Category Archives: Professional development

How to guides to help with your professional development.

Linguistic prejudice: time to check our unconscious biases

By Erin CarrieFour yellow balls with faces drawn in black ink: one sad, one happy, one angry and one uneasy

An introduction to linguistic prejudice

We all have preferences when it comes to language – things we like and dislike. There are accents that we find friendly, catchy words that we pick up, and grammatical forms that we consider to be correct. But that means that there are also accents that we find ugly and unattractive, words that we think are silly or offensive, and grammatical forms that we – often quite adamantly – think are just plain wrong.

This is perfectly normal human behaviour. We have a natural tendency to organise our realities in this way, sorting things according to dualities such as good vs bad, right vs wrong, etc. But it does beg the following questions… What are these evaluations of language actually based on? Who decides what is good and bad, or even right and wrong, when it comes to language? And at what point do these preferences become prejudices?

Sociolinguists like myself would argue that there is nothing inherently good, bad or – dare I say – ugly about any aspect of language. These are social meanings that we have attached to language through convention. And it’s perhaps no surprise that the language that we consider to be correct tends to be the language of the elites within our societies.

Within the vastly variable and changing landscape of the English language, there is a tendency to think that dictionaries, grammars, style guides, etc, based on the linguistic norms of the South East of England have the greatest authority and prestige. More often than not, these norms become the standards that editors and proofreaders live and work by, whether explicitly or implicitly.

But what happens when the work being edited or proofread is written by someone using features of regional or second-language varieties of English? Should their writing conform to the aforementioned norms? At what cost? Perhaps it’s time to reflect on the extent to which the profession privileges some voices over others and, in doing so, turns these preferences into prejudices.

The roles of editors and proofreaders

When editing and proofreading, there is inevitably a need to tread the line between (1) suggesting changes that will help the author communicate their message more effectively and (2) ensuring that the style and voice of the author is retained. Editors and proofreaders spend their time working with language and, though they may refer to style guides and implement language ‘rules’ consistently, they are also aware of the fact that language rules are abstract, ambiguous and, quite often, not applicable – there are always exceptions. This makes their roles more difficult to define – they have to use their own judgement and experience when reshaping the author’s message and mediating the relationship between writer and reader.

Every editor and proofreader should reflect on their role and consider the extent to which they are applying rules or asserting preferences, and enforcing so-called ‘standards’ or facilitating diverse voices in communicating their own messages in their own ways. Of course, some degree of conformity to agreed linguistic norms is essential for effective communication but these norms can be redefined and, even, subverted where appropriate. It wouldn’t make sense for everyone’s writing to conform to Standard British English rules when this doesn’t represent the language used by the majority of writers and readers.


Hand turning the pages of a dictionary
Problematic discourse within the editing and proofreading profession

My work on linguistic prejudice to date has focused on speech and, specifically, negative attitudes towards accents and their speakers. One example of the impact of such attitudes is the discrimination experienced by Kasha, shared in this video (Listen to Britain 2017), who moved to the UK from Poland in 1990. The hostile reactions that she has received, based on how she speaks, have made her question her Polish identity and have driven her to seek expert help for reducing and modifying her accent.

Kasha has clearly internalised the social bias against her accent, as she describes her pronunciation as ‘incorrect’ and talks about her accent as a ‘problem’. Disappointingly, her accent reduction coach also engages in this sort of negative discourse, saying that she’ll help Kasha ‘get rid of’ and ‘eradicate’ her accent and will help her to use more ‘elegant’ vowel sounds. Given the differential status of a Standard Southern British English accent and Polish-accented English, it is no surprise that Kasha claims to feel ‘empowered’ after these coaching sessions.

The reason I mention Kasha’s story, although it focuses on spoken rather than written language, is that this is exactly the same type of discourse that we encounter elsewhere and is, in fact, as prevalent within the editing and proofreading profession as in the accent reduction industry. It is not uncommon to come across the following terms in editing and proofreading discourse:

  • ‘standard’ and ‘colloquial’
  • ‘right’ and ‘wrong’
  • ‘good’ and ‘bad’
  • ‘better’ and ‘worse’
  • ‘normal’ and ‘neutral’
  • ‘uncommon’ and ‘unusual’
  • ‘clear’, ‘pristine’ and ‘impeccable’
  • ‘mistakes’, ‘errors’ and ‘problems’
  • ‘correcting’, ‘fixing’, ‘tidying up’ and ‘resolving’.

All of these evaluations of language are based on social, rather than linguistic, norms. Where linguists merely observe differences, society has a tendency to impose hierarchies whereby (1) some linguistic choices are viewed favourably and others aren’t, (2) some are viewed as unmarked and others as marked, and (3) some are considered to be pure and others to be somewhat tainted. All of this implies to writers that they should strive not just to communicate but to communicate perfectly. But, again, who decides what is perfect when it comes to language use? By enforcing the norms of the powerful elite, aren’t we simply perpetuating a system that favours some voices over others?

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

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The SfEP mini-conference goes international: Toronto 2018

Over the past few years, local SfEP groups have arranged mini-conferences – day-long CPD and networking events. In November 2018, the Toronto local group hosted its first mini-conference: in this post, two attendees tell us about their experience.

Toronto City Hall

An editor’s homecoming

By Maya Berger

To be an expat is to always feel like a piece of you is far away. To be an expat who has returned home can feel even more fragmenting.

I left Canada for the UK right after I finished my undergraduate degree, and until I moved back to Toronto a year ago all my editorial training, employment, and professional affiliations were British. My links to SfEP have been an anchor for me in a year of big life changes, and the recent SfEP Toronto mini-conference allowed me to bring my British editorial past into my Canadian future. This conference felt like coming full circle for me since the co-organisers, Janelle Bowman, Kelly Lamb and Janet MacMillan, and several of the attendees (including my roommate here in Toronto, Rachel Small) were all people I’d met in the UK through SfEP.

