Category Archives: Advice

In your own words

By Claire Bacon

How to recognise and avoid plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious offence which can damage a writer’s professional reputation. In many cases, researchers are not aware of plagiarism in their research papers. Understanding what plagiarism is and how to avoid it could save published work from retraction. In this post, I explain the different types of plagiarism and give tips on how to recognise and address them when editing.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism means presenting the results and ideas of somebody else as your own. The AMA Manual of Style1 describes four types of plagiarism: direct plagiarism, mosaic plagiarism, paraphrasing and insufficient acknowledgement.

Direct plagiarism is using exactly the same words as somebody else without quotation marks or without crediting the original author. For example:

Plagiarised: We believe that researchers do not claim the words and ideas of another as their own; they give credit where credit is due.

Not plagiarised: As stated in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, ‘Researchers do not claim the words and ideas of another as their own; they give credit where credit is due.’

Mosaic plagiarism combines ideas and opinions of somebody else with your own, without crediting the author. Take a look at the following paragraph:

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. In 90% of cases, lung cancer is caused by long-term tobacco smoking, but some cases have been reported in people who have never smoked. In this prospective study, we investigated the effect of avoiding smoking on the incidence of lung cancer in a large European cohort.

In this example, the phrase highlighted in bold has been copied directly from another source and no citation has been given. You can fix this by rewording the sentence and citing the appropriate reference:

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. The majority of cases are caused by long-term tobacco smoking (Smith et al. 2016), but some cases have been reported in people who have never smoked. In this prospective study, we investigated the effect of avoiding smoking on the incidence of lung cancer in a large European cohort.

Paraphrasing is rewording sentences and retaining the original meaning without crediting the author. This is an easy mistake to make but describing an idea in your own words does not make the idea your own – credit must still be given to the original author. If the Smith et al. 2016 reference were removed from the example above, this would be an example of plagiarism by paraphrasing.

Insufficient acknowledgement is not citing the source material. This means the reader cannot distinguish between your ideas and those of others. For example:

Plagiarised: CD200 influences the outcome of organ transplantation in animal models. In this study, we explored the impact of CD200 on post-transplantation outcome in human recipients.

Not plagiarised: CD200 influences the outcome of organ transplantation in animal models (Glaser et al. 2018; Jones et al. 2019). In this study, we explored the impact of CD200 on post-transplantation outcome in human recipients.

Avoiding plagiarism by insufficient acknowledgement can be tricky because common knowledge does not need to be cited in a research paper. Nobody would cite Watson and Crick’s 1953 publication when describing the structure of DNA, for example. But it’s not always clear what is common knowledge and what isn’t. Something that is well known to an author may not be so well known to readers who are not experts in the field. In this case, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you are unsure whether a fact is common knowledge or not, ask the author to include the citation.

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association2 also describes self-plagiarism, which is presenting an author’s previously published results and ideas as new. Writers are often surprised to learn they can plagiarise their own work. To avoid this, ensure the relevant source is cited when referring to results and conclusions that have already been published.

Now let’s take a closer look at why authors plagiarise and how you can tackle plagiarism when editing.

Publish or perish (or plagiarise?)

Researchers are under extreme pressure to publish their work. The more papers they publish, the better their chances of securing essential funding to continue their projects. This brutal ‘publish or perish’ scenario is probably the main reason for deliberate plagiarism in academic publishing.

Life is even harder for the non-native English-speaking researcher. They may solve their writing difficulties by searching the existing literature for templates of good-quality writing to use in their own papers. This is often not deliberate plagiarism, but the consequences are still severe. Professional language editors can help avoid this by giving their clients the freedom to write in their own words, safe in the knowledge that their ideas will be clearly expressed after the editing process.

Encourage your clients to think about what they want to say before they start writing. Their manuscript should be centred on a specific research question. The background information that is given, the materials that are used, the results that are presented, and the literature that is discussed should all focus on explaining and answering this question. This template will help your clients to distinguish between their own ideas and those that need to be cited.

Stay out of trouble

Plagiarism is a serious offence which is often committed by accident in research writing. Authors are ultimately responsible for the content they put forward for publication, but editors (and proofreaders) should query anything they suspect may be plagiarised. Keep an eye out for text that is phrased differently from the author’s usual style, and for any facts or figures without sources. Listen to your professional intuition!

