Category Archives: Specialisms

Specialist Q&A – science and natural history editing

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

Liz Drewitt is a freelance proofreader, copy-editor and writer. She has answered some questions on her main specialism: science and natural history editing.

  1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

I have a degree in zoology and a master’s in animal behaviour. After several years of volunteer conservation and survey work abroad, I worked for five years as a writer for a leading wildlife charity, writing and editing content for their website as well as marking and editing student projects and helping to run the charity’s social media channels.

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

I started my first part-time freelance work in 2012, and have been freelance full-time since 2013. My first few jobs involved writing and proofreading for a couple of clients I found through friends and other contacts – one is now my main client. As my experience and client list have grown I have been able to focus more on my specialism, mainly taking on science-related work.

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

Although general editing and proofreading skills will get you a long way, a good knowledge of biology and of scientific concepts and terminology is important, particularly for more academic books, research papers and student theses. However, I also work on more general interest natural history books and magazines, so it’s also useful to know how to communicate science in an accessible way.

Some of the main issues I look out for are mistakes in Latin names and in the use of scientific terms, problems with referencing, and sometimes more serious factual errors – all things that could easily be missed if you’re not familiar with the subject.

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

I’ve found many of my clients through word of mouth – for example, by being passed on by friends who work in the wildlife world, some of whom have been writing books themselves. I’ve also approached publishers who specialise in my field, as well as offering my services to wildlife and conservation groups, and have taken on a few students via my website or through personal recommendations.

  1. What do you most enjoy about the work?

I’m passionate about my subject, so it’s a way of being paid to read my favourite books! I also love learning more about the natural world, and enjoy connecting with authors who are experts in their subject and have fascinating insights to share.

  1. What are the particular challenges?

My greatest challenge is usually reference lists – they can be fiddly and time-consuming to edit, though I do get a sense of satisfaction at getting them into shape.

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

My most challenging jobs have usually involved long, detailed academic books, as these can be complex and sometimes a bit dry. Authors and students are often keen to make their writing sound ‘scientific’, but I have to help ensure it’s also readable.

BioBlitz butterflyOne of my favourite jobs is proofreading a quarterly magazine for a wildlife charity – it’s always inspiring to read about the conservation work they’re doing. I also love working on books where I get to learn something new. Field guides are particularly useful for brushing up on my species identification skills, and I recently got to copy-edit a book that combined nature with one of my other passions – art!

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

Taking a couple of courses with the SfEP and the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) is one of the best decisions I’ve made. It allowed me to improve not only my skills but also my confidence, and has helped me to make sure I’m doing my job to the best of my ability.

If you’re into a subject like science, I would recommend using any links you have with people you already know in the field – you never know who they might be able to pass you on to. And read, a lot – it never hurts to know as much as you can about the type of material you want to work on.

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

I usually find that the pay from publishers works out on the low side, and I almost always get offered a flat rate regardless of the time the work actually takes. However, I do get to stock my shelves with a fantastic array of nature books!

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

I’m keen to take on more writing work alongside the proofreading and editing, and have plans for a nature-related book of my own. Having seen things from an editor’s point of view, I will hopefully be in a better position to improve how I approach my own writing.

Liz DrewittLiz Drewitt is a Professional Member of the SfEP, specialising in proofreading and copy-editing natural history and science. She works on a range of material, from detailed species monographs to field guides, popular science books, magazines, reports and student theses. Liz has also written magazine articles and keeps a wildlife blog, and is an aspiring wildlife artist.

You can find Liz on her website at www.natureedit.com, on LinkedIn, or chatting about nature on Twitter.

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

Eight tips for editing cookery

photo (9)Perhaps cookery is already one of your editorial specialisms, or it may be an area you’d like to try. In many ways, the same rules apply as for editing any other material – the text needs to be clear, accurate and consistent. However, there are some particular things to watch out for. Here are some tips for editing or proofreading recipes.

1. Know your way around a kitchen/Enjoy food

As with any other specialist area, how deeply you need to be immersed in the subject as an editor or proofreader is open to debate. I would suggest that it is necessary to be a competent and reasonably adventurous cook yourself, though, and a love of food definitely helps. You will often need to imagine carrying out a particular task as you read the recipe to check for sense, and it is useful to have a good awareness of kitchen equipment and how to use it, as well as a wide range of ingredients.

