Monthly Archives: May 2019

Editing technical materials: what you need … and what you don’t

By Liz Jones

I’ve been editing highly technical material for two and a half years, mostly for a local content agency. When the company first approached me, I had little knowledge of the areas they work in, mainly electronics and artificial intelligence. They knew this, but were happy to try me out, and I’ve been editing for them regularly ever since, working on press releases, blogs, white papers and user guides, as well as various other short documents and web content.

Editing technical content is in some ways just like editing anything else … and in a few other ways, it isn’t. Here’s a quick overview of what you need to tackle this kind of work – and also what you don’t.

Willingness to engage beyond your expertise

My degree is in architecture, and my entire subsequent career has been in educational publishing and general non-fiction. But in the past couple of years I’ve come to love the language of electronics and computing, and find in it a certain solace and even – on occasion – poetry. The materials I spend a considerable portion of my working week on bear no relation to any other aspect of my life, but it doesn’t matter. Work is work, and the problems to be grappled with remain the same. Does it make sense? Is it consistent? Will the person reading it be able to understand?

An eye for detail

This is, of course, essential for any editor, whatever field we work in. The difference is that when you’re editing technical content, small inconsistencies in product serial numbers or units of measurement are crucial to the sense of an article. You might not know yourself if a measurement is wrong, but you need to be able to spot if something doesn’t look right and flag it up for someone with the expertise to verify it. 50 mA is very different, for example, from 50 MA.

The ability to live with inelegant language and prioritise clarity

For the client I work with, much of the work I do has been written by people for whom writing is not a vocation, and often English is not their first language. I try to smooth out the expression as far as I can, but at the end of the day what the client cares about is conveying the important information about a product or innovation. Often there is limited time available to work on a document, and in that case it’s more important to focus on accuracy and clarity than on beautiful prose. That said, even small changes can make a big difference to the readability and accessibility of a text, and I do what I can in the time available.

Restraint

Resisting change, unless there is a solid reason for it, is a good approach for any editor, but it’s especially helpful with technical content. Often things are worded in a very particular way for a reason, and even transposing words might completely alter the meaning of a sentence. This always matters, but it matters double when a misunderstanding could cause a short-circuit, for example.

Embracing of camel case

Technical texts reference many brand and product names, platforms and protocols. In these cases, capitalisation matters, and often there will be strange use of cases to contend with and get right. Nobody’s going to die as a result of a brand name being presented inaccurately, but mistakes in this area will reduce credibility and trust, and make a document appear half-finished and messy.

Ability to work with a number of style guides

Working for an agency can entail editing material for a number of end clients. They will all have their style preferences, and text may be destined for audiences in particular geographic regions. For example, I am frequently called on to anglicise or Americanise text, and to switch between clients who prefer spaces before their SI units and ones who don’t, or clients who favour abbreviations where others might spell out a term (such as Internet of Things) in full. Documents are frequently very short, so I might need to switch between several different style guides in the course of an hour.

Responsiveness

When you’re editing press releases, they often need to be turned around on the same day. This is likely to be the case for a range of business content. It’s not like books, where manuscripts can marinate for weeks or months (even years!). To do this kind of work it therefore helps to keep to fairly regular business hours, and to be able to move work around and handle small requests at very short notice.

In-depth subject knowledge – not needed!

To my surprise, I found it didn’t matter too much that I started out with little to no knowledge of electronics or computing terminology, beyond a rusty grasp of GCSE-level Physics. However, after two years of near-daily exposure, I can now say with some confidence that I know my amperes from my ohms. I’ll never be an expert, but I’ve really enjoyed learning more about a field I’d never otherwise have encountered. My continued education benefits me as well as the client – I’m sure I do a better job now than I did at the beginning, but my position as a reasonably well-informed layperson still grants me a degree of valuable objectivity. All in all, it’s been a joy, and I’m so glad I said yes to editing in a field outside my comfort zone.

Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She edits for a range of publishing and non-publishing clients, specialising in art, architecture, cookery, vocational education, general non-fiction and technical proofreading.