The Toronto mini-conference was an absolute delight. Delegates and speakers came from all over Canada and from the United Kingdom and the United States. There was a fascinating range of backgrounds, career paths, and experience levels among the delegates, and the conference programme delivered impressively on its promise of ‘Something for Everyone’.

Unfamiliar as I was with the Canadian editing community, which of course includes a growing number of SfEP members, the conference introduced me to editor rock stars Virginia Durksen, Jennifer Glossop and Adrienne Montgomerie. Their sessions on grammar, editorauthor relations, and marking up PDFs, respectively, reflected their wealth of expertise and were delivered in a friendly and accessible way. The full roster of speakers and panellists also included fellow Canadians Jeanne McKane, Vanessa Wells and conference co-organiser Janet MacMillan, Americans Erin Brenner and Laura Poole, and Brit Louise Harnby, and it was truly inspiring to learn from their collective wisdom.

Since I didn’t train as an editor in Canada, I was unaware of all the opportunities for professional development that exist across the country for editors and proofreaders. I was pleased to learn that three of the conference’s sponsors, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, Queen’s University Professional Studies, and Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies, offer courses in editing and publishing-sector skills.
In many ways Toronto is an ideal location for hosting an international conference of editorial professionals. Because Canada’s language and culture have been strongly influenced by both the UK and the US, speakers and delegates from both of those countries, as well as the many Canadians in attendance, found the conference relevant to them. It also didn’t hurt that Toronto itself is a cosmopolitan city with great transport links and lots of attractions.

I have to give huge thanks and kudos to Janelle, Kelly and Janet for organising such a great day. I’m thrilled that Toronto now has its own mini-conference for editors and proofreaders, and there is already talk of making it an annual event. Between this event, the monthly Toronto SfEP group meetings and all my editor friends in the city, Toronto feels like a great place for this editor to call home.

Toronto skyline at nightBeyond editing: finding my people

By Rachel Small

I love working from home. And my idea of a great night involves a good book, a mug of tea and my couch. That said, I’m not completely anti-social, and as a freelance editor I know the importance of community in battling the isolation that tends to come with the job.

In the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, I’ve found ‘my people’.

I was first introduced to the SfEP by my friend and colleague (and often guru) Janet MacMillan, while I was living in the UK. Introvert that I am, I was a bit shy about meeting Janet in the first place, but she immediately welcomed me into her home and reassured me that I would find a supportive network and fantastic professional resources in the SfEP. And she was right.

I started attending the London meetings regularly, and at one such meeting I was pleasantly surprised to hear another Canadian accent. I introduced myself to Maya Berger that evening, and now she’s not only a fellow Toronto-based SfEP enthusiast but also my roommate! Talk about finding my people.

On 7 November 2018, the Toronto group held its first mini-conference, co-organised by Janelle Bowman, Kelly Lamb and Janet MacMillan. While the day’s sessions were top-notch (I feel as though I need a year to integrate all of the tips gleaned from the presenters into my business), what really stood out to me was the camaraderie. Friends, colleagues and strangers alike shared stories and battle scars. We laughed, we groaned, we commiserated.

As I looked around the beautiful venue, I couldn’t quite believe it. I was in the same room as so many of my editing heroes, and treated as a peer. It was humbling and inspiring. I found it equally wonderful meeting so many other people who called themselves introverts. We acknowledged how the intense socialising was outside of our norm but incredibly valuable. The conversations lit a fire under me, and I resolved to get out a little more.

After the full-day conference and subsequent night at the pub, where more lively discussions ensued, I was exhausted – but in the best possible way. Within that exhaustion, I felt rejuvenated. I’d created a memory I could tap into when I needed a boost of energy and motivation. And now, on those days when working from home is just too isolating, I know I have an incredible network of people here in Toronto and also across Canada, the UK, and the US to reach out to. My editing people.

I’m already eagerly anticipating the next conference in Toronto, and I also hope to attend the main SfEP annual conference in Birmingham in 2019.

Tonight, though? I’m curling up with a book.

Cup of tea next to an open book

 

Maya BergerMaya Berger is a copy-editor and proofreader specialising in academic texts, sci fi and fantasy, YA fiction, and romantic and erotic fiction. She is currently a Professional Member of the SfEP. She has degrees in English Literature, Philosophy and Children’s Literature, and she worked as an editorial manager for a higher education specialist publisher in London before going freelance in 2016. Having spent 13 years in the UK, Maya returned to her native Canada in October 2017 and is now a member of the Toronto local SfEP group.

Rachel SmallRachel Small is an editor based in Toronto, Canada, and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She works with independent authors, small publishers, and businesses of all shapes and sizes. Her specialties are women’s fiction, memoirs, and material meant to move and inspire audiences. She always loves a good travel story, both on and off the page.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: 2019


Multi-coloured metal owl sculpture
It’s 2019! The SfEP’s wise owls are hatching plans for the year ahead.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

I aim to grow and develop my business every year, to be able to look back a year on and identify what’s different – and better – than it was 12 months previously. I don’t always know what direction that change will take me at the outset, as it may be based on chance encounters. But I am open-minded about change, and make it work for me and my business when opportunities arise.

This year my focus is on developmental editing. It’s a challenging task, and every job is different. The recent SfEP Education Publishing Update in London sparked this notion. Of note was a talk on the changing nature of relationships in publishing, including packager clients. And Astrid deRidder’s closing session was empowering in the way it told us to make all our skills known to clients, because they’re often crying out for them (who’d have thought syllabus mapping was such a sought-after skill?).

