Category Archives: Technical

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

Why should editors pay any attention to readability metrics?

By Howard Walwyn

Like other things that are not universally loved but keep coming back – general elections, Christmas, the X Factor – readability metrics don’t seem to be going away.

There are people out there who like general elections, Christmas and the X Factor. And there are people out there who like readability metrics. But many who don’t.

“I thought that [setting readability targets] … had long since fallen out of fashion. It’s not a reliable tool, and it’s not appropriate in many circumstances.” (SfEP Forum contributor, August 2018)

This view is by no means isolated and is very defensible. Far better to write like a human than to be constrained by over-simple metrics, which don’t capture nonsensical meaning and can be outright misleading about how ‘good’ – clear, simple or ‘readable’ – a piece of prose is.

Young shocked boy holding open book

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

What are they?

A quick reminder of what the measures are, pretty much in two classes.

Flesch-type: Simple arithmetic measures of two elements: (i) the ratio of words to sentences and (ii) the ratio of syllables to words. In essence, shorter words and sentences translate to better readability scores.

Other: Widely used by Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) tools, a separate but related class of measures looks at frequency: how often something occurs and whether it is above or below a given threshold. For example if the number of sentences with a passive verb exceeds 10% the prose will be marked down on this metric. Similarly, the number of ‘long’ sentences as defined (20 words, since you ask) shouldn’t exceed 25%. And the number of sentences including a so-called ‘transition word’ should exceed 30%.

Why use them?

Why would any editor in their right mind pay attention to such simplistic notions?

Well, for two main reasons.

As a benchmark

In their own limited way – not sufficient, not even necessary, but still useful – these metrics support intuition surprisingly well. A postgraduate thesis will score around 30 on the Flesch Reading Ease measure. This is one version of the simple ratios mentioned above, scaled into an index which can be then attributed to different reading levels. 30 is hard to read. 60 is plain English. 100 is readable by an eight-year-old child.

I think of them as no more than benchmarks: background data in the back of my mind which helps me judge (1) the level of reader who find might this piece easily readable – which may be very different to who it is aimed at; and (2) how a piece compares before and after editing or compares to work by a similar but different author.

I emphasise that I fully understand the technical limitations. I wouldn’t judge a piece based solely on the metrics. But I do find the information they give me is valuable in its own terms as part of my assessment of the piece.

You can’t drive a car based solely on the speedo. You don’t even really need it that much if you’re an experienced driver. But it’s still a useful part of your armoury at the wheel.

Because clients do

This is perhaps the main reason in practice we, as editors, should be paying more attention even if we have to hold our noses while doing so.

Increasingly – perhaps reflecting the more general drive towards plain English standards in corporate and official life – non-publishing clients are using Flesch and other metrics explicitly as in-house writing targets. A couple of examples came up in a recent SfEP Forum thread on this topic.

“I do some work for a government department … their reports must have readability scores of between 40 and 60, varying according to their intended recipients.” (SfEP Forum contributor, August 2018)

I can vouch for this. One of my clients in the finance sector has set external and internal Flesch readability targets for its comms department and its policy gurus respectively. The arguments are as follows:

  1. On the external (comms) side, they want to communicate in plain English and a Flesch measure is an objective way of at least encouraging that.
  2. On the internal (policy) side they want to improve their management decision-making, and clearer internal writing – which they think is at least partially evidenced by a ‘good’ Flesch score – is part of that determination.

We can help

On this basis it is pragmatic and sensible for us, as editors, to develop some expertise in the tools; while not losing any scepticism we may have for them. We can add value for clients by helping them understand the metrics better, and work with them to help them appreciate the limitations. As Luke Finley said on the SfEP Forum thread I mentioned:

“There’s some evidence applying readability formulas too rigidly can make a text harder to read. To me this is an argument for putting them in the hands of language experts like editors if they’re to be used in a nuanced way.” (August 2018)

In short, keep an open mind. It could help you in your business if you have this expertise. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest volunteering them if the client doesn’t use them. But even that may be apt and valuable for certain types of non-publishing client. And you may help mitigate some of the misapplications that come with limited understanding.

You can even have fun with them. I expose my students’ work to the measures and they are often thrilled or horrified to see how academic (read tortuous) their business writing has become. And often pleased to be set on a path which involves a clear metric (even if a limited one).

Want to know more?

For more information I have published two (yes, two!) blogs on this topic, which I suppose reveals my interest: Flesh of my Flesch and
The Pix Simplicity Measure.

And for a bit of further informative fun, here are the readability metrics for this blog:

  • Flesch Reading Ease 60 (plain English).
  • 24% of sentences are long; 12% are passive; within or close to the guidelines.
  • 34% of sentences with transition words: above the guideline.

In short, I am happy to release this post to the editor in the knowledge that it should be broadly ‘readable’, but you can be the human judge of that!

