Tag Archives: workflow

The editing workflow: Pre-editing tasks

In this blog post, three experienced editors explain what they do in between receiving a manuscript and properly getting stuck into editing the text. From running macros and styling headings, to checking references and making sure the brief is clear, tackling certain jobs before starting to edit the text can improve and speed up the whole editing process.

Hazel Bird

For me, the stage between receiving a manuscript and properly starting to copyedit the text is about two things: (1) ensuring I have a solid understanding of what the client needs me to do and (2) proactively identifying any problems within the manuscript so I can get started on fixing them straight away.

So, for step 1, I’ll do things like:

  • checking the manuscript matches what I was told to expect in terms of word count and components
  • checking I have all the necessary briefing materials and instructions from the client
  • checking I understand the context in which the project will be used (eg for an educational project, the level of qualification, the ability range of the students, where they will be geographically and any other resources they might use alongside this one)
  • reminding myself of the details of the agreed level of service and any special aspects of the work
  • getting in touch with whoever will be answering queries on the text (if they aren’t the client) to introduce myself and agree how the query process will be handled.

If there are any discrepancies, ambiguities or stumbling blocks, I’ll write back to the client straight away to open a discussion.

For step 2, I’ll start digging into the actual text but on a holistic, overarching basis. I have a load of macros that I run to clean up the formatting and highlight things I’ll need to check or fix later, during the in-depth edit. I’ll then style the text’s major headings so that they appear in the Navigation Pane in Word (I find this bird’s-eye view of the manuscript essential as it speeds me up and helps me to identify big-picture issues). At the same time, I’ll examine the structure and check it fits with any template or scheme I’ve been given by the client. Next I’ll run PerfectIt to fix some more style basics and begin to compile a style sheet with what I’ve found.

My final task within step 2 is to edit the references. A lot of my work is with clients whose authors don’t handle referencing every day, so I frequently find issues with reference completeness or even technical issues with the entire referencing system. Identifying such issues early on means there is time for everyone involved to discuss how to proceed in a relaxed manner, without time pressure. And, from an editing point of view, I find editing the main text goes so much more smoothly when I know the references are already spick and span.

The result of all of the above tasks is that once I get started on the main text, I should have minimised the number of surprises I’ll find and thus maximised the chance of the project being completed without hiccups and on time. I will also have fixed or flagged (to myself) as many routine, repetitive tasks as possible so that when I get into the actual line-by-line editing, I can devote the majority of my attention to flow, clarity, accuracy and whatever else the client wants me to refine – in other words, the parts of the editing where I can really add value.

Hester Higton

Exactly how I start work on a manuscript depends on the length: I’ll do things differently for a journal article and a lengthy book. But my rule for any project is to make sure that I’m batch-processing, so that I use my time as efficiently as possible.

If I’m working on an article for one of my regular journals, I’ll start by making sure that the file is saved using the correct template. Sometimes this will be one supplied by the client; if they don’t have a preferred one, I’ll use one of my own that eliminates all extraneous styles.

Then I’ll run FRedit. I have customised FRedit lists for all my repeat clients. These not only deal with the standard clean-up routines but also adapt the document to the preferred house style. I use different highlight colours to indicate aspects I want to check (such as unwanted changes in quotations) and I’ll run quickly through the document to pick these up. As I’m doing that, I’ll make sure that headings, displayed quotations and the like have the correct Word styles applied to them.

Next on my list is PerfectIt, which allows me to iron out remaining inconsistencies in the text. I use a Mac so I can’t customise my own style sheets, but the new Chicago style option has made my life a great deal easier!

After that, if the article uses author–date referencing I’ll cross-check citations and references, flagging missing entries in each direction. I’ll style the references list and either note missing information for the author or check it myself if I can do so quickly. If all the references are in notes, I will run a similar style check, editing the notes themselves at the same time.

Finally, I’ll look at the formatting of any tables and figure captions to make sure that they match the house style. I may well edit the captions at this point, but leave table content until I reach the relevant point in the text.

If I’m working on a book-length project that doesn’t have a fully defined style, I’ll start by running PerfectIt. That allows me to make decisions about spellings, capitalisation and hyphenation, all of which I note down on a word list which I’ll return to the client with the completed project. That’s followed by a more basic clean-up FRedit check. I’ll also format figure captions and tables throughout the book at this point. And if there’s a whole-book bibliography, I’ll check that and style it. But I’ll handle the notes separately for each chapter because it allows me to keep a sense of the subject matter in them when I’m working on the main text.

Katherine Kirk

The pre-editing stage is actually one of my favourite steps in the process, and I usually pair it with some great music to see me through. My whole pre-flight process takes about two to three hours, depending on the formatting and size of the document. I work mainly with novels from indie authors and small publishers, so I don’t have to worry too much about any references or missing figures and tables. Some publishers have their own template they want me to apply or some specific steps that they like me to take, but here’s what I do for most indie novels that come across my desk.

