such as problems you can’t fix or ideas you can’t immediately work on, or what one review described as ‘a random epiphany’.

Another feature is that you can add labels and statuses to documents. You can assign labels for a whole project and give them different colours. You can use virtually anything as a label, but ‘Getting Started’ gives the example of using this to record the character whose point of view a document is written from, to help with reviewing the structure of a story. A status is a simple text label, intended to keep track of the state of the text – ‘done’, ‘in progress’, ‘first draft’, etc.

Another potentially useful feature is Snapshots. This allows you to take a snapshot of a document at a particular moment in time. You can then compare the text (but not format) changes in this to the current version and see the differences. In Scrivener you will tend to work on smaller chunks of text than in Word, as you split the project into multiple documents, which means the compare function is much easier to use than the one in Word.

Person researching their writing project

Scrivener also allows you to keep all of your research material within the project for easy reference. This can be material created in Scrivener (the ‘Getting Started’ document has examples of character and location sheets as the references for those things in a story), Word documents, PDFs, images, and video or audio files. These are all organised within a research folder in the binder. There is also a handy scratchpad feature for making quick notes about, say, a website that you can then save within your project.

You may remember that at the start of this section I said all of your writing is stored in a ‘Draft’ folder. This is so that you can export (or ‘compile’, in Scrivener terminology) the finished draft into another format. Scrivener supports a range of output formats, including docx and pdf. You can mark different levels of file or folder as different section types, so clearly identify where chapters and parts break. When you compile you can add further options, like using a specific font, or sectional numbering, giving you a lot of control over the finished output. The Word docx output looks very accurate and retains styles accurately, both by name and in the style features.

All in all, this is a well-written program with a clean and reasonably easy-to-use interface, given the number of features it has. Looking at it with my writing hat on I can really see the advantages of it. In many ways it is a much nicer writing environment than the standard Word interface, offering a less cluttered feel. With a 30 days actual usage trial (in other words you can use it in full for 30 days, even if it takes six months to do that) and for $45 this offers writers a really good alternative tool.

Scrivener for editors?

From an editing point of view, Scrivener lacks a lot of Word’s tools. There is no Track Changes function (although Snapshots could be used in an ad-hoc way), no support for macros and no support for PerfectIt. There is a comments function that is similar to Word’s Modern Comments feature but is slightly quicker to use. Comments are tagged with the name of their author along with the time and date. However, you can’t reply to comments like you can in Word.

For most copyeditors and proofreaders, Scrivener probably isn’t going to be much help. However, you can at least be certain that if your author uses Scrivener, the Word file you get will be an accurate representation of what they have. It may also mean that the author has notes and research to hand that will make dealing with queries simpler.

For development editors Scrivener could be a different proposition. It could certainly cut down on some of the back and forth of clarifying issues within a manuscript if the research, notes and comments are all available to the development editor. I think you could also manage quite a bit of the communication about the manuscript within the Scrivener file, again helping you to organise and follow how it develops.

About Andy Coulson

Andy CoulsonAndy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 

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: desktop by Tobias Herrmann on Pixabay; researcher by StockSnap on Pixabay.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

A Finer Point: Passive aggressive

By Riffat Yusuf

Dear Readability,

Regarding your recent suggestion that my blog post might be improved by incorporating more active-voice sentences, your anti-passive bias is noted. Your call to action is uncalled for and, furthermore, I take issue with issue is taken by me with the contention that the pace of your reading is hampered by passive sentences.

PS Plain-English guidelines are exempt from all assertions and absurdities expressed above and below this line.

PPS I’m actively glaring at you, WordPress.

When the internet eventually ditches keywords for ranking purposes (I mean, keep them but don’t make content writers sweat over their optimal placement), can somebody please tweak readability formulas? That anti-verbosity algorithm which says wordiness in a sentence starts at 20 words: it needs sorting. And as for the gizmo screening for long words (two or more syllables), does a word as long as the longest word in this sentence really encumber readability? But where my gripe is majorly piqued is when WordPress sequesters my passive voice.

Voices and verbs

In grammar, ‘voice’ tells us about the relationship between the subject and the verb in a clause. If a subject is doing, carrying out or expressing a verb, the voice of that clause is active (I play football).

When the object of an erstwhile active clause takes on the role of the subject, we say the voice is passive (football is played by me). In a passive clause, we can also remove the preposition (by) and the agent (me).

The passive voice is not a tense; it can happen in the past and the present. The passive may be described as a construction or a clause, but not a verb, as June Casagrande explains in The Joy of Syntax.

There’s no denying that some verbs are less action-oriented than others. But passive and active voice in grammar have nothing to do with kinetics. Instead, voice has to do with the structure of the sentence.

Active and passive are the two official voices of English sentence structure. A third is expleted when Flesch metrics deem that of the sentences I write (in an article about passive sentences) only 10 per cent may be expressed passively. A fourth is muttered when writing experts tell me that in almost every genre, it’s easier to read a sentence where a subject actively verbs an object.

An active voice, it is said, lends itself well to informality, spontaneity, fluidity, immediacy, intimacy and, basically, whatever fusty isn’t. Listen, active voicers, you hog most of the writing space online and, if amplification for your writing style were needed, you have an ally in George Orwell’s oft-echoed one-liner in Politics and the English Language (an essay that fails readability checks with its 20 per cent passive clause saturation). What say we hear it for the passive voice?

Passive resistance

We can identify a passive clause by its form: subject + auxiliary (be or get) + past participle. That said, perhaps this accepted structure needs rethinking. (Geoffrey Pullum, I did that just for you.)

