Category Archives: Working practices

National Freelancers Day 2019

By Abi Saffrey

Over the past five years, IPSE has hosted the ever-expanding National Freelancers Day. A friend joined the IPSE board last year and it prompted me to find out more, and I then bought an early bird ticket to this year’s event (for all of £20). The event was packed with sessions sorted into four streams: Winning Work, Digital, Health & Wellbeing and Finance. The day started with a keynote speech by Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots, a diverse community of ‘no collar professionals’. No collar professionals are freelancers, or job hoppers, with generally creative-led skills, motivated by purpose. The Dots allows those people to detail projects they have worked on, and credit other contributors – a shift away from the linear career approach of CVs and LinkedIn. The key points I took away from those 45 minutes with Pip were:

  • Free is not always a dirty word.
  • Think laterally: tech and digital pay.
  • You are as good as the networks you build.
  • Work hard and be nice to people: use interpersonal skills and have human relationships.
  • You are the average of the five people you hang out with the most.

Winning work

Following Pip’s keynote, I concentrated on sessions in the Winning Work stream, including one on collaborative working by Hela Wozniak-Kay (share your knowledge, charge for your expertise), a panel discussion with five young entrepreneurs about how to succeed as a freelancer, Erica Wolfe-Murray’s flash talk on understanding your difference (made even faster by the previous speaker overrunning by 10 minutes – each flash talk was due to be 15 minutes long) and Carl Reader’s full-on Q&A session about ‘Building brand YOU’. The key themes in these sessions were:

  • social media, in particular Instagram, and the importance of engaging with followers and commenters
  • coworking spaces, great for networking
  • people do business with people – human to human
  • passion for what you do and how you do it.

Wear clothes

The day finished with another keynote speaker, this time Adam Kay, author of This is Going to Hurt. Adam talked (and made us laugh) about his shift from junior doctor to freelance writer and comedian, and offered his key advice for freelancers:

  • Wear clothes.
  • Wear shoes.
  • Food is fuel, not a distraction.
  • Don’t work on a sofa.
  • Say ‘no’.
  • Do things you’re passionate about even if it doesn’t make you money.

As well as over 20 presentations, workshops and panel discussions, there were also opportunities to talk to companies specialising in insurance, mortgages and bank accounts for freelancers – and to get a free headshot from The Headshot Guy or be drawn by Emmeline Pidgen. I got the photo (see my bio below), but was too slow to sign up for an exclusive original portrait.

Being the only editor

It was a different experience to a publishing or editing networking and professional development event: the sheer number of people meant fewer in-depth conversations, the variety of skills and industries meant a different range of ‘in jokes’, and some of the sessions I attended were city-centric (with limited awareness of how working life in rural areas or small towns is different). The goody bag wasn’t overflowing with pens but did include a fish-eye lens to clip over my phone’s camera lens (which of course will now be used for all photos until I sit on/drop/let the children near it).

I spent most of the day out of my comfort zone, but encountered inspiring people and came home with some ideas about refreshing my business and some ideas about what I don’t want to do. I will go again next year, with an updated elevator pitch and a shorter description on my name badge.

Abi Saffrey is an editorial project manager, copy-editor, proofreader, cat minion, tea drinker, Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, sunflower grower and walker. She is author of the recently published Editorial Project Management guide and co-author of the SfEP’s Editorial Project Management course. Connect with her on LinkedIn; you can follow her on Twitter too but be prepared for cat pictures and ranting.

 


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

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

Customer service: it’s all about imagination

By Sue Littleford

Towards the end of April, Cathy Tingle wrote an excellent post here on customer service. A bit of chat on the SfEP forums resulted in Cathy suggesting I write a follow-up, so here we are!

True story: I recently had to chase a client for payment. The due date was missed, so I emailed. I was told the same day that the project manager had emailed their manager and accountant to find out what was going on and to chase payment. Six days later I email again. That email is ignored. I wait five more days and email a third time, adding ‘3rd reminder’ to the subject line.
The manager hadn’t authorised my payment before going on a business trip to China, and his staff were having difficulty reaching him. Someone else in the company would now be responsible for pursuing this. Sorry. And that was it. I wasn’t told how long it would be before the manager was back in the UK, or at least in a country where they could expect to reach him. I wasn’t told how soon after the payment was authorised that I could expect the money to land in my bank account. It had taken nearly two weeks to get this far, which, as far as customer service goes, is pretty sucky (happy ending – I was paid three days later).

