Category Archives: Working practices

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.

Getting permission to reuse published content: PLSclear

By Lucy Metzger

PLSclear is a free service to help editors and authors get permissions to reuse content quickly. The PLSclear people contacted the SfEP Council and invited us to watch a webinar on it, which I’ve just done.

Here’s some information provided by PLSclear, and then I’ll let you know a little about the webinar.

PLSClear say …

PLS clear logoPublishers’ Licensing Services introduce their free service for authors and editors seeking permission to reuse content.

If you’re planning to reuse extracts of third-party content in your own work, whether the extract is from a book, journal, magazine or website, and you are uncertain how to go about getting that permission, Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS) can help you. They have developed PLS PermissionsRequest, a free service which streamlines the process of requesting permission.

From the webinar

Making a permission request

PLS Clear user interface

If you’re seeking permission to reproduce published content – an image, a chapter, a poem, a table – PLSclear lets you search for the publication on their database, which contains the catalogues of participating publishers. You can search on title, author, keywords or ISBN/ISSN. When you’ve found the work, you go through a series of forms to specify what you want to use and how you want to use it. You’re asked about the content type, number of words if it’s text, and the nature and purpose of your own publication (the one in which you intend to reproduce the material).

These requests are free, and there is no limit on the number of requests you can make. If you’re looking to clear multiple permissions, you can set up a ‘project’ that retains details so that you don’t have to keep re-entering them.

Getting the request to the publisher

When you’ve entered all the details, PLSclear generates a request and sends it to the publisher’s inbox. The publisher-facing side of the software allows for various levels of automation. A publisher may choose to assess each request in person, as it were; or they can tell PLSclear to make an automated or semi-automated assessment of requests, based on rules given by the publisher.

The publisher’s response

The publisher may decide to issue a free licence. In that case PLSclear will generate the licence, with the necessary legal wording, and send it to you. No money changes hands, either on the publisher’s part or on yours.

If the publisher wants to charge you a fee, PLSclear will generate a quote containing terms and conditions and send it to you. If you choose to pay the fee requested, you can make payment through PLSclear and you’ll then be sent your licence; or if you want to negotiate, you can do so; or you can walk away. If you do pay a fee, a proportion of it goes to PLSclear and the rest goes to the publisher.

My view

I haven’t used PLSclear myself, but based on the webinar it looks straightforward and well-conceived. I certainly like the fact that it’s free for the requestor, and in many cases it will be far quicker than less automated methods of requesting permissions. It would be interesting to know how publishers and their authors like it.

Lucy Metzger Lucy Metzger is based in Glasgow. She copy-edits and proofreads, mostly academic books and textbooks, and is a mentor and trainer for the SfEP. She is an amateur cellist and singer. Her degree is in French. She is the external relations director for the SfEP.

 

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Working with an assistant

By Cathy Tingle

When you’re editing, there are tasks for which you need your highest level of expertise – reading for sense, reviewing and amending grammar and punctuation, setting overall style – and tasks that require a different level of editing, such as checking, comparing, coding and formatting references.

Most editors work at both levels, and sometimes it is helpful to do tasks that are a bit less demanding, that we can tackle in the evening or when we’re listening to our Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits album (although I suspect that may just be me).

I usually delegate this second set of tasks (apart from listening to Fleetwood Mac – she’s more of a George Ezra girl) to Helen, my editorial assistant. It’s difficult to remember quite when the lightbulb moment of ‘someone else could do these reference checks!’ struck me in my early freelance days, but it sprang from a combination of having a mountain of manuscripts to get through (having not yet realised that I could say ‘no’ to clients), the understanding that some publishers had technical editors or pre-editors, and the discovery that the SfEP had a system whereby surplus work could be delegated to Intermediate Members.

I was already friends with Helen because our kids went to the same nursery. I knew she had an English degree, that she was a voracious reader, and that she was incredibly organised. So I wrote some guidelines and gave her a project. From Helen’s point of view as a mum to young children she was after flexible work, but not too much of it; interesting work, but nothing overwhelmingly taxing. She set herself up as self-employed, which meant she could also take on work from other clients.

That was three years ago. This year we have received two author acknowledgements as a team, and a beautiful mug each from a satisfied client. Over the years we have identified the tasks that Helen is happiest doing: checking references and cross-references, internet fact checks, weblink checks, and so on. She is a wizard with cross-checking case titles in law books, something that, frankly, would make my head fall off. My editing mind feels less cluttered, knowing that basic checks are taken care of, although of course I double-check anything that sounds alarm bells as I go through the text. As well as reading the entire manuscript for sense and for correct English, I set style and perform any related checks and changes, and I always format references, citations and footnotes. This means that I do enough work on the technical stuff that I’m completely familiar with all the elements of the text.