If you’ve read Fear and Loathing of the English Passive, you’ll know that a bare passive (‘that said’) doesn’t take an auxiliary verb, and a concealed passive (‘needs rethinking’) uses a gerund-participle; these phrases don’t align with the conventional structure, do they? So if the form of the passive voice isn’t as rigid as we have been taught, perhaps our understanding of what happens in a passive clause also needs revisiting.

I have read 23 explanations of the role played by each element in a passive clause. All the grammar bloggers concur that a passive subject is the recipient of the action of a verb. Pullum, who has unpacked considerably more of ‘the thousands of mutually plagiarizing bad descriptions of the passive construction’, finds that talking about a verb in terms of receipt and delivery isn’t always accurate. Not all passive subjects receive action in the way we might think.

If I were to say: ‘it is alleged by writers that passive sentences are clunky’, Pullum would point out that there isn’t actually any action being received by the dummy pronoun in my sentence. And again, in a passive construction such as ‘not much is known about …’, can we really say that the determiner (not much) receives the action of the verb?

When rules are excepted

There is a difference between the passive and the past simple: the phrase ‘there is’ isn’t it. No such distinction is made in this BBC style advice.

The active voice will help to give your scripts some vitality and life. It can also make a weak sentence more emphatic and give it greater impact. Compare these examples. The first is in the passive; the second active:

There were riots in several towns in Northern England last night, in which police clashed with stone-throwing youths.

Youths throwing stones clashed with police during riots in several towns in Northern England last night.

The subject of an active clause doesn’t always make a good agent. The active-to-passive process requires a little more input than switching places. If you want to flip from active voice to passive, watch out for semantic inequivalence in sentences using a negative verb.

Many people don’t speak English.

English is not spoken by many people.

That ‘rule’ about intransitive verbs not forming the passive … To a point, fair enough: ‘Jane laughs’ doesn’t invert well (‘is laughed Jane’). But as soon as she is supplied with a suitable preposition and indirect object, everybody can be laughed at by Jane. However, very few grammar blogs warn that not all transitive verbs can be passivised. They rarely highlight glitchy verbs like ‘concern’ and ‘have’.

The report concerns people I know.

People I know are concerned by the report.

You have a lovely garden.

A lovely garden is had by you.

It’s not you

Readability, I have to come clean. My passive apologia is a temporary affectation; I was beguiled by the silver-tongued deliberations of eminent linguists. Can you blame me for wanting in on Pullum’s ‘transformational generative syntactic discussions’? If you must know, the thing I like most about the passive is the word itself – the etymologically unsound lovechild of pacifist and passionate. Culpa mostly mea for this transgression, but if you’d only met me halfway I might have parsed less (ugh, those phrase markers!) and written better.

What you really need, Readability, is to collaborate with writers. Take the time to ask what the purpose and audience of our work is. Very few of us have anything original to say online – or anywhere. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t write, but that you could help us by delving into our motives a bit more and scoring us accordingly. Instead of marking us down with your amber and red bullets, perhaps give the reader a little pop-up: ‘This entire article is premised on a note about the passive form in Middle English that the writer chanced upon in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.’

I think I’m onto something. What if we had dilly-dally software to flag up waffle? Imagine a prompt for word accountability: an onscreen comment or query for every instance where you didn’t write what you said you would in your intro. And let’s also develop a plugin for specious content: your research is commendable, but five non-recoupable hours yield neither space nor soul for ‘inchoative and ergative aspects’ in the body of this text. Let’s see if we can’t hatch a David Crystal-shaped macro for every time anybody writes anything.

Leave it with me for now, Readability. I can really see a future in developing a ream of text-enhancement features that AI fails to deliver. I’m not sure if I should pitch to Dragon’s Den or JSTOR, but I do know that everything will make a lot more sense after it’s been checked, clarified, modified, rephrased, refined and approved by my editor.

Riffat Yusuf is a West London-based proofreader and copyeditor, and a content editor for a small structural engineering company. She has been editing since 2018, and before that she taught ESOL for 10 years and brought up her family. In the dim and distant past she was employed in journalism, radio and television. In the future, she’d like to work on ELT resources.

 


Photo credits: pencil on paper by Jan Kahánek; laughter by Hannah Gullixson, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A Finer Point: Rebel within a clause

By Riffat Yusuf

Here’s another question to keep you awake at night: what’s with the erratic commas in Riffat’s emails? So as not to discriminate between coordinating and subordinating conjunctions? More likely because she’s upstairs, New Hart’s Rules is downstairs and this pre-dawn missive isn’t work-related.

Here’s an easier one: is it incontrovertibly acceptable for professional editors not to pedantise their off-the-clock correspondence? Yes, say 87.5% of the CIEP members I polled, with a dissident John Espirian saying no, yes.*

Until the CIEP ratifies the unwritten rule about not having to ensure consistency in informal emails, text messages and social media, I shall quote Kathleen Lyle if ever my clarity and commas are queried: ‘my writing practices are shaped partly by the technology I’m using, and partly by my social situation’.

Dash it!

Em and en dashes are more easily ceded than any other punctuation mark by the off-duty editors I surveyed. Nick Taylor, who plucks out the commas between cumulative adjectives in a shopping list and wrote a blog post to help me weed them out, elides dates with a hyphen in informal contexts. He says it’s ‘simply too much of a hassle for something that isn’t particularly noticed’. Nevertheless, strimming a dash chafes his editing conscience: ‘I know, deep down, that I’m wrong. I wonder if the recipient will feel like I’ve cheated them out of a “proper” dash. Worse, what if they judge me – an editor – for it?’