I’ve worked in customer service, one way or another, since I was 14 (and that’s a loooong time). I’ve handled complaints from the public, from colleagues, from MPs. I’ve held senior customer-facing posts in a major government department, and in the private sector. I’ve handled complaints face-to-face over a counter, in writing, by phone, in large meetings and by parliamentary question. And here’s what I’ve learned.

In a nutshell, good customer service comes down to an active imagination. Imagine – if I were the customer, what would I want? And then do that.

Easy? It can be, although some customers are just going to be a nightmare – keep those antennae attuned to your red flags and hope you sidestep all such folks. Assuming you’ve got a regular person for your customer, here are a few elements, unpacked.

1. Manage customer expectation

This is something my client signally failed to do. What does this mean? Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Remember Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child? Set out your who, how, what, why, when and where. That should be in your contract, and it should be in your email or phone communication. Don’t be above issuing a gentle reminder on due dates, both yours and theirs, for things like sending out and getting back author queries. Talk to your client!

2. Make sure you’re on the same page as your client

Ensure they understand precisely what they’re paying for – what you won’t do as well as what you will. Make sure they understand how well you will do the work, when you’ll do it by, and how many rounds of editing that can involve for the price. Novice indie clients may need a lot more hand-holding with regard to the terminology of editing – we’ve all had people say they want a proofread when they need a developmental edit. On the other hand, publisher clients will occasionally call things by weird names. If in doubt, ask. Ensure you understand precisely what you’re being paid for.

3. Under promise and over deliver

But don’t be too far out of whack or your customer will think you’re either taking the mickey or are really, really bad at estimating.

Well, my client had managed to under promise by one definition, but that’s not what I mean. If they’d said ‘We’re so sorry about that; there was an internal breakdown in communication. But you’ll be paid by next Thursday’ and then paid me on Tuesday, that’s under promising and over delivering. There’s another aspect of this I’d like to sound a dire warning about: I just wish we could ban editorial folks from claiming to ‘perfect’ text. Some people even have it in their business name! With so much of English being subjective, how can you ever deliver perfection? Your perfect may not be your client’s perfect. But with some folks persisting in waving their ‘perfection’ banner, it makes clients think you’ve messed up even when you really, really haven’t.

If you do these three things, and the quality of your work is up to snuff, then you’re unlikely to get caught up in a complaint. But it can happen – maybe you messed up, maybe your client did (inaccurate or ambiguous brief, anyone?). Either way, your client isn’t happy with you or your work. What next?

1. Don’t ignore the complaint

Here be dragons. Pretending the complaint didn’t happen is truly awful customer service, and quite foolish since social media happened. Get a quick holding reply out – apologise without accepting responsibility (initially). ‘I’m so sorry to hear this. Let me take a look at it and get back to you. I hope to be able to do that [by when].’ That gives you time to check the brief/contract/your files and work out how valid the complaint is. If it is down to you, even in part, you’ll say so and apologise properly soon enough. A little tip – if the complaint comes in while you’re between jobs, and you have acres of time right now, still do the holding reply. Don’t rush your analysis of the complaint, and don’t rush your response. Complaints are emotional things, whether you’re in the right or in the wrong. Give yourself time to calm down.

2. Don’t reference satisfied customers as the norm

NEVER tell a customer that all your other customers are perfectly satisfied, even if it’s true, because if you’ve messed up for that client, your failure rate is 100% as far as they’re concerned. I’ve had this happen to me, and it just got my dander up. You don’t want to rile an already annoyed client. Don’t compare them with your other, perfectly content, customers – it can be read as a form of victim-blaming.

3. Put a lot of effort into responding to complaints

Make sure you’ve addressed each issue the customer has raised, even if you think it’s utter garbage; address each issue in full, anticipating as many rebuttals as you can; check and recheck and rerecheck your reply before sending it out. Again, use your imagination – put yourself in your customer’s position and craft the kind of response you’d want to receive; keep your zingers to yourself and don’t reply until you are perfectly calm. If you fail to do any of this, I can pretty much guarantee that the correspondence will continue to suck time out of your life, complaints will get escalated, perhaps to the SfEP complaints panel, and the complainant will tell all their friends that you are useless. Or they’ll use social media to tell the world that you’re useless.