Howard WalwynHoward Walwyn is a writer, editor, trainer and SfEP Professional Member. After a career in the City, he now helps clients write clear business English and bridge the worlds of language and finance. He is a visiting lecturer in Writing for Business at City, University of London and has degrees in English Language & Literature and Economics. Follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

PerfectIt Cloud: what Mac users have been waiting for

Simone Hutchinson reviews Intelligent Editing’s new PerfectIt Cloud, the first version of the respected consistency and error checker to work on Macs (in Word 2016).

The full version of this review first appeared in the July/August edition of Editing Matters, the SfEP magazine. (Note: Simone was using a beta version so that this review would be ready in time for the official launch of PerfectIt Cloud.)

Introduction

Having been invited to review PerfectIt Cloud for Mac (beta), my main concern was that my relatively meagre experience of using editorial support software would prevent me from making the most of PerfectIt and limit the value of my report. I hope that what follows will help you decide whether to purchase the software; this review should be relevant to Mac users who have not used PerfectIt before.

I tested three different kinds of Microsoft Word document: a US geology article (~2000 words), a non-native English law journal article (~6000 words) and a UK law book (~46,000 words).

Is it easy to use?

Installing and setting up PerfectIt Cloud is straightforward.

If you are using PerfectIt Cloud for the first time, you will be presented with an outline of its features. This start-up introduction to the software emphasises its role as a style sheet and consistency tool. If you are an experienced editor, I think these start-up welcome screens are the only preparation you need before using the tools. PerfectIt is so easy to use that I do not think there is a need for a new user who is an experienced editor to require training on PerfectIt, although watching the demo videos would still be useful as I feel that audio and visual walkthroughs help cement what is learned by trial-and-error practice. However, for editors who are new to the profession, some training in the use of style sheets and consistency checks would be extremely helpful prior to using PerfectIt.

The sidebar has an intuitive design that presents its information clearly, although there is one minor flaw: the floating ‘i’ icon that appears in the right-hand corner of the PerfectIt panel sometimes obscures the ellipsis button.

Screenshot of PerfectIt Beta information menu

PerfectIt’s information menu

At each stage of the analysis process you are presented with the option to view the location of the suspected error and to fix it. If a long list of locations is offered, you can fix items selectively or have them all done at once. This is particularly useful if your document contains quoted matter (where you don’t want to change the source’s spelling or style). If you accidentally choose ‘Fix’, don’t worry, there’s an Undo button. Being able to review every word that PerfectIt flags up is useful for compiling a word list in your style sheet.

When testing PerfectIt on a legal text (a book on interpreting housing legislation, aimed at the legal practitioner), it helpfully pointed out that the style setting I applied at the start of the analysis (UK spelling) prefers the spelling of judgement with the ‘e’, but that ‘judgment’ may be required in certain legal contexts. Well done, PerfectIt!

Screen shot of PerfectIts hyphenation of phrases section

Option to fix an item or move to the next step

At the end of the process you are able to see a list of the changes that PerfectIt applied, by clicking on the button ‘See what PerfectIt did’. This list has a useful ‘Copy’ option, which means you could maintain change reports for your clients (or your own use). And other reports are offered for viewing at the end of the analysis: ‘Table of Abbreviations’, ‘Summary of Changes’, ‘Text in Comments’.

Screenshot of PerfectIt Cloud's navigation and test page

Click the ellipsis to reveal the full test list.

Will it save me time?

PerfectIt saves time in the workflow by automating a useful range of spelling, punctuation and style checks. It analyses the text to identify inconsistencies in spelling, capitalisation in headings and phrases, hyphenation of phrases and words, abbreviations defined twice or not at all or not used, brackets and quotes left open, and list punctuation.

PerfectIt also lists abbreviations without definitions, which, in a document that contains numerous instances, saves you time by providing you with them all in one list — compared with the process of discovering them manually one by one and adding them to a separate list. You can deal with them all in one go with PerfectIt. However, the ‘Table of Abbreviations’ report option at the end of the process did not work in the Beta version (but should be fixed in the release version).

Without the aid of software automation tools, the time it takes to perform a standard copy-edit on a set length of text will vary from editor to editor. I hope the following timings can be compared with those of your current workflow. The legal book of 46,000 words took me just under one hour to fully check, using every possible test in PerfectIt. The mining article took less than ten minutes. The non-native English law journal article took around 15 minutes. Completion of individual tests can take up to 30 seconds, but on average they took around five seconds.

Will it improve my work?