 


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Six ways an editor can improve your business content

By Mary McCauley

What do you think of when you read the words ‘editor’ or ‘proofreader’? Perhaps if you haven’t used our services before, you might think of us as people who look for spelling and grammar errors? People who check that commas are in the right places? And, yes, you’d be right – we do check these things. But we can also do much more to help you produce content that delivers on its business objective.

Business report on a deskBusiness editors work on a wide range of business content including reports, strategies, policies, newsletters, blog posts, websites, brochures, marketing material, catalogues, manuals, presentations, directories and survey results. Here are six ways an editor can add value to these documents.

1. An editor can make sure your content is clearly written and complete

Often when we are so familiar with or knowledgeable about a topic, we have difficulty explaining it in a way that a non-expert reader can understand. So whether it’s a guide about your services, a marketing material promoting a new product, or a report on a technical examination, an editor can make sure that your intended readers will understand it and take action as you want them to.

An editor can edit and, if necessary, rewrite your content to ensure that:

  • The wording, style and tone are suitable for the target reader.
  • The content flows in a logical order the reader can follow.
  • There is no confusing or misleading content.
  • No important information is missing.
  • No unnecessary information is included.
  • The layout helps guide the reader, eg paragraphs, headings, lists, graphics.
  • The language, spelling and style are consistent.

2. An editor can check that the basic facts in your content are correct

While businesses are responsible for the content they create, editors can help make sure that this content is accurate. We can save you from publishing an embarrassing mistake and the potential customer mistrust that might follow. If, for example, you are writing a business-to-business report, you might include details of your client’s or another company’s name and products. You might refer to relevant legislation or to specific dates. It’s important that these details are correct and that your client can rely on you to get them right.

An editor can check that names are spelled correctly, that you’ve referred to the correct section and year in the legislation and that Thursday 16 November 2018 actually was a Thursday.

3. An editor can rewrite your content into plain English

Writing in plain English is not about ‘dumbing down’ language, nor is it only for target audiences that include people with reading difficulties. Customers are busy and probably prefer not to have to wade through dense, long-winded text to get to the basic information they’re looking for. Writing in plain, simple language can help you deliver your message more successfully. And if your customers understand it, you’ll have fewer queries to deal with.

A plain English editor can help ensure that your content contains:

  • language your target audience will understand
  • positive and active language
  • everyday vocabulary.

And that it avoids:

  • long, meandering sentences
  • problematic jargon and bureaucratic phrasing
  • unnecessary words and phrases
  • unnecessary capital letters.

4. An editor can create a style guide for your organisation’s written content

Does your organisation create a lot of written content? Is it written by two or more people? Is the work subcontracted to copywriters, design companies, printers, etc? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then consider developing your own organisation-specific style guide. Using one means it’s more likely your documents will be consistent in language and style. This in turn helps increase your customers’ confidence in your business.

An editor can create and develop a style guide specifically for your organisation. This will guide the people writing your content on things such as:

  • Capitalisation – chief executive officer or Chief Executive Officer?
  • Numbers and symbols – 20% or 20 per cent?
  • Currency – euros or euro?
  • Lists – full stops, commas or nothing at the end of bullet points?
  • Dates and time – 13 May 2019 or May 13, 2019?
  • Spelling preferences – recognise or recognize?
  • Quotations – double quote marks or single?

An editor can also include an A–Z list of words, terms and abbreviations used regularly in your business and give guidance on the spelling, capitalisation, etc of these.

People sat around a table, discussing a business plan

5. An editor can deliver editing and proofreading training to your staff

If you would like to develop your organisation’s in-house writing and editing expertise, an editor can design and deliver workshops for your staff based on your organisation’s particular needs. This will help your staff to write better business content.

An editor can provide training on:

  • editing and rewriting content
  • writing in plain English
  • using your organisation’s style guide
  • proofreading.

6. An editor can proofread your final designed content before it goes to the printer

Along with all this added value an editor can bring to your business content, we can still help you with that final proofread of your designed and laid-out content. However, this proofread includes so much more than just a check for spelling and grammar errors! Business clients are often amazed by how detailed a final proofread can be and the range of problems it can highlight.