Helen

Helen: On it

It might seem a bit belt and braces. It probably is. And of course it does mean losing some of my income – on average Helen will get around a third of my project fees. But being part of a two-person team works for me, because:

  • We can discuss things. It helps oil the wheels of a project to be able to talk about it, whether it’s the author’s referencing style or an interesting fact found in the work, or even a great word – in May, Helen encountered ‘boondoggling’ (spending time on wasteful or fraudulent projects), which caused us both a level of delight that I wouldn’t have experienced ploughing through a manuscript on my own.
  • We do at least one more pass than I would do alone. Helen will probably do two passes through a script; I do two to three. I feel that the work is more watertight this way. We recently got a comment from an author of a third edition: ‘I was very pleased with the work done by the language editor. Not just on a language basis, but also the fact checking. They even managed to catch quite a number of mistakes in the original text of the second edition!’
  • I get through more projects. Without the technical stuff dragging me down I complete projects at a faster rate – I probably take on at least a third more work, which is Helen’s fee covered, right there.
  • I think about Helen’s progress, which helps mine. Having to write guidelines, explain rules and share stylesheets helps my own progression as an editor. I encouraged Helen to do a copy-editing course early on, and she feels she has picked up a fair bit over the years, too: ‘I have learnt a lot about a process I realise I knew very little about.’
  • There’s someone to have my Christmas party with. It seems trivial, but having a colleague means having company – a catch-up coffee together every so often, and of course a Christmas do. Last year we had a scone at M&S Simply Food, this year we’re off for brunch in a café that does great vegan food. It’s not fancy, but it does warm the cockles.

This won’t last for ever. I’m prepared for the fact that I may lose Helen at any time. She may get a part-time job as her children grow, or she might decide to do more work for other clients. That’s fine and really to be encouraged. Being an editorial assistant should be a first step only – but for Helen and for me, it has been a massive help and comfort at this particularly busy time of our lives.

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.

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

Home-working, coworking and me

Gemma Greenhalgh looks at the benefits for the self-employed home-worker of occasionally getting out of the house and using your local coworking space.

Cat asleep on desk

Up until 2008, I had only ever been out to work. By that I mean out of the house and situated elsewhere, mainly in an office. Nine to five. Idle chat around the water cooler. Nipping out for a sandwich at lunchtime. Actual shoes on my feet (instead of slippers). You catch my drift.

That year, 2008, introduced me to my first ‘home-based’ job. I was an Independent Living Adviser for a charity based in Nuneaton – visiting disabled people in their own homes to give advice about employing their own support staff. And I was working from my own home.

‘Get up and get dressed as though you’re going into the office’ one colleague advised. ‘I hate it; I get lonely and depressed’ someone else bemoaned. I was getting mixed messages from my new colleagues but was determined to keep an open mind.

Luckily my partner and I have a spare room so I set up my desk on one side of it. I liked it. Friends and family made constant reference to lie-ins, working in pyjamas and watching daytime TV. I laughed all this off – what a notion!

Fast forward nearly a decade and I am indeed writing this at 8.15 a.m. in my PJs. I do occasionally watch Three in a Bed at lunchtime. I might sleep in if the day before was particularly long or fraught. I have been known to work with a cat or chicken on my knee. I still get the job done. My working day doesn’t suffer.

A constant balancing act

The frontiers between ‘home life at home’ and ‘work life at home’ are a constant blur and balancing act. Family members ask me to run an errand for them because, ‘such and such can’t do it as they’re at work.’ Is this because they’ve heard about the daytime TV and assume my day is ‘informal’ and ‘unstructured’ so a small errand won’t hurt?

My retired neighbour recently knocked on my office window and wanted my opinion about her hand-knitted socks. I was frantically trying to meet a tight deadline and had to shoo her away. I texted her later to apologise. ‘I forget you work from home’ was the response.

How can I avoid or adapt to such things? Should I be more strict with my ‘relaxed’ approach so my nearest and dearest take my vocation more seriously? Can I not just benefit from the advantages of being home based without others taking advantage? Shall I just throw a strop, form a barricade around my office and insist I’m left in peace and quiet (until I want to watch the TV at lunchtime that is)?

Do not disturb sign

My stint as an employed and home-based Independent Living Adviser lasted for three years. So far, I have been a self-employed, home-based proofreader and copywriter for over four years. To help with the questions posed above I have been thinking about alternatives to the ‘office-in-the-spare-room’ scenario.

A break from the norm

I thought about the potential of local cafes and libraries. I then discovered a couple of Nottingham-based coworking spaces and decided to give them a try. What did I have to lose except my dressing gown? A friend who is also self-employed (and gets easily distracted by the washing-up) decided to join me. I’ve since discovered that she gets easily distracted by many things. Whoever thought of putting shops and eateries in the city centre? Anyway, that’s another story…

It turns out that coworking spaces are pretty good! You can do that thing where you actually talk to people. You can escape the cat. Dressing gowns are a thing of the past! Who knew?!