I share Nick’s misgivings and wish I shared the same shortcut in informal writing because, unlike my impulsive commas, his unconventional dashes are sanctioned by Kathleen Lyle and royalty. Kathleen isn’t fussed about using hyphens instead of dashes and she knows why: ‘Conventions about dashes were intended to regularise text that is being prepared for publication, not for private or semi-private correspondence.’ Kathleen doesn’t expect people to measure the width of en or em rules in handwritten letters (nor, she suspects, did Queen Victoria, whose dashes were disparate) so why would they be scrutinised in an email?

Technology gives Kathleen yet another reason to skip convention. Her email and browser software doesn’t play ball with the keyboard shortcuts she’s set up in Word. Unlike Kathleen, I can’t say that technology lets me down – after all, a comma doesn’t require a shortcut. If Kathleen inserts or leaves out commas in her emails, she is electing to do so; when I do it, it’s with the accuracy of a flipped coin.

I share one trait with Kathleen, though; we are both one-finger prodders. (In Kathleen’s case this applies only to phone and tablet touchscreens, and not soft fruit and bread rolls.) The downside to not having long, flexible, ballerina thumbs is that punctuating anything on my phone exacts the forbearance of a Bletchley Park coder. You would think that spyware would be evolved enough to key huffing and effing as ‘backspace and stick a comma where it should be’.

Smiley culture

There’s more than one way to style a chat. Or, as Ayesha Chari says, to ‘mould communication to fit the context in ways that we’re not always aware of’. Although Ayesha cares more about punctuation than other writing conventions such as ‘dangling whatevers’, she uses emojis in her informal text messages. Emojis instead of punctuation, that is.

Ayesha’s picture punctuation is, she tells me, ‘partly to fit protocol’; she sometimes types then deletes a standard mark and inserts an emoji instead. I could ask her whether, as Gretchen McCulloch suggests in Because Internet, she styles to convey gesture rather than structure the sentence, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

FYI friends, if you write to me, any emoji (even a misappropriated vegetable) is more instructive and more welcome than a lopsided emoticon. I crane my neck to read your semicolon winks and cannot decipher terminal punctuation – a grin is easily a double chin :)) or whatever person with a cold sore this is :). And, BTW, I’ve used up half of the abbreviations in my social media repository, so your multi-letter AF shortcut is my CBA to google.

What makes me smile(y!) about Ayesha’s styling is that it belies an ingrained editorial process. Not only does she, for example, replace a question mark with ‘Face with Monocle’ 🧐, she also uses emojis to edit other emojis. So when she mistakenly uses a 😄 for a 😊 (exclamation mark and full stop respectively) she will correct it with one of these: 😌.

Grok star

I think it’s a sign that you’ve truly arrived as an editor when you can let down your guard in informal correspondence as Lucy Ridout does: ‘Some days it’s all about acknowledgement of mid points being OK at 11 a.m.; on other days it’s more random.’ Whimsical by default, and not by actual fault, is how I would like fellow editors to intuit my inconsistencies. In breezier correspondence, when I’m not evoking Kathleen Lyle, I should imitate Lucy’s modelling: ‘The rule I break most flagrantly in my own writing is consistency … I don’t adhere to a personal style sheet in all things.’

I doubt, though, that I can carry off unpredictable shortcuts with Lucy’s flair, especially in exchanges with an editor whose attention to detail is unerringly consistent even in his most off-the-cuff emails. Robin Black’s compound modifiers are always on point and his e.g. is never without two of them. But even Robin breaks the rules, diving into ‘the fantastically deep pool of English words’ and coming up with, wait for it, a sentence containing etc. etc. Yikes!

Robin’s double et cetera, while not nearly as gauche as a single etc. (minus the point) ending a list introduced by ‘such as’, is nevertheless an infraction by his standards. Spoken English regularly employs a double et cetera in shared contexts, he explains, ‘to extend meaning without going into the details’ (imagine a client describing a project: ‘just a light proofread, maybe a quick look at the bibliography etc. etc.’ – who doesn’t recognise those et ceteras?). Robin uses the same shorthand in writing: ‘It’s a sort of alternative function provided by our Latin friend … while also lending a casual tone to the writing, which I will very much be after if “etc.” is making an appearance.’

Avanti!

Fine editors, your habits have spurred my own rebellion against conformity: henceforth (but only in a non-professional setting), to each (adjective) their own (comma)! Tonight, at unreasonable o’clock, I shall be launching an exclusive, somehow inclusive, flagship, unremitting, partisan, insomniac, coup de virgule in an email to friends … that I will never send because the hand controlling the mouse wants more than anything to be a stickler for chapter and verse. My fixation with conventional style and usage in all media – yes, on the back of an envelope! – is a repudiation of decades of not caring enough. I am a wannabe pedant in awe of CIEP members who are hardwired to self-edit even on a day off.

You can see that an editor might self-identify as ‘quite slavish to the rules of writing’ two words into an email from John Espirian. His salutation is punctuated twice. (Hi, Riffat.) But John’s punctiliousness is crafted on informed choice rather than dogged acceptance: ‘Most of the perceived rules are really just style choices, and in that case, who’s to say whether we’re doing anything wrong by following them or not?’

John has been editing long and successfully enough to arrive at that place where good editing is innate, and if it carries over to one’s unpublished work, then that’s a bonus, not an exertion. What he says gives some hope that I, too, might one day hover my pen over an editorial qualms vs editors who got over it version of Rob Drummond’s pedantry graph and rest it comfortably at point D.