On a personal note my eldest is going to university this year, so there will be big changes at home, and in June I shall be seeing Metallica live for the fifth time (and the first in 20 years), no doubt reminiscing about when I first saw them as a spotty teenager in a field in Derbyshire in 1990…

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I’m hoping 2019 will mean finishing off all those things I started in 2018 – primarily training, but also uncovering my desk. The PTC Adobe tools for editors course, Hilary Cadman’s PerfectIt duo and a MOOC on humanism all languish either just started or not-started-but-still-paid-for. The latter part of 2018 kinda got away from me, so my resolution this year is to catch up! If I can get into the routine of scheduling (and sticking to) time to spend on training courses that require self-starting rather than leaving the house and showing up (which is much easier to prioritise – at home, there’s always paid work that gets preferential treatment, or lazing around doing nothing, dressed up as R&R), I’m hoping to continue with some of the newest PTC online courses – Copyright Essentials, Editing Illustrations and the Copy-Editor’s Guide to Working with Typesetters all look juicy. (I really feel I should point out that I’ve already done all the SfEP courses that are relevant to me!) Looks like I’ll need to get the garbage off my desk soon. Of course, there are other things I want to achieve in 2019. I’m toying with the idea of rebranding, for one (something else carried over from last year). And I want to get a proper disaster recovery plan implemented and maintained. Too much head-in-the-sandiness and mindless optimism could bite back, there, so that really needs to be tackled.

Mike FaulknerMichael Faulkner

2018 was challenging, so for the first time in years I made some New Year’s resolutions aimed at finding a more sensible work–life balance:

  1. Introduce some predictability into regular work, ha ha. Much of my bread and butter work is copyediting and proofing law books, which I enjoy – but these projects come randomly and often with tight deadlines, so I’m asking clients to book further ahead. Also exploring the idea of a retainer for one or two publisher clients, which I know works for some colleagues. It would be lovely to put some structure into 2019!
  2. Put Pomodoro to work. I have been trying to take five minutes away from the desk every forty-five minutes, and it really does help with productivity, but when the pressure is on I ignore my little pop-up reminder. This must stop – the regime is even more important when the pressure is on!
  3. Exercise every day, twenty minutes minimum.
  4. Make time to write. My last (non-fiction) book was published in December 2013 and I resolved then to write a novel; five years on, NY’s resolution #4 is to … write a novel.
  5. Try to carry New Year’s resolutions into February and beyond. So far so good, at least with nos 1–3.

Wishing everyone a productive and enjoyable 2019!

Liz JonesLiz Jones

2018 was quite a challenging year for me personally, so work had to take something of a back seat. I’ve learned a lot about working through a crisis, and people have been incredibly understanding. I needed to continue to support myself and my family, so carried on working throughout at more or less my usual rate, but I had to withdraw somewhat from ‘extra-curricular activities’ such as online networking, and I also scaled back my regular marketing activities and took more time off than usual. Work ticked over, with regular clients keeping me supplied with things to do, which was a huge relief. Now, however, I’m planning to get proactive again, and return to the editorial fray with a vengeance in 2019 – getting stuck in online, seeking out new work opportunities, investigating ways I can push my business forward and also exploring collaborative work with a group of editor friends. I’m also continuing the work I began last year on the SfEP’s outward-facing newsletter, Editorial Excellence. I’m excited to see what this year brings!

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

It’s a cliché but I never like the feeling of standing still in my business. In some cases I’ve been working with the same clients on the same kind of work for many years, but I always like to feel I’m moving forward – whether I’m finding better ways to work in sync with my clients’ needs, seeking new efficiencies to improve my hourly rate or simply finding more things to enjoy about what I do.

I’ve always kept a lot of data about my projects and how long individual tasks take, but one of my goals for this year is to put that data to better use. It’s all very well knowing approximately how long a project will take based on my experience of similar work in the past. However, it can be difficult to accurately assess whether I’ll have time for all the myriad individual stages of that project when it’s spread over a year or more and interwoven with many other jobs. By making my time planning much more granular, I hope to minimise the workload lumps and bumps that can disrupt work–life balance.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

 

 

I am a Polish editor of English

By Kasia Trojanowska

cat in a plastic carrier bag

When I was invited to write about the challenges and rewards of being a non-native speaker editor of English, it felt like the cat was being let out of the bag after a very long time. I am a non-native English speaker and an editor, but I never think of myself as such – to me, I’m simply an English editor. And now, finally, someone has noticed my big, fat secret.

Abi’s (this blog’s coordinator’s) invitation opened up something I hadn’t until then been ready to acknowledge. I imagine that seeing my name people must wonder where I’m from, how good my English actually is and what’s my claim to editorial competence (I also like to imagine they have better things to do). In today’s interconnected world, I could’ve been born in the UK to Polish parents – a lot of immigrant children carry non-English names. But I learned English in another country and came here in my 20s, and when I speak, the first thing you’ll notice will be my unfamiliar accent. Working as an editor, I’m basically asking to be judged on my language at every turn. Shouldn’t an editor be someone whose English, both written and spoken, is impeccable?

By virtue of my background, I’m facing two kinds of challenges already – my name and how I sound. Until that email from Abi, I would deal with them through avoidance. First, I’d be stumped if you found any mention of my background on my public profiles. I’d decided long ago that this would be my weak spot and didn’t want to draw attention to it in case this made anyone doubt my skills. And second, I would simply avoid speaking with clients, at all cost. Unfortunately for me, there are some people who just don’t get the message – and don’t do email. I now thank them.

