Author Archives: Abi Saffrey

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.

Learn and be inspired: Toronto mini-conference 2019

By Christine Stock

It’s autumn, and with the changing leaves and cooler temperatures, minds return to more work-related things, not least of all training and continuing professional development. Hot on the trail of the successful Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Birmingham conference is the Toronto SfEP group’s second mini-conference; a conference international in content, speakers and delegates, on Wednesday 6 November. Jam-packed with international editing superstars, including both speakers and delegates – it’s not one to miss.

New to the schedule this year is a pre-conference workshop to be held on Tuesday 5 November. Dr Malini Devadas (Australia) holds a PhD in neuroscience but loves working with words more than working in a lab. An editor since 2004, Malini has spent a number of years studying marketing and the role mindset plays in gaining clients. Her workshop is ideal for any editor who wants more income, more clients, or both.

Whether you want to gain new skills or simply re-energise, this year’s one-day conference is for you. Leading off the day is the UK’s Paul Beverley (fondly known as Macro Man due to his impressive collection of more than 650 macros). Paul’s ‘marvellous macros’ will save us time and energy, not to mention make us look good. Paul’s tips, which he shares generously and with precise instruction, will provide delegates with a set of tools they can use immediately.

Next up is the renowned Jennifer Glossop (Canada). Jennifer’s impressive editing portfolio includes books that have won the Governor General’s Award and the Crime Writers of Canada Award, as well as those nominated for the Giller Prize and the Books in Canada First Novel Award. With more than 40 years’ experience in publishing, and with an extensive client list that includes Margaret Atwood and David Suzuki, her session on ‘finding the missing parts in a narrative’ is certain to assist both fiction and non-fiction editors alike, whether they are experienced or less experienced.

The afternoon’s presentations will be equally engaging and informative. Erin Brenner (US) will begin the sessions with a discussion on editing efficiently, a goal I’m certain we all have. Erin has been in the publishing industry for more than two decades and has published hundreds of articles and blog posts on writing and editing. Her experience as a writing trainer for communications specialists and her reputation as a highly skilled editor with top-notch professionalism will make her session a game-changer for those wanting time management and other efficiency advice.

Following Erin is Heather Ebbs (Canada), an indexer, writer and editor for nearly 40 years. Heather’s experience as a writer of hundreds of indexes covering a broad range of subjects and styles, as well as her role as instructor (since 2009) of Indexing: Theory and Application at the University of California Berkeley Extension Program, make her the ideal presenter for a session on all things indexing. Heather’s highly anticipated presentation will benefit both editors and indexers (and those who are interested in expanding into indexing).

Next is Amy Schneider (US), a freelance copyeditor and proofreader since 1995. Amy’s vast experience includes working on college textbooks, trade non-fiction, university press books and fiction in a variety of genres. An experienced presenter on editorial topics for numerous associations, including the Editorial Freelancers Association and ACES: The Society for Editing, Amy’s session on customising your workspace with templates promises to be chock-full of helpful takeaways.

My anticipation for the November activities is bolstered by fond memories of the Toronto SfEP group’s first mini-conference, which was held in 2018 and was equally international. I arrived at the beautiful venue eager to learn from the star-studded roster of speakers and left with ideas, tips and knowledge I just couldn’t wait to try out. Additionally, I shared insights, commiserated and joked with quickly made friends and colleagues. I had found my professional family.

This year’s conference and workshop, with the line-up of presenters, spread of delicious food and celebration of the SfEP’s recent chartership announcement, are bound to be a great success. If you’re looking for a reason to hone your skills, learn new tips, find a friendly, inclusive-minded and supportive group of editorial professionals, the conference and the workshop are for you. Presented by co-organisers Maya Berger, Kelly Lamb, Janet MacMillan and Rachel Small, it will be a day to be remembered and celebrated as wordsmiths unite. On behalf of the organisers and the rest of the local Toronto SfEP group, we hope to see you there.


Register for the Toronto mini-conference now!


Christine Stock is a Professional Member of the SfEP. She enjoys hot beverages on cold days and adores all things words and travel. Her editing specialities include fiction and creative non-fiction, and, in 2016, she was nominated for the Rosemary Shipton Award for Excellence in Book Editing provided by Ryerson University (Toronto). She can frequently be found at the corner coffee shop or at the monthly Toronto SfEP meetings.