4. Keep full records of the complaint and your response

Some complainants simply don’t know when to let something go, so you’ll want to have everything at your fingertips should they re-erupt. If your red-flag-o-meter didn’t go off and you have got a nightmare client, remember some people nurse their grudges and are quite happy to keep the complaint going as long as they can. That is taking up your working time, or your private time. Either way, the job is now earning you less and less per hour.

5. Know when enough’s enough

Some clients simply don’t know when to let go. If you’ve responded in detail to their complaint, and you consider you weren’t at fault, but the client keeps coming back, perhaps demanding a refund you know isn’t justified, there’ll come a time when you simply have to tell the client that you won’t engage in any further correspondence. Similarly, if you realise you were at fault, and you’ve rectified your mistake and/or made a partial refund, you may have a client who decides they want your work free of charge and keep nagging for a total refund. You’ll have to decide for yourself when the time has come to put an end to the exchanges. Nowadays, that does involve the risk of being attacked on social media, sadly, but you can’t be held hostage. This is why it’s more important than ever to ensure you and your client understand each other, and understand what each side’s responsibilities are in your transaction.


We’re all human, which means we all make mistakes. It’s how we deal with those mistakes that spells out the quality of our customer service. And how we avoid them in the first place.

I’ll finish up with a favourite quote from Henry Ford, who knew a thing or two about customer service. When checking the exact wording, I was delighted to see it included the I-word!

‘The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.’

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has been a freelance copy-editor since 2007, working mostly on postgraduate social sciences textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter from time to time.

 


The SfEP upholds editorial excellence through high standards; all its members sign up to the Code of Practice.


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

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

 

 

 

You are not alone: five tips for co-working

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

People are often amazed when I tell them that I work alongside my husband in our home office. ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that,’ they say, ‘We’d chat/argue/get in each other’s way.’ Well, yes, sometimes that does happen – but it also happens with colleagues in a formal office environment, and of course with families at home. But we’re more likely to just get on with what we’re paid to do, comfortable in each other’s company.

Freelancers like me, and home-based employees like my husband, are at risk of loneliness and isolation, even when they’re unsociable introverts like us. Online support, such as via the SfEP forums, accountability groups and social media, is invaluable, but is no replacement for working alongside an actual human being. Of course, pets can provide vital stress relief (and an excuse to get up occasionally) but my feline assistant Pixel has never offered to make me a cup of coffee or provided IT advice.

Your office mate doesn’t have to be another editor. My husband is a computer programmer and I have no idea what he does on a day-to-day basis other than video-conferencing his colleagues about Jenkins testing and bike-shedding and protocol buffers (software jargon is a whole other blog post), which is fine by me, as I’m not distracted from my own muttering.

Janet MacMillan, both an editor in her own right and a member of the collective Editing Globally, co-works reasonably frequently, either with one of her Editing Globally colleagues or with a local SfEP pal. She says: ‘Co-working with an Editing Globally colleague can be particularly useful, both if we are working on different parts of a large project or if we need to discuss future work or marketing. But whoever I am co-working with, it’s nice to be able to ask questions of a trusted colleague.’ I do that too – sometimes running tricky text or an ambiguous comment past my husband to find out how an uninformed reader may react.

Clearly, however, you need to set ground rules for a shared understanding of a successful working environment. These are my top tips, drawn from my own, my husband’s and Janet’s experience – of course, you may work best under different conditions, so the key is to have the confidence to express your own preferences and the self-awareness to recognise whether your chosen co-worker shares them.

1. Make sure you (mostly) get on with your office mate

I get on with my husband because, well, he’s my husband, but your office mate doesn’t have to be your life partner. It could be a friend or ex-colleague – the key is that you feel comfortable spending many hours a day with them, and that they won’t be offended if you ask them to make phone calls in another room or stop randomly reading out snippets from Reddit. In practice, we don’t interact that much – we are working, after all – and my husband says he couldn’t share a space with an extrovert who gains energy from talking all the time. If you’re a nose-picker, knuckle-cracker or serial swearer, is your co-worker likely to accept your habits or nurture a silent resentment?