To a certain extent, the challenges I’ve experienced as an editor of English are internal and come from the idea of what an editor should embody, which to me, and many others, is language knowledge and competence nearing the heights of perfection. As a profession, I think we are quite unique in holding ourselves, often publicly, to such incredibly high linguistic standards that it must come at a price. One of the consequences is that this makes some of us anxious communicators – and the challenge is multiplied for someone who has learned English as an adult. What I’d like us to remember though is that language is a system and therefore can be studied and learned. So can editorial craft. I studied English literature and linguistics for 5 years at university and have worked as an editor of English for nearly 12 years; that gives me close to 17 years of experience as an English-language professional. And I’m still learning – I take editing courses, I read industry books, scour the internet for current language trends, go to conferences – everything we all do as editorial professionals. I find professional development and education to be the best remedy for the lurking ‘English-language editor’ impostor syndrome that rears its head in moments of self-doubt.

Delegates at the 2018 SfEP Conference

Professional development at the 2018 SfEP Conference

The rewards are perhaps the same for me as for everyone else who loves their job. Contact with authors is immensely rewarding; one of my authors calls my editing her work ‘magic’ – it doesn’t get better than this! I engage with incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable and inspirational people who care about how they write, I read books and papers on topics I wouldn’t have come across otherwise, I learn and grow thanks to what I do for a living, and, to use that worn out cliché, I love reading. A challenge now is picking up a book for pure enjoyment, our common complaint I suppose.

I keep going back to that email from Abi, because it’s shifted something for me, prompting a change in how I think about myself and present myself to the world. That same evening, I edited my website bio to say I wasn’t born in the UK and I didn’t graduate from a UK university. Perhaps that’s another step in overcoming my biggest challenge – my own prejudice against myself as a competent, expert, non-native English-language editor.

*As a disclaimer I’d like to add that I have never experienced anything but kindness, encouragement and trust from my colleagues of various nationalities, not least the native speakers of English.

Kasia TrojanowskaKasia Trojanowska, APM (SfEP), MA (hons) English Lit, is an academic and non-fiction English-language copy-editor, proofreader and text designer. She was born and educated in Poland and came to the UK for no specific reason in 2007. Shortly after arriving in London, Kasia found her editorial calling and a first job as an assistant scientific editor. She works both with authors who are English native speakers and those for whom English isn’t their first language, and simply loves her job.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

SfEP conference 2018: what they said

Places at this year’s conference at Lancaster University sold out quickly and the conference’s success has been blogged about by attendees since the event in September – here are the highlights.

SfEP directors and audience at the AGM

There was swearing

Kia Thomas’s session on editing sweary stuff was clearly a highlight for many members; it inspired Howard Walwyn to title his comprehensive conference review ‘#SfEP 2018 – Let’s Get F***in’ Serious‘.

Hannah McCall also enjoyed the session, and the Coco Pops option at breakfast; this was her first SfEP conference experience, and she talks about the warmth of strangers and support of her conference buddy in her summary.

Editors travelled from far and wide

Every year, more and more editors based outside the UK attend, and present at, the conference. Claire Wilkshire discusses British politeness in her post ‘Editors, sheep, conferencing‘.

Presenters push the boundaries of their comfort zones

The conference director approached Kia Thomas during her ‘Saying Yes’ kick, and Kia elegantly discusses the process of preparing and presenting at a conference in ‘Conferences, confidence and comfort zones‘.

There were indexers there too

The Society for Indexers’ conference was at the same venue at the same time this year, enabling sharing of some sessions and the gala dinner. Tanya Izzard is an indexer looking to develop her editing skills, and made the most of the opportunity to attend two conferences at once.

Attendees learnt stuff

Pamela Smith lists her main learning points from the two days in her conference report – AND she won a fabulous raffle prize so the learning can carry on.

The learning wasn’t just limited to the sessions – the quiz on the opening evening of the conference warmed up brain cells and revealed the vast amounts of random knowledge that editors carry around in their heads. Oh, and Kia Thomas was on the winning team.

But it’s all about…

As Stephen Cashmore reminds us, the conference is all about the people: those who plan, prepare and attend it.

Attendees at the 2018 SfEP Conference

There’s more coverage of this year’s sessions in the November/December edition of Editing Matters, the Society’s digital magazine for members.

Compiled by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Coming up

Plain English: ‘Be short, be simple, be human’

By Laura Ripper and Luke Finley

Ever had to deal with text that makes you feel alienated, inadequate or frustrated? We’ve all had that experience – of struggling to make sense of writing that’s pretentious and showy, filled with jargon and buzzwords, or simply badly planned and confusing.

Sometimes you might long for the writing to be as poetic as Shakespeare, as gripping as Stephen King or as much fun to read as JK Rowling. But when you need information quickly, you just want it to tell you, without all the frills, what you need to know.

In other words, you want it in plain English.

Water ripples above book pagesWhat is plain English?

Plain English is about communicating with people in writing as clearly as possible.

George Orwell and Ernest Gowers, writing in the 1940s, were among the first to encourage writers to use plain English: ‘Be short, be simple, be human,’ wrote Gowers in his guide Plain Words. There’s no one accepted definition today, but the International Plain Language Federation sums it up nicely:

A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information. [our emphasis]

It’s about putting the reader’s needs first, even above the writer’s preferences, when it comes to deciding how to word and organise a text. This doesn’t ignore the writer’s priorities – quite the opposite! What’s your main aim as a writer, if not to communicate clearly with your readers?

What is it for?