1 AMA Manual of Style (10th Edition), page 158.
2 Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th Edition), page 16.

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 28 January 2020. Many thanks to Claire for granting permission to amend and republish it.


On 1 March, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders becomes the Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading, following the granting of a royal charter. Read the Chartership FAQs, keep an eye on our social media feeds over the coming days, and next week read the first CIEP blog post!

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Photo credits: Books Aaron Burden; Laptop – Glenn Carstens-Peters, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Scammy editors, cautious editors, and the clients in between

By Kia Thomas

Recently, I received an email from the client whose manuscript I was working on. It said: ‘Just touching base to see if we are still on track for delivery of my manuscript by xx?’

I had given the author no reason to believe we wouldn’t be, so I could have, were I the type to take things overly personally, bristled at the implied questioning of my professionalism. But I hadn’t been in contact for a while (she’d sent the manuscript well before Christmas, but I wasn’t due to start until January), and I knew the author was on a tight schedule, so I sent a quick message back to say yes, still on track, and if I got done a few days early I’d send it back immediately.

I received another email straight away: ‘Wonderful. Thanks for the update. With the last editor, I sent a similar message and never heard back. It was a relief to even just see your name pop up.’ Then I remembered – the reason this client came to me was because they had been horribly let down by another editor, who had just disappeared on them after taking payment.

Editors like this exist, unfortunately. Outright scammers, or just unreliable people who have no idea how to act in a professional manner. They can be found in every profession, and ours is no exception.

Most of the online editorial circles I move in are filled with people who would never dream of taking advantage of a client. They would be ashamed of doing a half-arsed job. They could never imagine ignoring a client for weeks on end. This kind of behaviour is so far from their own experience of being an editor that I think many of them don’t quite understand just how often this happens to unsuspecting authors, and how devastating it can be. So when they start working with a client who questions all their procedures and ways of working, or who bombards them with emails and requests for progress reports, those editors can see these things as signs of an overbearing client. To be fair, that’s sometimes exactly what they are. But sometimes they’re the sign of someone who’s been badly burned. Every editor, and every business owner, for that matter, should remember that not all clients are approaching the relationship with the same expectations and baggage.

I think that as editors we could sometimes do better when it comes to understanding our clients’ concerns. There are people out there doing great damage to the reputation of our profession, in the indie world at least, and there’s a lot we can do to undo some of that damage and restore our collective good name.

Freelancing is full of risk. Good business owners do what they can to protect themselves from those risks. But we need to be aware of the effect this might have on our potential clients. For example, you could ask the question ‘Should an author pay an editor in full before receiving the edited manuscript?’ in an editors’ group and a writers’ group, and you’d get two different sets of answers. Editors would lean towards ‘Always get payment first’, backed up with horror stories of being ripped off by clients. Authors would lean towards ‘Never pay first’, backed up with stories of being ripped off by editors. Both things happen. Both sets of concerns are legitimate.

The problem comes, then, when we start seeing the expression of these concerns as red flags, when they might be nothing of the sort. An editor might be the perfect person for an author’s work, but if both have been cheated with regard to payment in the past, and so the editor refuses to release the edits before payment, and the author refuses to pay before seeing the edits, they’re at an impasse. A potentially brilliant working relationship could be lost before it’s even begun.

I think the solution lies, as it so often does, in empathy, honesty and communication. Our clients are investing sometimes huge sums of money with us, and handing over a piece of work that could have taken them years. That’s a lot to trust a total stranger with, so we should respect that. Where we have developed practices to protect our businesses from risks, perhaps we could be better at explaining to clients why. We don’t have to, of course – we are entirely free to run our businesses as we see fit and only work with clients who accept that unquestioningly. But honesty and openness are generally good things, and we could be opening up great opportunities for ourselves by bringing more of those things into our interactions with potential clients.

And perhaps there is also room for compromise. Again, no one has to compromise on anything if they don’t want to. But are there ways we can protect ourselves while also allowing our clients to protect themselves? For example, I have recently decided to move to asking for payment before delivery of the full edited manuscript. But I recognise that this might make some new clients nervous, so I offer to send an edited chapter on request, any chapter of the client’s choosing, so they can be reassured I have actually done the work.