2. Ensure you can work comfortably in the same space

WJulia's officee work in a converted garage attached to our house. Our desk is a wooden kitchen worktop that lines one wall, facing three large windows. It’s a pleasant environment, when it’s clean. We’re not the tidiest office mates – his desk is covered in glasses wipes, receipts and dirty mugs, while mine is piled with scrap proofs and paperwork – but we’re relaxed enough not to police each other’s desk spaces. Janet is motivated to improve her work space by the prospect of visitors, saying, ‘it does have the added benefit of making me tidy up – and occasionally clean up – my house!’

My husband and I have the same differences over heating that I remember from working with others during in-house jobs. He’s always hot and I’m always cold but we dress accordingly, as we would in a formal office. I have an electric foot-warmer and fingerless gloves for my Reynaud’s syndrome, while he wears shorts all year round.

3. Agree on the level of noise you can tolerate

I’m not the sort of editor who has to work in utter silence, which is just as well when my husband spends the majority of his time on Skype. We use headphones for video conferences, and his side of the conversation tends to wash over me, as I usually don’t understand it. When we’re not talking to people online, we listen to our shared 85-hour Spotify playlist. We tolerate each other’s song choices, and may even sing a little. It fosters a sense of companionship and shared experience. But when we want quiet, we ask for it. If you can’t tolerate any background noise, you might not want an office mate who can only work to the greatest hits of Ed Sheeran. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t want that office mate either.

4. Decide whether you’ll spend breaks together

We both have to make a conscious effort to take a lunch break. We might walk round the block, or to Lidl; sometimes we’ll eat lunch at the dining table. But if the other person has a deadline or just doesn’t feel like stopping, we respect that and eat or exercise separately. We’ve also invested in a coffee machine and make each other drinks. Janet sees this aspect as a major benefit, saying, ‘It’s fun to have someone to share the very important tea-making with!’

5. Keep arrangements flexible

My husband and I have a fairly formal routine – he’s contracted to work from 9 to 5, so I tend to do so as well. However, sometimes he has to travel to the US, and I quite enjoy the novelty of working alone for a week or so. As well as co-working at her house, Janet has also co-worked with colleagues in cafés, which she says can be an occasional pleasant change of scenery. Other people may temporarily hire a serviced office in a town or industrial estate to cover a short-term group project. If you’ve never worked with your proposed colleague before, it’s a good idea to agree to try it for a few days before committing yourselves – and being honest and receptive about your experience.

So whether you want to test the waters or make it a permanent arrangement, I’d recommend finding your perfect partner and giving it a go. As Janet says, ‘Co-working is both a pleasure and an aid to concentration and buckling down to work.’ After all, it’s the small pleasures of being brought a coffee or sharing a laugh that can change a routine working day to a productive one.

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel. Check out her micro book reviews on Ju’s Reviews. If you’re sharing an office with her, she likes her coffee strong.

 


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

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

Customer service: what does it mean for editing professionals?

By Cathy Tingle

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

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

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

Photo by Carli Jeen on Unsplash

Which customer service principles apply?

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at each in turn.

Competence, knowledge and professionalism

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

Being easy to do business with

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

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

Keeping promises

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

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

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

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

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Dealing with complaints

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

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

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

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

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

Being timely and responsive

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

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

The central relationship

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

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

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

 

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

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Linguistic prejudice: towards more inclusive editing and proofreading practices

By Erin Carrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Manchester Metropolitan University logo

 

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

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

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

By Melanie Thompson

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

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

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

Spinning plates

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

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

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

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

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

Unhappy families

Drawing of a person with a broken arm in a sling

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

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

Or do you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have mine pinned on my kitchen noticeboard.

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

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

Until then, remember:

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

Further reading

 

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

All illustrations © Paul Dyett 2018

 

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

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

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

Editing across time zones

By Janet MacMillan

Earth from space, one half in sunlight, one in darkness

There’s no doubt now that editing is a global profession. Not only are there a significant number of international members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), an even greater number of us have clients all over the world.