 


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

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

Photo credits: Toronto sign at night Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash; Passion led us here – Ian Schneider on Unsplash.

Proofreading my way around the world

By Christina Petrides

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved travelling. I don’t know if it’s the actual journey, the destination, the excitement of exploring, or a combination of all three but I know that I’m happiest in an airport, on a plane, arriving in a new country, and taking those first, tentative steps to discovering the culture of a new place.

That desire to travel has followed me my entire life. All through university and into my first job. Onto my second job. And my third. And on it went. My itchy feet syndrome came up regularly in conversation: Have I booked another trip yet? When am I next flying off? What fun stories can I regale them with from my last trip? I would take notes on my travels and dream of writing a book of short stories one day.

I put my wanderlust to the back of my mind as best I could and proceeded to build a career for myself in the environmental industry. That was my second love – the environment. When I graduated with an environmental degree, I got my first lucky break and found a job with the then Department for Environment working in the policy team. The job was interesting, but policy work bored me to tears. Things moved at a glacial speed whereas I thrived on the excitement and fast pace of project work.

Soon enough, I got lucky again. An internal move saw me land a job that allowed me to combine the two: promoting the environmental sector and travelling to Asia to do it. I got the excitement and the travels!

But cutbacks meant it couldn’t last forever, so after a couple of years I moved into environmental exhibitions marketing. That was my first experience of copyediting. In fact, it was probably the first time I’d ever heard the term. I wrote and edited advert copy, worked with designers on banners and flyers, and cut deals with trade magazines on placement and promotion. When the time came to proofread the show catalogue before it went to the printer I relished the detailed work and the opportunity to set things straight. This was other people’s businesses we were dealing with; we had to get it right.

I loved it, but not enough. Exhibitions were fun, but not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. The environment sector pulled me back in and I settled into consultancy for the next decade. It had everything that I loved: I worked on all sorts of projects, large and small; I managed teams of specialists, juggling information and acting as the liaison between them and clients; I compiled reports from multiple authors, copyediting and proofreading before they went into the public domain; I even got to do a little travelling from time to time to unusual and exciting places.

By now I had hit my forties. Life has a funny way of reminding you what’s important when you get there. Call it a mid-life crisis, call it reality hitting, but a little seed planted itself in my mind and this time it wouldn’t go away – travel. Just get on a plane and go! Before long, that niggling thought became a screaming siren that I could no longer ignore.

I quit my job and booked a one-way ticket to Colombia. I was going to spend four months travelling around South America to get this out of my system and then get back to work. Even if it was only to save enough money for the next adventure. I blogged my way around six countries, documenting the stories that could one day make their way into that book, assuming I ever get around to writing it.

I remember it being a bright afternoon in Cusco, Peru, and I was walking up a cobblestone street filled with tourist shops when I made the decision. I realised that I couldn’t face another job and another decade of living in London, so I had to find a way of working while I travelled. I had met all sorts of people on my journey and one of them was a proofreader. It got me thinking … Don’t I already do that – at least in some form?

On my return, I made a call to the SfEP: What did I need to do to become a proofreader? They recommended the Publishing Training Centre, so I enrolled onto their Basic Proofreading course and studied before and after work. I gave myself a year to complete it, save up enough money and make a start on finding some clients.

It took 18 months. By the time my bags were packed I had a new career as a proofreader and copywriter and had four regular clients: a website designer who needed a proofreader and writer for the sites he built for tradespeople, retail and service providers; an agency that matched proofreaders with dyslexic and disabled students who required proofreading services; a financial services provider who needed a little extra help with their corporate communications; and an existing environmental client who wanted to retain my services as a freelance.

I also had a one-way ticket to Cambodia and a plan to spend the next few months travelling around Asia. After that, who knew?

This month marks two years since I packed up my flat and my bags and I haven’t looked back. Along the way I have spent time in 12 different countries and continued to add new clients to my books.

None of my clients are in the traditional publishing sector; it’s an area I know nothing about and trying to break into it seemed like an exercise in futility. Instead, I focused on what and who I knew. I spread the word about my new career and lifestyle and those that heard it spread it further. I leveraged the work experience I had from my previous careers and used it to demonstrate what I could do.