*That survey

Data for this article is from responses extrapolated to suit the purposes of the pollster.


Riffat Yusuf is a West London-based proofreader and copyeditor, and a content editor for a small structural engineering company. She has been editing since 2018, and before that she taught ESOL for 10 years and brought up her family. In the dim and distant past she was employed in journalism, radio and television. In the future, she’d like to work on ELT resources.

 


Photo credits: writing devices by ConvertKit; thinking emoji by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.
A graph and explanation of linguistic knowledge vs linguistic pedantry by Rob Drummond.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A week in the life of a fiction editor and writer

By Rachel Rowlands

I’ve been a freelance fiction editor for about three and a half years now. I love what I do, and aside from getting to immerse myself in fiction every day, being able to be flexible is a big perk of the job. This is because I’m also a writer.

I studied English and Creative Writing at university, and I always wanted to be an author. But working in book publishing was another ambition of mine – and becoming a freelance editor was the only way I could do that, given that London living costs are ridiculous. Plus, I grew up in the north, and I’m a homebody!

Editing and writing go hand in hand for me – I can pass on knowledge I’ve gained as a writer to my clients. I’ve been able to advise my authors by drawing on my own experiences of exploring traditional publishing.

A typical week

My day-to-day tends to be similar. I’m flexible about the hours I work, but I try to stick to office hours and be done by 5 or 6pm. A typical week involves working on one or two of the following projects:

  • a manuscript assessment or beta read
  • a copy or line edit
  • a proofread.

I usually work on manuscript assessments and beta reads alongside a copy/line edit or a proofread, because I enjoy the variety, and it breaks up the day. I’ll spend the morning doing the more intensive job – say, a heavy copy/line edit or a complicated proofread – and the afternoon reading a manuscript on my Kindle and making developmental notes. I mainly work at my desk, but sometimes I move to an armchair downstairs by the window, with a view of the greenery outside.

There are other tasks involved in my work, depending on what’s going on in a given week. I don’t have a dedicated admin day, though. I’ll do these tasks as and when needed, either first thing in the morning or when I’ve wrapped up a chunk of work for the day:

  • answering emails from clients
  • responding to enquiries
  • responding to requests from publishers
  • invoicing
  • sending out contracts
  • booking in new and repeat clients
  • accounting
  • marketing (anything from writing a blog post to networking)
  • visiting Twitter (I use it to keep up with the book industry, although it’s easy to procrastinate – I use SelfControl for Mac when I need to focus).

How I fit writing into my day

I don’t have a set writing routine. Writing comes in stages. Sometimes I’m drawing a map of a fictional world, or outlining, or writing pitches to send to my agent; other times I’m knee-deep in a draft.

If I’m up early, I’ll write in bed with a cup of coffee before moving to my desk to do client work. Other days, when I really need to crack on with editorial work (and that comes first because it pays the bills), the writing will happen later in the evening.

I might email my agent with pitches or to discuss ideas. It’s great to have someone supportive on your side, and I think that’s part of what I find rewarding about being an editor.

How writing helps me be a better editor

I’ve been learning about and studying writing craft for a long time – since before I became an editor. This gave me a huge advantage when I set up as a freelancer. Things I learned at university, or by digging into books, attending writing groups, or through trial and error and critique, I can pass on to my clients to help them grow.

Being a fiction writer myself, I can spot issues in other people’s stories, such as world-building problems, exposition, hollow dialogue and characterisation issues. But my writing experience allows me to do other things more focused on the industry and cheerleading for my clients:

  • helping authors with query letters
  • advising on submitting to agents
  • explaining the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing
  • empathising with my authors
  • discussing rejection honestly – it happens to everyone, and I often tell my clients about my own experience of racking up rejection letters
  • having frank conversations about the likelihood of being able to make money as a writer
  • pinpointing the market/target audience of a project – for example, I’ve worked on some MG (Middle Grade) projects that focused on grown-ups, which would be a hard sell.

Some might feel it’s a conflict of interest, being both a writer and an editor of fiction, but most of my authors appreciate my knowledge and that I can relate to their struggles. I’ve walked in their shoes, and they can trust me to be honest about what their work needs. I try not to impose my personal preferences, but instead frame things in a way that can help develop their own vision in line with their goals.

Professional development

I try to fit some professional development into my week, if I’m not too slammed. This can be anything from making progress on a course I’m taking, watching a webinar, to reading a reference book. This week, it was catching up on the CIEP’s conference recordings because I was too busy to participate in real-time.

I count reading books in the genres I edit as professional development, so I always fit leisure reading into my day (recently I’ve finished and loved The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix). Sometimes my leisure reading will be related to a writing project I’m working on. I’m currently reading some HP Lovecraft stories and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Eerie Tales, since I’m writing a historical/gothic fantasy.

Leisure time

When my mind’s been occupied by editing and writing all day, I need a breather! I’ll do something light-hearted, like watching an anime with my husband, or playing Animal Crossing. Working with words can be tiring, so I like to start off my downtime with something unrelated to books. Yoga helps me stretch out after a long day at a desk!

I always try to squeeze in an hour of leisure reading before bed. Even though I read all day, it’s my favourite way to unwind.

And that’s what my work week usually looks like. I take weekends off from editing, but I do some writing then, too, because I have more free time. Like other writers, it’s a balance to fit everything in, but I love what I do!