Editing in a variety of Englishes – for example, British, Canadian, American, Australian, New Zealand – doesn’t faze many of us these days. Our love of language and communication, to say nothing of the ability to travel widely, be it virtually in online groups (which include the SfEP’s active forums) or in real life, has led a large number of us to embrace the world as global editors.

Getting to grips with time zones

Time zones are often the international editor’s best friend, once the editor does the mental gymnastics to figure out what time 9am in Singapore (or anywhere else around the world) is when they are in Toronto (which is my hometown and where I spend a good deal of my time). Can the editor in Toronto, who receives a 3,000-word document for an international organisation at 5pm local time, meet the deadline of 9am the next morning in Singapore? Can the editor in Hampshire, who gets a request at 9pm to edit a 6,000-word document with a deadline of 9pm Pacific Time that day, meet the deadline? And can the editor in Shanghai who wakes up to a request to edit a 10,000-word document by 10am Eastern Time that day take on the job?

The answer for all three editors is yes. A resounding yes. The editor in Toronto will work out that 9am the next day in Singapore is actually 9pm that day for them, so with four hours in hand, the job can be done, delivered to the client, leaving time for dinner and a glass of wine once the job is done.

Four clocks on a wall: one showing the time in London, one New York, one Tokyo and one Moscow

As to the editor in Shanghai, they’re laughing. They have so much time in hand – at least 14 hours, depending on when they check their emails in the morning – they can join their friend for coffee that morning, then do the edit, returning it to their client so it’s there hours in advance.

At first glance, the editor in Hampshire seems to have a problem. They know that the eight-hour time difference means they’d have to get the job done by 5am GMT, which would mean more than burning the midnight oil. And they’ve already enjoyed dinner and a drink. But that editor’s reality is that all is far from lost. They belong to an international collective of editors who are, in effect, able to provide a seamless service pretty well around the clock; and the request has come from a very regular client that all of their colleagues – wherever they are located – can and do undertake work for. So, they check that one of their colleagues in Toronto can fit in the work; and as the Toronto editor has eight hours to do the job, all is well. Happy client, happy editorial professionals. What’s not to like?!

The reader doesn’t need to be Einstein to work out that in this tale, I’m the editor in Toronto (though it could just as easily be either of the other two collective members who are in Toronto). With collective members in various time zones, we’re able to take on work with short timelines, and often that work is a largish document that arrives late in the day, wherever the editor is.

Global colleagues and opportunities

Sometimes people think time zones make working for global organisations difficult. While I suppose for some it might, for those who are up for a challenge, and who like a huge variety of work from an equally huge array of clients, time zones are wonderful. And clients can often take advantage of time zones to have urgent, time-sensitive documents efficiently edited (or proofread), especially when editorial professionals work in a team.

Not all that long ago, my colleagues and I were asked to proof-edit a 35,000-word document for a global professional services firm. The request came in at 5pm Toronto time (Eastern Time), with a deadline of 8am Eastern Time the next day. A daunting prospect, but we knew it could be done. One of us set to a couple of hours later, doing certain tasks on the document, then downed tools before their head was drooping, and a colleague in Aberdeen took over, finished the document and returned it with a bit of time to spare. Again, happy client, happy editorial professionals. And time zones were our friend, enabling us to work efficiently and effectively.

However, I do need to admit that working across all the time zones in the world is not for the faint of heart, but it is hugely interesting and equally invigorating. Getting to know clients and cultures and different ways of doing things around the world is a joy. It does require very efficient methods of working, a high degree of flexibility and, preferably, a team of trusted colleagues, be those colleagues a more formal grouping, as my colleagues and I are, or a more informal, ad hoc arrangement.

 

Janet MacMillanJanet MacMillan is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP specialising in law, international development, politics and all the social sciences, who, along with her Editing Globally colleagues, provides editorial services to everyone, everywhere. Following a successful career as a lawyer, mostly in the UK and Europe, Janet’s main base is now in Toronto with her Best Dog in the World, but she spends periods of time each year in rural Suffolk. Janet is the coordinator of the SfEP Cloud Club (a monthly in-real-time ‘local’ group for international members, and others), a co-coordinator of the lively and expanding Toronto SfEP group, and attends both the Norfolk and Cambridge SfEP groups when she can. She likes time zones, and this article was written while she crossed five of them.