It can be a difficult thing, to give people the benefit of the doubt when the stakes are high. A non-paying client, or one who oversteps boundaries, can cause huge problems for an editor. But we aren’t the only party who has something to lose. I wrote once about editing with kindness. We can do business with kindness too.

 

Kia ThomasKia Thomas spent 11 years in the arts before becoming a freelance fiction editor at the beginning of 2016. She specialises in contemporary romance and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. Kia lives in South Tyneside, and she can often be found networking with her colleagues in online spaces (ie spending too much time on Twitter).

 

This article was originally published on Kia’s blog on 4 February 2020. Many thanks to Kia for granting permission to amend and republish it.


Photo credits: notebook Kiwihug, baggage – Waldemar Brandt, both on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Coping with criticism

By Liz Jones

One of the most exciting things about freelancing, but also one of the hardest, is that feeling that the buck stops with you. You’re in control of the work you do, keeping the business going. You’re entirely responsible. On a good day, this can be exhilarating. It’s a buzz to win a new contract or client. There’s nothing quite like sending off a massive invoice for a job well done – a direct and tangible result of your efforts. And it’s a real kick to be praised for excellent work.

The flip side of this is that we also need to be prepared for feedback that isn’t so good. We’re all human, and sometimes we have off days, and we miss things, or misunderstand an aspect of a brief. Sometimes there’s a distance between what the client expects and what we think they want. Or maybe a document is just in such bad shape that it’s all we can do to make it better, and it’s still not going to be immaculate – at least, not in that timeframe, with that budget. Perfection is never a helpful aim.

How we deal with criticism of our work matters. Bad feedback can take a huge mental toll if we’re not careful. It’s not simply a question of avoiding it entirely, as it’s bound to happen sooner or later, no matter how careful we are. But there are strategies that can help us cope with it more effectively, and perhaps even turn it into a positive experience (eventually).

I tweeted about this recently: https://twitter.com/ljedit/status/1217800318932656129

My Twitter thread was in response to a client having commented on some things I’d missed in a proofread, some of which were debatable, but several of which were not – in an ideal world I would have caught them. My response to the client, after sleeping on it (and yes, after initially getting indignant and defensive, and stomping around the kitchen), was a succinct acknowledgement of the things I’d missed, while also drawing attention to the fact that it had been a heavily corrected set of proofs; no proofreader can catch everything. I also thanked them for their feedback. Later I received a positive response from the client, and more work. I think as a result of our exchange both sides felt heard, and also reassured that our good working relationship was intact.

Professional resolution

I shared the experience on Twitter because receiving bad feedback can be such a lonely experience, but probably a fairly universal one in our profession. It received quite a few likes and shares, and some responses indicating that I wasn’t alone. So, based on my own experiences of responding to criticism in the past 12 years (let’s just say I’ve improved over time), plus conversations with colleagues, here are some tips for managing in this situation.

  • Dissociate yourself. It can be incredibly painful to have work criticised. It may even feel like a personal attack – but it (generally) isn’t. Remember that you are not your work. Even if it’s fallen short in some way, it doesn’t mean you have.
  • Don’t panic! Your first reaction might be to assume that you’ve messed things up completely and lost a valuable client. But feedback, even if it’s negative, is generally a good sign. It means the client is interested in an ongoing working relationship and building a dialogue with you. They don’t want to lose you, they just want to keep lines of communication open so you understand better what they need in future.
  • Give yourself time. Your instinct might be to write back immediately, to try to sort everything out right away. However, my advice would be to give yourself as much time to reply as you reasonably can. Sleep on it if possible. The more quickly you write back, the more defensive you’re likely to be, and the situation won’t be helped by heaping it under a load of excuses.
  • Assess the criticism. As I said, criticism is painful, and it’s even more painful to look it directly in the eye. But this is important: you need to understand what you did wrong. This means acknowledging to yourself as well as the client that you made silly mistakes, or were distracted for some reason, or were trying to do too many things at once.
  • You need to address the criticism, of course. It’s good to deal with all the points raised, even if only to say ‘yes, I should have caught that’. Own your mistakes; apologise briefly if necessary. Try to avoid lengthy justifications. Do stick up for yourself if you feel the client is being unfair, but don’t bang on about it, or retaliate with accusations about unreasonable expectations. This is not the point at which to try to renegotiate the contract.
  • If you honestly didn’t know how to do something before, don’t just stumble on in ignorance, hoping you’ll get away with it again in future. Take the opportunity to plug the gaps in your knowledge.