2. Have a feel for measurements

Although as an editor you are not required to test the recipes (unless you want to, which does happen; see number 8), you do need to sense-check them as you go, and this includes spotting any silly quantities. Can you picture 100g of various different ingredients? Do you know what 2 litres of liquid looks like? Do you understand the relative proportions of ingredients that usually go into a cake, or pastry, or a stew?

3. Account for every single ingredient

Every ingredient that is listed needs to be used – even if not all at once. In the same way, every ingredient that is mentioned in the instructions needs to be listed. Usually, publishers will want the ingredients listed in the order in which they are used, but the house style may specify exceptions to this. For example, salt and pepper often come at the end of the list.

4. Tie up loose ends (or ask the author to do so)

As well as making sure every ingredient mentioned in the instructions is listed (and vice versa), you need to make sure every ingredient’s story is followed through to its conclusion. Don’t leave the reader wondering what happened to that pastry that was rolled out two steps ago, or the egg that’s been beaten and set aside … forever.

5. Apply logic

The oven is often preheated at the start of the recipe – but this makes no sense if the preparation begins the day before the actual cooking. And some ingredients need to be prepared far in advance, while others would suffer. Although consistency is extremely important (see the next point), you also need to apply a generous dash of common sense when it comes to expressing a recipe sensibly. You can’t apply a blanket rule to every eventuality. This is where it helps to be able to picture the process that is being described.

6. Maintain consistency

Editors are always concerned with consistency. In cookery, particular things to watch out for include descriptions of ingredients (is it chopped onion – or onion, chopped?); instructions for particular processes that crop up again and again (such as steaming a pudding); use of measurements (obviously metric and imperial are not used interchangeably, but also make sure you don’t switch between teaspoons and 5ml, for example); names of things (capitals can be tricky; think of cheese or wine) and naming of recipes (does the recipe actually contain all the things mentioned in the title, and in what proportions?).

7. Tread the fine line between preserving voice and adhering to house style

Many cookery book publishers will supply an extensive house style (which is helpful, but do allow time to absorb it). At the same time, many cookery writers, in common with all other writers, will have their own particular way of expressing themselves. If you’re copy-editing, it can be a real challenge to strike a balance between toning down the wildest authorial excesses while maintaining that distinctive voice (it may be a voice that readers are familiar with the sound of, too), and also beating everything into style guide submission as far as possible.

8. Work as far away from the kitchen as possible

Trust me – you will get hungry. Especially if there are pictures …

This list is not exhaustive – it’s a starting point. Perhaps you have other suggestions of what to look out for?

Photo on 28-05-2015 at 13.51 #2Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Susan Walton.

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

Specialist Q&A – medicolegal editing

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

Etty Payne is a freelance translator, proofreader and copy-editor. She has answered some questions on one of her specialisms: editing medicolegal reports.

1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

I have a degree in French and was an in-house translator for 16 years, much of that time at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Editing and proofreading was very much part of the translation work and I continued as a freelancer once we moved back to the UK.

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

I’ve been doing medicolegal reports for nearly 4 years. I was already specialising in medical communications, nursing and healthcare and was approached by a medicolegal expert who wanted his reports proofread. I’ve since picked up several similar clients.

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

You need a lot of medical knowledge and some legal knowledge. I don’t have a degree in medicine but, for a number of reasons, I’ve done a huge amount of self-study in various fields of medicine, pretty much continuously since the age of 18.

Because these reports are often written at speed or transcribed from poor quality dictations, they can contain many mistakes, and yet clarity and accuracy are crucial. You need to be able to see at a glance whether or not names of drugs and diseases or anatomical and medical descriptions are correct. But at the same time, as the reports are written for readers who aren’t expected to have any medical knowledge, you have to be able to read them from their point of view and ensure that complex medical ideas and opinions are expressed in very clear, precise English.

A good understanding of the strict legal requirements and principles governing how these reports are written is also essential so that you can let the expert know if their report hasn’t followed the rules.

And, because some clients want their reports formatted from scratch, it definitely helps to be completely comfortable with the intricacies of Word.

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

The first client found me, and since then it’s been via my website and word of mouth.

5. What do you most enjoy about the work?

I love checking facts and rewording for the non-medical reader. I also enjoy the variety the reports bring to my work: they range from 20 pages to 80 pages so can make a welcome break from a 400-page academic book.

6. What are the particular challenges?

The main challenge is the depth of work that needs to be done (all very accurately, obviously) with a quick turnaround because clients often want their reports instantly! I have a long checklist that I work through so even when reports are well written, there’s still an incompressible length of time required for each one.

