Monthly Archives: April 2019

Linguistic prejudice: towards more inclusive editing and proofreading practices

By Erin Carrie

Close up photo of poppy buds, with one starting to open

I recently wrote an SfEP blog post discussing linguistic bias and prejudice, and encouraging editors and proofreaders to reflect on our roles and how our own biases may influence our working practices. In the post, I also highlighted what I consider to be problematic discourse within the profession, which is often reflective of the wider public discourse around language use. As a follow-up, this blog post provides more concrete – and, in many ways, more subtle – examples of linguistic bias and prejudice.

It’s one thing to accept that linguistic bias exists within the editing and proofreading profession and quite another to identify how it manifests itself and the ways in which we might work to prevent it. Once we start checking for unconscious biases in our daily practice, we come to realise that there are no simple do’s and don’ts. But, in my own experience of editing and proofreading (and having my work edited and proofread), I’ve become mindful of various ways in which we might be able to carry out our work in a more sensitive, inclusive and representative fashion.

1. Do encourage the use of sensitive and inclusive language but check that suggestions align with the author’s intention.

By means of example, a proofreader changed every instance of ‘sex’ to ‘gender’ in one of my research papers and, despite being well-intentioned, this change misrepresented which of these factors I’d investigated and how I’d gone about my research.

2. Do respect people’s rights to self-identify and to identify others in a more inclusive manner.

This applies to every aspect of identity but a useful example is that of singular they/them/their used for unknown or non-binary gender identifications. Singular they/them/their has become increasingly common and accepted in usage, especially for generic or indefinite antecedents, and the pronouns have worked to replace he/him/his, often the traditional choices in ‘gender-neutral’ instances. Recent moves have seen singular they/them/their used in a specific and definite sense. Ackerman (2018) writes:

there is prescriptive stigma of they as being necessarily plural … (although this appears to be changing) … this bias feeds the stigma of singular they as a personal pronoun for people who identify as neither male nor female, but instead as nonbinary. I advocate extreme care in using “unacceptable,” … This terminology puts authors in the position of telling nonbinary … readers … that the terminology which the nonbinary community has converged on is unacceptable

For discussion of singular they in editing and proofreading, see this article from The Economist.

3. Do retain regional and non-standard linguistic differences, rather than replacing them with more widespread or standard forms.

A good example of this is the primarily Scottish term ‘outwith’, frequently replaced in academic and other formal types of writing, despite the fact that, as stated in this Twitter thread, ‘it is the opposite of within in a way that without is not’.

4. Do acknowledge variation and remain flexible – opting for consistency rather than imposing rules.

By means of example, while the Modern Humanities Research Association suggests that the possessive of ‘Jesus’ is ‘Jesus’s’, Scientific Style and Format recommends writing it as ‘Jesus’’. This is not to mention the controversy around the use of the Oxford comma or the use of split infinitives, which also vary according to institutional and personal style. The choices that writers make regarding each of these linguistic features will inevitably communicate social meanings (I, for one, have either used or avoided the Oxford comma to achieve different effects), but writers should be entitled to make those choices themselves.Page of printed text with editing mark-up in red pen5. Do respect and nurture the author’s style, voice and identity.

If the author chooses to begin a sentence with a conjunction or end with a preposition, perhaps they want to take a more casual and informal stance to their topic. If, as I often encourage in academic writing, they choose to use a first-person pronoun rather than referring to themselves as ‘the author’ or ‘the researcher’, perhaps they want to assert themselves and claim more ownership over what they’re writing.

6. Do remember that the role of the editor or proofreader is to manage the author’s intentions and the reader’s expectations.

For example, dialect literature serves to celebrate regional and social differences and is intended for readers with sufficient social and cultural knowledge to recognise its forms and its authenticity. As such, non-standard spelling and grammar are not only preferable but, arguably, essential in this sphere – consider, for example, DH Lawrence’s use of third-person singular, past-tense ‘were’ in The Collier’s Wife (my emphasis):

Wheer’s ‘e hurt this time, lad?
– I dunna know
They on’y towd me it wor bad –
It would be so!

Compare this intentional use of non-standard spelling and grammar, where the message is communicated effectively, to Donald Trump’s ‘covfefe’ blunder, where the non-standard spelling was neither intended by him nor expected of someone in the position of POTUS.

In summary, our writing is an expression of who we are. For some writers, it is what makes their work different that makes it so special, authentic and credible (eg dialect literature). Even in other cases, there are nuances to writing styles that go beyond the textual meanings and that communicate social meanings and crucial aspects of the authors’ or characters’ identities. When we edit out these meanings, we risk editing out their voices altogether.