I tried not to think about my slippers getting cold and lonely in the hallway and got on with: chatting to real-life human beings; looking at different walls; gazing out of different windows; having a slightly longer than average lunch break; and not worrying about domestic irritants like a speck of dust on the sideboard. Oh, and I did get some work done too.

There are coworking spaces around the country and they charge around £15–£20 per day/£8–£10 per half day outside London (some charge by the day and others by the month), which generally includes Wi-Fi, drinks and snacks, a work/desk area, toilet facilities and plug points. Some also provide bookable meeting rooms, monitors, quiet zones, printing, business advice and more besides.

I live a good 30 minutes away from Nottingham (longer in rush hour) so it’s not something I want to take advantage of too often. There are libraries and cafes (but no coworking spaces!) much closer that offer a similar break from the norm.

It’s an alien feeling to get stuck in a traffic jam when you’d usually be making your jam on toast in the morning. However, coworking can offer many advantages to the home-worker and it’s worth considering if you’re hankering for a change of scene, human-that-isn’t-family interaction or a feeling of belonging to a self-employed community.

Coworking is flexible and gets you out of the house and meeting people

Dee Miller, owner of Minor Oak Nottingham Coworking, sums it up perfectly: ‘Coworking gets you out of the house, working at an office you choose, in a supportive and diverse community of real-world colleagues.’ Dee has written about the benefits of coworking on the Minor Oak website, and from reading her words you get a real sense of coworking as a saver of sanity, an incentive to get out of the house and a place to meet people and share ideas and experiences.

There are many coworking spaces across the UK, albeit predominantly in urban areas, and it is easy to research the good mix of local coworking opportunities online. It is handy to know about such spaces and make use of them as and when it suits you, your day and your workload.

Like many aspects of self-employment, coworking is flexible. It offers a modern solution to the isolation felt by many self-employed people and seems to bring the home office and the traditional office together in a new way.

Concluding aside:

The issue of the hyphenation or non-hyphenation of the word ‘coworking’ is contentious. Google ‘coworking and the hyphen’ and you’ll see what I mean!

Gemma GreenhalgGemma Greenhalgh has run GG Editorial Services since 2013 and is a professional member of the SfEP. She loves volunteering for numerous charities, including the British Hen Welfare Trust on their ex-commercial hen rescue days. Her favourite part is waving off the ‘spent’ hens, which were destined for slaughter, to their new free-range life. She is a massive fan of the Brontë siblings, particularly Emily. Wuthering Heights is her favourite book and Haworth is her spiritual home.

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

Beyond the proofreader’s remit?

By Liz Jones

When proofreading materials for book and journal publishers, we are not always presented with a thorough brief and there is often a tacit understanding of what the role of the proofreader includes … and what it does not include. The SfEP sets out some commonly understood responsibilities of the proofreader and the copy-editor in the traditional publishing process. However, it’s apparent that these roles are becoming increasingly fuzzy in the academic publishing world.

Recently a discussion arose in the SfEP forums on the thorny topic of whether a proofreader should check references in an academic book as a matter of course, and exactly what that checking should entail. The original poster referred to a proofreader being expected by a client (an academic publisher) to cross-check a reference list against the in-text citations. Many experienced editors weighed in on the debate, and gradually a consensus emerged. The general understanding was that such detailed checking of references should be part of the copy-editor’s role, not the proofreader’s. In an ideal world the proofreader would then simply need to read the reference list, checking for small inconsistencies of styling or typos. Several posters said they would perform spot-checks of a few citations during such a proofread to ensure that the reference list seems to be in accord with the main body of the text. It was also pointed out that it is certainly not the proofreader’s job to check the factual accuracy of references, or even that authors’ names are spelled correctly.

work stressThe problems start when a proofreader finds (perhaps through performing spot-checks) that the references have not been properly edited, or that other errors are present, perhaps as a result of formatting. In more extreme cases the proofreader may suspect that the text and associated references have not been copy-edited at all. In this case, the proofreader is presented with a difficult choice:

  1. They can carry out the proofread as briefed and within budget, but without doing any work that might be considered beyond the remit of the proofreader. The proofreader knows that some errors are likely to remain, but decides it is not their responsibility to make the text perfect, and is not willing to reduce their hourly rate to compensate for shortcomings earlier in the publishing process.
  2. They can go beyond the standard proofreader’s remit in order to bring the book up to a publishable standard. This means the proofreader carries out a proportion of what might be considered ‘higher-level’ copy-editing work, while being paid as a proofreader. It may also entail significantly more time being spent on the job, reducing the hourly rate still further.