You can use plain English to:

  • make information accessible to people who aren’t specialists in your area (whether that’s about health, money, research, government policy or something else)
  • share essential information (on safety or the law)
  • give people the chance to have a say on things that affect them, or to use services they’re entitled to
  • build a reputation for putting customers first
  • build a good relationship with readers
  • save time and money (on clarifying misunderstandings, reprinting documents).

So you can use it for ethical and economic reasons. By making letters, reports, policies, articles and application forms easier for people they affect to read and understand, you’re making a difference to those people. You’re also making savings for your organisation, and helping to achieve its marketing aims.

What can using plain English do for me?

Writing in plain English can help your organisation:

  • make the text more effective (informing, selling to or empowering the reader, or appealing to more readers)
  • market itself (by strengthening your reputation, building trust and loyalty, and attracting customers, staff and suppliers)
  • achieve its business aims (eg increasing profit by saving time and money)
  • fulfil its purpose (providing a public service, raising awareness of an important issue).

Open book with letters flying outHow can an editor help?

Editors offering plain English services can help by making text clearer and easier to read. Many of them can suggest ways to improve its structure and layout too.

According to the Oxford Guide to Plain English, the average UK adult has a reading age of just 13. They’re also busy – they don’t have time to read insurance policies for pleasure. So in a plain English edit, an editor aims to make the writing as easy as possible for the average person to read.

To do this, editors follow established guidelines, such as those in the Oxford Guide. ‘Translating’ a piece of writing into plain English isn’t a mechanical exercise, though – a trained editor considers the reader’s level of knowledge and what will be clearest for them.

Some editors can also help by:

  • giving training about using plain English
  • completely re-writing a document, or writing a plain English summary
  • designing templates and style guides that follow plain English principles.

What else can I do?

  • Keep the reader in mind when you’re planning, writing and designing the text – think about what will be clearest and most logical for them.
  • Make sure you’ve included all the information the reader needs – don’t assume they know as much about your subject as you do.
  • Learn about the principles of plain English (by doing training and using resources, such as those available from the National Adult Literacy Agency in Ireland).
  • Test the text on real readers to see if they understand it quickly and easily.
  • Get feedback from readers on documents you’ve already published and make improvements.

If you write in simple, direct language, readers are more likely to respect and value what you have to say. And this will make as much of a difference to you, and your priorities, as it will to your readers.

Laura RipperLaura Ripper began her career in 2004 at Plain English Campaign, where she translated all sorts of documents into plain language. In 2008 she moved to a wider editorial and communications role, which included raising awareness of the UK’s switch to digital TV. Laura set up her proofreading and editing business in 2012 to concentrate on the aspects of her job that she loves best. She still specialises in plain English, and has found these skills useful for every type of document – from journal articles to board game rules. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. When she isn’t at her desk, Laura loves walking in the hills. She has two feline assistants.

Luke FinleyLuke Finley set up Luke Finley Editorial in 2013 and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. He briefly worked in publishing in the 1990s, but most of his working life has been spent in the voluntary and public sectors, in social policy development and implementation. His experience of local government gave him a keen interest in plain English and trying (sometimes in vain) to persuade people to communicate more clearly.  Luke will edit or proofread anything from academic books to charities’ annual reports to travel agents’ websites, but mostly works on social policy and politics texts.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Talking Tech with BookMachine

By Anya Hastwell

“Find the thing that annoys you the most – and then try and fix it,”

says Sara O’Connor, Bibliocloud’s full stack developer at BookMachine’s recent Talking Tech event in London.

You’d be easily forgiven if your initial impression of an event encouraging publishing folk to learn tech is that that it will lure them away to pursue a more profitable career in another industry … but you’d be wrong. Sort of. (Touch wood.) What the event’s speakers want to encourage is for publishing folk to be inspired to learn more tech skills that can make their own working lives easier, as the publishing industry is – and has been for some years now – becoming more digital. A perfect example is that of educational publishing, where tech is making waves not only in making learning texts digital, but also with apps, online platforms and programs for homework tracking, online marking, assessment tracking, learning games, and others. But how can we make our tech and products more user-friendly?

Computer code

To answer this question and others, let’s go to the speakers on our all-women panel. Our host Emma Barnes, founder and CEO of Bibliocloud and MD of Snowbooks, starts things off. After being made redundant from a consultancy firm, Emma founded her own independent publisher, Snowbooks, before teaching herself to code and build systems within Excel to speed up the admin side of her business. (Yes, Excel really can be programming … ). She went on a coding boot camp via Code Bar, a charity that aims to make coding more accessible (she also recommends railstutorials.org). From having with no previous coding experience, Emma became a software engineer and went on to build Bibliocloud (now called Consonance), a publishing management software.

”Learn as much programming as you have the appetite for. It means you won’t be taken in by some flashy web developer, it gives you the agency to make good decisions. Tech is the new literacy … There is always a way to automate yourself out of misery.”

Next up is Lola Odelola, software engineer and founder of blackgirl.tech, an organisation that aims to help diversify the tech industry. Lola studied English literature and creative writing at university. While job hunting after graduation, she decided she wanted to build a website for herself to showcase her writing.

“After realising poets only make money when they’re dead, I set up a website for myself to try moving into journalism. I was jobless so I had a lot of time on my hands. I loved it, so then I did a bootcamp for 6 months.”

While seeing that there was some (gender) diversity in the tech industry – much like publishing – she saw there was still a long way to go before this stretched towards diversity in ethnicity: “Before I started coding I knew nothing about screen readers or accessibility, but I had friends who were getting tagged in photos by AI as apes. Tech should be making life easier for people on the margins.”