Erin CarrieErin Carrie is a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at Manchester Metropolitan University. She works at the interface between Sociolinguistics and the Social Psychology of Language, with a particular interest in language variation and change, language attitudes, and folk perceptions of varieties of English. She promotes consciousness-raising activities around language-based bias, prejudice and discrimination. Follow Erin on Twitter.


Manchester Metropolitan University logo

 

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.

Don’t panic! How to stay calm in a crisis

By Melanie Thompson

Drawing of an 'emergency kit' bag with Hart's Rules and Oxford English Dictionary books spilling out of the top

Would you sign up for a two-hour conference session titled ‘Risk Assessment for Editors and Proofreaders’? Perhaps a few people would. (I might even be tempted myself, because I have some experience of editing and writing safety-related content.) But SfEP conferences always aim to entertain as well as educate: after all, that’s one of the best ways to learn. So I needed to come up with a new twist on an apparently dull but important topic for my slot at the 2018 event.

After a bit of head scratching I came up with an idea: ‘Don’t Panic! How to stay calm in a crisis’ – a workshop that challenged my unsuspecting victims keen and willing editorial colleagues to play a giant interactive board game: The Game of Editorial Life.

Spinning plates

Freelance editorial professionals need to keep a lot of plates spinning – marketing their services, juggling client expectations and moving deadlines, chasing invoices, and keeping up to date with technology. And there are other plates spinning in the background – both business and personal – that must not be ignored.

Life happens and plates may crash but, by thinking ahead and preparing for the worst, we can avoid many problems, and survive most of the rest.

When I say ‘survive most of…’ I do mean just that. There is one inevitability that we all face (and I don’t mean your tax bill), and we need to think about that too.

The Game of Editorial Life enabled like-minded professionals to think about ways to plan ahead to avoid a number of work-related crises – from electricity outage to hacked computers via vanishing clients. But we also discussed strategies to deal with non-work events that can have an impact on our capacity to work and therefore pose a risk to business continuity.

Among those was one I want to focus on here: the round I named ‘Unhappy families’.

Unhappy families

Drawing of a person with a broken arm in a sling

If you are an employee you will have access to paid holiday, sick leave, maternity/paternity and other benefits. And there will usually be someone else on hand who can cover for you if you have to dash off because of a family emergency. This is relevant even if you don’t have a ‘family’ in the traditional sense – pets have crises too as, of course, do close friends. More important, you yourself may have a health crisis (either sudden in onset, or a gradual change that makes working difficult).

If you’re a freelancer, you have to grapple with these things while still keeping your work plates spinning.

Or do you?

In the workshop, I presented the competing teams – yes, it really was a game (with forfeits, and prizes) – with various scenarios and asked them to make a crisis plan by answering the following questions:

  • Triage – what do you do first, second …?
  • Do you tell your clients?
  • If so, when and how?
  • What could you do to be better prepared for this sort of crisis?

Grab a pen and some scrap paper and have a go yourself. Here are a couple of scenarios:

  1. You have landed a really exciting project, but a few days in you’re starting to feel really ill, with flu-like symptoms.
  2. You get a call one morning that a close family member/friend has been taken to hospital in an ambulance.

In the workshop discussion our ideas for all the scenarios coalesced around these key points:

  • Remember the flight attendant – put on your oxygen mask (ie, look after yourself so you can care for others).
  • Consider health/dental insurance.
  • Have regular health checks.
  • Regular breaks/holidays.
  • Consider loss of earnings insurance (it can be very expensive) – not to be confused with payment protection insurance (which often doesn’t work for the self-employed).
  • Know where to seek local help.
  • Tap into your network – local and remote (SfEP colleagues are perennially generous with their time and empathy).
  • Talk to your clients – they are humans.

Extras you might consider for scenarios 1 and 2 above are: get vaccinated; and keep emergency numbers handy.

A desktop PC with a unwell looking face on the monitor screen and smoke rising from the top

On that latter point, the entire workshop was built around developing an emergency plan and all the participants went home armed with a business resilience booklet that acts as an aide memoire for all the lively and useful discussions of the day, as well as a place to write down essential information that you – or your nearest and dearest – can easily find in a crisis.

I have mine pinned on my kitchen noticeboard.

As I mentioned at the beginning, crises don’t bother to phone you up and plug themselves into your busy schedule, they just happen. Mine, post-conference, was a call from a stranger to say that my son had crashed his car. I was in the middle of work for a client, and had an ill pet waiting to go for a walk. Of course, I dropped everything and dashed to the scene (son was fine, by the way) but I was very glad I had spent time while writing the workshop to think about my own ‘don’t panic’ strategy.

If this sounds like something that could be useful to you, watch out for a new SfEP online course currently being developed, which will touch on many of the ‘crises’ we identified – especially the business-specific ones.

