Dear Santa…

Dear Santa,

We know you’re busy at this time of year, but we were wondering if you could take a look at our Christmas list. We don’t need all of these items, perhaps one or two per editor or proofreader, but it would be nice to be given something really useful, really relaxing, really inspiring, or really thoughtful this year. (The less said about last year’s pot pourri and wall calendar of naval scenes, the better.)

Tools for the job

Mugs. We use them a lot. During any given year our mugs will have suffered such wear and tear that a new one is always welcome, particularly a funny editing-related one (from Etsy), or one that reminds us of the most wonderful words we’ve ever read (from Penguin).

Also, any coffee- or tea-making gadgets would be lovely. Nothing too big, obviously, as most of us work alone – well, many of us don’t work absolutely alone, but cats don’t drink hot beverages – tea pots for one from Whittard’s, small coffee makers from Bodum, that sort of thing. Let’s face it, most of us would be delighted with some fancy biscuits. If they’re in a nice tin, we can keep it for any of the business-related detritus we’re currently stuffing in a drawer or putting in endless tiny pots on our bookshelves.

Once we’re refreshed, it’ll be time to get to work. T-shirts or tote bags from Arrant Pedantry will get us in the zone for battling those stray commas and dashes.

Reef blue, dandelion yellow, myrtle green, sapphire blue … no, these aren’t the latest Dulux colour range, Santa. They are the colours of covetable Moleskine notebooks. With one of these on our desk, there will be no excuse not to record every small thought that occurs to us during the editing process, perhaps with a posh new pen.

As we valiantly attempt to sit at our computers all day without turning the heating on, how we will appreciate some beautiful fingerless cashmere gloves from Turtle Doves (around £26 per pair). If you can’t stretch to those, check out the Heat Holders range by SockShop. As well as socks, there are gloves, neck warmers, and even hats. Perhaps reserve the hats for those editing in a croft on a Scottish island without heating. You know who they are.

Once we’ve worked for a few hours, we’ll need to do a Stet activity. These didn’t exist last year, Santa. We just called them ‘a stroll around the block’, ‘a quick spin on the bike’ or ‘a short run’. However, this year they’re an indispensable part of our editing day, and we’ve quite worn out our leisure gear, so some new sports clothes would be most welcome.

When we’re back, all revitalised and with a healthy glow we want to show off, we might want to do some promotional activities. For this we’ll need a selfie stick. After all, our arms just aren’t long enough to snap a photo that looks like someone else has taken it, and the cat hasn’t completed its photography course yet. With this equipment, too, we might be able to finally make that introductory video we’ve been promising the marketing department (yup, ourselves) that we’d produce in 2019.

Gifts for downtime

2019 has been a bumper year for books about language. With a book token, we could choose from Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer, Don’t Believe a Word by David Shariatmadari, Greek to Me by Mary Norris, Semicolon by Cecelia Watson, or Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch. (Only joking: we’d use this rare opportunity to buy a fast-paced thriller or a book about gardening.)

It’s a cliché, but sometimes the most valuable things aren’t ‘things’. Give us the chance to plant a tree with the Woodland Trust. Or, if we’re fond of birds, buy us membership of the RSPB.

If you’re feeling flush, Santa, you could pay for a one-off house clean or a consultation by a life laundry-type person to get our house and possessions organised. Or, as in that classic Frasier Season 5 Christmas episode, you could treat us to a relaxing massage. We’ll take a BACS payment if you don’t have any cash on you. After all, we are professional business people.

With gratitude and barely concealed anticipation,

The members of the SfEP x


Don’t forget! SfEP members get discounts at Cult Pens, and others – visit the Members’ Area to find out more.


Photo credits: Santa Mike Arney; Mug – Alex; Gift Ben White, all on Unsplash

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

My first mini-conference: Toronto 2019

By Cat London

Reentering the professional world after being in the trenches as the primary caregiver to young children for eight and a half years is a bit like coming out of a cinema after a daytime movie: you emerge, blinking, surprised to find that the sun is shining and the parking lot is full of cars. Well, the analogy may not be perfect, but as my youngest child approaches three, returning to in-person professional development and finding new opportunities to meet and learn from my colleagues after being focused on my work and my kids has been a pleasure I had not anticipated.

Having recently joined the SfEP, I decided to attend the Toronto mini-conference and so I took a train to my onetime hometown of Toronto. I wasn’t able to attend the pre-conference workshop, led by Dr Malini Devadas, a neuroscientist, editor and coach, but I was fortunate to get an abridged version via Cloud Club a couple of days earlier. Malini, having just arrived from Australia, took the time to answer questions about changing your mindset to increase your income, and to talk about confidence, rates, efficiency and marketing. Her thoughts were very useful to me as I have been starting to think about what my business will look like going forward when my son begins at school.

I have been editing from home in yoga pants for so long that I was quite nervous about being in a room full of talented colleagues and learning from such luminaries as Paul Beverley and Jennifer Glossop. I wasn’t 100% sure I remembered how to talk to actual grownups face to face. However, the organisers and volunteers were so kind and welcoming, the space so full of natural light and the attendees’ conversation so interesting that I quickly felt at ease and excited for the day.

Paul Beverley, the famed Word Macro Man, had flown from the UK to talk to the group about Word macros. He demonstrated some of the huge array of tools he has created and gives away at no charge, with instructions on how to put them to best use. I use a couple of macros regularly, but during Paul’s session I was reminded of how much time I can save every day by mastering macros at a greater depth. I have thus far ignored his DocAlyse and other analysis macros, but have now realised how badly I need them! I also hadn’t realised that there’s a macro that can change the screen background colour according to whether Track Changes is on or off. If you’ve ever had to redo work because you hadn’t tracked the changes (hand up!) you’ll realise how exciting this is. During the break, Paul took the time to look at a macro I had been having trouble with, and even emailed me the next day with follow-up suggestions. Janet MacMillan, one of the organisers of the mini-conference, had mentioned to me several times how kind and giving the general culture of the SfEP is, and Paul is the perfect case in point.

After Paul, we heard from Jennifer Glossop, a Canadian fiction editor I hold in esteem bordering on awe. Jennifer has been working in publishing for over four decades and has edited such authors as Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki and Tim Wynne-Jones. Books she has edited have won or been nominated for many awards, including the Governor General’s Award and the Giller. Jennifer talked about ‘finding the missing parts in a narrative’, about how cutting what is too long is sometimes a simpler task than knowing what is not there and how to put it in. We talked about how to find what might be missing in the areas of plot, character and senses, including missing or offstage scenes, missing emotions, and gaps in timelines. I could write a whole blog post on Jennifer’s thoughts on consequences and how they can work forward and backward in a book (a scene can have consequences down the road or be caused by something that has already happened); the conversation gave me new tools for how to handle some of the challenges I have met in books I have edited, and new ways to explain some of these ideas to authors.