The importance of diversity within the tech teams creating our products is therefore vital for making publishing tech and other products more user-friendly and accessible, as such problems would be identified earlier and certainly caught before release to the wider public.
The coding language Ruby gets some extremely good press here tonight, which our next speaker Sara O’Connor recommends heartily. Sara started her career in children’s book publishing as an editorial assistant, and turned to tech to find better ways of doing boring and repetitive admin tasks, before working up the ranks to editorial director. She started off with no coding experience before doing a couple of week-long coding courses and then a three-month bootcamp, before returning to publishing with an array of new skills as Bibliocloud’s full stack developer.

“I’m a full stack developer building the software I wish I had when I was an editor. I advocate Ruby for publishing folks because it’s like a book. It’s an object-oriented language, and we’re already used to reading.”

The issue of diversity comes to the fore again as our last speaker, Janneke Niessen (entrepreneur, investor, board member, Improve Digital, Inspiring Fifty, Project Prep), reminds us that without diversity in tech, the future is not inclusive. “Algorithms are not neutral.” It seems that artificial intelligence stealing our jobs or killer robots are not the real danger, but our own bias, conscious or unconscious, is. Janneke proceeded to tell us a story of when she asked her son what he thought she did for a living. “A princess who dances!” was his reply. So she set about videoing herself while working, explaining what she was doing and why she was doing it to show him what she actually did at work. Janneke showed us some slides while giving us plenty to think about: some 65% of children in school today will have a job that does not yet exist; people’s ability to think differently, be different and challenge previous concepts of how things ‘should’ be done are valuable – people who can be flexible and mutable, and who do not necessarily fit in, are those who companies need to hire in order to change and keep up with the times.

Presentation slide about diversity and investment

This was quite possibly my favourite BookMachine event of those I’ve been to, and it did make me think about what we define as ‘coding’… Many among the SfEP’s ranks are either familiar with or swear by the use of Word macros (quite literally, sometimes). Very often, macros are the only way of being make certain projects achievable within a budget and timescale given by a publisher.

Whether you want to find some neat tricks in Excel to speed up your admin, start using some really clever Word macros that will do a lot of your editing dirty work for you, or update your CV with the kind of skills that could open doors to some really covetable workplaces and clients, there’s no doubt that the publishing industry needs people with a talent for tech, who can use it for an audience’s benefit.

How you want to apply these skills, and how far, is completely down to you. You’re still the one pressing the button.

Anya HastwellAnya Hastwell is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP as well as serving as its professional development director. After working in-house for several publishers for nearly 10 years she went freelance in 2014, and works on an enticing array of non-fiction material from medicine to history, ably distracted assisted by three feline helpers.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The 2018 SfEP conference: a day in a delegate’s life

By Louise Bolotin

I’m a bit of an old hand at SfEP conferences, but this year’s was my first since 2014 – I was enticed by the programme of events – on both days, there were sessions I was keen to attend that would either help me move me into future subject areas I was already toying with, or would help me run my business better.

After Saturday’s AGM, it was time to hit the bar before dinner and meet colleagues I’d previously only known as avatars. Plenty of gin, dinner and a raucous pub quiz meant I went to bed looking forward to getting stuck in next day. (Gin, by the way, is an essential food group conference lubricant.) And no matter how late you stay up drinking in the bar, I recommend getting up in good time for breakfast. I didn’t and by the time I got there, the coffee was all gone. And so I arrived at Sunday’s plenary uncaffeinated, but it didn’t matter.

Mug with text 'I'm sorry for what I said before I had my coffee'

The same but different

Lynne Murphy’s Whitcombe Lecture on editing American English versus British English was witty, entertaining and informative. Slides can often be dull, merely parroting what the speaker is saying, or a distraction because you’re trying to read the slide rather than listening. Lynne’s were neither –entertaining cartoons depicted how Brits and Americans are only different on the surface, something that also applies to how they write.

Her slides about a survey she had conducted of US and UK editors and how they approached their work were enlightening. Some of the differences were quite stark – British editors are more intuitive, it seems, often making changes because ‘it feels right’. Conversely, American editors are more concerned with the mechanics of editing and fact-checking. No doubt something that really resonated for many of us if the queue to buy signed copies of Lynne’s book, The Prodigal Tongue, after the lecture were any measure.

A change of mindset when it comes to expanding our client base is something we should probably all consider, that old cliché about thinking outside the box. So I was intrigued by the title of Alison Hughes’ workshop – The budget and beyond: growing your business organically. Lots of sole traders find spare cash for marketing can fluctuate, so I was pleased she had lots of really creative ideas on offer that cost little or nothing. But first, she outlined what were for her, and no doubt most of us, non-negotiable expenses – membership of a professional body (hello SfEP!), business cards, website and domain name, at least one conference a year and, importantly, health. She also recommended considering have business postcards printed too, as you can get so much more information on them.

But what of the cheapies and freebies? She suggested attending conferences and events in your specialist areas, even if you have limited budget. Alison said she’d benefited from scouring the Eventbrite platform, where you can find many events aimed at the business community that are free to attend, or cost a nominal amount. She noted that universities also put on free events. For me, this was the most useful takeaway and I’ve already committed myself to a weekly search on Eventbrite to find events that fit with my specialist subjects and will hopefully bring in more work.

After lunch, it was time for Nigel Harwood’s thought-provoking session on the ethics of proofreading for students. Using just one sentence extracted from a foreign student’s Master’s dissertation, he demonstrated how three different proofreaders – A, B and C – had approached the text. A, a professional, had corrected the English, while B, a tutor who helped students for free, had merely underlined the entire sentence to indicate the author needed to rework it. C (a PhD student who proofread for other students for a small fee), however, had also suggested ideas to expand the content of the dissertation. It was a textbook example, pardon the pun, of how boundaries can become blurred – a professional’s job should only ever be to clean up the English and not “tutor” the actual work.