An editor can proofread your final document to check that:

  • A table of contents page matches the actual contents.
  • Headers, footers and page numbers are correct and consistent.
  • The content is laid out correctly and in the right order.
  • Headings and subheadings are correctly and consistently styled.
  • Lists are consistently styled and punctuated.
  • Images and graphics are clear and placed correctly.
  • Tables and figures are numbered, captioned, referenced and styled correctly.
  • Hyperlinks work and are styled consistently.

The above is just a sample list and by no means exhaustive – there are lots of other things we also check for in a final proofread.

Your business content is important, and getting it wrong can be costly and time consuming. An editor can do so much more than just check it for spelling mistakes, so consider contracting a trained professional editor to help you create the best content for your business.

Note: For the record, 16 November 2018 was a Friday and not a Thursday!

Mary McCauley

Mary McCauley is an editor and proofreader specialising in helping business, government and public sector bodies in Ireland and the UK. She has 15 years’ business research and administration experience, mostly in the public sector, and started her editorial business Mary McCauley Proofreading in 2012. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP and a Full Member of the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers of Ireland (AFEPI Ireland). Connect with Mary on LinkedIn or on Twitter.


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You are not alone: five tips for co-working

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

People are often amazed when I tell them that I work alongside my husband in our home office. ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that,’ they say, ‘We’d chat/argue/get in each other’s way.’ Well, yes, sometimes that does happen – but it also happens with colleagues in a formal office environment, and of course with families at home. But we’re more likely to just get on with what we’re paid to do, comfortable in each other’s company.

Freelancers like me, and home-based employees like my husband, are at risk of loneliness and isolation, even when they’re unsociable introverts like us. Online support, such as via the SfEP forums, accountability groups and social media, is invaluable, but is no replacement for working alongside an actual human being. Of course, pets can provide vital stress relief (and an excuse to get up occasionally) but my feline assistant Pixel has never offered to make me a cup of coffee or provided IT advice.

Your office mate doesn’t have to be another editor. My husband is a computer programmer and I have no idea what he does on a day-to-day basis other than video-conferencing his colleagues about Jenkins testing and bike-shedding and protocol buffers (software jargon is a whole other blog post), which is fine by me, as I’m not distracted from my own muttering.

Janet MacMillan, both an editor in her own right and a member of the collective Editing Globally, co-works reasonably frequently, either with one of her Editing Globally colleagues or with a local SfEP pal. She says: ‘Co-working with an Editing Globally colleague can be particularly useful, both if we are working on different parts of a large project or if we need to discuss future work or marketing. But whoever I am co-working with, it’s nice to be able to ask questions of a trusted colleague.’ I do that too – sometimes running tricky text or an ambiguous comment past my husband to find out how an uninformed reader may react.

Clearly, however, you need to set ground rules for a shared understanding of a successful working environment. These are my top tips, drawn from my own, my husband’s and Janet’s experience – of course, you may work best under different conditions, so the key is to have the confidence to express your own preferences and the self-awareness to recognise whether your chosen co-worker shares them.

1. Make sure you (mostly) get on with your office mate

I get on with my husband because, well, he’s my husband, but your office mate doesn’t have to be your life partner. It could be a friend or ex-colleague – the key is that you feel comfortable spending many hours a day with them, and that they won’t be offended if you ask them to make phone calls in another room or stop randomly reading out snippets from Reddit. In practice, we don’t interact that much – we are working, after all – and my husband says he couldn’t share a space with an extrovert who gains energy from talking all the time. If you’re a nose-picker, knuckle-cracker or serial swearer, is your co-worker likely to accept your habits or nurture a silent resentment?

2. Ensure you can work comfortably in the same space

WJulia's officee work in a converted garage attached to our house. Our desk is a wooden kitchen worktop that lines one wall, facing three large windows. It’s a pleasant environment, when it’s clean. We’re not the tidiest office mates – his desk is covered in glasses wipes, receipts and dirty mugs, while mine is piled with scrap proofs and paperwork – but we’re relaxed enough not to police each other’s desk spaces. Janet is motivated to improve her work space by the prospect of visitors, saying, ‘it does have the added benefit of making me tidy up – and occasionally clean up – my house!’