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

If you have the medical and legal background, then it’s the same as for any specialism: get yourself out there and tell the right people what you do and how you can help them.

8. What is the pay like?

The pay is usually better than for the big publishers, but, because of the detailed attention each report needs, I find it works out a little lower than the rates I usually earn for most business clients.

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

I’ve been asked to present a workshop on writing medicolegal reports at a conference of medicolegal experts. The thought is pretty daunting so I may offer instead to prepare a written document that experts could work from. Much less scary!

EttyEtty Payne (Elegant Words) is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, specialising in international development, health/medical documents and anything to do with dogs and photography. She loves quizzes and generally finding answers to questions, but the question she finds hardest to answer is ‘Where are you from?’: she was born in Morocco with Venezuelan nationality, grew up in Brighton, went to university in Wales, got married in Norway, lived for many years in Paris, Strasbourg, Lisbon and Brussels and now lives in Hampshire.

You can find Etty on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Proofread by SfEP Entry-Level Member Karen Pickavance.

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

 

Specialist Q&A – working on maths books

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

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

1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. What do you most enjoy about the work?

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

6. What are the particular challenges?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SamHartburn_Proofreader

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

 

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Karen Pickavance.

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

Specialist Q&A – working for business clients

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

Kate Haigh (Kateproof) is a freelance proofreader and copy-editor. She has answered some questions on one of her specialisms: working for business clients.

1. Briefly, what’s your work background?

My CV is pretty varied but I have in-house editing and proofreading experience at a magazine publishing company (Govnet) and also for Datamonitor. I have also managed a team for a multinational corporate bank and have worked for the public sector.

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

The first freelance client I got was almost five years ago and was pure serendipity: I went on a web writing course and got offered a lift home by a woman who worked for a local business. She took my card and passed it to her marketing department and the rest is history…

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

I find this is where working for business clients differs from working for publishers as I don’t think you need formal training, though confidence is key and I don’t know how confident I would feel if I didn’t have the training under my belt. Experience possibly counts for more as many business clients want to know that you understand their needs and their material. I work on a lot of annual reports, for example, and my experience in banking helps because I understand a lot of the terminology and the common elements that most reports include. One of my USPs is that I studied German at university so though I don’t offer translation services, I work for quite a few German companies as I understand some of the common issues German speakers encounter when writing in English.

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

Nowadays, people find me through word of mouth and my website. However, when I was first starting out, I went to local networks and met lots of other local businesspeople from various industries. Clients and leads didn’t appear overnight but after about 6 months’ networking at various groups, I started to reap the rewards and continue to do so now even though I don’t currently attend any groups.

5. What do you most enjoy about the work and what are the particular challenges?

Not all business clients are the same. Working for design agencies or marketing teams within big companies often means I liaise with someone who understands the role of proofreading or editing and what I need to do, but lots of companies don’t have this and therefore need me to help them work through the process of getting the work proofread/edited and how best to deal with those changes. With design agencies, I find the work goes backwards and forwards through various iterations of the file as the client, the designers and I all make changes, and this can get quite complex.

Though some people may find the lack of a style guide or formal process less appealing, I like the fact I can influence the work and help a company achieve efficiencies.

Finally, I also have a lot of last-minute, urgent work requests and it can be quite tricky either finding time to fit them in or letting regular clients down. However, on the plus side, if I’m staring down the barrel of a workless week, that very rarely actually happens as something comes in and I go from twiddling thumbs to being very busy.

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

That’s really difficult to say purely because I’ve worked on such varied projects. I can’t deny that some of the reports have been very dry but I wouldn’t want to name and shame here. I also had one instance of bad scope creep and that definitely wasn’t enjoyable.

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

Be confident! Many business clients don’t understand what the editing/proofreading job entails so you need to have the confidence to explain what you’re doing (and sometimes why) and also the confidence to make it clear if something isn’t in your remit.

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

I find the pay is better than what publishers pay but, for me, more importantly, I set my rates and can vary them depending on the client’s preference: hourly, day rate (common for agencies) or set fee.

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

I’ve been offered in-house work, and though I wouldn’t choose to return to that permanently, it can be enjoyable as a brief change of scene.

kate2

 

Answers written by Kate Haigh, a freelancer since 2010 working on a variety of projects for publishers, business clients, authors and academics.

 

Proofread by SfEP professional member Louise Lubke Cuss.

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