Nigel and a small number of other academics have done research into proofreading for students, the output so far being mainly qualitative and anecdotal, but the results showed that standards vary wildly and, essay mills aside, ethical boundaries are crossed too often. His conclusion is that universities need to start working with professional bodies such as the SfEP to develop common standards and build pools of accredited freelance proofreaders who will be the only approved professionals that students will be permitted to work with. He noted that a tiny number of universities are already starting to do this.

Warning! Profanities approaching

I really wanted to go to the lightning talks in the Something for Everyone sessions – they are always entertaining and useful. But I couldn’t resist the lure of How the F**k do I style this? presented by editor Kia Thomas, who works with independent authors and has done a lot of research into how to style swearwords. To gales of laughter, she showed why you need to decide to hyphenate a compound swearword or insult or not – cockwomble good, cock-womble just plain wrong. And, a shit-ton is the correct way to style a large amount because, as she eloquently observed, Shitton looks like a hamlet in Somerset.

In this vein, there was much more to chortle at, but also a serious underlying note – that you will come across sweary stuff in novels, in either dialogue or first-person narrative, and consistency matters here as much as for any other words. Kia closed the session with a game. We split into pairs and Kia offered us two bags from which to take one word out of each. We then had to invent a sweary compound, decide if it was a noun or verb, whether to hyphenate or not and, lastly, to make a sentence with it. The next 10 minutes had us weeping with laughter as we shared our results.

After that, the session on how to get involved with the SfEP was never going to compete for sheer entertainment value, but this is one of the most important 45 minutes you could spend at conference any year. I was stunned at the sheer number of roles in the society that volunteers can take on. I have committed to helping draft a policy on disability and will certainly consider giving more time to the SfEP when I am not too busy.

And so to the gala dinner, kicked off in style, as always, by The Linnets, who this year performed a fabulous number titled The Editor’s Psalm. There was also an enjoyable after-dinner speech by Sam Leith, literary editor of The Spectator. And wine. Plenty of wine. Despite that, I managed to get up in time on Monday for coffee, before heading for that day’s sessions…

Having taken so much useful stuff on board over two packed days, I came home brimming with ideas and have already decided that I will be at year’s next conference, no matter what.

Louise BolotinLouise Bolotin is a journalist and sub-editor, who works chiefly for the press. Away from the media, she specialises in copy-editing all kinds of finance and business topics, with a sideline in editing memoirs and erotica for self-publishers. When not at her desk, she can usually be found dancing in a moshpit somewhere. She is an Advanced Professional Member of SfEP. Follow her on Twitter.

 

This year’s SfEP conference was held at the University of Lancaster, 8-10 September. The 2019 conference will start on Saturday 14 September at Aston University, Birmingham.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

English Grammar Day 2018

By Abi Saffrey

Since 2014, the British Library and UCL (in association with PhilSoc and the University of Oxford) have hosted English Grammar Day. Although the event is primarily aimed at those teaching or studying grammar, the variety of sessions makes it a fascinating day for anyone with an interest on what we do with our words.Dictionary entry for grammarI first found out about English Grammar Day 2018 earlier this year (thanks Twitter) and was very keen to go – despite not having studied linguistics for 20 years, it’s still a subject that fascinates me and grammar is part of my day-to-day editing life. And it’s not often that you can get a day of CPD for the bargain price of £10 (and in the wonderful surroundings of the British Library too).

Jonnie Robinson started the day with a look at the British Library’s Evolving English VoiceBank and WordBank – excerpts of people talking about their word choices and grammar demonstrate how grammar forms part of our identity. The next session, presented by Lynne Murphy (an SfEP conference favourite), showed us the differences between American and British English grammar. Nope, not as different as we might like to think.

After a cuppa and a leg stretch, Rebecca Woods discussed how children acquire the grammar needed to ask questions – how they build up the components necessary to create a grammatically correct question (and how short a time it takes them), and of course what funny things they come out with in the process. How chickens?Small chick with other chicks behindTeaching and understanding grammar is on many teachers’ minds following curriculum revamps over the past few years. Suzannah Ferguson, a primary teacher now moving into postgraduate study, explained how there is a generation of teachers in schools who are without grammar knowledge and without second language knowledge. They face a steep learning curve just like their pupils. Suzannah was passionate about reassuring children (and teachers) that grammar is not the scary beast that it can easily be perceived as.

After lunch, SfEP President David Crystal brought humour and warmth to his session about grammar teaching.

‘Poppy knew what adjectives and nouns are.
She’d been drawing circles around them for ages.’

Giving children (and writers) the ability to play with words, to ask why changing the ‘standard’ word order changes the effect, develops their love of language. (Anyone for a game of adjective tennis?) Most children know many grammar rules through their acquisition of language – David believes we quibble and debate about around only 5% of grammar as a whole. We’re all grammar experts by the time we start to learn to write and read.

The final session was a panel discussion with all of the presenters, chaired by John Mullan from UCL. In summary:

  • Breaking (grammar) rules is fun.
  • Observe, explore and investigate language to make it – and grammar – interesting.
  • Usage creates norms.
  • Grammar arguments quickly evolve into identity.
  • Linguistic prejudice is real, and wrong.

Although the day was not directly aimed at editors, it did feed my appetite for language awareness and grammar knowledge. It reminded me to question my own preferences for certain structures or word choices; an author’s voice must be respected when it does not sound like my own.

I will certainly be booking my ticket for English Grammar Day 2019 as soon as the email arrives next spring – join me, editors and language lovers!

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey is an editorial project manager and copy-editor, and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She really should get around to finding a suitable postgraduate linguistics course.