Erin Brenner, an editor from the US with more than 20 years’ experience, titled her session ‘Copyediting 2.0: Editing in the Age of “Post It Now or Lose Your Audience”’, and her talk left me wincing. Not because it wasn’t excellent – it was – but because she helped me realise how many tools and tasks I’ve been ignoring because I’ve been ‘too busy to work smarter’. Erin talked about how easy it is to procrastinate or disregard important tasks like reviewing style guides and finding ways to speed up your work using tools such as PhraseExpander, shortcuts and even the simple yet noble sticky note, as well as how to triage when you don’t have enough time to do everything you would like to do to a document.

Heather Ebbs, a Canadian indexer, writer, editor and teacher, gave me insight into something I knew almost nothing about: indexes. As she put it, ‘indexes are about aboutness’ and it was fascinating to learn more about how indexers work and how to do a better job when tasked with editing an index. When the session ended, I felt a profound sense of certainty that I could never be an indexer, and a more profound sense of gratitude for the professionals who have the skills and experience to do this job with expertise.

Amy Schneider, an editor who has worked on all kinds of books and other projects since 1995, came from the US as well. Her talk, about customising your workspace with templates, dovetailed with Erin’s and reminded me once again that there are many ways to work an awful lot smarter instead of harder, and that it’s time to plunge into them. Amy showed how she uses templates for her work – changing documents to screen-optimised fonts and ensuring that different styles stand out so they can be better edited more quickly – but more importantly she showed us how to take that information and apply it to just about any project and work style.

The sessions ended with a Q&A with all the speakers. The theme that emerged from the day was clearly how to work smarter and more efficiently. Erin challenged us all to do better when it comes to efficiency, and I’m told Malini’s workshop the previous day challenged attendees to pick one thing and do it. So, here I am, publicly pledging that I will be setting up the DocAlyse macro and getting to know it (and maybe HyphenAlyse and ProperNounAlyse) this week.

The conference organisers were like ninjas, or perhaps wizards, conjuring trays of fresh food and pots of hot coffee into convenient locations at regular intervals. Each aspect of delegate attendance was handled thoughtfully, from pronoun stickers to a policy for immunocompromised attendees, to ensure that everyone felt comfortable. There were opportunities to get tech help from Paul Beverley and to learn more about Queen’s University Professional Studies from talented editor Corina Koch MacLeod, who is an educational designer with Queen’s. I don’t want to write an uncritical review, so I’ve been trying hard to come up with something negative to say about the day. I suppose next year it would be nice if organisers could arrange for the weather to be a bit warmer. After the conference we retired to a pub across the street, from which I was sorry to have to dash for the train.

I’m grateful to the organising team of Maya Berger, Kelly Lamb, Janet MacMillan and Rachel Small for bringing together such a welcoming, international group of supportive, interesting and generally lovely people for a day of learning. It was the perfect way to return to in-person professional development, and no one asked me for a snack or told me that their brother was hitting them. I hope to be able to attend some of the SfEP Toronto group meetings in the future, and I am looking forward to next year’s mini-conference.

Cat London recently joined the SfEP as a Provisional Advanced Professional Member. She does developmental editing, copyediting and proofreading of fiction and non-fiction, primarily for publishing companies, and also works as a photographer. A certified copyeditor through Editors Canada, Cat has edited a great deal of gritty fiction and maintains an extensive library of style sheets cataloguing various slang, expletives and obscenities. She lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, with her husband, dog and altogether too many children.


Coming up in 2020:

  • The SfEP’s local groups will meet regularly throughout 2020 have a look at the calendar.
  • The next annual SfEP conference will be at Kents Park Hill, Milton Keynes, 1214 September 2020 booking will open in spring 2020.

Photo credits: SfEP notebook – Cat London; Toronto skyline – Richard Kidger on Unsplash.

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Climate crisis: what can we do?

With increasing awareness of humans’ negative impact on the environment, people are realising that new choices have to be made. Caroline Petherick, who has been living an eco-friendly lifestyle for well over a decade, has summarised the changes and decisions she has made to lower her carbon footprint and ecological impact.

Here are the things I’ve been doing; some of them might appeal to you or turn into a springboard for something else you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

  • Banking: The easiest of the lot, and one of the most effective: I have two savings accounts, a current account and a social enterprise account at Triodos Bank. I want to use a bank that truly supports ethical and sustainable enterprise and behaves in an ethical way itself.
  • Working: My office is paperless, as much as possible. I’ve never worked on hard copy. I have a drawer called ‘scrap’ where I keep paper printed on one side only, then if I do need to print or write something, I use that rather than new paper. (Paper used on both sides helps light the wood burner – or it could be shredded and used in a compost bin.)
  • House sharing: My house has three bedrooms, and now that my children have grown up I share it with others, who contribute towards the costs (the government Rent a Room Scheme allows £7,500 pa free of tax); the sharing provides company and means that my per person emissions are much reduced.
  • Food: I share my house with vegans, and while I’m not vegan myself, I have found a vegan ‘cheese’ I’m happy with – Violife – along with my fave ever milk (Rice Dream with hazelnuts and almonds) – and so now I don’t consume any dairy. (No butter, either: I buy Feral Trade’s olive oil.) I also have a local organic veg box, and I shop in my local farm shop, fish shop and butcher (where I buy wild venison about once a fortnight). I do go to a supermarket occasionally – a high street Co-op – but only for rare and weird things like poppadoms and Nakd bars.
  • House heating: In 2007, after my partner died suddenly, I took out the night storage heaters (too expensive to run), stacked their bricks up against an internal wall, and just in front of them, put a wood-burning stove made out of an old gas cylinder.
    Until last year, that was the only heating in the house, and in winter, the temperature could drop to around 10 degrees in the early mornings. Last year, I cashed in a pension fund to buy Planitherm windows and patio doors, and their extra insulation and passive solar gain has made a huge and welcome difference. I also bought some infrared wall panels (only 300w!) to heat the building fabric, the furniture and the humans, not the air. That helps reduce the condensation and the concomitant mould. And recently, I added a couple of dehumidifiers; they produce some heat (again, they’re only about 300w each), but their main advantage is that because the air is drier, it doesn’t feel so cold. And the mould has gone. (But in winter, I’ll still be wearing my long johns, padded waistcoat, thick slippers and Bob Cratchit mittens to work in!)