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Linguistic prejudice: 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.

Systematising my working life

By Sue Browning

In all aspects of my life, I’m a great fan of systems that help me keep on top of stuff, as I find having a system frees my mind and memory for more important things. This applies to my work life too, of course; I always like to know where I am with project scheduling, prioritising work, timing, invoicing and record-keeping, and over the years I’ve explored a lot of tools for doing all these things. And, for me, all these systems have to be on the computer, as my handwriting has a half-life of approximately two hours.

Open diaryFor a long time, I used a mind map to keep a record of all my clients and projects, a Gantt chart to visualise my schedule, and a to-do list+time tracking program to keep track of what I have to do and by when and to record time spent, and I had a semi-automated system to generate invoices in Excel, saving them as pdfs to send to my clients. I’m also a demon for data, so I have 14 years’ worth of detailed information on income, clients, projects and timings, all in a set of interlinked spreadsheets, which also need to be kept in order.

However, I’m also a fan of not spending more time on admin than necessary, and none of these individual programs talked to any of the others, so there was always a certain amount of tedious (and error-prone) copying from one to another. I was therefore on the lookout for a way to automate more and to streamline my systems. I reviewed a lot of different software programs and online apps and found them too inflexible, too focused on the mechanics of invoicing, which is actually a very small part of my working efficiency. But, more crucially, they all lacked that visual scheduling element I was really looking for.

Then someone in one of the editing groups I frequent mentioned a web-based app called Cushion, and that seemed to fit the bill in that it appeared to provide a very flexible platform for visualising my long-term schedule, planning detailed workloads, tracking the time on each project and generating invoices – all in the same place. The free 30-day trial also reassured me that I could bend it to my will. The developers were also fabulously responsive to my questions, and this convinced me it was worth paying for, so at the start of my new financial year this April, I decided to give it a go.

After an initial time investment inputting client and project details and customising the various options, I have found it very easy to keep track of everything, and I have cut a significant amount of time from my various record-keeping activities.

A view from above

I particularly like the bird’s eye scheduling view as this shows at a glance how busy I am projected to be over the next few months (see the screenshot), so when I am offered a new project I can easily see when (or if) I can fit it in.

Sue's schedule in Cushion

Overview of my next few months’ work. The pale lines are projects I’m waiting to start, and the bright ones with a circle at each end are completed. Bright lines with arrows are ongoing, with the arrow head at ‘today’. Mousing over them pops up brief details and clicking takes me straight to the detailed project information page. The blue block shows the time I intended to take off over Christmas – ha ha!

To help further with organising and planning my work, below this chart is a client/project list that can be ordered in any way (I order it by due date), which I categorise into Active (projects I’m actually working on), Upcoming (where I’ve got the files but haven’t started), Planned (projects that are currently mere glints in their parent’s eyes but we have a target date, so they are lightly pencilled in), and Completed (categorisation is also customisable).

Time tracking

I’ve always kept a track of how long I take on each project, even when I’m not billing by the hour, as it helps in estimating fees, and I can do this easily in the timing area, where I can switch the timer on and off and assign it to a specific project/task. The timer shows green in the browser tab, too, which is a great reminder to switch it off, but the times can be easily edited if I do forget. As well as recording time, I can see how many hours I’ve worked on each project over the day or week, and I can also pull up overview reports according to client, project or time period. One of the fun things I like to do is label my timer with a particular task, so that at the end I can see how long I spent, say, checking references as a proportion of the whole project (typically about third, in case you’re wondering). (And yes, I do have an odd sense of fun.)

Work done – time to invoice

As well as the usual month-long, bill-at-the-end projects, I have a number of clients for whom I edit shortish pieces of work as and when they need them, and I send an itemised invoice at the end of each month. Before, I would track the time in my tracking app, transfer that and the task details to a client-specific spreadsheet, and then at the end of each month, I’d have to copy the details to my invoice. That was fine when I didn’t have many such clients, but now I have nearly a dozen, so my monthly invoicing run had become really quite time-consuming.

Now – at the click of a button – I simply pull the details (date, job name, rate and hours) from the Cushion timer into my invoice, download the pdf and send it to my client by email. (It is possible to send an invoice direct from the app – and reminders too, if you wish – but I don’t use this as it requires recipients to click a link, and some of my clients have automatic systems that need an actual attachment.)