I start by reviewing our agreement and any extra notes the author has passed along, and I add them to the style sheet. I use a Word template for my style sheet that has all the options as dropdowns, and that saves loads of time.

The next thing I want to deal with is any bloat or formatting issues; these might affect how well the macros and PerfectIt run. I attach a Word template that has some basic styles for things like chapter titles, full-out first paragraphs, and scene breaks, as well as a font style for italics that shades the background a different colour (great for catching italic en rules!). Styling the chapter titles and scene breaks first makes it easy to find the first paragraphs, and check chapter numbering. Then I skim through for any other special things needing styling. I can set whatever is left (which should just be body text) in the correct style. The aesthetics of this template don’t really matter to the client; I use a typeface that is easy for me to read and makes errors like 1 vs l more obvious. I can revert all the typefaces to a basic Times New Roman at the end. I save this as ‘Working Copy – Styled’ just in case the next step goes horribly wrong …

Now that I’ve cleared up the clutter, I ‘Maggie’ the file (select all the text, then unselect the final pilcrow, and copy and paste it into a new document) to remove the extra unnecessary data Word has stored there. It can drastically reduce the file size and helps prevent Word weirdness like sudden jumps around the page or lines duplicating on the screen. If you’ve styled all the elements of the text properly beforehand, you shouldn’t lose any formatting, but be careful! That’s also why I do this as early as possible, rather than risk losing hours of work. I save this file as ‘Working Copy – Maggied’ so I can see if the file size has decreased, and if it’s all working smoothly, this becomes my working file.

I have a checklist of silent changes that I include in the style sheet. I usually start by doing some global replacements of things like two spaces to one, a hard return and tab to a paragraph break (^l^t to ^p), and two paragraph breaks to one (and repeat until all the extras are gone). Some authors like to make their Word documents look like the final book, and they might use extra paragraph breaks to start a chapter halfway down the page. This can cause problems later when the reader’s screen or printer’s paper size is different to what the author had, so it’s got to go!

I run analysis macros like ProperNounAlyse to catch misspelled character names, and I add them to the style sheet. I might also run HyphenAlyse and deal with any inconsistent hyphens in one big swoop. Then I run PerfectIt and work through it carefully, making note of decisions on my style sheet. I review any comments that might have been left in the text by the author, publisher or previous editors, mark them with a query if they still need to be dealt with, and remove the rest.

Finally, all systems are ready to go, and I launch into the main pass.


Resources

Sign up for the CIEP’s Efficient Editing course to learn more about how to approach an edit methodically and efficiently.

Check out the blog posts Making friends with macros and Two editors introduce their favourite macros to learn how to use macros before (or during) an edit.


About Hazel Bird

Hazel Bird runs a bespoke editorial service that sees the big-picture issues while pinpointing every little detail. She works with third sector and public sector organisations, publishers, businesses and non-fiction authors to deliver some of their most prestigious publications.

About Hester Higton

Hester Higton has been editing academic texts for publishers and authors since 2005. She’s also a tutor for the CIEP and currently its training director.

About Katherine Kirk

Katherine Kirk is a fiction editor who lives halfway up a volcano in Ecuador. She works on all types of fiction for adults, especially science fiction and literary fiction.

 

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: brick wall by Tim Mossholder, glasses on keyboard by Sly, coffee by Engin Akyurt, all on Pixabay.

Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.

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

Flying solo: Turn hindsight into foresight with checklists

In this new column, Sue Littleford looks at running an editorial business and how to make things more efficient and effective.

Checklists. Write them for your processes, use them consciously and keep them updated. Don’t try to make one checklist work for every type of job.

I could stop there, but we’re learning that the active use of checklists is a gamechanger in avoiding mistakes. In 2009, one of the drivers behind the checklist movement in medicine, Atul Gawande, published The Checklist Manifesto. Malcolm Gladwell is a fan. Also in 2009, Apollo astronauts called checklists their ‘fourth crewmember’. In 2019, Scotland reported that, since introducing checklists in 2008, surgical mortality rates had fallen by 37%. Checklists have been applied to air safety since the 1930s with great results.

Lives have been saved, money has been saved, time has been saved, reputations have been saved. What’s not to like?

Checklists help in three ways

  1. You need to think through your processes. Once you see them laid out in front of you, look for gaps and replication, and streamline your systems. That’s an immediate efficiency gain on every single job you do.
  2. They keep you focused. Don’t just glance down a checklist you’ve used a gazillion times and say to yourself, ‘Yeah, that looks OK, I’ve probably done everything’. Pay attention as you work through the list, and tick off each item deliberately. (Like exercise equipment, it doesn’t work if it stays in the box.)
  3. They reduce cognitive overload and anxiety. No need to rely on memory for all the steps, nor to worry you’ve missed one.