  • Cooking, washing, drying: The wood burner has a flat top (the gas bottle’s upside down), so in winter that’s good for cooking on. In summer, we use an induction hob. There’s also an electric fan oven that we use occasionally. The washing machine is A++ rated, and I use washballs, not detergent. We line dry when possible – there’s a rotary line behind the house, and in a 20-foot-long lean-to are three drying lines (plus firewood storage). The tumble dryer gets used when the washing’s been hanging out for a week and still isn’t dry.
  • Cleaning: I have a limited selection of cleaning products, which can be used for cleaning just about everything: white vinegar, bicarb of soda and Ecover products.
  • Water heating: The house has four large immersion heater cylinders, which were originally hooked into the Economy 7 night storage system, and I turned them off years ago. There are now two electric showers with instant hot water; for the wash basins and kitchen sink it’s cold water, and for washing up it’s a kettle on the wood burner in winter and an electric kettle in summer. Works fine!
  • House lighting: We only have lights on in a room that someone’s in. Well, that’s the idea, anyhow. We find ourselves going round the house turning lights off after each other. We’ll get there in the end! Meanwhile, I use Bulb as my electricity supplier (we don’t have gas).
  • Loo roll, kitchen roll: Always recycled. I hate the idea of putting trees – even trees grown as a crop – down the loo.
  • Transport: One day I’ll buy an EV, when the second-hand prices have dropped far enough. (There are government grants available in the UK for the installation of EV charging points.) In the meantime, my car, a 2006 Nissan, constitutes by far the biggest element of my carbon footprint. But as I live a good hour’s walk from the nearest bus stop (two services a day) or railway station (four) and cycling here is suicide – death by brake failure on the downhills or by heart failure on the up – I’m going to keep running some sort of car for the foreseeable future. I car share as much as possible, and use the car to connect with railway trains from our local town. And from January onwards, for my overseas journeys, it’ll be surface only: no flights until there are proper sustainably fuelled aircraft. Long-distance rail is great! For bright ideas (and armchair travelling), check out the Man in Seat 61.

  • I’ve started going to local council meetings, to push for action, not words. Result thus far? Well, while at the October meeting they told me that if I wanted do something useful I should write a piece for the parish magazine [ahem] in the November meeting, they agreed to get local people out, spade in hand, to plant trees. There are already regular litter picks, and now we’re pushing Cornwall Council to install solar PV in the local social housing estate. That’s a start!
  • I’m a member of (and so subscribe to) humanitarian and planet-minded groups, including Amnesty International, Avaaz, 38 Degrees, Toilet Twinning, TreeSisters, the South West Coast Path Association, the National Biodiversity Network, the RSPB, the Woodland Trust and the Marine Biological Association.
    Plus, I get (and read!) newsfeeds from the National Oceanography Centre, the Marine Conservation Society, the Met Office, and the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
    I support Global Citizen, SumOfUs, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, WWF, WaterAid, the CoaST Network (sustainable tourism), Open Democracy, Freedom United, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Rescue, Save the Whales and Greenpeace by signing their petitions and giving donations.
  • In September, I went to the annual conference of the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Machynlleth. But you don’t need to wait for next year’s conference – just go there! Visit its website for ideas and inspiration: www.cat.org.uk
  • At last I have another source of income: an old storehouse on my land that I’ve been converting over the years into a holiday cottage with a difference. It’s off-grid, so people can come and holiday by the sea and at the same time learn hands-on about living by using alternative energy sources – wood, and the sun (and I’m saving up for a small wind turbine). You could come and try living off-grid, too!
  • Finally, there are loads more ideas in a book I’ve just finished editing – Dcarb: The Carbon Buddy Companion. Your practical guide to cooling our planet by Dr Colin Hastings – due to be published in spring 2020.

In the early 1990s – before the days of websites – Caroline Petherick, with a partner and 4 young children in tow, somehow managed to find the SfEP. Having taken its early copyediting courses, she’s never looked back, and now works for one publisher and a wide range of businesses and independent authors.

 


Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

Photo credits: Leave nothing but footprints – Abi Saffrey; Iceberg and sky – Ruslan Bardash on Unsplash; Green growth – Matthew Smith on Unsplash

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

Problem solving

By Alison Shakspeare

This article is based on responses from clients asked to describe what problem an editor had solved for them. Given the multitude of clients who use editing services it is no surprise that the problems that need solving are as legion, but a common theme across them all is trust: ‘I do feel that for any problems to be solved the writer has to trust the editor’; ‘if they are lucky, editor and author will grow to trust each other, and even achieve a mutual admiration’.

‘We were up against a tight deadline’

Business clients are driven strongly by time constraints, so a freelance editor’s flexibility and the speed with which they can do a job (given their knowledge and their use of handy tools that speed up mundane tasks) help clients achieve ‘a very tight turnaround with limited time for our internal quality checks to be implemented’ (in this case a market research report that had to conform to the client’s style sheet).

Time pressures have a habit of cascading down the workstream, as acknowledged by a design company:

As such a significant part of our schedule is devoted to an ongoing series of projects which come either on a drip feed or as a gushing torrent, it can be problematic for us to manage the annual schedule. The ability of freelance editors to promptly react to changing circumstances and lack of warning on our part about upcoming projects is vital to the smooth running of our business.

Time can also chase more traditional academic tomes, particularly those with multiple authors:

Having an editor on board taking care of the copyediting not only ensured we met the deadline with a clean manuscript but it also created vital headspace for us to keep the overall intellectual project in sight, and spend time finessing.

Lumberjack or editor?

Business clients often have to deal with a logjam caused by a range of internal viewpoints. Access to a trusted freelancer ‘meant the job got done, when it otherwise would have just sat there until an entire team had the time to agree on what wording to use’ (where a company needed all their communications to be in plain English to help their clients understand the complexities of owning and leasing property).

But not all organisations are aware of how their language obfuscates their message (in a multinational world where English is the main common language, but in which many writers are not native English speakers, I might suggest using obscures). There is a trick to making a document ‘stand out, but yet be easily comprehensible to the target audience of people with English as a second language’. Many an EU department uses ‘a fresh, outsider’s look – not just at the use of words and their context but also at the layout’. This same client pointed out:

I suggest that often clients are not fully aware of how much an editor can do for them … A good editor working closely with their client can really add value – and at reasonable cost.

‘An editor carries a first-time author across the threshold from school-taught theory to book-form execution.’

This brings me to self-publishers, particularly first-time authors who discover that the main benefit of using a professional editor is clearing the fog of ignorance:

First-time authors, until then, have read as consumers, oblivious to the conventions of publishing. Who had noticed that the first paragraph of a chapter is not indented, or that century is not capitalised? Who knew the flexibilities of convention? What first-time author comes with a clear idea of their own style sheet?

An editor can be pretty useful quite early in the writing journey to help a writer see the wood through the forest of their plot:

The developmental edit helped me to grow the important characters and see how the whole story fitted together. This then led me to evolve the story and complete the jigsaw.

Even when the bones of the story have been fleshed out there is usually plenty for an editor to sort out so that the author can present as coherent and publication-ready a manuscript as possible.

Avoiding problems

A good editor also knows how to avoid problems through ‘diplomacy and tact’ by ‘inviting me to consider what might be expressed better and bringing sense to some of my more chaotic ideas’. And not only for first-time authors:

I’ve always believed that every book should benefit from a professional edit. Sadly, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule in these times of self-publishing and print-on-demand.

Finally, proper preparation for self-publishing is another area where editors can help avoid problems, or present solutions:

solving all the finicky problems associated with formatting, design, registry, accounts, etc., that I am either too busy, too confused, or too lazy to do myself.