Invoices appear in a list, sortable according to my whim, and they are displayed on a timeline too for a very quick overview (see screenshot).

Screenshot of invoices section of Cushion

My invoice timeline. Those with arrows at the end are awaiting payment, and it’s easy to see when they are due. Mousing over reveals a summary, and there’s a detailed list below. You can tell from this that I have a monthly invoicing round, and most of my clients pay really quickly.

Keeping organised and keeping records

All the data stored in the app can be downloaded as.csv files, openable in Excel, so as well as storing these as a backup, I have adapted my accounts spreadsheet, which records invoices and expenses each month and keeps a running total for the year, to extract the data from those files. And that feeds semi-automatically into that suite of historic spreadsheets I mentioned earlier.

Every Monday I receive an email with a list of outstanding invoices and active projects, which is a great way to start the week. And the system also sends me an email to tell me when an invoice is due.

Apart from the fact that the timeline displays make it very easy to visualise my schedule and workload, the best thing as far as I am concerned is that everything is interlinked, so I can click on a client’s name and it’ll take me to a page that shows me everything about that client – contact details, projects, invoices (paid and outstanding), total income from them this financial year, how long it takes them on average to pay me, and a lot more. All the features are easily edited, and it’s easy to find a way of looking at the data that suits my own way of thinking – helping me feel in control and better able to focus on the things that matter.

Sue Browning After a long and interesting career in speech technology research, Sue Browning turned to editorial work in 2005, finding another way to apply her interest in all things to do with language. Sue specialises in copy-editing linguistics and other humanities and social sciences for publishers and academic authors. When not prowling the halls of academia, she often finds herself walking on alien planets, wielding arcane magic and generally having fun with fantasy. When not editing, she likes to walk and cycle, and grow vegetables. Indoors, she likes reading (of course!) and word puzzles, especially cryptic crosswords.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Working with an assistant: nuts and bolts

By Cathy Tingle

Steel structureIn a recent SfEP blog I talked about the benefits of working with an assistant, which really came down to three things: speed, safety and society. I complete more projects in the limited time I have; I feel that as a team we are more thorough than I could be alone (there really is no substitute for that extra pair of eyes); and, joyous or frustrating, we can chat about the work, which really helps.

So that’s the ‘why’. But how do we work together?

From batphone to batches

Once I get notice that a project is on its way, the first thing I’ll do is contact Helen via the batphone (which is what we call our DocEditor WhatsApp group). This is to book her time – I can fill her in on the details later.

Then I will look at the manuscript. This might involve a lie-of-the-land review (everyone does this differently but I do mine with the help of PerfectIt) or, because this is the way our biggest client works, I’ll edit a sample chapter to kick off the process. This gives me a sense of the issues so I can brief Helen, and it also means that she can see how I’ve approached things in the sample.
My brief can be anything from a short email to a longer Word document, but it has become snappier over the years as Helen has got to know what I’m after. What I should do is set up a version of a style sheet which not only contains information about the manuscript but also incorporates tick boxes for tasks. One fine day (perhaps when our respective kids have gone off to college) that may happen.

Then it’s over to Helen for a few days. Sometimes I get the project back in one go, but more often she sends it back in batches for me to start while she’s still working on it.

Sharing out tasks

I have asked Helen to undertake various editorial tasks while we’ve worked together, but over time I’ve realised that my needs can be crystallised into one request: ‘Help me focus on the text in front of me.’ To labour the already groaning ‘DocEditor’ extended metaphor that the branding of my business rests on, she’s a bit like a nurse handing me the equipment and information I need to fully concentrate on the presenting patient.

At a recent meeting of the Edinburgh SfEP local group, members talked about the joys of using a second, or even a third, screen so they can review different parts of a document at the same time. In a sense Helen does this job – making visible certain elements from elsewhere in a chapter or a manuscript, or from further afield. She checks:

  • citations against reference lists, to make sure they match;
  • proper nouns in an internet search – that spellings are correct, that any dates tally up, and then that those proper nouns and related facts are completely consistent within the manuscript;
  • weblinks, to make sure they work, and if they can be shortened/neatened in the text;
  • other internal cross-references – that descriptions of other sections or chapters are accurate, and that what’s in the text matches lists of contents, illustrations, abbreviations, cases or glossary terms;
  • that any numbering – of sections, or of illustrations, for example – runs chronologically.

