Category Archives: Working practices

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.

 

Know when to say no

NOWe’re in the business of saying yes … but just as important can be knowing when to say no – some projects may just be more trouble than they are worth. Here are some warning signs to look out for.

  • An unreasonably long test. You have to decide what you consider unreasonable, of course, and it may depend on how much you want the work, and how much work you stand to gain if you’re successful. Bear in mind too that taking a test can be a brilliant way in if you are starting out, as it effectively gets around the need for experience to prove yourself.
  • Refusal to stay within acceptable boundaries. Is the prospective client emailing you every half-hour with queries, or demanding instant answers? Do they telephone you outside normal working hours? This lack of regard for your time can signal a potentially problematic working relationship.
  • A large or complex project offered for a flat fee. We often hear that per-page or per-word rates are best because they reward efficient working practices. But be wary of taking on a long or very complicated job on this basis, unless you have worked on something similar for that client before. If you do proceed, aim to build in agreement from the start that the budget will need to be reviewed if the hours exceed a limit.
  • Unwillingness to discuss the budget. Refusal on the client’s part to commit to a figure, even when asked, is a bad sign. Negotiating can be difficult on both sides – but there still needs to be discussion and agreement about the cost before the job begins.
  • Refusal to agree project terms in writing. The contract for a project could take the form of an email or series of emails in which key details are agreed; it doesn’t have to be on paper, or even very formal. But you do need to have things pinned down; an agreement over the telephone or even in person won’t do, and you can’t refer back to it reliably.
  • Does the client fail to send the work on time, without warning or explanation? If so, don’t feel you have to accommodate this. You may choose to, of course – it’s not unusual for projects to run late, and being adaptable can work in your favour – but don’t be bullied into working to their schedule if they show no respect for yours.
  • A sense that the project, for whatever reason, is not right for you. Learn to trust your instincts – they are very often right.

It can take time to learn when to say no, and even after years as a freelance editor, it’s still possible to get it wrong sometimes. What factors would make you turn a project down?

Posted by Liz Jones, SfEP marketing and PR director.

Proofread by SfEP provisional intermediate member Gary Blogg.

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

Writing out web addresses

Here’s a question I’ve seen a few times of late: when writing out a web address, must we include the whole address or is it safe to omit part of it?

Some house styles set out guidelines for writing web addresses. One would think, then, that the practice is simply a matter of style. In fact, it mostly is – but not always.

So that we know the names of the components that make up a web address, let’s take a look at an annotated example:

Components of a web address

Keeping with protocol

Web addresses begin with a ‘protocol’, the most common being http:// and https://.

From the technical point of view, the protocol isn’t usually required when quoting web addresses. To use the SfEP’s own website as an example, all modern browsers will treat the following addresses as equivalent:

When it comes to being consistent, we wouldn’t usually want both styles of web address to appear in the same piece of work.

The complications tend to come about when we start introducing addresses with other protocols to the same document. For example, if we wanted to make specific reference to a secure website, it would be correct to indicate this by including the protocol in the address, such as:

The intelligent reader will see the protocol and immediately understand that the website is secure, regardless of any other information about the site in the text.

Almost every website that has a secure area will also have rules that discreetly redirect users from the standard protocol (http://) to the secure protocol (https://). To demonstrate this, one can visit the following address:

Now, because a protocol hasn’t been included in the example above, the browser will try to take the user to the http:// version of the site (this is the default behaviour of all web browsers). Seeing that action, the server running the website will automatically and immediately redirect the user to the https:// version.

In short, this means that, even for secure websites, a protocol isn’t usually required in the address. I write ‘usually’ because there are some rare cases where web servers may display the wrong page if the secure protocol is not specified.

In cases where any protocols are included so as to give the reader a cue, it stands to reason that all other web addresses in the same document should also include protocols, on grounds of consistency.

In a document where standard web addresses are the only ones used (i.e., http:// and nothing else), it seems unnecessary to include the protocol. Omitting the protocol is both consistent and technically correct.

Handling new domain names

One common reservation with omitting protocols is when it comes to the newer domain suffixes, many of which most readers may not have heard of. Here are some examples:

If you saw these in running text, would you know that they were web addresses? Or might you think they were the ends and beginnings of unspaced sentences? The caveat here is that if unusual or novel addresses are used in a document, they might be worth qualifying with a protocol – and in turn that would require every other address in the document to include a protocol, too (on the assumption that we’re going to be rigid about consistency).