 

Alison Shakspeare came to editing after a career in arts marketing and research for leading national and regional organisations. Her client base has expanded as her skillset has grown from basic copy editing to offering design and layout services. She truly enjoys the CPD she gains from working with academics, business organisations and a growing number of self-publishing authors.

 


Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

Photo credits: jigsaw – Gabriel Crismariu on Unsplash; trees – Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash.

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

 

Over the limit: reducing the word count

By Claire Bacon

Most journals impose word limits on the articles they publish. Saying the same thing in fewer words not only increases an article’s chances of being accepted for publication, but also makes it easier to read. In this blog post, I explain how to reduce the word count in a research paper to keep the journal editor and the readers happy.

Wordy phrases

Replace wordy phrases with concise alternatives. For example:

  • Explained instead of accounted for the fact that
  • Now instead of at this point in time
  • Many instead of a large number of
  • Because instead of due to the fact that.

You can also avoid wordiness by choosing the right verbs. For example, the active voice uses fewer words than the passive voice:

The questionnaire was completed by the participants. (passive voice; 7 words)

Participants completed the questionnaire. (active voice, 4 words)

Nominalisation (changing verbs/adjectives into nouns) also introduces unnecessary passive verbs into your sentences. Use verbs that tighten your text:

A positive correlation between drug use and recovery time was observed. (11 words)

Drug use correlated positively with recovery time. (7 words)

This would lead to a reduction in patient mortality. (9 words)

This would reduce patient mortality. (5 words)

Using single verbs instead of phrasal verbs can also reduce the word count. For example:

We cut down on the amount of drug administered over time. (phrasal verb; 11 words)

We reduced the amount of drug administered over time. (single verb; 9 words)

You can cut this down even further by choosing more appropriate words:

We reduced the drug dosage.

The first person

Using first person pronouns (I, we, me, my, mine, us, our) is a great way to emphasise the author’s perspective and engage the reader. But the first person isn’t always suitable. Take a look at the following example:

We discovered that regular exercise reduced stress levels in healthy participants.

This is not an effective use of the first person. Keep the tone objective when describing results – and doing so will use fewer words:

Regular exercise reduced stress levels in healthy participants.

Redundant information

Delete any words that do not contribute important information. Prepositional phrases (groups of words without subjects or verbs) are often redundant and can be deleted without changing the meaning. For example:

  • Large instead of large in size
  • Round instead of round in shape
  • Red instead of red in colour.

Also check whether the modifiers in the article are necessary. For example:

Careful hemodynamic monitoring is necessary to prevent tissue hypoxia during cardiac surgery. (Nobody will infer that careless hemodynamic monitoring is acceptable if you delete careful.)

Extensive inclusion criteria were used to define the target population. (The inclusion criteria will be presented, so no need to tell the reader they are extensive.)

Double negatives are also redundant – and unclear. For example:

Although the difference was small, it was statistically significant

is shorter and clearer than

Although the difference was small, it was not statistically insignificant.

Filler phrases such as it has been shown that, it is widely accepted that, and it should be noted that are often redundant, but can be used sparingly to guide a reader through the author’s evolving argument.

Be specific

Concrete language is often more concise than abstract language. It also makes writing easier to understand. For example:

Patients with pancreatic cancer were examined by oncologists.

is specific and less wordy than

Patients with pancreatic cancer were examined by appropriately qualified medical personnel.

Use tables and figures

Save space by presenting large amounts of data in a table. Remove any redundant information (eg a column headed Sex is not necessary if all participants were female) and put units in the headings or footnotes rather than in each data field.

Don’t repeat yourself

Avoid repetition. Unnecessary adjectives are a common culprit – for example, past history, end result, advance planning, in actual fact, various different. Adverbs can be repetitive too – definitely proved, completely eliminate, may possibly, repeat again. Check whether adjectives and adverbs give new information. If not, delete them.

Do not repeat information from tables and figures in the text. A brief reference to what the figure or table is showing is sufficient. For example:

We collected data on age, sex, BMI, use of hormonal contraceptives, and Becks Depression Inventory score for all patients (Table 1)

is wordy and redundant. Try:

Patient characteristics are presented in Table 1.

Emphasise with care – intensifiers don’t always add meaning: exactly the same, absolutely essential, extremely significant, and very unique are all examples of redundant intensifiers and can be deleted.

Avoid continuous tenses

The continuous tenses indicate that something is ongoing. They are usually best avoided in research papers because they force unnecessary use of the verb to be. For example:

We measured creatinine levels in patient urine (simple past tense)

is concise and easier to read than

We were measuring creatinine levels in patient urine. (past continuous tense)

Abbreviations

Abbreviations can make text concise because they avoid repetition of long words. Many scientific words are better known by their abbreviations, such as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and PCR (polymerase chain reaction). These abbreviations improve the flow and clarity of the writing and usually do not need to be defined:

Patient DNA was amplified by PCR

will be understood by most readers. However, non-standard abbreviations should be defined when first used:

The SN, SC, and IC are components of the MB

is impossible to understand. The reader needs to know what the abbreviations mean:

The substantia nigra (SN), superior colliculus (SC), and inferior colliculus (IC) are part of the midbrain (MB).

Don’t define abbreviations more than once in the main text. Abbreviations will only reduce the word count if they are used consistently after they are defined.

Be ruthless with your red pen

Authors are often reluctant to delete the words they have taken so much time to write. But cutting unnecessary information from a paper will draw attention to the important content. If time allows, put an article to one side for a while before deciding what to delete. This will make awkward phrases and irrelevant information easier to spot. Following the tips outlined in this article will help you decide what needs to go to get the word count under the journal’s limit.

 

Claire Bacon is a former research scientist and an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She edits manuscripts for non-native English-speaking scientists and works as a copyeditor for The Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.

This article was published on Claire’s blog on 23 October 2019. Many thanks to Claire for granting permission to amend and republish it.


If you’re interested in learning more about helping authors to make their writing more clear and concise, then consider taking the SfEP’s Plain English for Editors course.


Photo credits: You choose your words – Brett Jordan on Unsplash; Books – Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Proofread and posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

SfEP conference 2019: what they said

The SfEP’s 30th annual conference, ‘In the beginning was the word’, was held at Aston University on 14–16 September 2019, and in the days and weeks that followed there emerged a crop of blogs by those who attended. A few overall themes emerged. [Disclaimer: this post contains strong language.]

Celebration

By next year’s conference the SfEP will be the CIEP (the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading). These glad tidings were announced during the AGM and celebrated with a glass of fizz during the gala dinner, where Chair Sabine Citron and chartership adviser Gerard Hill were given a standing ovation. But what does it all mean? Sarah Dronfield explains: ‘This doesn’t mean that we, as individuals, will become chartered editors or proofreaders (although that might be a possibility for some of us one day) but hopefully it will show the world what a valued profession this is and how much our skills and knowledge are needed.’