I still work in the environmental consultancy sector, albeit in a more strategic and reviewing role, and the various parts of my life have begun to overlap. One environmental client recently asked me to proofread a bid they had going out, and the travel blogger I proofread for loves the extra edits and suggestions he gets from me from places I’ve been to that he’s writing about.

I have done some very interesting work and I have done some mind-numbingly boring work. I have written website copy and blogs for accountants, plumbers, personal trainers, and wedding gown retailers – most of which I know nothing about so have had to learn, and fast. I have proofread theses and essays from subjects as varied as ecology, law and socioeconomics, newsletters on financial planning, and website content for restaurants, dentists, and market traders.

But I get to work at my own pace, in a location of my choosing, and without having to sweat my way to work on the tube. I learn something new from each proofreading and writing job that I do, and with each one I realise how much more there is still to learn. And I’ve already got the next exciting venture on the go, bringing it all together: a website for those who want to travel but are afraid to go it alone. If I can do it, you can do it too, whether you want to take your work with you or not.

Not that long ago Christina Petrides packed up her high heels and gave up her London Oyster card to work as a freelance. Having worked in the environmental and marketing sectors for nearly two decades, she now runs her own copywriting, proofreading and environmental consulting business. She is a life-long traveller; and just one of an increasing number of digital nomads making the most of good WiFi and flexible working.


SfEP’s Cloud Club is made up of a number of SfEP members located in countries around the world, together with members who are in far-flung parts of the UK and find it almost impossible to get to local group meetings perfect for digital nomads!


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

Photo credits: Bogota, Colombia – Jorge Gardner on Unsplash;  Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia – Kevin Tomsett on Unsplash.

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

 

The right tone: how to edit writing about classical music

By Paul Kilbey

Editing classical music text is much like editing anything else, except that the text continually reminds you that the subject matter is a whole language of its own, but one that resists all attempts at translation or explication. True, classical music has its own vocabulary, but it is insufficient for many reasons: it’s horribly technical, it relies on huge amounts of background knowledge, and half of it is basically Italian. It’s difficult – and that’s an understatement – to capture in writing the essence of how the music feels, to hint at what it really seems to mean.

Try and describe what’s actually going on in a piece of music, and you will either get ludicrously specific very fast, or stay almost hopelessly vague. One of the first questions an editor has to ask is who the text is for: text for academics or knowledgeable classical music fans is quite different from text for newcomers, to the extent that specialist text can feel like its own dialect, much like legalese. Tell a newcomer, for instance, that the major-key exposition’s second subject is in the mediant, and they’ll look at you blankly – and quite right too. Tell an aficionado, and they’ll say, ‘Goodness gracious! You mean it isn’t in the dominant?’

While this is an issue when editing work on any topic, with classical music it is particularly acute. It’s vital to make sure that writers speak consistently in the right register (to borrow a musical term): to put yourself in the shoes of a reader with whatever level of musical knowledge, and make sure that the text will sound right to them. There’s a perpetual debate in classical music concerning elitism: an art form with wealthy patrons and connotations of high culture has to take special care not to appear cut off from society at large. Getting the tone of the text right is therefore a very delicate balance: newbies have to be welcomed with open arms, while connoisseurs must be treated unpatronisingly.

Having a decent knowledge of classical music isn’t a prerequisite for this sort of editorial work, but it’s certainly a great advantage. I studied music at university, and am thrilled to have found one of the few careers (outside actually performing or writing music) in which my knowledge of fugue terminology, Schoenberg opus numbers and the libretto to The Rake’s Progress has been genuinely helpful, rather than something to be irritatingly shown off at bad parties. It’s unpredictable which areas of knowledge will be called upon for a given editing task, but as well as understanding the full gamut of technical terms, from squillo to Personenregie, it’s important to have familiarity with the basics of not just Italian but also German and French. It doesn’t hurt to know how accents work in Hungarian, too. Plus, on occasion, you’ll need to navigate musical scores, to confirm tempo markings or texts or instrumentations. And of course, it helps to know what all the works you’re reading about actually sound like.