Rachel Rowlands is an editor, writer and Professional Member of the CIEP. She has a degree in English and Creative Writing and specialises in adult, YA and MG fiction, including fantasy, sci-fi, horror, romance and crime/thriller. She also edits general commercial non-fiction. You can find her at www.racheljrowlands.com or on Twitter.

 

 


Photo credits: books by Ed Robertson; writing by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

What’s e-new? 21 for 2021

By Andy Coulson

In keeping with the theme of ‘Practical tools to boost your business’, I’ve come up with a list of 21 tech tips for 2021. These are all things I’ve tried and tested myself.

1. Have a system

This is the single most important tip of the lot. Find a system to organise and manage your work that works for you, and use it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a notebook and pen or a complex program. Keeping good records and knowing what you have done and what you still have to do saves you time and effort (and stress!). Some of the tools below will help with that.

Word

2. Learn Word

I suspect that for most of us, Word is our most-used tool. Within this there are lots of really useful smaller tools that can help you edit faster and more efficiently. Tools like styles, templates and wildcard Find and Replace can all help. Take some time to learn how to use these – the CIEP offers a ‘Word for Practical Editing’ course that covers them. Also, look into customising Word’s various autocorrect and autoformat options, which can save you a lot of time and heartache.

3. Macros

While we’re on the subject of Word, macros are another timesaver. These allow you to automate certain actions, so a couple of keystrokes can run a series of actions that would normally take multiple keystrokes. Karen Cox and Paul Beverley both gave excellent presentations on the subject at this year’s CIEP conference. Paul’s ‘Starting Macros but Slowly’ video on YouTube is a good place to start.

4. PerfectIt

Staying with Word, PerfectIt is an add-on that allows you to check consistency and apply style rules to documents. It comes with a number of good style files, but you will benefit from investing time in learning how to edit and customise these. Daniel Heuman also gave a useful presentation on customising PerfectIt at the CIEP conference. Intelligent Editing’s website, the PerfectIt Users Facebook group and the CIEP forums are also good resources.

Office

5. Learn Excel

I’m guessing you bought Microsoft Office to get Word? But it also means you have access to other programs that you may not be using to their full extent. Take Excel – it lets you do lots of things involving numbers or data. You can manage your accounts, keep lists of jobs and record the time and quantity of work involved. Maya Berger’s presentation at this year’s CIEP conference was a great introduction to this. Excel’s in-built help with formulas walks you through using them, allowing you to experiment.

6. OneDrive

With Office you also get access to Microsoft’s OneDrive online cloud storage. Some of my clients have expressed concerns about the terms and conditions on other cloud storage services, but so far OneDrive seems to be a broadly accepted solution. I use this to back up all my files, and it has an easy-to-use share feature that allows you to share a folder with a client. This is a reliable way to return finished files – simply right-click on the file or folder, click ‘Share’ and then send the file or copy a link and send that via email.

7. Windows App Explorer/Mac App Store

Just as on your phone or tablet, the major computer operating systems now tend to have an App Store. It is well worth having a poke around in these, as there are often some little gems available.

8. OneNote

One such gem (although it can be a real Marmite application!) is OneNote. This is available as an app or as part of the Microsoft 365 subscription. It is a digital note-taking app that allows you to capture freeform notes. On a tablet it supports freehand drawings, too. I’ve used it as an alternative to a pad for making notes as I work.

Clipboard tools and text expanders

9. ClipX

ClipX is a small, free clipboard expander. It lets you access a list of your most recent clipboard entries and reuse them. It also supports add-ins, one such being Stickies, which is an editable list of sticky items that you can paste in. I use that for common tags or comments when I have to tag a file.

10. TextExpander

Text expanders take a short key sequence and expand them into a longer piece of text, eg typing ‘\pfa’ might expand into ‘please find attached the requested file’. TextExpander works across the programs on your computer and allows you to build a library of replacements and retain formatting.

11. Phrase Express

Phrase Express is an alternative to TextExpander. It seems to be aimed at corporates with multiple users, but is still very usable on a single machine.

Time

12. toggl track

The recently rebranded toggl track is probably the best-known time tracker. The website, browser plug-in and app allow quick and easy time tracking. You can group these by project and customer, and break projects into smaller steps (eg by chapter). The free version is very usable, and the paid plans can also handle billing.

13. Harvest

Harvest is another time-tracking app, but is more focused on billing. It has a free trial period, but after that it is paid for.

14. RescueTime

RescueTime tracks your time in the background and allows you to see where you have spent the time on your computer and your phone. It is intended to help you manage your computer time and see where your time-wasters are. I find it helpful as a back-up to toggl track. If I forget to start a timer, RescueTime can tell me I spent five hours on Word, for example.

15. Pomodoro

Pomodoro is a productivity technique that involves breaking your work up into chunks (typically 25 minutes) with short breaks between. This is supposed to help with focus, but I use it from time to time just to remind myself to get up and move. There are many good apps to support this, but look out for ones where you can adjust the times to suit you. Search for Pomodoro timers in your search engine or app store.

16. Break timers

Break timers encourage you to step away from the screen for a bit. There are many options available. I like Workrave, which is free, configurable and features sheep.

Dictionaries

17. Lexico/OED

We all need a dictionary, and the OED recently created a free version called Lexico. It uses the same interface as the full subscription product, so it remains easy to use. (The full product is often available through your local library.) You can also access other dictionaries online for free, such as Collins and Merriam-Webster.