Accommodation

Bloggers expressed delight with the facilities provided by Aston University. The rooms were luxurious and comfortable, and the meals, too, had a high TOG rating: ‘There was chilli in every main-course dish and even in the cheesecake’ (Sarah Dronfield). Amazed conference newbie Matthew Pinnock described the lunches: ‘I must admit I was expecting buffets with unidentifiable sandwiches … but these were worthy of dinners!’ Marieke Krijnen actually took photos of the food. Impressive.

Coronation

A disproportionate number of those who blogged about the conference (Annie Deakins, Sarah Dronfield, Matthew Pinnock, Sophie Playle and Kia Thomas) were also members of a team called [checks notes] ‘Kevin’ that was crowned the winner in the Saturday evening post-dinner quiz. (This is statistically interesting. Are bloggers good at quizzes, or do successful quiz participants like blogging?) Victorious Team Kevin celebrated well into the next day, sharing its booty – tubs of Cadbury’s Heroes – with fellow delegates. Thanks very much for that, folks.

But the true coronation came on Sunday morning. Kia Thomas, whose session on swearing had been a highlight of the 2018 conference, sportingly observed, having attended the Whitcombe Lecture: ‘I need to concede my “SfEP’s sweariest speaker” crown to Chris Brookmyre.’ And indeed Chris’s colourful language was noted in many of the blogs, particularly his fascinating detail that ‘the BBC tolerates a maximum of fifteen “fucks” in any radio episode’ (Marieke Krijnen). With true tales of his life as a writer and subeditor, Chris inspired the same levels of hilarity as a stand-up comedian, with several bloggers observing that his early morning lecture (9.30am start) did a great job of waking everyone up.

Concentration

The different conference sessions were covered by the bloggers in a way that made you wish you’d been to theirs, whatever ‘theirs’ was – this even extended to the trainer day on the Saturday, described by Liz Jones as three-dimensional CPD. It all sounded amazing, but particular highlights seemed to be Gerard Hill’s The Art of Querying (Claire Bacon and Annie Deakins), Louise Harnby’s Switching to Fiction (Anne Gillion and Claire Bacon), Laura Poole’s From the Failure Files (Marieke Krijnen and Anne Gillion) and the Lightning Talks, which included everything from the Welsh language (Sue Walton’s talk) to what editors can learn from cats (Eleanor Abraham’s talk).

Perspiration

Two of the bloggers – Claire Bacon and Marieke Krijnen – managed to join the Run On group run on the Sunday at 7am. Anne Gillion wasn’t so lucky, due to a back problem: ‘My biggest disappointment was not being able to take part in the inaugural conference run with fellow members of the SfEP Run On group.’ But, she wisely concluded, ‘there’s always next year’.

Relaxation

The gala dinner, on the Sunday night, was an opportunity to kick back with good food, good company, sweet music (The Linnets’ wonderful performance of Riffat Yusuf’s hilarious lyrics to the tune of ‘He Who Would Valiant Be’ – Annie Deakins includes a photo) and another entertaining talk, this time from Rob Drummond, reader in linguistics at Manchester Metropolitan University. Although most of us had progressed through at least some of the stages of linguistic pedantry depicted in his graph, we were encouraged to relax completely about others’ language use with the words of Rob’s teenage son: ‘Mate, let it go. It’s non-standard.’

Acceleration

Our honorary president, David Crystal, gave the final plenary lecture on Monday afternoon (Anne Gillion dedicated a chunk of her blog to this). The overwhelming feeling delegates took away from David’s account of developments in the years between the second and third editions of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language is that things in language and editing are changing, and changing fast – so fast that if you want to express the fact that you have laughed out loud at what someone has said, you can’t write ‘lol’ any more: you have to write ‘actual lol’. Emojis, which some of us are only just learning how to use, are moving on, too: ‘Emoji use is already past its peak, and David Crystal wonders if in a few years we’ll be on to the next thing.’ (Kia Thomas)

Participation

But the really magical moments from the 2019 SfEP conference seemed to come from just being there with everyone else. Sophie Playle (in her newsletter) put it like this: ‘There’s often quite a lot of buzz around the conference, and I think it’s mostly down to the fact we editors so rarely get together in such numbers.’ She wrote: ‘You’d think being a solo business owner who mostly works from home would mean you don’t have a professional community, but the SfEP community (well, the editorial community globally, really) is incredibly active and friendly. Even if we only see each other less than once a year, we often talk so much online that we feel like we all know each other well.’ Kia expressed this too: ‘When you chat to someone online nearly every day, it’s really weird when you sit down together and work out you’ve actually only met once, two years ago.’ For online colleagues, the experience of meeting each other in real life was powerful. Claire summed up the feeling: ‘you are my people’.

Anticipation

So, are our bloggers excited about next year? You bet. ‘Here’s to #SfEP2020’ proclaims self-confessed loather of conferences, Matthew. ‘I will definitely attend #SfEP2020 in Milton Keynes next year!’ says Marieke. Anne exclaims: ‘Can’t wait to do it all again in 2020. Milton Keynes, here we come!’ Kia rounds up our round-up with: ‘I’ll see you all in Milton Keynes for hashtag SfEP2020 actual lol!’


See the November/December issue of Editing Matters for a full account of the 2019 SfEP conference.

Thanks to Sarah Dronfield for her work in compiling a list of blogs on the SfEP forum, and to a member of the social media team for pulling this round-up together.


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Editing memoir, life writing and creative non-fiction

At this year’s SfEP conference, writer Emma Darwin led a workshop that was mainly focused on non-fiction authors, but the many questions discussed are relevant to both authors and editors. Loulou Brown summarises Emma’s key things to consider when working through a text.

Creative life-writing/creative non-fiction uses the techniques of fiction to write real, non-fictional stories. Non-fiction work presents real life. It informs, summarises and reports, and separates facts from inferences and guesses. It is explicitly factually ‘true’, including uncertainties and gaps, and it acknowledges influences and assumptions.

The author should consider why they want to write about a particular subject, and what is at stake. It is then necessary to think about the project to be worked on.

  • What is important?
  • What will the project contain?
  • Whose story is it?
  • Who are the important people?
  • Where are the important places?
  • When do the important historical events take place?
  • What gets told and how?
  • Is there more than one story; if so, how are they related?
  • What might the ‘spine’ or ‘backbone’ of the narrative be?
  • What will the ‘vertebrae’ be?
  • Where does the author start?
  • Where does the author finish?

The author needs to decide the following:

  • What will their personal rule-book be for when to do what?
  • How will fictional techniques help to make the non-fiction material compelling?
  • Where are the gaps and ‘awkwardnesses’: in facts, causes and motivation; in thoughts, feelings and physical experiences? How will these be filled or bridged?
  • How will discrepancies be acknowledged and resolved, or discrepancies be acknowledged and left to lie?
  • How will explicit inferences, guesses and explanations be made?
  • How will they imagine, reinvent or alter?