How far should you go to fix things?

This can be tricky. It might be your instinct, because you’re a nice person, to ask for the files back to go over them again. You might want to make the new corrections yourself. You might even think you should charge the client less than agreed. But don’t be too hasty; the client probably isn’t expecting any of this. Don’t over-compensate for something fairly minor. Reassure the client that you will look out for the points they’ve raised in future work, and make sure you don’t make the same mistake(s) again.

Red flags and abusive relationships

Although I wrote that criticism of work is not generally a personal attack, it’s worth remembering that on rare occasions, it is. I’ve been in situations, and I know many other editors have too, where criticism is not warranted, or is out of all proportion to the supposed misdemeanour. Most clients are entirely professional in their dealings, but a tiny minority are unscrupulous, even abusive. If you reach a point where everything you do for a client is criticised, and your professionalism is being called into question (even after you’ve conducted an honest appraisal of your work), or you’re made to put in more work than you’re being paid for to ‘atone’ for a string of supposed infractions, then it’s time to walk away.

As freelancers who often work alone, we can be vulnerable to a particular kind of toxic power struggle where we are made to feel useful, needed, part of a team – and as a result end up giving a client far more than they are paying us for. This can happen quite insidiously, so we should be vigilant in our setting and maintaining of boundaries in working relationships.

 

Liz Jones has been an editor since 1998, freelance since 2008. She works for a number of non-fiction publishers, agencies and individuals, and specialises in highly illustrated books on architecture, art and culture, as well as tech and electronics.

 

 


Editor and Client: building a professional relationship is an SfEP guide that aims to help freelancers understand the needs of their clients, and to give clients a clear awareness of freelancers’ requirements to do a good professional job.


Picture credits: Girl with head in hands – Caleb Woods; And breathe – Max van den Oetelaar,  both on Unsplash

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

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

Assume nothing, question everything

Five key questions to ask a potential client

By Jo Johnston

1. What services do you need?

Hands up who’s had a client asking for proofreading when they meant rewriting, or editing which later turned into needing a project manager to liaise with stakeholders?

Phew … glad it’s not just me.

Most of us editors can share funnies or horror stories about how a client has misunderstood something key during the briefing stage, or how we, as the supplier, may have failed to clarify something that later is glaringly obvious.

So if you offer more than one type of editorial service, double-check that your client understands the differences between them.

The definitions of copyediting and proofreading can vary from company to company, so don’t assume that just because the client is a communications professional, the definitions they use are identical to yours. And make sure you have the brief in writing in email or confirmed in a phone call, so that you can iron out any creases in understanding.

Takeaway: Include an outline of service definitions on your website or create a PDF handout to share at the briefing stage.

2. What’s the deadline and delivery method?

Some clients assume that you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for their work to land; others understand that you may be juggling a range of projects.

So a vital first question is, ‘when’s the delivery date?’ Even if your client doesn’t have a date in mind, set one yourself. This gives you a goal to work towards and you can schedule in other work around the project – just as you would if you were working in-house.

Everyone has working preferences. So what format do they want to work in – Google Docs, Word, or PDFs? How do they want any amendments shown – as tracked changes and comments or edited directly in the document?

‘Assume nothing, question everything’ is the mindset you need when starting a new project.

Takeaway: Make sure that details such as the deadline or preferred way of working are listed in your project proposal.

3. Will you accept my rate and working terms?

Some freelancers say that they lack confidence when talking about the bees and honey, and let’s not even mention working terms.

It may be tempting to leave this bit until last, after you’ve established a good client relationship first, but don’t leave it so late that you’ve spent bags of time discussing the brief or even visited head office, only to find out that they won’t budge on your price and won’t sign your contract.