The cautious editor could use this argument to recommend that protocols be included on all addresses, to prevent a major rekeying effort in the event that some novel address is later added to a work that had previously contained only run-of-the-mill addresses. You’d have to make a decision about whether this would be too cautious an approach. For what it’s worth, I’ve been omitting protocols for quite a while now, having previously been a staunch supporter of mandatory inclusion.

Omitting the ‘www.’ part of an address

Some people don’t know that it’s usually possible to omit the ‘www.’ part of a web address and still be able to retrieve the website. This part of the web address is known as the ‘subdomain’. Most web servers are set up so that the domain (the key part of the address) and the ‘www.’ subdomain each allow access to the website. Here is an example:

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to omit what would otherwise be a redundant ‘www.’ from the address. Here are some examples:

Trailing slashes

A trailing slash is the forward slash character (/) sometimes added to the end of a web address. This should be added only to the end of a domain name or a folder name in the address. Here are some examples:

  • www.example.com/ – correct
  • www.example.com/folder/ – correct
  • www.example.com/folder/file.html/ – incorrect

One might wonder why a trailing slash would ever be added to a web address, given that the website ought to be displayed just as well without it. The answer is that the appropriate use of the trailing slash eliminates one unnecessary request from your computer to the server, thereby reducing the load on the server. You might not notice any positive effect, but it’s still a good practice to adopt: very busy servers will run better if their load is lightened in any way.

Web addresses followed by punctuation

A web address directly followed by any punctuation mark has the potential to confuse, because some readers may incorrectly interpret the punctuation mark as being part of the address. Word processors and email programs can sometimes be guilty of this mistake, turning an otherwise correct address into a link that doesn’t work when clicked. Thankfully, this is less of an issue than it once was.

It’s quite easy to fall foul of the ‘address plus punctuation’ problem when copying and pasting an address. It’s therefore sensible to avoid directly following an address with a punctuation mark; however, if the context is clear or the readership is web savvy, there may be no need to reword the text.

In my opinion, the omission of a terminal punctuation mark for the sake of clarity is preferable to the occasional practice of adding a space between the address and the punctuation mark. As usual, we should be consistent in the handling of all such matters.

Conclusion

If your client’s style guide sets out preferences for how to write web addresses, you should of course follow those preferences. But be mindful of any newer types of address that might confuse readers, and check that all addresses do indeed work as written.

If you have no style guide from which to work, remember that it’s perfectly fine to use the shortest possible address that will result in the desired website being loaded correctly.

John EspirianJohn Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.

As a freelance technical writer, John specialises in producing online help content that’s actually helpful.

 

Proofread by SfEP Advanced Professional Member Etty Payne.

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

Practical changes to increase your rates

photo (1)The subject of rates is often fraught with difficulty. We work in a competitive field, and there can be tremendous pressure on budgets. However, if you’d like to increase your average hourly rate, there are some small changes – which you don’t have to make all at once – that can add up to a big difference in your earnings over time.

Be strict with yourself

Know how long you can spend on any project in order to achieve your preferred rate, and stick to that. I’m not suggesting that you cut corners or leave bits out in order to achieve this, but don’t get sidetracked, and don’t spend time on anything unnecessary. Monitor your progress as you go. If you realise that the budget really doesn’t cover the work, you can say so (many clients will be understanding if they have underestimated the amount of work involved), but you really need to raise this early on.

Learn to be decisive

Editors seem to love to discuss the details … Should there be a comma, or not? Perhaps a semicolon? And what’s the correct spelling of that word? How should this work be referenced? Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, and the longer you look at something, the harder it becomes. It’s good to have colleagues to ask, and you’ll be amazed at how helpful people can be and what you might learn – but don’t get sucked into the trap of deliberating over every editorial decision. Use the house style (if there is one) to guide you, use your common sense and the relevant reference tools – and move on as quickly as you can.