One of the advantages of PerfectIt is that it trains you to think methodically about your workflow, which in turn helps you become a more efficient editor and writer. After repeated use of its step-by-step approach, combined with clear visual walkthroughs of each step, you will memorise a large part of your editorial checklist and be able to quickly prioritise certain tests according to the kind of document you are working on. While I am not suggesting that this is the death of pen-and-paper checklists, which by the act of writing them provide a similar kind of memory training, there is no doubt that this software helps you to focus more on the work. It does the menial work for you, but makes that menial work visible and requests your approval at each step, so you will not forget essential editorial processes. Consequently, you will spend less time and mental effort on the activity of checking for problems while increasing mental effort on the job from a management perspective. PerfectIt is your editorial assistant and even a bit of a copy-editor. You can become a better editorial project manager by using it.

By saving you time through greatly reducing redundancy in your workflow, PerfectIt also minimises time spent typing. For people with health conditions affecting the hands, this unexpected benefit will be a welcome bonus.

What are my criticisms?

In terms of functional problems with the PerfectIt Cloud, I only noticed some slightly buggy behaviour of the report options and the location of the floating information icon. These should be relatively easy to fix by the time of release, hopefully. A usability improvement might be to move ‘Check Consistency’ from the styles menu to the tests menu.

PerfectIt Cloud is not a comprehensive editor’s toolkit. It does not check footnotes, table or illustration captions and their cross-references, URLs, header or footer matter, or page or section breaks, and does not offer any options to work with Word styles. Neither is it designed to check for inaccuracies in grammar. For editors keen on customisation options, PerfectIt Cloud might seem limited – but this is more of an observation than a criticism (and the developers do promise these are coming in time).

Is it worth upgrading to Word 2016?

You need to have Word 2016 to run PerfectIt Cloud on a Mac. I upgraded from Office 2011 to 2016 this year, and have found there to be a few useful benefits. Importantly for editing, the review panel is better. The redesign of the menus in general improves the logic of menu items as well as their visual presentation (less cluttered now, and simpler). Word 2016 feels lighter, better organised and clearer. These things probably have helped me focus better on projects. With all these benefits, I have found the upgrade worth it.

I can see that using PerfectIt will increase my productivity and reduce the psychological resistance I put up to dull tasks. It will make the physical aspect of editing work easier (less typing). It will help me become a better project manager.

The price of PerfectIt Cloud for SfEP members is $49 per year (available via the SfEP website). I think it is well worth it, especially considering that further features will probably be added.

 

Simone Hutchinson

Simone Hutchinson began freelance editing in 2017 after nine years in editorial support and house editor roles in academic publishing. In February 2018 she set up Orlando Press.

 

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

What’s So Exciting About PerfectIt Running on a Mac?

Daniel Heuman, CEO & Founder of Intelligent Editing, brings us some long-awaited news about PerfectIt.

In a world where cars are driving themselves, computers are recognizing faces, and hackers are stealing elections, it’s perhaps unsurprising that proofreading software is not the tech that’s on most people’s minds. However, by January of this year, more than 600 people had written to us to request a Mac version. In editing circles there is no doubt that a Mac-compatible version of PerfectIt is the cause of considerable excitement. Why so much fuss?

PerfectIt doesn’t involve artificial intelligence. However, in many ways, that’s exactly why it’s right for editors. As the authors of PerfectIt, we believe that humans make the best editing decisions and that they always will. We build technology to help people edit faster and better. What that means in practice is:

  • PerfectIt finds mistakes that are tedious, time-consuming and difficult to locate.
  • PerfectIt can substantially reduce the number of readthroughs an edit requires.
  • PerfectIt is the difference between spending your day on mundane consistency checking or using that time for substantive editing where you add the most value to clients.
  • PerfectIt is intuitive and doesn’t require any training.
  • PerfectIt leaves all decisions to the editor and doesn’t get in the way of how you work.

Up until now, PerfectIt has only been available for PCs. As a result, some Mac users have bought Parallels, Windows and Word just to run PerfectIt. Some have even bought laptops just for the purpose. On 26 June, those days will come to an end with the launch of PerfectIt Cloud. But after all of that, can PerfectIt on a Mac live up to the excitement?

I can’t wait to show everyone. However, one reason why I’m writing before launch is not to drum up excitement, but to dampen it down a little! We launched PerfectIt in 2009. We’ve had almost ten years to build it into the product that it is today. PerfectIt Cloud is just a first version. It requires Office 2016. It needs an internet connection. It can’t drive a car for you. However, it is at the cutting edge of what is technically possible for a Word add-in. Being at the forefront means that at launch you won’t be able to customize styles or check footnotes. We’re committed to building those, but it’s going to take time and it’s going to take your support.

That said, I’m delighted about what we’re delivering. As well as Mac, it works on iPads, PCs or Word Online. Almost all of the checks that PerfectIt 3 runs are built into PerfectIt Cloud at launch. That includes checks of hyphenation consistency, capitalization consistency, abbreviations without definitions, punctuation and capitalization of lists, consistency of headings, and much more. Moreover, PerfectIt Cloud shares the same codebase as PerfectIt 3. That means the results it finds are almost identical to those found in the PC version. When it comes to checking text, it is every bit as good as the original.