You could cover your processes for:

  • taking in a new job and setting up your skeleton records
  • communicating with others
  • doing the initial clean-up
  • converting US to UK English
  • maintaining adherence to the client’s style
  • maintaining consistency between chapters
  • final checks and polishing
  • handover and invoicing.

I’m sure you’ll think of more, relevant to your own practice.

Tailor your checklists to suit each client and their workflow, and each type of job. A proofreading checklist will look very different from a copyediting checklist, which will look very different from a manuscript critique checklist.

The cardinal error is to aim for one big checklist to cover everything. That’s a bad idea for two reasons:

  • you simply can’t cover everything. The unexpected happens, the novel happens; and
  • long checklists are confusing and difficult to follow. They become wearisome and self-defeating.

Instead, have a separate, short checklist for each part of a job.

What a checklist is not

It’s not a list of instructions. It doesn’t contain the detail of how you do your job. It doesn’t remove your autonomy (after all, it’s your checklist and you can change it). It’s also not your first attempt – you will find you need to refine it quite a bit, initially, as you figure out what you need to be reminded about to work well and consistently, as well as what you never forget, and therefore don’t need to include.

What a checklist is

It’s a set of reminders to do the stuff that would make you look stupid if you missed it, and to do the stuff you find you often forget, even though you know you should always do it. It’s your failsafe. And it’s a timesaver, as you work efficiently consistently.

What a good checklist is

It’s a practical, precise, brief and unambiguous reminder of the essential steps you need to take. It underlines your priorities, it stops you forgetting the important stuff in a moment of inattention and it makes you look good to your client or boss.

The big secret: checklists go out of date

I have a client that I’ve worked with for several years, starting out on books and then becoming the sole copyeditor for a journal. I could use the same checklist for both, right? Same publisher? Every time, I sighed heavily about bits of the checklist that were irrelevant, and about the extra bits I needed to remember to check, different for the journal and books. Then the publisher updated their style guide – about a fifth of the checklist was defunct.

Finally, I decided it was time to review the checklists I use most often. I realised that the core of my final-checks checklist had stayed essentially unchanged for about ten years. Ouch. What I’d needed to spell out for myself back then, now only needed a short reminder or could be omitted altogether.

I’d been dotting about the checklist because the flow was no longer logical now I’d matured as a copyeditor. If you’re jumping around your checklist, it’s no longer methodical; it’s an accident waiting to happen.

A checklist for checklists

1. Document your processes

  • List out what you do for each stage of each type of job and for each client.
  • Do you tackle these tasks in the most efficient and logical order? Shunt things around until the sequence is right.

2. Write a checklist that’s no more than one page long

  • If it’s longer, ask yourself why. Are you trying to write an end-to-end checklist? Stop! Short checklists work better than long ones. Don’t include details.
  • Write the checklist as bullet points, and use the empty checkbox symbol as the bullet (I like Wingdings character codes 113, 109 and 114. In Word, Insert tab > Symbols > Font > Wingdings > Character code).
  • Or set out the checklist as a table. I do that if I have to change a bunch of chapters from US to UK English, for example, with the chapters as the rows and each feature that needs attention as the columns.
  • Print out the checklist to use it. Physically tick things off as you complete each task. Your eye is less likely to betray you than working down an onscreen list, but if you’re really trying to reduce your use of paper, use highlighting or set up checkbox content controls in each list to ensure you miss nothing.

3. Set up each checklist as a template

  • As you start each job, open the final-checks checklist you’ll be using and save it specifically for that job. As you work on the text, add to the checklist any tailored checks you need to make at the end of the work – author’s tics, layout issues, anything at all that will add to the accuracy of the finished job.

4. Keep the checklist fresh to your eyes

  • It’s easy to stop paying attention to something you see all the time. To stop your checklists from becoming wallpaper, change the typeface every few uses.

5. Review your checklists

  • How well did the job you just finished go?
  • Were there any catches made at the last moment that could usefully be added to a checklist?
  • How well did the checklists support each aspect of the job? Has this client changed their style or requirements?
  • As you become more experienced, can your checklist be condensed?
  • Have you started using a new tool that should be added to a checklist – a new macro, perhaps?

6. Review your processes

  • You’re not standing still: with every job you gain experience and increase your competence. Review your processes periodically to check whether you’re being as efficient as you can – diarise reminders to do this, or maybe add it as the final item in the last checklist for any given job.
  • Review constantly: be alert to your weak spots. What does your eye tend to glide past? What tasks do you like least and may be inclined to skip or rush? What feedback have clients given you?

Thoughtfully crafted and well-maintained checklists turn hindsight into foresight. And that’s invaluable.

About Sue Littleford

Sue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

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: hand-written checklist by StockSnap on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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