The narrative is very important and the following issues need to be considered:

  • Who is doing the narrating?
  • How will the narrative put flesh on the spine?
  • Who or what is the narrative centred on?
  • How will the narrator draw the reader along the spine?
  • Where is the narrator ‘standing’, relative to the events?
  • What will the narrative evoke, dramatise, show?
  • Where will the narrative inform, summarise, tell?

Narrative techniques:

  • Using a narrator or storyteller and actors in the story.
  • Interweaving different timelines.
  • Working with point-of-view.
  • Showing versus telling (evoking/telling the reader; informing/explaining).
  • Working with voice and tone.
  • Working with psychic distance.

The author needs to think about his or her readers and consider the following questions:

  • Who is going to read what is written?
  • Will the journey be worth the reader’s time and money?
  • What is at stake for the reader?
  • How will the writer engage the reader?
  • Why should the reader care?
  • How is the reader convinced by what the writer is saying?

Emma listed a number of features that can go wrong with the manuscript. Editors should carefully take note of these potential problems.

  • The voice is not compelling enough.
  • The reader doesn’t care about what is being said.
  • The text is confusing, irritating, or too quiet, too noisy, too slow, too long, or too short, or too rushed.
  • The storytelling is jerky.
  • There is a ‘soggy’ middle.
  • The story fizzles out.
  • Although competent, the story is dull.
  • The text is over-written.
  • The text is under-written.
  • There are repetitions.
  • There is too much description.
  • There is too much introspection.

Emma ended her workshop with a list of potential problems that might arise between authors and publishers.

  • The publisher says that the author’s voice is dull and clunky.
  • The publisher gets frustrated because the author cannot remember what the publisher considers to be important incidents.
  • The publisher is irritated that the author won’t tell the ‘best’ bits.
  • The publisher is annoyed that the author finds it very difficult to write about important incidents.
  • The publisher is bored because the author feels it necessary to write about incidents in great detail.
  • The publisher is cross because the author over-explains events.
  • The publisher is peeved because the author doesn’t put in enough detail.
  • The publisher is upset because the author resists any restructuring.
  • The publisher is furious because the author balks at fairly drastic changes.
  • The publisher gives up when the author resists all changes to the text.
  • The author becomes paranoid when the publisher wants the text to be sexier.
  • The author is upset that the publisher does not appear to understand what they are writing about, given the changes the publisher wants to make to the text.
  • The author hates major restructuring of the text that they have worked on for years.
  • The author is disgusted that the publisher appears to be interested only in how much money the book will make and does not appear to be interested in the content of what has been written.
  • The author has a seizure when the publisher pushes hard for delivery of the text.

Loulou Brown is a professional member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. She has an MA in women’s studies and an MA in English literature. She specialises in editing academic work in the humanities and social sciences and has also edited a lot of biographies and autobiographies. Her major interest is in editing fiction and she has recently become an associate editor at Bloodhound Books, a crime fiction publisher.

Emma Darwin has published four books: two novels, The Mathematics of Love, and A Secret Alchemy; and a ‘how to’ manual, Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction. Her latest work, published this year, is a memoir about her family: This Is Not a Book about Charles Darwin. She has an MPhil in writing at the University of South Wales and has completed a PhD in creative writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.


Read more conference session summaries in the November/December edition of Editing Matters (free to members).


Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Photo credits: Light bulbs  Skye Studios on Unsplash; Pen on book Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

‘You spend all day reading?’ Why we need the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading

All events in this blog post are based on true experiences, as reported by editorial professionals. However, details have been changed to protect the identities of not only the editors but also their friends, family and contacts. Thanks to everyone who volunteered their stories.


It’s 8.30am on a typical Wednesday morning. I’ve been up for two hours and, after hanging out all the laundry and getting the kids up and off to school, I finally sit down at my desk and check my To Do list. Today, I have a specialist journal article and its references to edit, six people’s comments and corrections to collate on a textbook’s second proofs and a weekly catchup meeting with an in-house project manager. I smile to myself. I love my job and I’m still basking in the happy news that soon the SfEP will become the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

I check the 15 emails I’ve received overnight. The author of the article has sent a new version with 2,000 extra words and 15 new references but hasn’t used Track Changes so I can’t immediately tell what’s different. One of the consultants on the textbook has asked for the chapters to be reordered. I settle down to work.

9am: An email arrives from a marketing agency. ‘Here’s a PDF of our latest brochure. It just needs a final proofread by lunchtime.’ Apparently, by ‘final proofread’, they mean complete restructure using different words. I respond explaining, as I did last time they made the same request, that the level of changes required means it would have been quicker and cheaper for everyone if I’d have been able to edit the text in Word before it was set in InDesign. They ask how much this would cost. I give them my standard copyediting rate, which reflects my years of continuing professional development and experience. They reply that their budget doesn’t stretch to more than half that amount for such a simple task – after all, they haven’t spotted any typos in the leaflet. I politely decline the job so that I can maintain my professional integrity (and, by extension, that of the SfEP).

9.30am: The email reminds me that I used to do a lot of work for another agency, so I call my contact there. He apologetically tells me that all editing and proofreading is now handled in-house to save money. The new boss had questioned why external editors were charging twice for doing one job. My contact had tried to explain that copyediting and proofreading were two different aspects of a thorough editorial approach but the boss now gives all the ‘checking’ to a marketing assistant with an English degree. My contact confides that they’ve made a few mistakes in their marketing material recently that have ‘negatively impacted their brand perception key indicators’.

11am: My edit is interrupted by the phone. I consider not answering but it’s my mother and there might be a family emergency.

Mum: ‘Hello! I was going to phone your sister about this, but I don’t like ringing her when she’s at work. Are you working?’
Me: ‘Yes, Mum. I’m always working at this time.’
Mum: ‘Ha ha, yes, you work too hard! I do wish you’d start actually using your qualifications, though, after you spent all that time studying. What job do you say you do again? You’re a word processor or something?’
Me: ‘I’m a copyeditor.’
Mum: ‘When are you going to become a real editor? Anyway, I called to tell you …’ [Long story of exactly zero importance or urgency ensues about some relative I don’t know.]
Me: ‘Mmm … uh huh … really? … Oh dear … yes … I mean no, that’s terrible!’ [Trying to sound interested and maintain work mode.]
Mum: ‘Are you listening to me?’
Me: ‘Well, actually, I’ve got this deadline …’
Mum: ‘Well, why didn’t you say so?’

12.30pm: The doorbell rings. I think it’s the postie needing me to sign for a contract I’m expecting by registered post so I answer the door. It turns out to be a friend holding a homemade cake.

Friend: ‘Hi! I was just passing and I knew you’d be at home so I thought I’d pop in for a quick coffee.’
Me: ‘Er, it’s nice to see you but I actually have a deadline today.’
Friend: ‘Oh, I’ll only be half an hour. It’s lunchtime! Time for a break!’

She walks in and casts a critical eye on the unwashed breakfast dishes.