The feedback we’ve been getting from the beta trials has been phenomenal. Users describe:

“My working life is now so much more time-efficient and I feel the surety of not having missed spacing, spelling or consistency issues.”

“I’ve just started to use it but already I can tell it’s helping my speed and consistency while editing.”

“This product is fantastic! After switching over to Macs a few years ago, PerfectIt was the one thing I missed, and I am thrilled that it’s now available to Mac users.”

In some ways PerfectIt Cloud is better than PerfectIt 3. It updates automatically. You can add it directly from the Office Store without downloading an installer. And we’ve built a new interface that makes it easier, faster and more intuitive than ever (as you might expect from a Mac-compatible version). You can see that from even one screenshot. Which of the below would you rather use?

I’d like to think that another reason for the excitement is that while Intelligent Editing has grown, we’ve never forgotten where we’re from. PerfectIt’s development has been driven by feedback from professional editors (and it still is). PerfectIt Cloud probably wouldn’t even exist without that support. So we’re working with editing societies around the world to keep the price down for editors. If you’re a member of SfEP, ACES, EFA, Editors Canada, IPED, PEG or others, we’ve set up an affinity discount that’s 30% below the price others pay. With the discount, PerfectIt is just $49 USD (+VAT) per year which pays for itself quickly if you’re in the business of editing.

PerfectIt won’t carry out surgery, control drones or launch cars into space. Its launch doesn’t yet include all the features that we’re looking forward to adding. However, from 26 June, what it will do is provide an affordable way to improve the working lives of editors. There is a reason why so many are so excited!

Daniel HeumanDaniel Heuman is the creator of PerfectIt and the CEO and Founder of Intelligent Editing. His software is used by thousands of editors around the world as well as more than 500 members of SfEP. Members of professional editing societies (including the SfEP) can get a 30% discount on PerfectIt here.

 

 

 

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

Windows options for Mac users

In March 2016, the SfEP released a new online course, Editing with Word. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person looking forward to this course, especially as I hadn’t had the chance to attend either of the Society’s old onscreen editing workshops. Editing with Word would be ideal, I thought, because it would be full of up-to-date content, and, crucially for me, I’d be able to take the course online. Contributors to the course included Paul Beverley, Daniel Heuman and Paul Sensecall – all well-known names in the editorial community – so this was a course not to miss.

Perfect.

Then I saw that three of the course’s ten chapters would require some sort of access to Windows. And that got me wondering about how suitable the course would be for Mac users.

Like many writers and editors, I’m a big fan of Apple Macs. But there are times when an important piece of software works only on Windows, and that gives Mac users some questions to answer. Should we stick to using only those tools that work natively on our Macs, foregoing Windows software that might have saved our bacon? Should we keep a PC on standby just in case? Are there any other options?

Below are some examples of software that Mac users might find very useful if only they could get access to Windows. The first three of these feature in the SfEP’s Editing with Word course:

(SfEP members receive a 15% discount on PerfectIt and on ReferenceChecker. Discount codes can be found in the Benefits section of the Members’ area.)

So, there are times when having Windows to hand could really be of help to a Mac-using editorial pro. Now we need to consider what that means in practical terms. Let’s look at the options.

Option 1: use a real PC

PC

There are no two ways about it: for the authentic Windows experience, use a real PC. That doesn’t mean you need the full-on desktop ensemble. An old laptop, netbook or PC tablet might do the job, depending on what software you’re trying to run.

Pros

  • Low-cost option if you already have any Windows-compatible hardware on standby.
  • PC keyboard may be best to use for Windows-specific shortcuts.

Cons

  • Need to use home networking, Dropbox or other sharing methods to move files between Mac and Windows.
  • More clutter: you may need to make space on your desk for that extra computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse.
  • It’s a PC. Prepare for hardware wrangles, blue screens of death and more besides. Why did you buy a Mac anyway?

Option 2: use Boot Camp

icon-bootcamp

Boot Camp is Apple’s built-in software that lets you install Windows on part of your hard drive.

Pros

  • Uses native software built in to the Mac, so should stay up to date so long as your Mac does.
  • No need to install third-party software to run Windows.

Cons

  • Need to restart to switch between Mac and Windows, which significantly slows down workflows and makes it more difficult to share files between operating systems. You’d need to use Dropbox, a USB thumb drive or an external hard disk to shift files between systems. Fun!
  • Usual home-networking routes won’t work: your Mac will be rendered invisible while Windows is running, and vice versa.
  • Requires your hard drive to be partitioned, so you need to decide how much space to reserve for Windows (a headache if you need to change your mind later).
  • Requires installation of a licensed copy of Windows and any other software to be run on the system (e.g. MS Office).