My husband and I have the same differences over heating that I remember from working with others during in-house jobs. He’s always hot and I’m always cold but we dress accordingly, as we would in a formal office. I have an electric foot-warmer and fingerless gloves for my Reynaud’s syndrome, while he wears shorts all year round.

3. Agree on the level of noise you can tolerate

I’m not the sort of editor who has to work in utter silence, which is just as well when my husband spends the majority of his time on Skype. We use headphones for video conferences, and his side of the conversation tends to wash over me, as I usually don’t understand it. When we’re not talking to people online, we listen to our shared 85-hour Spotify playlist. We tolerate each other’s song choices, and may even sing a little. It fosters a sense of companionship and shared experience. But when we want quiet, we ask for it. If you can’t tolerate any background noise, you might not want an office mate who can only work to the greatest hits of Ed Sheeran. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t want that office mate either.

4. Decide whether you’ll spend breaks together

We both have to make a conscious effort to take a lunch break. We might walk round the block, or to Lidl; sometimes we’ll eat lunch at the dining table. But if the other person has a deadline or just doesn’t feel like stopping, we respect that and eat or exercise separately. We’ve also invested in a coffee machine and make each other drinks. Janet sees this aspect as a major benefit, saying, ‘It’s fun to have someone to share the very important tea-making with!’

5. Keep arrangements flexible

My husband and I have a fairly formal routine – he’s contracted to work from 9 to 5, so I tend to do so as well. However, sometimes he has to travel to the US, and I quite enjoy the novelty of working alone for a week or so. As well as co-working at her house, Janet has also co-worked with colleagues in cafés, which she says can be an occasional pleasant change of scenery. Other people may temporarily hire a serviced office in a town or industrial estate to cover a short-term group project. If you’ve never worked with your proposed colleague before, it’s a good idea to agree to try it for a few days before committing yourselves – and being honest and receptive about your experience.

So whether you want to test the waters or make it a permanent arrangement, I’d recommend finding your perfect partner and giving it a go. As Janet says, ‘Co-working is both a pleasure and an aid to concentration and buckling down to work.’ After all, it’s the small pleasures of being brought a coffee or sharing a laugh that can change a routine working day to a productive one.

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel. Check out her micro book reviews on Ju’s Reviews. If you’re sharing an office with her, she likes her coffee strong.

 


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Editors and social media: Facebook

In the fourth instalment of our series about how editors use social media for their businesses, Sarah Dronfield talks about what Facebook has brought to her editorial life.

Facebook logo

Why and when did you start?

When I started my editing and proofreading business in 2016, I already had a personal Facebook profile so, because it was easy (and free) to do, one of the first things I did was to set up a business page linked to that account. I didn’t know whether I would find clients via the page, and to be honest I’m not sure I ever have, but I do know that it drives traffic to my website.

I soon discovered, however, that Facebook could benefit my business in lots of other ways. Early on, I found out about a group called Editors’ Association of Earth (EAE): a place for ‘editors from anywhere to meet, have fun together, and talk about the issues and challenges that all editors share’. There and in similar groups, I learned a lot about editing in ways that aren’t possible from a book or a course. This was mostly from reading advice from or having conversations with people who have been editing for decades, but also from reading the many blog posts that were shared. In fact, there were so many great blog posts around, I thought it would be useful to have somewhere they could be ‘stored’ and easily found, so early in 2017 I suggested to the EAE admins that I start a weekly thread in the group, where the latest blog posts could be shared, with hashtags so that older threads could be found again quickly.

The idea for the weekly thread was partly inspired by an accountability thread in a closed EAE group – a place for editors to share what they’ve done that week to market their business or advance their professional development. When the person who was managing this thread said they wanted to step down in late 2017, I volunteered to take it on too.