Friend: ‘Oh, I could never work from home! I’d get too distracted by the housework!’
Me: [Ahem, clearly that’s not my problem …] ‘If I spent all day doing the housework, I wouldn’t get paid.’
Friend: ‘Oh, come on, your husband has a good job. You don’t need to work!’
Me: ‘Editing is my career. It’s taken me years to get to where I am now.’ [To gain the skills, experience and contacts to get a steady stream of work and become an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP.]
Friend: ‘So which book are you reviewing at the moment?’
Me: ‘I’ve told you before, I’m not a reviewer, I’m an editor. I don’t comment on it, I fix it. Reviewing and editing are different jobs.’
Friend: ‘Oh, so you just run spellchecks all day? Beats a real job! Right, no more time to chat – I’m off to my Pilates class.’

I’d been planning on a walk round the block but I don’t have time now so I get back to work.

3pm: I go to pick up the kids from school. A mother I’ve never spoken to corners me.

Her: ‘You’re a proofreader aren’t you?’
Me (warily): ‘Well, I’m mainly an editor but yes, I do proofread …’
Her: ‘I’ve decided to become a proofreader too. I’m always spotting mistakes in books. There was a typo in the crime novel I’m reading. If you’ve got any overspill work, let me know!’
Me: ‘I don’t suppose you’ve got half a day to edit 1,500 references into Chicago style and cross-check them against the citations?’
Her: ‘Um.’

A father has been listening in.

Him: ‘You’re a proofreader? I didn’t know that was still a thing. Do they actually employ people just to do that stuff? Isn’t there software for that?’
Me: ‘Yes, my brain.’
A nearby childminder looks scandalised: ‘You spend all day reading? Flipping through books? Nice for some – the rest of us have work to do!’

With perfect timing, my youngest child rushes out of the classroom and announces that he got 100% in his English comprehension test. The adults are suddenly silent.

3.30pm: As I get home, a neighbour comes over to chat. I ask how her husband is after his recent operation.

Neighbour: ‘I think he’s all right but I’ve not been able to get over to see him in hospital today. I was hoping Roger opposite would give me a lift – he works from home like you, you know, but he’s a man. He’s not got to ferry his kids around all day like you do.’
Me: ‘Perhaps he’s contracted to work certain hours. If he’s self-employed, he might even work longer hours than people with office jobs.’
Neighbour: ‘But he’s got time to walk his dog! Oh, by the way, here’s your copy of the charity cookery book you helped with.’

Inside the house, I eagerly look at the book. I’d voluntarily spent hours laying out pages, sourcing illustrations and explaining how to pay for them, warning them of copyright infringement and copyediting the recipes. The acknowledgements merely thank me for sorting out the author’s grammar.

4.30pm: An email arrives from a graduate student, for whom English is a second language. ‘I have just finished writing my MSc dissertation and need some urgent editing and academic proofreading work done. It’s about 70,000 words. This may be the final proofreading I do before submission this week by Friday.’ I politely decline.

5pm: I’ve put my focusing skills to use today and made quite a bit of progress, despite everything. I take a quick look at Facebook. A friend is starting up a small business and asks about GDPR and how tax is handled by sole traders. I send her a copy of my GDPR policy and a quick outline of the HMRC self-assessment process. She’s grateful for my help and messages back, ‘You’re wasted as a proofreader! I didn’t know you knew about this sort of thing! I thought you were just a language pedant. Is that how you spell pedant? I’m scared you’re going to correct me!’ I respond, ‘Don’t worry, if you’re not paying me, I won’t correct you.’ She replies, ‘Oh, I was going to ask you to check my new web text but I’ll ask my English-teacher friend if you want paying for it.’

5.30pm: I’ve still got a few hours’ work to do, after all today’s interruptions. Just before I return to the endless references, I remind myself of the SfEP’s original rationale for chartership:

‘We want to see greater appreciation of the value of good editing (in its widest sense), based on recognised qualifications, high standards and an understanding of what editorial professionals do, with a commensurate rise in their status and pay.’ (www.sfep.org.uk/about/governance/aim-of-chartership)

It seems that, as a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, I’ll soon be taking another step in my ongoing public relations journey.


Photo credits: Man on sofa – Austin Distel on Unsplash; Head in book Siora Photography on Unsplash

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Seven things you didn’t know about the SfEP social media team

With a colossal 27,000 Facebook ‘Likes’, more than 10,000 Twitter followers, and edging towards 12,000 followers on LinkedIn, the SfEP social media accounts are a popular way of promoting the Society to a wider audience and a way of meeting edibuddies.

But have you ever wondered who the digital ninjas anonymously posting links are? It’s time to reveal all about the SfEP’s social media team.

1. Members of the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn teams are each responsible for a particular day or week.

The Twitter team is currently Richard Sheehan, Alison Walters and Anna Nolan. As well as posting, they also respond to any tweets directly addressed to @TheSfEP during the day they’re on duty. At time of writing, there are two vacancies on the team.

Facebook is our most popular platform and our team is currently Eilidh McGregor, Cathy Tingle and Rachel Hamar. At time of writing, there are two vacancies up for grabs here too.

Our LinkedIn profile is monitored by Jo Johnston, who tweaks and posts content from our blog (managed by Abi Saffrey). Despite posting regularly for just shy of a year, the SfEP on LinkedIn is proving extremely popular with editors and proofreaders all over the world, and we are seeing great engagement here, so don’t forget to find and follow us!

Community director Vanessa Plaister and marketing and PR director Denise Cowle oversee the teams and help us monitor any tricky responses we may get.

2. We’re all volunteers and also run our own freelance businesses.

We’re not elected to a committee or paid for our time. We are all at different stages of our editorial careers but we all feel it is important to actively support the work of the SfEP.
Our volunteer roles can be thought of as a bit of a side hustle.

Jo says: ‘I think you gain more than you give when you volunteer and that’s been true for my time volunteering with the SfEP. It’s injected a bit of discipline and structure into my working week, and at the same time I can piggyback onto the SfEP posts for personal use, which is a bonus.’

Cathy says: ‘Working in the social media team has helped me become more confident with the workings of Facebook and other platforms. It has helped me review my own social media strategy and revive my ailing LinkedIn account, which all helps raise the profile of my business.’

3. We share posts beforehand.

The team uses a closed Facebook group to share suggested links or ask questions. We lay claim to content that we find there, as well as content that we’ve found ourselves.

Cathy says: ‘I love finding interesting stories online, but my favourite part of the job is undoubtedly writing the text to go with the articles. It allows me to be creative in a way that I don’t have the opportunity for otherwise.’

The SfEP’s social media pages aim to provide links to useful or entertaining posts about books, language, editing and proofreading, and other issues to do with freelance life or running your own business. We also acknowledge the achievements of our members and promote the work of the SfEP. External links are interspersed with links to the SfEP website and blog, so that those who have discovered us only via our social media streams can find out more about the SfEP and perhaps even become members.