Option 3: use a ‘virtual machine’

icon_parallels

A virtual machine is software that allows you to access an entire operating system (such as Windows) and its programs via a single window on your Mac desktop.

Pros

  • Very easy to share files between Mac and Windows.
  • No need for a second machine, monitor, keyboard or mouse.
  • Windows runs inside a self-contained app.
  • Can share the host Mac’s internet connection or can be used in offline mode, providing strong protection against viruses, worms, etc.
  • Takes up only as much disk space as is required (no need to partition your hard drive).
  • Can inherit an existing Boot Camp installation of Windows.

Cons

  • Requires a powerful Mac.
  • Not the cheapest route (see requirements below).
  • Requires installation of a licensed copy of Windows and any other software to be run on the system (e.g. MS Office).

My recommendation: use a virtual machine

I’ve tried all of the methods above and, for me, the best option has been to use a virtual machine. My old PC took up too much space and was a pain to keep updated and protected. Boot Camp appealed for a while, but losing access to my Mac while Windows was running soon became a no-no. The final option I tried – a virtual machine – is what I’ve stuck with quite happily since around 2010.

There are a couple of big players in the virtual-machine market. In my case, I’ve opted for Parallels. The main alternative is Fusion. Both products do the same job, so, before committing to a purchase, you might want to take advantage of a free trial of each to see which software you prefer. Prices are also almost identical, with each product costing around £65 for a one-off licence. The software is updated every year and there’s a charge for upgrading, but upgrades aren’t mandatory. The latest versions of Parallels and Fusion work well with all modern versions of Windows, so you probably won’t need to upgrade for a few years.

Requirements for running a virtual machine

Here’s what you’ll need in order to run a virtual version of Windows on your Mac:

  • A powerful Mac: running one operating system inside another requires a powerful machine. If you’re using a mid-range MacBook, your computer might not have enough resources to adequately sustain a virtual machine.
  • Virtual-machine software: Parallels and Fusion are the main players. Each offers a free trial.
  • A licensed copy of Windows: even if you already own a PC with a pre-installed version of Windows, you’ll probably need a separate Windows installation disc for your Mac as well as a licence key. If you’ve previously installed Windows via your Mac’s built-in Boot Camp software, you can make Parallels or Fusion use that existing installation rather than having to install Windows again.
  • CD/DVD drive: you’ll probably be installing Windows from an optical disc, but new Macs no longer come with an internal disc drive. If your Mac doesn’t have a slot for CDs and DVDs, you’ll need something like the Apple USB SuperDrive.
  • Licensed copies of all software: an Office 365 subscription is a good option if you wish to run Word and the other Office apps on both Mac and Windows. (Office 365 now works quite well on the iPad, too.)

Note that if you want to make a wholesale move from an existing PC to a virtual machine, Parallels can migrate your entire Windows installation, meaning you won’t need a separate Windows licence, installation disc or CD/DVD drive.

Still, the above represents a substantial requirements list. Take a look at what you already have and see whether running a virtual machine is going to be the right choice for you. In some cases, it will work out better to accept the cons of running a cheap, second-hand PC.

A note about anti-virus software

When Mac users think about installing Windows, they often wonder whether they need to install anti-virus software on their virtual copy of Windows. Strictly speaking, the answer is yes: you’ll be running a fully functional version of Windows that will have access to the internet, and therefore it’s possible for it to be infected in just the same way that a real PC might be. However, there are some mitigating circumstances that might change your thinking on this topic:

  • Your use of the internet inside the virtual machine is likely to be very limited. Do you think you’re likely to use an email program inside Windows, for example, when you already have access to email on your host Mac? Will you be browsing the web inside Windows? Wouldn’t you just use Safari or Chrome on your host Mac, as usual?
  • Virtual machines don’t always need access to the internet. You could disable internet access inside the virtual machine, leaving Windows offline and therefore protected from almost all threats. Even in this state, you could still share your Mac’s files with your Windows installation and vice versa.
  • Virtual machines allow you to take snapshots of your system, so any unforeseen problems (e.g. a virus or worm affecting your installation) can easily be rectified by rolling back to a previous snapshot. You can also delete your entire Windows installation without it affecting your Mac, and then reinstall. This is easier to do with a virtual machine than it is with a real PC.

But I just want to use PerfectIt!

All this information might appear complicated and scary if all you want to do is use the PerfectIt add-in for Word on your Mac. If the above methods aren’t for you, there might yet be hope …

Intelligent Editing, the makers of PerfectIt, intend to release a cloud-based version of the software in late 2016. When this happens, PerfectIt will be able to run on any system, including your Mac. No firm release information is available at this time, but I’ll be keeping a keen eye on developments and will update SfEP members when I know more.

A note about Wine

The more technically minded readers, particularly those familiar with Linux, will probably be wondering why I’ve neglected to mention Wine. This software provides another route for Mac users to run Windows software, but I’ve never had a good experience with it and therefore wouldn’t recommend it. Still, it might be worth a go if the other options above aren’t right for you.