If our clients asked for tagging/coding she could also do that, but there hasn’t been much call recently.

In the past, Helen has:

  • checked if quotations in body text are over the length which requires an indented extract;
  • checked if multiple citations are in chronological/alphabetical order as per house style;
  • changed hyphens to en dashes in number ranges;
  • changed double quotation marks to single (or vice versa);
  • executed basic style amendments – standardised ise/ize/yze endings, for example.

But these are things I can happily do as I review the text page by page, and so they’ve fallen away from her task list.

An obvious task for an assistant would be to format references. This is something that other editorial assistants (for there have been others, at various points) have done for me in the past. However, there’s something about a reference list that keeps you close to the heart of a text so I like to do it myself. And I just have this feeling that it’s not something Helen would enjoy.

TeapotThe nitty gritty

From all this I hope you’ll gather that every editor/assistant relationship is different. There are tasks that you want to keep for yourself, and tasks that you can’t wait to give away. There are particular talents that your assistant will display and that you will want to encourage, and tasks that won’t suit them. However, in terms of the nitty gritty of a project, the following tips should work for most teams editing documents in Word:

  • Always, always get your assistant to track changes, in case of slips of the keyboard or rogue deletions. Happens to the best of us.
  • Ask your assistant to post comments in the text (with Review/New Comment) to alert you to anything. Make sure they always begin a comment with a word that’s easily searchable – Helen addresses notes to me personally and at the end I run a search for ‘Cathy’ (there are precious few other ‘Cathy’s in the books we edit) to catch any strays.
  • It helps if your assistant can adopt an editorial assistant persona in their comments (they can do this in Word with Review/Tracking/Track Changes Options/Change User Name). I am ‘Cathy Tingle (DocEditor)’ but Helen is ‘DocEditor’, which means that I can adapt any notes she writes, perhaps to query a discrepancy between a citation and a long, complicated reference, with only a little retyping.
  • Make the most of highlighting. If your assistant has checked a fact/name/web address online or an internal cross-reference, get them to highlight the first letter (we use pink) to indicate it’s done and correct. If something is not correct, a comment can be left. You can use different colours for different purposes – a green for ‘Is this right?’, for example, if your assistant spots what they think might be a mistake in punctuation or grammar.
  • If you are asking your assistant to run checks but not to actually amend anything in the text, you could work with two versions of the manuscript. Simply go through the assistant’s version before you start your own edit. This might be a good method in the first few projects with an assistant, while you’re both getting used to the process.

And don’t forget

  • Always let clients know that you are using an assistant. All of mine have been delighted to have this extra pair of eyes on their work for no extra fee.
  • Create a non-disclosure agreement and ask your assistant to sign it. If you’re doing this for clients, your assistant will need to do this for you.
  • Your assistant deserves recognition. If it wasn’t for them, you might not have done such a thorough job within your deadline. I always include Helen’s name at the bottom of any handover notes that I write for the author so that if an acknowledgement is forthcoming she also gets a look in.
  • Make sure your assistant logs their hours – this helps you to understand how it’s all going, but it also means that if they want to join the SfEP, or upgrade, they can use this information as part of their application.
  • If you can, write a feedback document at the end of a project. I can’t say I have done this every time, but I’ve always been glad when I have. In taking a few minutes to review what your assistant has done this time, you can see how you can brief them better next, or streamline your processes in future. And it gives you a chance either to ask them to make doubly sure of a certain area of work in the next project or to praise them for specific achievements, which is more valuable than a vague ‘Great job!’
  • Buy your assistant a mug. Much tea or coffee is likely to be imbibed in the process of getting your projects done. Then, if you’re very lucky, when you’ve been working together for three years and your original mugs are getting chipped and faded, a lovely client might send you a smart new set.Gifts from clients

Cathy TingleCathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member, came to freelance copy-editing after a PhD, a decade in marketing communications and four years as editor of a popular Edinburgh parents’ guidebook. Her business, DocEditor, specialises in non-fiction, especially academic, copy-editing.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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