PDFs

18. PDFCandy

I’ve talked about PDFCandy before. I think it creates the cleanest, most accurate Word files from a PDF of any of the tools I’ve tried, even with multi-column magazine layouts. The web-based tool is free to use.

Organisation tools

19. Todoist

If you like using to-do lists to organise yourself, then Todoist is my favourite tool to manage these. It will work on a computer or on a phone or tablet (and will sync across platforms) and has both free and paid for versions.

20. ClickUp

ClickUp is my organisation tool of choice. It has quite a steep learning curve because it is very flexible. It enables you to capture information about your jobs and organise and present that in a lot of different ways. I use it mainly for tracking progress, record keeping and planning my availability.

21. Explore!

Many of the tools mentioned are free, have a free version or allow a trial period. It is worth experimenting with tools to see if they can improve your system. Always try and run them together with your existing, tried-and-trusted system while you test them out.

Andy Coulson is a reformed engineer and primary teacher, and a Professional Member of CIEP. He is a copyeditor and proofreader specialising In STEM subjects and odd formats like LaTeX.

 

 


‘What’s e-new?’ was a regular column in the SfEP’s magazine for members, Editing Matters. The column has moved onto the blog until its new home on the CIEP website is ready.

Members can browse the Editing Matters back catalogue through the Members’ Area.


Photo credits: partially open laptop by Tianyi Ma; hourglass by NeONBRAND, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Forum matters: Business tools to boost your business

This feature comes from the band of CIEP members who volunteer as forum moderators. You will only be able to access links to posts if you’re a forum user and logged in. Find out how to register.

An Excel shortcut, how to set up multiple monitors, how to reflect domestic costs in a tax return, how to stay well in lockdown. These are just some of the issues that members have brought to the CIEP forums, looking for help and practical advice. It is a reflection of the age we live in that the responses often recommend an app, a macro, a program or some other automated tool as the solution.

Perhaps inevitably, most posts seeking help or advice are about grammar, punctuation, usage or other language-related problems. But there is a wealth of expertise among the membership on the broader practical aspects of running a business. Most of us are freelancers. So, without admin, secretarial or IT support, multi-tasking has to become second nature.

Digital marketing

A great example of the forums acting as a resource for business tools comes in the area of website building. Most members count a website as a key element of their marketing. There have been a number of threads over the years with advice on the best website hosts, tools and servers for newcomers. One request for advice on website builders elicited views on six different options and an additional resource for templates – all in just 24 hours! The advantage of the forums is that you get suggestions from people in the same line of business who will be facing many of the same challenges. Other threads discuss resources for logo design and blogs, even links to courses on how to improve SEO.

Money matters

However we approach our business, there is no escaping the need to keep careful and accurate accounts. CIEP members shared knowledge and advice about key business tools in a thread on accounts software where members – crucially, with similar business needs to the original poster – weighed in with advice on a number of different accounting packages. They have also touched on the pros and cons (in the UK) of setting up as a limited company or a sole trader, how to handle specific tax issues like PAYE or allowing for domestic costs in a tax return.

All the answers

No discussion about boosting business efficiency would be complete without a mention of macros – the one topic that has a forum all to itself. Its threads reveal that we have members at all points on the spectrum, from programming experts to absolute beginners. But the help and advice available – and freely offered by some members – has enabled many to conquer their initial fear of macros and discover the huge improvements and time savings that can be achieved with them. You can also find discussions on the forums about other editing software packages, such as PerfectIt.

And if you can’t find what you want, just ask! Earlier this year a member said they couldn’t find much information about Linux on the forums, so they posted a question and set off a thread with competing views on the usefulness of Linux as an operating system.

Training, an essential part of maintaining our professionalism and standards, is another area in which the forums are a major source of ideas and inspiration. Many CIEP newcomers have come to the forums for advice on how to negotiate the maze of courses available from the CIEP and other providers, to boost their chances of finding the right course for the career path they have chosen.

Tips for productivity

There are always new forum threads on a wide range of products, programs and tools with a common theme of boosting productivity. Topics covered include:

Keeping healthy

As we all wish 2020 a (probably not very) fond farewell, it is also worth noting that the forums were a healthy source of advice about maintaining our mental health and dealing with the stresses that have come our way. Members have shared ideas and tips on loneliness, difficulties with concentration and a range of self-care ideas, including walking, resting, meditation and cookery.

Many members cite the forums as one of the greatest benefits of CIEP membership (and some of us probably spend too much time on them – see the recent blog post on productivity!). They can be a veritable gold mine of help and advice, and their value comes from the fact that it is members, many with similar experiences and facing the same challenges, helping each other.


Photo credits: But by all means do it by S O C I A L . C U T; high impact designs by NordWood Themes, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A Finer Point: Zombies Rule Grammar. OK? Alright?

By Riffat Yusuf

Part 1 of The Zombie That Ruled Grammar for Infinite Eternity – a trilogy no less spellbinding for having been authored anonymously – explores the short-lived collaboration between the protagonist, an aspiring writer, and their editor. The novel’s self-published author, who remains unidentified since taking their first Zoom call with CIEP in a Boris mask (or was it?), granted permission for us to reproduce excerpts of an early, edited draft.

Chapter 2

And then, after the deathly knock at my front door – tintinnabulum operatus est, as the plaque very clearly states, but bear with since this is a macabre Halloween tale – arose a mewl. An eerie whine, all the more unsettling for the inclusion of an adult voice, ‘Trick or treat?’

AQ1 Please don’t use and or any other coordinating conjunction at the start of a sentence. Since is a time adverb; use because instead.