Being clear about prices upfront on your website could lead to an increase in higher quality clients. It may help to get rid of time-wasters or those trying to ‘pick your brains’.

Takeaway: State your rates and terms clearly and in writing, either on your website or project proposal.

4. Can you tell me about your target audience or how you will use the resource?

Most of the time, a copyeditor or proofreader is part of a much wider project team. You may have been drafted in at the last hurdle to make sure everything’s tickety-boo, or right from the beginning – as is often the case with developmental or substantive editing.

Whatever stage the project is at, you need to be brought up to speed. Find out who the project is aimed at and how it will be used. It will help you to do a much better job if you know why you’re doing it.

And don’t forget to include research within your project proposal – it’s perfectly OK to charge for background reading and familiarisation.

Takeaway: Ask to see a project brief, terms of reference or target audience research.

5. Can you give me feedback once the job is complete?

The job’s done and dusted. A week, a fortnight … darn it … a few months go by, and you’ve heard diddly-squat from your client.

One way to avoid this state of paralysis is by saying at the briefing stage that you’d like feedback once the work is complete. You may not feel you need this kind of reassurance, but you do need to make sure that the project is finished and won’t bounce back in six months.

Some clients are up against print deadlines and may not have time to respond – you’re not an employee after all. So it’s worth keeping all this in mind and not taking silence personally.

Takeaway: Get client feedback on the radar. It paves the way for you to ask for a testimonial in the future.


What are your key questions when liaising with a prospective client? Let us know how you go about starting a project.


SfEP Professional Member Jo Johnston has been working as a copywriter and editor for 20 years. She started off in the public and non-profit sectors, but now helps to finesse the marketing work of all business types from ambitious start-ups to global giants. As part of its social media team, Jo posts professionally as the SfEP on LinkedIn. Elsewhere on social media, she unashamedly shares countless photos of her beloved Labrador.

 


Photo credits: Trees Evan Dennis, Laptop – Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash; Mabel the Labrador – Jo Johnston.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Five things to take to the SfEP conference

By Abi Saffrey

It’s just over a week until the 2019 SfEP conference. This year, I’m leading a workshop on editorial project management but, while writing my slides, I got a bit distracted by thinking about what I need to take with me. And then I started to wonder what other delegates would be taking with them, so I went onto the SfEP’s conference forum and asked. Here are my (and my respected colleagues’) recommendations of what to put in that wheelie case before heading to Aston University in Birmingham on 14 September.

1. Home comforts

Conference accommodation can be unpredictable – the pillows too firm, the duvets too thick, the shower room too tiny – but it’s possible to mitigate those issues by taking something from home. Okay, you can’t take your bathroom, but you could take a pillow or pillowcase, a sheet, even a small fan. At some venues, if you bring a hairdryer, you’ll gain brownie points from other delegates. They may even stand you a drink at the bar. But this year we can all travel light, because Aston’s rooms are truly luxurious with hairdryers, irons (and accompanying boards), fans, bedside lights and adequately sized bathrooms.

2. Food and drink

I will be taking my refillable water bottle, because I love a bit of hydration – especially important in air-conditioned seminar rooms and when spending the best part of three days talking (and laughing). Emergency and preferred teabags are worth shoving in your case, as you never know what will be on offer in bedrooms or at break times. Ditto snack items – whether you prefer sweets or bananas, you’re going to need energy to keep the brain whirring.

Good news: there is a small supermarket a short stroll from the Aston conference centre, so Minstrels are always within reach (other chocolate products are available).

3. Something for the quiet moments

Conferences are tiring, especially if you normally work at home with only a furry companion to talk to for hours on end. How strange that editors often take books with them for their downtime. Other portable hobbies that can provide an essential mental and physical breather include music, colouring, sketching, sewing, running and wine.

Aston does have a delightful little swimming pool that is open to delegates at certain times, so remember to pack appropriate attire if you fancy a dip. This year, there will also be a Quiet Room in the conference centre, so that delegates can easily take time out during the busy days.

4. Something for the actual conference

It turns out that the SfEP conference isn’t all about chatting with edibuddies; there’s also some of that there learning going on. Take an open mind and some confidence – listen to others’ ideas and speak your own. If you’re prone to a grumpy resting face, see if you can dig out a smile or two (for use when appropriate).