All that said, as an editor (and writer), I sometimes regret not studying English – I regretted this even during my degree, in fact, and still treasure the English faculty library pencil I plucked up the courage to buy in my fourth year. But studying music hasn’t just given me an editorial specialism: it’s also given me a different perspective from which to think about language in general. I often find myself reading text out loud, whether I’m editing it or not, because I want to hear how it sounds. I want to hear how the rhythms flow, how the vowels and the consonants arrange themselves as I say them. I listen to the cadences – a precise, analytical term in music, but beautifully ambiguous in language.

That’s why I take such joy in editing, I think: I like to make words sing. With just the smallest changes made, so much text can instantly become so sonorous. You can think of grammar, punctuation and syntax conventions as rigid rules, but I like to think of them as tools with which language can be made to sound as elegant as a song, as enthralling as a symphony, as dramatic as an opera.

None of this helps with the basic problem of how to effectively talk about music using language. That’s a problem that may not have a solution at all. But still, if we can never do justice to music through writing, the least we can do is use musical words.

Paul Kilbey is a freelance writer and editor who mainly works on classical music text. He is a Professional Member of the SfEP and lives in Munich.

 

 


Editorial Excellence is the SfEP’s e-newsletter; it aims to spread awareness of and encourage good practice in copyediting and proofreading.


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

Photo credits: music stand – Andrey Konstantinov on Unsplash; sheet music Marius Masalar on Unsplash.

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

Our SfEP local group – the first decade: ten years, ten observations

By Helen Stevens

In March 2009, on a whim, I contacted a local proofreader I’d come across when nosing around on Yell.com. We met for coffee and chatted about the possibility of starting a local SfEP group, and a couple of months later the first meeting of the West/North Yorkshire SfEP local group took place. Around 20 people came along – an amazing number for an initial gathering!

Having met every three months over the intervening years, in June 2019 we held our 41st local group meeting. Our theme for the meeting was onscreen mark-up (Google Docs, PDFs and Word Track Changes) – not a particularly celebratory topic, perhaps. But a couple of weeks later we got together for an unofficial tenth anniversary social event, enjoying a traditional Yorkshire curry and some more relaxed conversation.

Here are ten things I’ve learned from running the West/North Yorkshire SfEP local group for ten years.

1. There’s always something to talk about

I don’t particularly enjoy face-to-face networking, and I’m no fan of small talk, but when you’re among editors and proofreaders that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Whether you’re a complete newbie or an old hand, you can always chat about training, different types of editing and proofreading work, business issues (particularly if you’re a freelancer), previous work experience, etc. And most people are also happy to answer your questions about such topics, which can add another dimension to your own research in books or on websites.

2. I *can* organise an event

Several years ago I helped to organise a couple of major local events for a client, and I vowed never to do it again (too stressful!). Our local group meetings are kept deliberately low-key, but still require me to book a room at a suitable venue (see below), send out invitations, make sure we have a theme, keep a check on the numbers attending, liaise with the venue and ‘chair’ the meeting. There’s also a little bit of background admin: adding people to my email list and removing them as appropriate (in line with GDPR), notifying the SfEP community director of the date/time of our meetings and so on. This is all well within my comfort zone – and it seems to have worked so far.

3. The venue can be the biggest headache

I’m not talking about the helpfulness of the staff, the quality of the coffee or the hardness of the chairs – although they are significant factors. More importantly, the venue needs to be reasonably accessible (in terms of both transport links and individual mobility), cheap or free to use and of a suitable size for the number of people attending. The acoustics of the place can also be an issue if you’re hoping to have any sort of group discussion.

Our first meeting was in the lovely diner at Salts Mill (very noisy). We’ve since met at a nearby local café (we stopped meeting there when they suddenly wanted a booking deposit), upstairs at a couple of other cafés (one closed down, one could no longer accommodate a large group) and now in a smaller café in Salts Mill that’s reserved for our meeting. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a perfect venue – the trick is to find one that ticks as many boxes as possible.