What do you think?

If you’re a Mac user who sometimes uses Windows, which method suits you best and why? Post a comment below to let us know.

John EspirianJohn Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.

As a freelance technical writer, John specialises in producing online help content that’s actually helpful.

How to customise PerfectIt to check your house style

By Daniel Heuman

PerfectItBuilding customised style sheets in PerfectIt helps make sure that all documents you work on reflect your or your client’s preferences for spelling, hyphenation, capitalisation, italics, and other house style choices. There are two ways to build preferences into a PerfectIt style sheet. You can either:

  • Commission Intelligent Editing to prepare the style sheet for you. For government departments, NGOs, and Fortune 500 companies, this is the best way to develop the most comprehensive style sheet possible.
  • Prepare the style sheet yourself. For freelancers and small companies, this lets you put together your own style sheet that is customised to your needs without any additional cost.

To have a style sheet prepared for you, you can get a quote from Intelligent Editing. This article is for people who want to prepare their own style sheet. It guides you through ten short videos that, in less than one hour, will teach you how to prepare your style sheet.

Do I need to customise PerfectIt?

PerfectIt doesn’t need any kind of customisation. You can use it to check consistency without altering any settings. Just run it, click ‘Start’, and the interface guides you through the rest. Most people find that’s all they need, without any customisation. If you haven’t ever used PerfectIt, start with the free trial, which you can download here.

PerfectIt also comes with a number of built-in styles, including European Union, Australian Government, World Health Organization, and United Nations styles. If you’re using those (or if you just want to check UK, US, Canadian, or Australian spelling), you can use the built-in styles without any customisation. Just select the style that you want before you press ‘Start’. You only need to customise PerfectIt if you want it to check your specific house style.

Creating a new style

If you’ve decided that you do want to customise PerfectIt and are ready to learn more, the first thing to do is to add a new style. This video explains how:

You can have one style sheet for every style manual (or client) that you work with. So repeat those steps for every style sheet that you want to create.

Customising settings

When you’ve created a new style sheet, you can edit it in PerfectIt’s style sheet editor. This video looks at the ‘Settings’ tab and shows how to check your preferences for lists, compounds, and headings. For example, you can set PerfectIt to enforce punctuation at the end of a bulleted list or to control title case in headings:

The next video shows how to use the settings for numbers in sentences and Oxford (serial) commas. You can turn Oxford commas off or on, and you can choose whether numbers in sentences should be spelled out or presented in numerals. In addition, it shows how to set a number of style points such as thousand separators and non-breaking spaces in measurements and dates:

Search and replace

You can modify PerfectIt’s tests by adding particular words that PerfectIt should find. In addition, you can choose words or phrases that PerfectIt should suggest as fixes. To see this, go to the ‘Always Find’ tab in PerfectIt’s style sheet editor. Each test within that tab is a little different. This video shows how to add searches to the tests of hyphenation, dashes, accents, and phrases in capitals:

The next video looks at PerfectIt’s different tests of spelling as well as the test of phrases to consider:

The final video on the ‘Always Find’ tab covers the test of comments that are accidentally left in the text and the test of abbreviations that appear in two forms. Then there is a more advanced tip on adding exceptions:

Additional tests

PerfectIt’s style sheet editor has tabs for PerfectIt’s tests of italics, prefixes, and superscripts and subscripts. This video covers all three, and shows how, in addition to switching the settings, you can add additional words/phrases to each test:

If you’re not familiar with wildcard searches in Word, it’s worth reading up on those before watching the next video. Two great sources to look at are Jack Lyon’s Advanced Find and Replace for Microsoft Word (an especially good resource for beginners) and Graham Mayor’s article on Finding and Replacing Characters Using Wildcards (a useful reminder for users who are already familiar with the concepts of wildcard search).

For those who are comfortable with wildcards, this video shows how you can include them in a PerfectIt style sheet:

An even easier way

The videos above explain all of the features in PerfectIt’s style sheet editor. However, if you’re concerned about the time involved in entering all the preferences in your style manual, there is a way to complete the task gradually. And it’s really easy. This video shows how you can amend a style sheet as you work without ever opening up PerfectIt’s style sheet editor:

Sharing styles

The great thing about style sheets is that it only takes one person to prepare them. After that, you can share the style with anyone at your organisation. This video shows how to share your style:

Slow and steady…

If you have spare time to set aside to prepare a style sheet, that’s fantastic. But that’s a luxury that many people don’t have. So what we recommend is to start with an existing style and amend that (as shown in the first video above). Then go through and complete the preferences in the ‘Settings’ tab (the second and third videos). Then stop and just do a few minutes per day after that. Adding to styles incrementally as you work is easy (the ninth video). And if you add just two or three items to a style sheet with each document you check, then you’ll quickly have a style sheet that saves time and improves checking for everyone at your organisation. And it doesn’t cost a penny extra!

