Monthly Archives: November 2019

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 – The Carbon Buddy Manual: 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.