There they stood, a pillowcase, net curtain and dustbin liner arrayed between them: a ghoul, a ghost and their undead parent.

AQ2 There are three characters here, among rather than between.

‘I’d like a treat, please,’ said I – for quipping is my plume de forte – ‘and then you’re welcome to move on.’

‘None of us,’ said the muffled voice of Number 54’s youngest resident, adjusting his plastic mask, ‘are going nowhere.’

AQ3 Double negative for authenticity is fine, but none is followed by is.

‘None of us,’ insisted the mask, ‘ain’t going nowhere until you pass a message on.’

AQ4 A preposition such as on at the end of a sentence is not a usage up with which English grammar should put.

‘On,’ entombed the voice, ‘to your copyeditor. Tell them to not impose rules predicated on the say-so of dead people who tried, over centuries past, to squish English grammar into a Latin-shaped syntax.’

AQ5. Abrupt character development here – see Chapter 1: ‘the gormless snivel, progeny of the Drydens next door’. Also: entombed or intoned?

I was beginning to wonder if sweet little Johnnie wasn’t, in fact, a descendant of England’s very first Poet Laureate. He, whose mission to save English grammar from decimation, has stood firm for over 300 years.

AQ6 What a spooky coincidence: I am a huge fan! To channel the spirit of John Dryden, use decimation if you mean reduce by one-tenth. Also, don’t use over with quantities; more than is correct here.

Hopefully, the sudden chill that was creeping vampirically through my veins was little more than the want of a cardigan.

AQ7 Only use hopefully as a sentence adverb if you wish to say that the chill was operating in a hopeful manner.

There was something untoward at hand.

To say the least.

A pus-oozing, gnarled hand.

A prop. Courtesy of Johnnie’s mum – she often lends a hand (!) at school plays.

Thrusting a bucket towards me.

A bucket bearing the label ‘read me’.

AQ8 Regarding sentence fragments: you haven’t replied to my email from last week, so I cannot rule out that ‘The Zombie That Ruled Grammar for Infinite Eternity’ isn’t earmarked for academic submission. I would, therefore, ask you to redraft to include any missing subjects or verbs.

Therein, among the five-pence pieces and donations of Poundland confectionery – too many spendthrifts and nary a dentist living on this street – I found a book. A 64-page booklet, to be more precise, entitled Bad Advice: The Most Unreliable Counsel Available on Grammar, Usage, and Writing.

Chapter 3

[Our narrator has finished reading John E McIntyre’s delightful take on prissy pedantry.]

I chuckled at ‘peevers gotta peeve’, intending to fully pass off McIntyre’s observation as my own in my next communiqué with my editor. Suddenly, I shuddered a morbid shiver of dreaded realisation. No, it wasn’t the guilty swell of imminent plagiarism. Was it …? Could it …? Surely not.

Surely my editor wasn’t one of those unquestioning souls cursed to forever observe what Arnold Zwicky called zombie rules?

I read over all the amendments my editor had suggested. And then it hit me like a Bloomsbury rejection letter: not a single one of the rules my editor had prescribed was a cast-iron canon of copyediting.

AQ9 In my defence, Strunk and White’s ‘The Elements of Style’ says that split infinitives are …

I spurned my editor’s advice and googled like a banshee for editorial guidance that would drive a garlic-laced spike into the style and grammar cobweb enmeshing me. Where were the editors ready to pour distilled daylight on the corpus of zombie rules?

AQ10: Hyperbole?

A minute later, I found James Gallagher, a slayer of ‘rules that refuse to die’. His three reasons for our reluctance to let go of groundless grammar are unnerving. He says, ‘People’s use of grammar is also tied up in their self-perception and it’s used to broadcast their level of education. It’s also used as a barricade to prevent others from accessing their realm.’

I reflected on my own language snobbery and insecurities, searching for an editor who might release me from ‘an unnecessary and awkward straitjacket’. Why, Erin Brenner, of course! The clarity she dispatches in her adroitly reasoned blog posts would disperse all lingering zombie doubts. From hopefully to however and from since to split infinitives, Erin exposes the conflations of grammar and style that allow zombie rules to take root in the first place. But way less wordily than anything I have written. (And a CIEP fact sheet on zombie rules is now available too…)

Chapter 63

I leave you, dear reader, with a penny of wisdom gleaned from my cautionary tale. Half is for the apostrophe I very confidently leave out of Halloween. And the remaining ha’penny is for people like you (yes 100% like, not such as: thank you, McIntyre p18) without whose patience and solicited nomination for the Booker Prize, The Zombie That Ruled Grammar for Infinite Eternity might never have been written. Perish the thought.

 

Riffat Yusuf is a West London-based proofreader and copyeditor, and a content editor for a small structural engineering company. She has been editing since 2018, and before that she taught ESOL for 10 years and brought up her family. In the dim and distant past she was employed in journalism, radio and television. In the future, she’d like to work on ELT resources.

 


Photo credits: Beware of Zombies by Chris Hall; Hands by Daniel Jensen; Person behind fog glass by Stefano Pollio, all on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

A week in the life of a virtual PA

By Sherona Treen-Coward of Treen Coward Associates

I began my self-employment journey in 2014; having spent 16 years in industry, I felt it was time for a new challenge. I had worked in the legal sector and the NHS, mainly in administrative and managerial roles. I wanted to put my skills to good use, and the concept of the virtual PA was emerging. I also wanted to futureproof my work, and I felt this was a business I could build upon.