You’ll need something to take notes with/on, whether that’s a laptop, mobile device or a notebook and pens (preferably lots, and in different colours). And don’t forget the charger (and additional power pack) for those electronic devices, especially if you’re live tweeting (this year, the conference’s hashtag is #sfep2019).

Consider your clothing selections – a conference is not the right time to try out new shoes. Go comfy (and clean).

Remember business cards in case of networking successes or prize draws.

5. Medication

Nearly everyone who responded to my call for suggestions mentioned medication – either for an existing condition or painkillers for the headaches that come from thinking, talking and those lightbulb moments. (I refer the honourable reader to the earlier point about hydration.)

And don’t forget!

It’s the UK! The weather does what it wants. It turns out that coats quite often get left at home, and are later missed.


With thanks to SfEP conference goers and forum regulars, veterans and devotees: Hugh Jackson, Helen Stevens, Anya Hastwell, Sue Browning, Julia Sandford-Cooke, Luke Finley, Jane Hammett, Denise Cowle, Margaret Hunter, Jane Moody, Beth Hamer, Cathy Tingle, Sabine Citron and Melanie Thompson (and those who have contributed to the discussion after this was written).

 

Abi Saffrey will be taking decaf teabags, a water bottle, her swimmers, well-worn trainers, bananas, her laptop, her resting grumpy face and hopefully a completed set of PowerPoint slides to this year’s conference.

 

 

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.

Customer service: what does it mean for editing professionals?

By Cathy Tingle

Customer service matters in business, everyone knows that. And in editing it’s important, too. We have clients, after all. But, for us, giving too much to customers can be counterproductive. Overwork and we make mistakes. Give too much time to a project and our per-hour fee will reduce such that we question whether it’s worth being in business. I’ve worked in marketing, so I know about the value of customer service; however, moving across to editing this ‘how much is too much?’ question muddied for me what were previously clear waters.

To remind myself of what is important in customer service, and see if it applies to the editorial world as much as to larger business, I headed over to the Institute of Customer Service website.

Cup of coffee on a table next to a stack of coffee shop receipts and a service bell

Which customer service principles apply?

The website’s home page was a big surprise, not so much because of its message but because it shows a video that features my former boss, Jo Causon, who, it turns out, is now the CEO of the Institute of Customer Service. The video seems geared towards big organisations, so I contacted Jo to say ‘hello’ and ask if its ideas about customer service apply to sole traders and small businesses in the editorial field. Jo confirmed they do, saying:

‘Customer service is something that, if done well, is a clear differentiator for an individual or organisation and a clear way of marketing yourself.’

Where might we stand out, then, in terms of customer service? Jo names ‘quality and attention to detail’ as marks of customer service that editorial professionals know all about, plus ‘genuine interest’ and a ‘service ethos’. So far, so good – I don’t know any editors or proofreaders that don’t display these characteristics in spades.

But how relevant to us are the more formal customer service indicators? According to the video, businesses should think about the following five points:

  1. How professional and competent staff are, and how relevant is their knowledge.
  2. How easy they are to do business with.
  3. Whether their product or service does what it says it will.
  4. How they deal with complaints.
  5. Their timeliness and responsiveness.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Competence, knowledge and professionalism

This is a good start. As editing professionals our competence and relevant knowledge is inseparable from our offer, and the fact that we’re SfEP members is a mark of professionalism. Next!

Being easy to do business with

Are we easy to find online (and elsewhere if that’s where our clients will look), and are our services and terms easily understandable? When we’re into an edit, do we make the process easier for others by explaining why we are suggesting a change, or giving useful options to choose from? Are we as clear as possible at all times when communicating with our clients?

These are some questions that could be relevant. You can probably think of more.

Keeping promises

This third point is what you might call ‘hygiene’ (basic stuff – you’ll certainly notice if it’s absent) but actually it’s quite a difficult area. Here we have to do our best to be realistic – firstly, in what we promise to clients. Make sure, in publicity or correspondence, that you never offer more than you can give. Secondly, we must be practical about what’s possible throughout a project. A recent tweet by Christian Wilkie (@CWWilkie), a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, gives an insight into the sort of hard decision we occasionally need to make.