Daniel HeumanDaniel Heuman is the Founder and CEO of Intelligent Editing as well as the developer of PerfectIt.

 

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

Reference editing solutions for copy-editors

This is a guest post by Inera, who are hosting a workshop on their online reference editing tool Edifix at the SfEP/SI conference.

We’ve all been there. Eager to get started on a new project, you open the first document only to find yourself staring at a long list of poorly prepared references. You are now charged with the task of scrubbing the reference items clean so that they conform to a style (Chicago, AMA, etc.), and you begrudgingly come to terms with the inevitable long days and nights of work ahead before you even begin working on the text itself. Fingers crossed that the reference editing will go smoothly, you pull out the required style manual, take a deep breath, hunker down, and get to work.

Although many of us use time-saving macros to programmatically and quickly address some of the more routine reference editing tasks (see, e.g., the helpful tools offered by Editorium), it doesn’t take long to do some simple maths and come to the conclusion that even at your best, you will perhaps spend more time on reference editing than anything else pertaining to the manuscript. Further to this, if you are being paid a flat fee for the project, your hourly rate decreases dramatically the more time you spend on reference editing. You may find yourself wondering: ‘Aren’t my skills and attention better spent on polishing the author’s writing and correcting for grammar, spelling, and usage errors?’ The answer is yes, yes they are.

Fortunately, there is an online reference editing tool that successfully takes on the task of editing references – whatever their condition. Edifix, a cloud-based solution from Inera Inc., identifies the elements of a reference entry of any style, edits references to conform to the conventions of a selected editorial style, and corrects references with data retrieved from PubMed and CrossRef, automatically inserting PubMed IDs and CrossRef DOIs in the process.

The challenge of efficiently and accurately copy-editing a reference list or bibliography is not a new problem. For years both freelance and in-house copy-editors and managers have struggled with how best to structure a workflow that either reduces or removes entirely the process of reference editing from the copy-editor’s list of tasks. Various (good) online reference authoring tools are on the market (e.g., EasyBib and BibMe), and these have been reviewed on editorial blogs such as Copyediting. But these tools are only useful for the editor who is compiling a bibliography or reference list, and the results still need to be carefully reviewed and copy-edited. Further, these tools do not assist a copy-editor who needs to clean up an untidy reference list or, heaven forbid, transform references that were authored in one editorial style to another. Although there are some tools that assist in editing text content (see, e.g., PerfectIt), none address references/bibliographies.

Edifix allows you to simply copy and paste your unedited references into a web form, and with the click of your mouse retrieve those same references, edited to the style of your choice. The team responsible for Edifix includes not only software developers but also editors with decades of professional and freelance experience. The Edifix tools they’ve created are quick and user friendly, and the results not only save you time but also improve the accuracy of the reference data and your copy-edit.

Achieving accuracy in reference lists and bibliographies is no small challenge. For example, one study published in 2004 sampled three anatomy journals and found that of the references studied 27% contained errors, and of those 38% were major errors. By collecting PubMed and CrossRef data on the references processed, Edifix is able to quickly identify and correct errors in the source that may have been inadvertently inserted by the author.

Edifix gives you multiple options for viewing the results, which include a tracked layout so you can see exactly what Edifix corrected. Results can then be copied and pasted back into your Word document, or they can be exported to JATS XML or converted to RIS for integration with popular reference managers (such as EndNote).

Edifix

Dr Robin Dunford, of Inera Inc., will host an Edifix workshop on Saturday 5 September, at the SfEP/SI first joint conference. Be sure to sit in on this session to see how Edifix can help you save time and increase both your editing accuracy and bottom line! Also, join us on the SfEP Twitter feed to discuss your approach to editing bibliographies:

  1. Do your clients require that you perform fact checking to ensure the accuracy of reference/bibliography entries?
  2. What are the most time-consuming and challenging tasks related to reference/bibliography editing that you encounter in your daily work?
  3. What solutions have you developed or explored to ease the burdens of editing bibliographies?

Since 1992 Inera’s seasoned team of publishing and software professionals have pooled a unique set of skills to bring transformational change to the publishing industry. We develop and license the eXtyles family of Word-based editorial and XML tools, and the new Edifix online bibliographic reference solution. Learn more at: www.inera.com | www.edifix.com | @eXtyles | @edifix.

If you would like to join the discussion on editing bibliographies (in response to the questions above), please use the conference hashtag (#sisfep15) and tag @edifix. 

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

Writing out web addresses

Here’s a question I’ve seen a few times of late: when writing out a web address, must we include the whole address or is it safe to omit part of it?

Some house styles set out guidelines for writing web addresses. One would think, then, that the practice is simply a matter of style. In fact, it mostly is – but not always.