Until then, remember:

  • Don’t leave things to chance.
  • Make plans.
  • Review them regularly (eg, once a year).

Further reading

 

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson (SfEP APM) has worked in and around publishing since 1988 and has just begun her 20th year as a freelancer. She writes and edits materials on sciences, especially climate change – a topic worth panicking about – from her home in a small village on the Herts/Beds/Bucks border. She’s an SfEP tutor. Follow her on Twitter via @EditorSpice

All illustrations © Paul Dyett 2018

 

The 2019 Conference: This year’s conference takes place at Aston University, Birmingham, from Saturday 14 to Monday 16 September. Booking is now open.

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.

Wise owls: a nugget of wisdom

The SfEP’s wise owls are back – and have been thinking about what little nugget of wisdom they would love to have been able to tell their newbie selves…


Two stone owl ornaments, on a log in front of a flourishing garden

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

Find out what you need before buying

Start small, and don’t anticipate your needs, which translates into Think Before You Spend. As a rookie (copy-editing is my second career, and I had no prior experience in, nor even links to, publishing), I was keen to set everything up ‘properly’ – even before I had a business to speak of. I’d talked to freelancers I knew in a different field and they recommended setting up as a limited company from the get-go. All that money wasted when I was just setting up and every penny counted. Ouch! Turns out, in EditorLand at least, being a limited company is almost always something you grow into – and may never need. Then there were all those books. So many books! I never need an excuse to buy books – and I suspect neither do you. Hold back. Some were essential once I’d got myself some clients, but most were outclassed by the internet. (The internet can be fickle, so I’d recommend having your most heavily used resources in hard copy too, if they exist.) Amazon was already well established when I was starting out – I could get books the next day if I wanted. So that’s my nugget of wisdom – find out what you need, then buy it. Don’t buy anything and everything vaguely to do with editing and writing to see if you actually will use it. New business owners, repeat after me: it’s easier to save money than to make money. (But do invest in training!)

Melanie ThompsonMelanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing a project'

Take time off if you’re faced with a family crisis

It’s easy to think you can power through problems, or use work as a ‘distraction’, but you can’t be sure your concentration will be sufficient to keep all the plates spinning, and your clients won’t thank you for a rushed or below-par job.

Michael FaulknerMike Faulkner

Know your limitations

I began my freelance career with proofreading, and my biggest challenge from the start was to stick to the parameters, my course tutor Gillian Clarke’s admonition ringing in my ears: ‘Leave well enough alone!’ It’s excellent advice and I did try, but I found myself adding more and more marginal comments to the proofs until eventually I was reframing with gay abandon.

My lightbulb moment came several years later, when I finally admitted to myself that I was not temperamentally equipped to be a proofreader. I didn’t have the self-discipline. Gillian had been right in her assessment that I was too inclined to intervene, and by then I was really pushing the boundaries, encouraged by a law publisher from whom I was getting a lot of work (still am) and whose senior editor said she ‘appreciated proofers who approach everything with an elegant scepticism’. When I made the switch to copy-editing I was much more comfortable.
So, my advice to my freshman freelance self would be, ‘Know your limitations!’.

Liz JonesLiz Jones

Learn to chill out

It always feels good to push yourself hard, to please a client, to go the extra mile, to bask in praise for all your hours of hard work and extraordinary diligence. But remember to look after yourself too, and establish boundaries. So, learn to recognise unreasonable requests, and then learn to say no to them. Learn to give yourself time off. Learn to question whether it really needs to be done by last thing on a Friday, or if Monday morning would be just as good. Learn to look hard at what the client is offering and assess whether it’s as good a deal for you as it is for them. Learn to say no as well as yes. Learn to ask for what you need to do a job well, and to have a life outside of work. Learn to chill out.

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

Have confidence, and prioritise

This year, my editorial business turned ten. In those ten years I’ve vastly expanded both my skillset (from being nervous of any copy-editing at all to managing and co-editing multi-million-word works) and my subject specialisms (who knew this English literature graduate would end up copy-editing postgraduate-level psychology?).

The nugget of wisdom I’d give to my 2009 self has two parts. The first would be to have confidence in exploring the aforementioned skillset and specialisms. As long as it is done mindfully, incrementally and with due diligence, expanding into new and varied realms can be one of the most rewarding aspects of editorial work.

The second part would be to prioritise finding a time-planning system capable of forming a solid foundation for this expansion. I have pretty much never missed a deadline, but sometimes that has been to the detriment of my work–life balance. I wouldn’t tell 2009 me never to take jobs that would involve working crazy hours (such opportunities can pay off exorbitantly in terms of job satisfaction and stability). However, I would encourage her to put more energy, earlier on, into finding a system that quantified the crazy, so as to be able to make better-informed choices about what an opportunity would cost in terms of time.

 

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.