Build efficiency into everything you do

I’m not just talking about keyboard shortcuts, find-and-replace routines or macros. All these things, used in a way that suits you and the type of work you do, can speed things up and improve your earnings. Think too about everything you do that surrounds a project. Can you find things quickly on your computer? Are there emails you send regularly that don’t need to be written from scratch each time? How long does it take you to send an invoice when you’re done? The next time you receive a similar project, will you be prepared for it? Each and every task you perform repetitively has the potential to be made more efficient – and the less time you spend doing things you can’t bill for, the more time there is to spend on things you can.

Try asking for more

This sounds simple, but it might be the hardest to do. However, if you don’t ask, you won’t know. The worst that can happen is that the client won’t budge. Surprisingly often, though, they will.

Don’t give discounts for large jobs

It can be tempting to accept a large project at a lower rate than you would usually work for. There is something comforting about having a lot of work booked in, after all. But logically, this means you will be tying up a lot of your time working for less money than you’d like, when you could be looking for other work that pays better. Only you can decide what is acceptable, but don’t feel that you have to do the work for less just because a client is supplying you with a lot of it.

Share information

It can be hard to discuss rates – it’s a potentially emotive topic – and it can be upsetting if you find out that a colleague is being paid more to do the same work. However, making yourself aware of the rates others are getting for similar work puts you in a stronger position to negotiate. You may be able to share this information anonymously through your editorial society (for example, the SfEP provides a ‘Rate for the job’ service for members), and you may find that online discussions shed light on the subject. Or, bring up the topic in person with a few trusted friends. Try not to see it as comparing yourself with others, but rather as arming yourself with information that could help you all.

Keep track

Finally, one of the best ways I have found of keeping my rates moving in the right direction is simply to keep track of what I earn per hour for any given project; I can then look at how this averages out across multiple projects for the same client. In this way I know which of my clients pay best, and which pay worst. If a project dips below what I consider to be an acceptable minimum, I can then figure out if there’s a way I could do the same work faster, if I need to ask for a bigger budget next time, or if it’s simply time to move on.

Liz Jones SfEP marketing and PR director

 

Liz Jones is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director, and has been an editor since 1998, specialising in general non-fiction and educational publishing.

Proofread by SfEP provisional intermediate member Gary Blogg.

 

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.

What’s new in PerfectIt 3?

PerfectIt 3, a new, updated version of the popular software that many of us find invaluable, has just been launched by Intelligent Editing. Wendy Toole looks at what the new version has to offer.

PerfectItscreen

The first difference to notice with PerfectIt 3 is that it has its own ribbon tab (or its own toolbar in Word 2003), not only making its new features instantly available but also opening up and drawing attention to existing features that may have skipped a user’s notice in earlier versions. There is simple access to ‘Reports’ and ‘Help’ groups, and also the new ‘Style Sheets’ group that now includes many options in addition to basic UK or US English spelling, such as Australian or Canadian, and a choice of house styles such as those of the European Union and the WHO.

Of the many new tests included in PerfectIt 3, the ones that appeal to me as an editor mostly of academic humanities texts are those for accents/foreign characters, italics, and brackets and quotes left open. The test for accents/foreign characters will draw your attention to inconsistencies such as ‘café’ and ‘cafe’. The italics test includes a selection of phrases such as a priori and inter alia, to which you can also add your own items: you select whether you want the terms always, never or consistently italicised, with the default being for consistency. (My authors often italicise ‘HMS’ in names of ships, so I’ll be adding that to the ‘never’ list …) What the test for brackets and quotes being left open can do to help you doesn’t need explaining.

Useful for STM

Among the new tests that will be of particular use to editors working on STM-type texts are those for superscripts and subscripts, percentage symbols and non-breaking spaces with measurements. They are also likely to appreciate having the useful ‘Table of Abbreviations’ accessible on the ribbon. PerfectIt 3 is even more customisable than its predecessor, and the ‘Style Sheets’ group in the ribbon makes the many available options easy to negotiate. Among those that will be welcomed by almost everyone are options to set capitalisation styles in different heading levels, and tests for the hyphenation of prefixes (as with the italics test, you can opt for always, never and consistency). Also – to my surprise and delight – there is now the facility to carry out wildcard find and replace routines: if you have a special F&R that does just the thing you want, such as replacing hyphens in number ranges with en dashes, which I seem to use in every job I do, simply paste it in on the ‘Wildcards’ tab of the ‘Style Sheet Editor’.