‘Just had to cancel a freelance assignment I’d agreed to, because the materials weren’t supplied to give me enough time before deadline. Sounds clear-cut, but I wanted a good relationship with this agency. The fact is, I can’t do a good job without enough time.’

It’s tricky to know what to do in these situations. However, Christian wisely realised that if he didn’t complete the job to a high standard because of a lack of time his relationship with his client would have suffered in any case.

A tailor's mannequin with a tape measure draped around its neck

Dealing with complaints

No matter how hard we try, things can sometimes go wrong. How we react if and when this happens is important. When I worked in marketing (with Jo) the big idea was that a complaining customer can be turned into a loyal ambassador for your business if dealt with correctly.

As with the rest of editing, the key thing is to really listen to your customer – in this case, to their concerns. It’s important to keep calm and share any relevant information, including about how the problem may have occurred. The SfEP receives very few complaints about its members because they sign up to its Code of Practice, but what happens if your client threatens to complain to the SfEP? Over to our standards director, Hugh Jackson:

‘If someone threatens to raise a complaint against you to the SfEP, the first thing to do is not to panic. It can be really unpleasant to have the relationship with your client break down to that extent, but behaving calmly and professionally will go a long way towards defusing a tense situation and making it easier for everyone involved. Signpost your client to the complaints page on the website, where they can read about the process and what’s required of them if they do decide to go in that direction.’

‘As a society, we would always encourage editors and their clients to work together to resolve any disputes by compromise, but we appreciate, inevitably, that sometimes just isn’t possible. The complaints process is specially designed to be even-handed and independent. It’s also strictly confidential: even if the complaint is upheld, in the vast majority of cases your name won’t be broadcast to the membership or in public.’

So, don’t panic. Give your client all the information they need, and have faith in our complaints procedure.

Being timely and responsive

Many of us start our editing careers relying on this differentiator, perhaps in the absence of experience or confidence in our professional abilities. For example, you could make yourself available all day and night and at weekends, and promise to respond to any queries within an hour. However, you then might realise that this involves a cost to you and affects the quality of your work.

Managing expectation is probably a better route. Make clear to your clients the times when you respond to queries and when you don’t. You could do this with a combination of wording in your terms and conditions and an out-of-office response in the evenings and at weekends. During working hours you could send a quick acknowledgement to show you have received an email and are thinking about it, with a general idea of when the customer might hear back more fully.

The central relationship

Those are the five points. What struck me is how they reflect our Code of Practice, which emphasises high standards and clear communication plus the setting of sensible boundaries and rules that serve our clients, and us as suppliers. So the good news is that if you’re an SfEP member you already have a head start in terms of customer service.

But there is one overarching customer service principle at which we editorial professionals excel. In the video, Jo explains that we have moved from a transaction-based economy to a relationship-based one. The word ‘relationship’ is oft used in marketing but as editors it’s our bread and butter. Editing can be very personal – you are handling your author’s strongly held ideas, often the result of years of research and thought, or the fruits of their imagination and experience, and their work is bound up with their ambitions and fears. You need to tread softly in order to make sure you’re giving the author due respect and bringing the best out of their text.

And if we’re thinking of differentiators, the best you can do is to be you, with all your differences as an individual. Work out what you’re great at and make the most of it. Train to fill any gaps and market yourself in an area where you stand out. It will then be you, as you are, that your clients need, trust and return to. Surely there’s no better model of customer service than that.

 

Cathy TingleCathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member, came to freelance copy-editing after a PhD in English, a decade in marketing communications and four years as editor of a parents’ guidebook. Her business, DocEditor, specialises in non-fiction, especially academic, copy-editing. Follow her on Twitter: @thedoceditor

 

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.

Linguistic prejudice: towards more inclusive editing and proofreading practices

By Erin Carrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Manchester Metropolitan University logo

 

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

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

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

By Melanie Thompson

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

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

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

Spinning plates

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

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

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

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

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

Unhappy families

Drawing of a person with a broken arm in a sling

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

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

Or do you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have mine pinned on my kitchen noticeboard.

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

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

Until then, remember:

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

Further reading

 

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

All illustrations © Paul Dyett 2018

 

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

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

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