Neither of these solutions is ideal. As editorial professionals we tend to be hard-wired to want to help the client produce excellent work … but at the same time, as business owners we don’t want to be taken advantage of.

What should make a proofreader wary?

Sara Peacock, former chair of the SfEP, provided examples of the problems she sometimes encounters as a proofreader:

  • None of the citations cross-checked against the references list.
  • References wildly inconsistently presented, with lots of missing information.
  • Bullet lists inconsistently presented, in terms of capitalisation and punctuation.
  • Figures not correlating to text in terms of style and sometimes content, or the text referring to coloured portions when the figures are reproduced monochrome.
  • Inconsistent capitalisation in headings.
  • Lists of what is to come in the text not corresponding with the text that actually follows.

These are clearly the responsibility of the copy-editor, but as a proofreader, we do not know the reasons behind problems we may find with copy-edited text.

Experienced editor, trainer and long-standing SfEP member Melanie Thompson made the point that errors might be ‘potentially down to problems of the files not being imported correctly (tracked changes carrying across by mistake) … Could the author have been given back the [copy-edited] file and undone a lot of the good work? And then of course there’s the possibility that the publisher/client never had the material copy-edited in the first place …’

Veteran editor and SfEP member Kathleen Lyle pointed out that ‘one problem is that things can happen to the references in the gap between copy-editing and proofreading – for example, an author may decide to add some new references to bring a chapter up to date. Depending on the publisher’s workflow this new material may be dealt with in-house and not be seen by the copy-editor; this could well cause discrepancies of style or content between text and list. As a proofreader I’d expect to pick up discrepancies of style in the text or list, and cross-check any strange-looking items.’

From these comments alone it is clear that text may appear badly edited for a number of reasons, including lack of time and budget, or technical glitches. There is also the possibility that the copy-editor lacked training, or tried to get away with providing substandard work due to other pressures. It is also a fact that many in-house editors and project managers are very pushed for time and may not be able to closely monitor and assess the work of all their suppliers on every job. (I say this as a former in-house editor.)

What can we do?

If we find ourselves presented with poorly edited text as a proofreader, there is a third way (beyond the stark dilemma presented above).

First, we can establish the brief. Gillian Clarke, trainer to many editors over several decades via the SfEP and the PTC, said simply that ‘it is hugely important to establish from the very beginning exactly what the client wants’. This can help at whatever stage in the process we are working. If the client hasn’t provided a clear brief, consider sending them your own checklist of tasks covered by proofreading (and not).

Assuming that the brief is clear, you can then try the following if presented with text from a publisher that needs a lot more attention than a straightforward proofread.

  • Assess the work: Does the budget cover what you need to do? Is it within your capabilities in the time allowed? If the answer to these questions is yes, and the job is fairly self-contained, you might decide in that case simply to get on with it and provide feedback for the publisher along with delivery of the completed work.
  • Raise the issue: If the budget and schedule do not allow for satisfactory completion of the job, or if you feel the work goes beyond what you are comfortable doing – in short, if there is any reason why you think a job is not possible within the given parameters – tell the client straight away, and wait for their response before proceeding. If they don’t answer first time, try again – this is important.
  • Ask for more money/time: If the client can offer more of either or both, the issue might be resolved in the short term, enabling you to complete the job.
  • Adopt a pragmatic attitude: If the client will not budge on money or the schedule, and you decide to proceed with the work, be strict with yourself about what you can and can’t do with the available resources, make sure the client is aware of this, do the job and move on.

However you deal with the job, you should make it clear in your handover notes to the client what the editorial shortcomings were when the project reached you, and what you had to do as a result. Be clear and matter-of-fact about the ways in which you needed to go above and beyond in order to complete your work, without making assumptions or personal attacks. You need to do this because the client might otherwise remain unaware of the issue. However, you don’t need to start telling them what to do with this information.

Questioning clients and (re)negotiating rates can be daunting, especially for newer proofreaders and editors. It’s also tempting for proofreaders just starting out to go above and beyond to try to impress new clients and secure future work. This is where discussion in the SfEP forums, on other online platforms or with your local group can help enormously.

Summary

This really all boils down to the simple question of whether the proofreader should have to compensate for inadequate copy-editing. It’s the client’s budget or yours – something has to give.

However, it also has wider implications for our industry, perhaps most pressingly in the academic publishing sector. A lack of investment in careful editing by trained professionals may help publishers balance the books in the short term, but the eventual outcome will surely be a drop in the overall quality of output, and a growing reluctance among the more experienced proofreaders to work for certain clients at all, which would surely be much more detrimental in the long term.

Next controversial topic: how far should a proofreader go in checking an index …?

Liz JonesLiz Jones (www.ljed.co.uk) has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She specialises in trade non-fiction and educational publishing, and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP.

 

 

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