I also set up a Facebook page (and Twitter account) for our SfEP local group back in 2016; I volunteered to do this at my very first local group meeting, and I’ve been managing the page ever since.

What do you share?

On my business page, I mostly share articles and blog posts I think will be of interest to potential and existing clients; I work mainly with Welsh authors of thrillers, historical fiction and children’s books. My pinned post is a glowing testimonial from happy co-author clients, and it’s the first thing new visitors to the page will see. And of course, when I write a blog post of my own (which isn’t often these days) then I share that too. I also share news of upgrades to my SfEP membership or about training courses I’ve taken, for example.

Facebook post on the Sarah Dronfield Proofreader page about booking tickets for the SfEP 2019 conference

On our local group page I share information about group meetings and things that may be of interest to potential clients (about writing and editing generally because between us we provide a wide range of services).

When do you share?

I try to share something to my business page at least once a month so visitors can see the page is active. I avoid posting too often because I don’t want to flood my followers’ news feeds, although I’m sure I could post more often than I do without annoying people.

Our local group page is really just there to send people to the South Wales Editors website, so I only post there very occasionally.

In the EAE groups, I share the blog post round-up every Monday and the accountability thread every Friday.

Why do you do it?

I came for the marketing, but I stayed for the advice, support and camaraderie. I may or may not have gained clients from my business page, but I have had work as a result of networking and making friends with other editors on Facebook.

What about other social media platforms?

In 2016, at the same time as I set up my Facebook business page, I also set up accounts on Twitter and LinkedIn. I rarely visit LinkedIn because I don’t like the platform and I don’t think it’s where my ideal clients are. I do like Twitter though, and I actually post there more often than I do on my Facebook page. But Facebook is definitely my favourite platform because I get so much more out of it. My business simply wouldn’t be where it is today without the huge amount of information, advice and support I have received from colleagues there over the last three years.

Any advice?

Explore the many Facebook groups for editors, spend time in them and find out which ones are most useful to you. There are all kinds of groups: for all things related to editing, groups specifically for academic or fiction editors, groups that focus on business or training, and many more. You can even start your own accountability group – find a few like-minded colleagues who are at a similar stage in their career and set up a secret Facebook group where you can share your problems and successes and help one another keep on top of your weekly tasks.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, never say anything on Facebook – or any social media platform – that you wouldn’t want a client to read, even in a closed group: remain professional at all times. I’m not saying you shouldn’t relax and have a laugh with your colleagues or ask advice on how to deal with a difficult client, but you should avoid criticising clients (or fellow editors) and try not to get into arguments – it’s not a good look. Even if your clients can’t see it (and sometimes they can), don’t forget that colleagues can send work your way too, and they will only do that if they feel you are someone who can be trusted to behave professionally.

Sarah DronfieldSarah Dronfield is an editor specialising in fiction and is based in South Wales. She is a Professional Member of the SfEP. She did many things before finally becoming an editor: office admin, archaeology, travelling. These days, when not editing, she can usually be found reading.

 


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Being a London Book Fair chair

By Katherine Demopoulos

I was asked to chair a panel session at the London Book Fair this year, thanks to my connection with Indonesia, which is the market focus country for 2019. I spent six very happy years working in Jakarta as a journalist and still jump at opportunities to recement the link with my second home.

The panel was called The City and the Sea, and featured two writers from Indonesia – Sheila Rooswitha Putri and Agustinus Wibowo – and a Scottish author, Malachy Tallack. My task was to introduce these brilliant writers, set the scene for a discussion on rural and urban identities, and keep the conversation moving.

Indonesia is incredibly diverse – 17,000 islands, megacities, isolated villages, global faiths and old religions, hundreds of languages, imposed identities, and persecution of minorities – so the theme works well as a way of explaining the country and the work of Agustinus and Sheila. Malachy’s island background in Shetland and his travels were starting points for thinking about links between the writers.