So that we know the names of the components that make up a web address, let’s take a look at an annotated example:

Components of a web address

Keeping with protocol

Web addresses begin with a ‘protocol’, the most common being http:// and https://.

From the technical point of view, the protocol isn’t usually required when quoting web addresses. To use the SfEP’s own website as an example, all modern browsers will treat the following addresses as equivalent:

When it comes to being consistent, we wouldn’t usually want both styles of web address to appear in the same piece of work.

The complications tend to come about when we start introducing addresses with other protocols to the same document. For example, if we wanted to make specific reference to a secure website, it would be correct to indicate this by including the protocol in the address, such as:

The intelligent reader will see the protocol and immediately understand that the website is secure, regardless of any other information about the site in the text.

Almost every website that has a secure area will also have rules that discreetly redirect users from the standard protocol (http://) to the secure protocol (https://). To demonstrate this, one can visit the following address:

Now, because a protocol hasn’t been included in the example above, the browser will try to take the user to the http:// version of the site (this is the default behaviour of all web browsers). Seeing that action, the server running the website will automatically and immediately redirect the user to the https:// version.

In short, this means that, even for secure websites, a protocol isn’t usually required in the address. I write ‘usually’ because there are some rare cases where web servers may display the wrong page if the secure protocol is not specified.

In cases where any protocols are included so as to give the reader a cue, it stands to reason that all other web addresses in the same document should also include protocols, on grounds of consistency.

In a document where standard web addresses are the only ones used (i.e., http:// and nothing else), it seems unnecessary to include the protocol. Omitting the protocol is both consistent and technically correct.

Handling new domain names

One common reservation with omitting protocols is when it comes to the newer domain suffixes, many of which most readers may not have heard of. Here are some examples:

If you saw these in running text, would you know that they were web addresses? Or might you think they were the ends and beginnings of unspaced sentences? The caveat here is that if unusual or novel addresses are used in a document, they might be worth qualifying with a protocol – and in turn that would require every other address in the document to include a protocol, too (on the assumption that we’re going to be rigid about consistency).

The cautious editor could use this argument to recommend that protocols be included on all addresses, to prevent a major rekeying effort in the event that some novel address is later added to a work that had previously contained only run-of-the-mill addresses. You’d have to make a decision about whether this would be too cautious an approach. For what it’s worth, I’ve been omitting protocols for quite a while now, having previously been a staunch supporter of mandatory inclusion.

Omitting the ‘www.’ part of an address

Some people don’t know that it’s usually possible to omit the ‘www.’ part of a web address and still be able to retrieve the website. This part of the web address is known as the ‘subdomain’. Most web servers are set up so that the domain (the key part of the address) and the ‘www.’ subdomain each allow access to the website. Here is an example:

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to omit what would otherwise be a redundant ‘www.’ from the address. Here are some examples:

Trailing slashes

A trailing slash is the forward slash character (/) sometimes added to the end of a web address. This should be added only to the end of a domain name or a folder name in the address. Here are some examples:

  • www.example.com/ – correct
  • www.example.com/folder/ – correct
  • www.example.com/folder/file.html/ – incorrect

One might wonder why a trailing slash would ever be added to a web address, given that the website ought to be displayed just as well without it. The answer is that the appropriate use of the trailing slash eliminates one unnecessary request from your computer to the server, thereby reducing the load on the server. You might not notice any positive effect, but it’s still a good practice to adopt: very busy servers will run better if their load is lightened in any way.

Web addresses followed by punctuation

A web address directly followed by any punctuation mark has the potential to confuse, because some readers may incorrectly interpret the punctuation mark as being part of the address. Word processors and email programs can sometimes be guilty of this mistake, turning an otherwise correct address into a link that doesn’t work when clicked. Thankfully, this is less of an issue than it once was.

It’s quite easy to fall foul of the ‘address plus punctuation’ problem when copying and pasting an address. It’s therefore sensible to avoid directly following an address with a punctuation mark; however, if the context is clear or the readership is web savvy, there may be no need to reword the text.

In my opinion, the omission of a terminal punctuation mark for the sake of clarity is preferable to the occasional practice of adding a space between the address and the punctuation mark. As usual, we should be consistent in the handling of all such matters.

Conclusion

If your client’s style guide sets out preferences for how to write web addresses, you should of course follow those preferences. But be mindful of any newer types of address that might confuse readers, and check that all addresses do indeed work as written.

If you have no style guide from which to work, remember that it’s perfectly fine to use the shortest possible address that will result in the desired website being loaded correctly.

John EspirianJohn Espirian (@espirian) is the SfEP’s internet director and principal forum administrator.

As a freelance technical writer, John specialises in producing online help content that’s actually helpful.

 

Proofread by SfEP Advanced Professional Member Etty Payne.

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