Skip sections

Another new feature that will be a great time-saver for many of us is the option to tell PerfectIt 3 to skip particular sections of text when running checks. Anyone who edits material with a lot of quotes from other sources will appreciate this, not to mention those – probably most of us at one time or another – whose work contains bibliographies. As well as opting to exclude from checking all text between straight/curly single/double quotes in ‘Choose Sections to Check’, you can type in the name of the Word style you have applied to your block quotes, and these will be skipped too. Footnotes, endnotes, references and bibliographies can all be excluded from the tests in their entirety, and you can also exclude all italic text elsewhere in your document.

Bespoke style sheets

As in PerfectIt 2, it is simple to make bespoke style sheets (either from scratch or based on an existing style sheet to which you wish to make customisation tweaks) to suit each of your clients. The new ‘Edit Current Style’ feature not only contains more options than were available in PerfectIt 2 but, with its plus-size dialogue box, is extraordinarily user friendly.

As a longtime user of PerfectIt, I was delighted to be asked to test and review PerfectIt 3. Unlike many software updates we’ve all struggled with, the new version is a clear and substantial improvement. Here, I have only scratched the surface of what it can do to help you perfect your documents. PerfectIt 3 is free to try, so do take a look whether you are a PerfectIt2 user or new to the product. I think you will like it. I certainly do.

Find out more at www.intelligentediting.com.

Wendy Toole profile pic

Wendy Toole is an advanced professional member and past chair (2011–2013) of the SfEP. She edits mainly academic humanities subjects, and historical and literary fiction. Her private passions include Victorian London, Victorian literature, and old maps and photographs. Follow Wendy on Twitter or find her on LinkedIn.

 

This review originally appeared in the May/June edition of Editing Matters, the membership magazine of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

Members of the SfEP get a 15% discount on PerfectIt. If you’re already a member, log in to the Members’ area of the website for details.

Tackling a complex brief

photo (2)You probably know the feeling: a long-anticipated project drops into your inbox – big enough to keep you busy for a while, which is good. But somehow you sense, without so much as opening the email, that the innocuous little paperclip graphic next to the subject line actually heralds a brief the size of a short novel.

Where do you start? To avoid getting overwhelmed before you’ve even begun, here are a few tips for wrestling with a complex brief – and emerging victorious.

  • See it as an intrinsic part of the job, not a separate and annoying task to be endured before the fun stuff. Make yourself a cup of coffee, take a deep breath and start reading. Don’t make the mistake of skimping on this stage; if you edit without understanding the brief, you might as well do it with your eyes closed.
  • Make peace with the fact that the first time you read the brief through, not all of it will make sense. You may find impenetrable acronyms, abbreviations, references to elements of page furniture with which you are not yet familiar … Take another deep breath and reassure yourself that it will be comprehensible in the end.
  • You might need to read the briefing materials more than once, and you will certainly need to refer to them as you get started on the work – and probably throughout the project. This is where having a second screen can be a great timesaver, as you won’t need to flick between documents.
  • Remember that an apparently labyrinthine brief is actually telling you how to do the job, often in minute detail, if you only read it carefully and follow it through logically. Time spent absorbing this material at the beginning of the work could save you many hours later on.
  • As you read the brief, see if you can use it to help you plan efficiencies in the way you work. Are there global changes that you can make before you begin, for example? How might you use find and replace or macros to speed things up?
  • For large projects, the deadline may be weeks or months in the future. Break the brief down into more manageable chunks, with landmarks to help you judge that you’re on course to hit that final date.
  • Make sure you know in advance if you will need to submit parts of the project along the way (this vital information might be hidden away in a single sentence in the middle of a paragraph about something else), or if you will need to deal with the author or multiple authors, and build these considerations into your schedule.
  • Allow time to read the brief again at the end of the project before you submit the work, just to check you’ve covered everything. It’s better to fix things now – even if it adds on a little time – rather than be asked to do so by your client later on.
  • Reassure yourself with the fact that if you do more work for the same client, the next brief will probably be easier to understand as a result of the groundwork you’ve put in now.

Following a brief well shows off your ability to be diligent and accurate, and maximises your chances of securing repeat business. Have you got any tips for tackling a complicated brief?

Liz Jones SfEP marketing and PR director

 

Liz Jones is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director, and has been an editor since 1998, specialising in general non-fiction and educational publishing.

 

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