4. There isn’t a time/day that will suit everyone

I have to hold my hand up and say that when I started the group, I chose a time (and, indeed, a location) that suited me, but I recognise that our meeting times won’t suit everyone. We’ve always met during the day, and of course some people who’d like to attend simply aren’t available then. Holding evening meetings would be an option, but that wouldn’t suit everyone either (and would mean finding a new venue – see above!). We do at least vary the days of our meetings, as some members of the group have firm commitments (work or otherwise) that mean they can’t come on particular days. But the search for that elusive ‘perfect time’ continues…

5. Something with a theme works best

For the first couple of years our meetings were simply a chance for general (professional/social) chat, and that seemed to work fine. When we moved our meetings to a room upstairs in a local café, we had the opportunity for more focused discussions, and I think that has worked well. New people have a chance to find out about a specific topic, and it gives more experienced editors and proofreaders more of a reason to come to the meeting and share their experience (and, indeed, learn something new). It can be a challenge to find themes that appeal to such a wide range of people. Several group members have led sessions: we’ve had talks on public speaking training, proofreading annual reports, and editing from a fiction author’s point of view, as well as a very successful session on grammar, spelling and punctuation niggles. And we usually end the year with an ‘editorial highs and lows’ session in December: most people have had a high or low of some kind, whatever their level of experience.

6. People will come and go

The people who come along to our meetings are a constantly changing group. Yes, there are those who’ve been attending regularly for years (and some of these even came to that very first gathering). But we also have people who have been to one or two meetings and then (for whatever reason) didn’t come again, as well as those who’ve attended regularly until they retired, moved away from the area or decided on a different career path. This ever-changing membership helps to keep our meetings fresh, while still allowing participants to get to know a few familiar faces.

7. People will travel great distances for meetings

I chose Saltaire for our meetings because it’s reasonably well served by public transport and road links (as well as being a lovely place that’s right on my doorstep). But I’ve been really surprised over the years at the distances people are willing to travel to come to our group. From the earliest days we had a couple of members who came all the way from the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales, and we regularly have participants from Leeds, Wakefield, Doncaster, Huddersfield, Hull – and even darkest Lancashire! At the other end of the spectrum, and from a personal point of view, it’s also been great for me to get to know editors and proofreaders who live within a mile or two of me.

8. People are very different

Anyone who’s spent any time at all around editors and proofreaders will realise that there’s no such thing as ‘typical’. Our group welcomes those who are just considering a career in editing or proofreading, those who’ve started their training, those who’ve been working in the profession for a while and those who might be termed ‘veterans’. Some of them work on fiction, some specialise in legal, corporate, scientific or academic fields, and some do a little bit of everything! Although it’s sometimes a challenge to cater for all these disparate interests, I definitely think our meetings benefit from this mix.

9. We all learn from each other

Linked to the previous point, I think we all have a lot to learn from each other, whatever our level of experience or area of interest. Someone who’s new to the profession might have a deep knowledge of the different training options available. In-house staff will have different perspectives from those who work as freelancers. And we can definitely all learn from each other when it comes to the technical side of our work, whether that’s software tools to help with the job, social media platforms for marketing our services, different methods of getting paid or tax requirements for sole traders.

10. Local groups are vital for the SfEP

A thriving local group is a great way in to the SfEP. The discussions we have at our meetings aren’t designed to promote the Society explicitly, but I do think being part of a local group gives people a sense of what the SfEP is about: mutual support, learning, sharing ideas and experience and meeting like-minded others. From the Society’s point of view, getting people involved in local groups can be great for member recruitment and retention. For example, two people who’ve been involved in the West/North Yorkshire group now run other local groups, strengthening their personal engagement with the SfEP. Such engagement can feed through to regional mini-conferences and to the main SfEP conference: it’s so much nicer to attend an event if you know there are going to be at least a few familiar faces.

I’ve learned a lot during the SfEP West/North Yorkshire local group’s first ten years. It was lovely to mark the occasion with a relaxed social event, and I’m looking forward to the next ten years (if only because it’ll be an excuse for another curry).

Helen Stevens has been a freelance proofreader, editor and copywriter for over 20 years, and now specialises in academic and non-fiction editing. She enjoys walking, reading, and playing Scrabble and mahjong, though not all at the same time.

 


There are SfEP local groups all over the UK – as well as in Toronto, Canada. There is also an international Cloud Club for those unable to attend meetings in person.


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.