In 2017, as the team grew and our services expanded, we decided to rebrand. I now have two employees and a specialist contractor on board, as we continue to grow and evolve the business to suit the ever-changing needs of the professional service industries. As such, we can offer a variety of services, such as virtual PA, virtual administrator, note-taking for meetings, social media management, bookkeeping and call answering.

Like many self-employed individuals, I often cite the variety in my work as a huge benefit. I work with service-based professionals from a variety of industries; however, the principles of good business administration remain the same.

I work traditional office hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Typical daily work for me will include chasing documentation over the phone, appointment setting, diary and email management, CRM management, document formatting, invoicing, answering calls and dealing with queries, drafting content for various purposes, and audio typing. I will also note-take at board and other business meetings, and compile action lists and associated papers as well as ensuring they are circulated well in advance of the meeting.

I am also involved in a variety of projects where we agree a process, and I ensure this is adhered to as well as carrying out any tasks that may be assigned to me. I particularly enjoy project-related work, as evaluating or managing processes has always been part of my managerial administrative background.

Stay professional

Pre-pandemic I would often attend many meetings each week which involved travel. All my meetings have since moved online, and I always qualify the purpose of a meeting before agreeing to any requests. I think that has become more important than ever, as demands on our time have not necessarily decreased, but they have changed. One thing I am always conscious of is working productively and adding value rather than being busy. Like many, I am now working from home but have set up my home office to ensure I separate work from non-work. I do miss the travel associated with my work, but it is more important to be safe at this time.

Being a virtual PA and business manager is not just about getting appointments in the diary. We are often the first point of contact for many organisations and professionals, the face or voice of someone else’s business, and their professional reputation can start and end with us. Even though all our meetings have now moved online, I still observe office attire when facing clients or attending a business meeting.

When I first started out and was working from home, I had to deal with assumptions that I wasn’t doing much all day and had lots of free time, but that is not the case. Our clients work traditional office hours and we support them during that time and deadlines are there to be met. While a benefit of self-employment is managing one’s own diary, discipline is essential if you want to stay in business.

Aside from working in the business, I also set time aside to work on the business. Like every business, we need to undertake accounting and marketing activities among other things. I block time out each week to plan our social media, write blogs, and check over our accounting system. I also check in with my colleagues, our clients, and meet with my business mentor, whose support has been invaluable to me and my business.

Stay connected

Part of our marketing strategy involves networking, which I do regularly, and I am a member of a weekly networking event that now meets online. It is also part of a larger network where I can attend other meetings and catch up with other members. Networking is a really important part of my work, and one of the most enjoyable bits too. Meeting with like-minded business owners helps develop a business mindset, and it’s a great way to keep up to date with news from various industries. I always recommend networking to other business owners, regardless of their line of work: it is a great way to meet other professionals, build your professional relationships and create opportunities for potential work. I always enjoyed running the SfEP [now the CIEP] annual conference speed networking events and getting to know the members.

Similarly, I have been able to source professional suppliers based on reputation and trust by asking my network. But it’s not all work, work, work – there are social aspects to networking, which are equally important to us as human beings. When I first started, it was easy to get through almost the whole day without speaking to anyone, as I was so focused on building my business, but through networking, I realised that to build my business I needed to build relationships too.

Plan your courses

Another important part of my working life is CPD [Continuing Professional Development]. As an employee, I was required to attend training courses, and often delivered training too, but being self-employed meant I now had complete control over my CPD plan. I have taken various courses over the years, from introductory to post-grad level; they may relate specifically to my work, but also general business-ownership matters such as marketing or leadership. I am currently completing the ILM Level 5 in Leadership and Management as I want to undertake more project management and process improvement work, and this is taking up quite a bit of my working week as the course comes to an end.

Some courses have been free, others require a financial investment. I have a CPD plan that I review regularly to ensure the courses I attend add value to my work and ultimately my clients. CPD comes in many forms, such as general reading, listening to podcasts, or undertaking self-directed research. That said, I also recently attended a short online art course, which forced me to slow down and make time to observe – traits which I’m sure will benefit all aspects of my life.

Allow time for yourself

It may not seem that there’s much time left after all that, but as my grandparents often reminded me, all work and no play … As difficult as it can be, I always try to do one thing for myself each day. It can be something really small like walking the dog, a five-minute exercise while waiting for the kettle to boil, or calling a family member or friend. I try to do it before I start work so I feel energised for the day ahead; sometimes it’s not possible, and there may be days when it doesn’t happen, but it’s important to factor in some time for yourself to keep a healthy mind and body, and to maintain your relationships in and out of work.

At the end of the week, I always take a moment to look at what I have achieved and celebrate those wins! Again, they may be big or small, but ending the working week positively with a glass of something sparkly is important to me. I’m fortunate to live within reach of two cities and several beaches, and at the weekend I like to spend lots of time outdoors, walking or kayaking. The contrast to my working life really helps me to achieve some kind of work-life balance.

Sherona Treen-Coward is a Virtual PA and business manager with over 20 years’ experience working with lawyers, doctors and service-based professionals within the UK. After starting her own business in 2014, one of Sherona’s first self-employed contracts was supporting the SfEP conference director, drafting and sending correspondence on behalf of the SfEP. Five SfEP conferences later (and imposter syndrome very rarely permitting) she thought perhaps she wasn’t that bad a writer after all, and finally started writing her own stuff.


Check out the other posts in our ‘Week in the life’ series: discover what a picture researcher, senior editorial project manager and a book indexer do.


Photo credits: Desk by Nathan Riley on Unsplash; video conference by Alexandra_Koch on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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