 

 

 

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

What is CPD, if not another acronym to spell out and add to the list?

Continuing professional development (CPD) is a recognised, systematic way of tracking your professional development on an ongoing basis. It also helps you to document and reflect on any learning or training that you either undertake formally or acquire informally.A pile of open books, with pens and notepaper between the pages

In some professional and chartered organisations, undertaking a set number of hours’ training and being able to show demonstrable evidence of CPD in case of audit is a requirement to keeping one’s membership and certification to practise. Physiotherapy, nursing and medicine are a few such examples – fields where people’s health, safety and, indeed, lives are at stake. Law is another. The industry bodies for these professions have their own specific CPD structures in place for their practitioners to use and journal their own CPD activities.

Why is CPD important?

In editing and proofreading, thankfully no one is *actually* going to die if a comma is missed or spliced; however, livelihoods and professional reputations are most definitely at stake, and not just the freelancer’s. An author’s sales may suffer from receiving bad reviews on Amazon about all the typos left in their book; a publisher’s relationship with an author may break down over the choice of editor (“Why did you choose this person to edit my book?”), ensuring that the second edition never happens …

This is why the SFEP considers CPD essential for editorial best practice and maintaining high standards, not just among its members but in the publishing profession as a whole. All members of the SfEP are also expected to abide by its Code of practice, Ensuring editorial excellence. Being aware of and following best practice is part of being a professional, doing the best job possible within the constraints of the budget and surviving in a changing industry. Undertaking regular CPD activities is the best way to ensure you’re doing that. These of course include undertaking training courses and attending conferences and workshops, but more informal activities count too: catching up on articles and blogs on editorial best practice; learning a new keyboard shortcut; adding a new macro to your repertoire. Filling in and maintaining your own CPD log is also a great idea, such as jobs.ac.uk’s Interactive CPD Toolkit, a free downloadable guide and interactive log for CPD journaling.

How does CPD help us maintain best practice?

CPD is an essential part of being able to call what you do a career – the word itself implies progress, a person’s ‘course or progress through life (or a distinct portion of life)’ according to the OED – and in order to stay ahead in the game and be the best you can be, you’ll want to keep your skills up to date. It is also rewarding to be able to look back and see how far you’ve come; to have goals to aspire to; and to grow in yourself and your profession. There’s always something new to learn and that’s what CPD is all about: keeping an open mind, always learning and always growing. Where do you want to be in a year’s time, or three years? Or five years? CPD can help you realise your long-term goals too.

What does it mean in the context of the SFEP and upgrading?

The SfEP’s membership upgrade process is designed to encourage its members to think about CPD and to progress through Intermediate Membership (IM), Professional Membership (PM) and eventually Advanced Professional Membership (APM). Aspects such as training and experience are assessed in meticulous detail by an Admissions Panel; and for Professional and Advanced Professional upgrades, this includes references from satisfied clients as well. Evidence of CPD gained in the past 36 months before upgrading to Advanced Professional membership is also required.

Members who have reached these two highest membership tiers are also entitled to their own entry in the SfEP’s Directory of Editorial Services, which is well known among publishers and businesses as the place to look for the best freelance editorial talent.

Put it to the Panel

The SfEP’s upgrade process is shrouded in some mystery, mainly because the whole nature of it is confidential to ensure that every application is assessed fairly and without any bias. All upgrade applications are assessed anonymously; the Admissions Panel assessors never know the identities of the applicants. (This is why applicants shouldn’t post test scores on the forum or other social media, or at least not until an application has been assessed and the result is received.) Panel members are Advanced Professional members of the SfEP. Assessing membership upgrade applications involves weighing up the value of an applicant’s experience, training and CPD to discern whether the SfEP’s standards have been reached.

What makes a good upgrade application?

Here are some (anonymised) quotes from some of the SfEP’s Admissions Panel:

No detail is too small:

“I’m happier with an application that shows that the applicant has taken the time and trouble to read the wealth of information on upgrading available on the website, and has put themselves in our shoes: ‘What can I do in my application that will make it easy for the Panel to say yes?’ This is a skill I’d expect to see in a good copy-editor or proofreader. Can this applicant anticipate their client’s needs and produce, say, handover documentation to meet them? Has he or she actually read the brief? We make it very clear on the website that, for instance, we need to know hours of freelance experience. So produce that information, not in days, or weeks, but hours. We make it clear that we need to know the proportion of time an in-house editor has spent exercising the core skills (copy-editing and/or proofreading) and are delighted when an applicant gives us that information.”

Remember you’re a professional:

“Remember to proofread your application with as much care as you would give to any proofreading or editing job. It should reflect your professionalism and attention to detail. Typos, errors and inconsistencies are noted by the Panel and can count against you, particularly for the higher levels of membership.”

But on a lighter note:

“The Admissions Panel are here to help you upgrade rather than to bar the way, so they appreciate anything you can do to help them help you!”

Continuing professional development is essential throughout a copy-editor/proofreader’s life, and it doesn’t stop when one attains Advanced Professional membership or the point where the work finds you, rather than the other way around. It’s a constant.

The SfEP’s professional development day for educational publishing is due to take place in London on Monday 12 November. You can find out more here.

Got any questions about CPD and the SfEP? Email the SfEP’s professional development director, Anya Hastwell, at profdev@sfep.org.uk.

Anya Hastwell, the SfEP's professional development directorAnya Hastwell is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP as well as serving as its professional development director. After working in-house for several publishers for nearly 10 years she went freelance in 2014, and works on an enticing array of non-fiction material from medicine to history, ably distracted assisted by three feline helpers. 

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.