Doing the groundwork

I initially felt it might be a challenge to develop a flow for our hour-long session that would give the authors equal talking time, because their work is so different. Sheila lives in Jakarta and creates funny and clever graphic novels. Agustinus is a travel writer, whose most recent book intersperses travel stories with his mother’s terminal illness and his experiences of persecution as a minority Chinese Indonesian. Malachy’s warm and nurturing first novel, The Valley at the Centre of the World, focuses on life in a small community in Shetland, and follows his non-fiction work on islands that exist only in the imagination, and travels around the sixtieth parallel.

It took some enjoyable research to find ways of moving smoothly from author to author and subject to subject, beginning with the parameters we were given. The British Council, which manages the market focus programme, sent some material but – perhaps I’m an over-preparer – it wasn’t enough to gain a rounded understanding of each writer. I bought Malachy’s two non-fiction books, ordered Sheila’s first from Jakarta, and on YouTube found particularly helpful TV interviews and recordings from literary events.

A few weeks before the event, the British Council introduced the four of us via email, and I sent the writers a suggested plan for our hour. The email conversation was productive; the panel blurb mentioned climate change, but it transpired this wasn’t relevant for all authors. I wanted to make the best use of the hour by bringing up subjects the writers actually wanted to discuss.

Sheila and I met a few days before the event to talk about how the hour would work for her – it’s harder to showcase visual work on a panel session – and I explained my suggested lines of questioning to help her prepare. We talked a lot about Jakarta and Jakartans, and the meeting helped both of us, because I learned more about her work and motivations.

I felt a little out of practice at chairing discussion panels, because the last time I did so was five years ago at an event in Jakarta with the Indonesian defence minister. I’ve also been to discussions with loquacious moderators and know what not to do in a panel session, but felt that I was rusty on what to do.

Fortunately, I decided to go to the opening Indonesia session for the London Book Fair, and I’m very glad I did. It was moderated by the novelist Louise Doughty, and she was marvellous: warm, engaging, focused on the authors and not herself, clear and fluent in her introduction and questioning, and able to gently move on the discussion when necessary. She was a great example of how a moderator should be.

A group of people, seated, all facing towards an unseen speaker

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

The main event

On the day of the panel I surprised myself – I’m not a natural public speaker, though I’m learning – by really looking forward to it. I had time to chat to Malachy and Agustinus beforehand, so the discussion itself felt like an interesting conversation among friends – albeit with one quieter one (me as moderator) – and the added bonus of an audience listening and contributing questions.

I introduced the session by highlighting what makes the subject timely: deepening divides between rural and urban populations, the global trend towards urbanisation, and our increasingly city-centric economies. I also questioned whether identity can be broken down between rural and urban populations, and what other ways there are of looking at this question.

The discussion moved from Sheila’s definition of Jakartans as resilient, stubborn and quick to adapt – the qualities necessary to survive in a megacity beset with traffic, pollution and flooding – to Agustinus’s thoughts on minority identities. His book Zero: When the Journey Takes You Home is being made into a film, something he said could not have happened twenty years ago when Indonesia’s messy move from authoritarian rule to democracy was accompanied by anti-Chinese riots.

From Malachy’s travel book Sixty Degrees North, which contains themes of grief and home, I learned that Greenland doesn’t have a concept of land ownership. He and Agustinus talked about identity and relationships to land, and how these relationships manifest themselves and change. Having my well worked-out plan made it easier to respond to new tacks in the conversation. While preparing, I had found more talking points in Sixty Degrees North than in Malachy’s other books, but the conversation was fluid and naturally brought in several characters from his novel.

I really enjoyed the experience, thanks to the authors, the British Council and also to the advice given by a wise friend. ‘Trust your preparation’, she said. To read, research, and discuss ideas with interesting authors is pretty good, and to be able to call that ‘work’ is even better. If you’re asked to participate in a London Book Fair panel – do it. I’ve already volunteered for next year!

Katherine DemopoulosKatherine Demopoulos is a writer and editor with a background in journalism. She works on economics, commodities, fiction, travel and all things Indonesia, and is an Intermediate Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

 

 


SfEP members get the opportunity to represent the Society at the London Book Fair each year, via the Society’s stand in the exhibition hall and by participating in events.


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