4. We are truly international.

About a third of our Facebook fans are from the USA, with 5,000 from the UK, and Canada, India, Australia and South Africa close behind in terms of numbers, followed by the Philippines, Mexico, Italy and Pakistan. Although we are a UK-based society, we try to bear this cultural variety in mind, for example by posting links that may be of particular interest to Canadians and Americans later in the day.

Rachel says: ‘Having recently moved out of the UK, I thought this would be a good way to stay in touch with the editing community and developments in publishing while I’m not working full time.’

5. We agonise over errors.

We’re painfully aware of how it looks if the SfEP’s posts have typos. But sometimes, as with any project, errors slip through when we are juggling paid work and other commitments with our admin roles. Believe us when we say we cringe and put it right as soon as we realise.

Anna says: ‘We beg a little patience from those who are quick to point out mistakes. We’re only human and we’d prefer comments to focus on the content of the links, not the introductory copy.’

Cathy says: ‘We can’t always get it right. We keep an eye on the comments so that we can respond as swiftly as possible when someone expresses disapproval or disappointment.’

6. It’s always a learning curve.

We don’t volunteer purely out of the goodness of our hearts – an element of continuing professional development is key.

Richard says: ‘It feels good doing something to contribute and it also keeps me up to date with what’s being posted around the internet.’

7. We’re always looking for more volunteers.

The formula of posting links to external content and the SfEP website and blog works well. A few people have said that our social media feeds are among the best they’ve seen from an organisation like ours. We’re delighted to receive such positive feedback and are proud of what we achieve as a team.

Anna says: ‘I love being part of a friendly, helpful and communicative team. I think we all work well together and there is a really strong sense of cohesion among us!’


If you’re a SfEP member and interested in joining the SfEP’s social media team, contact Vanessa Plaister: community@sfep.org.uk


This post is an updated version of Julia Sandford-Cooke’s post from January 2016: 10 things you didn’t know about the SfEP social media teams. Many thanks to Jo Johnston for the comprehensive revisions.

Photo credits: Happy jigsaw people – Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay; Smart phone Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Plain English: new resources for editors

By Laura Ripper and Luke Finley

Are you thinking of adding plain-English editing to your services? Perhaps you have done so already, and you’d like to promote your service to more clients. Maybe you work in-house for an organisation that uses plain English, editing your colleagues’ writing. Or perhaps you’ve been hearing more about this thing known as ‘plain English’ lately, and you want to find out what it’s all about.

If that sounds like you, you might be interested in two new resources:

Using plain English (also known as plain language) helps organisations fulfil their purpose, whether it’s to make a difference in society or to make a profit for shareholders. Organisations in the public sector have a responsibility to communicate clearly so that people can use public services, understand how decisions affect them and take part in public life. Researchers write plain-English summaries to make academic knowledge accessible to more people. And private companies use plain English as a marketing tool and to save time and money on sorting out misunderstandings.

As more organisations see the advantages of using plain English, more of them are working with language professionals to make sure their documents are genuinely easy to read, use and understand. And more editors are working outside traditional publishing for the kinds of clients who want support with plain English, either as well as or in place of a ‘standard’ edit.

Plain English is about much more than word choice and sentence length; anyone who provides plain-English support needs to know about all the guidelines, techniques and tools and when to use them. Most importantly, they need to use them in a balanced and nuanced way. That puts editors, who are experienced in considering the finer points of language use as well as the wider context, in a good position to help.

If you want to find out about the basics of plain-English editing, the updated guide is a helpful introduction to what’s involved. If you want to learn more and gain some practice, the new course will help you to build on the skills you already have and use them in the context of plain English.

Editing into Plain English guide

We’ve updated the original SfEP guide on plain English, written by Sarah Carr, to reflect how the market has changed since it was first published.

What does it cover?

The guide is an introduction to plain-English editing. It includes information about:

  • What plain English is, and what it isn’t.
  • Evidence for the benefits of using plain English.
  • Training and qualifications.
  • Plain-English services you could provide, and how to price them.
  • Marketing your services and finding clients.
  • Working with clients in practice, especially non-publishers.
  • Software that can help.
  • Useful resources.

What’s changed since the first edition?

We’ve updated the guide throughout, but in particular you’ll find new information on:

  • Recent developments in plain English around the world, and which sectors are using it.
  • How plain English benefits business clients.
  • Ways to market your services and find clients.
  • What to consider when discussing a project with a client.
  • Resources and further reading.

Plain English for Editors online course

This new course looks at plain English from the perspective of editing. It explains how to use widely accepted guidelines to improve text that has already been written, and looks at the challenges involved.

Who is it for?

The course is for you if you:

  • Already provide plain-English services and want to develop your skills.
  • Want to branch out into providing plain-English services.
  • Want to use plain-English techniques as part of your other editing services.
  • Work in-house and edit colleagues’ writing.

What does it cover?

This course aims to explain what plain English is, give you the skills to use guidelines on plain-English editing with thought and care, and develop your understanding of how to market your services and deal with challenges. It covers:

  • What plain English is, and what it’s for.
  • The history of the plain-English ‘movement’ and more recent developments in uses and thinking.
  • Six main guidelines for plain-English editing, from word choice to layout.
  • Tools in Word and other software that can help, and the pitfalls to watch out for.
  • The practicalities of plain English editing – working with clients, dealing with misconceptions and challenging texts, and marketing your services.

The course gives you plenty of practice in using the guidelines with careful judgement, considering the context, the reader’s needs and the client’s needs. This helps you to develop the skills needed to genuinely improve clarity and ease of reading, rather than applying a set of ‘rules’ that simply tick a box.

In short, if you’re an editor offering plain-English services – or hoping to do so in future – these two resources will make an essential contribution to your continuing professional development (CPD). And if you’re a client or commissioner of editing services, and making your copy clear and easily understood is one of your priorities, you can be confident that any editor who draws on these resources is well equipped to help you achieve this.


Laura Ripper is a self-employed copy-editor and an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She started out at Plain English Campaign in 2004, editing documents for private companies and public-sector organisations. After that she joined Foundations and then Digital Outreach – companies that worked with charities on behalf of the UK government. As an editor, she helped these companies communicate clearly with various audiences. She has also taught English as a foreign language in Russia and China. She has co-written the SfEP online course Plain English for Editors and the SfEP guide Editing into Plain English.

Luke Finley set up Luke Finley Editorial in 2013/14 and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. Most of his working life until 2014 was spent in the voluntary and public sectors, which gave him a keen interest in plain English and trying to persuade people to communciate more clearly. He also wrote and delivered various kinds of training. As an editor, he has presented on plain English at two SfEP conferences and is the co-author of (with Laura Ripper) the SfEP online course Plain English for Editors and (with Laura Ripper and Sarah Carr) the SfEP guide Editing into Plain English.


Head to the SfEP website to sign up for the Plain English for Editors course and to buy the Editing into Plain English guide.


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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