Tag Archives: editing

Over the limit: reducing the word count

By Claire Bacon

Most journals impose word limits on the articles they publish. Saying the same thing in fewer words not only increases an article’s chances of being accepted for publication, but also makes it easier to read. In this blog post, I explain how to reduce the word count in a research paper to keep the journal editor and the readers happy.

Wordy phrases

Replace wordy phrases with concise alternatives. For example:

  • Explained instead of accounted for the fact that
  • Now instead of at this point in time
  • Many instead of a large number of
  • Because instead of due to the fact that.

You can also avoid wordiness by choosing the right verbs. For example, the active voice uses fewer words than the passive voice:

The questionnaire was completed by the participants. (passive voice; 7 words)

Participants completed the questionnaire. (active voice, 4 words)

Nominalisation (changing verbs/adjectives into nouns) also introduces unnecessary passive verbs into your sentences. Use verbs that tighten your text:

A positive correlation between drug use and recovery time was observed. (11 words)

Drug use correlated positively with recovery time. (7 words)

This would lead to a reduction in patient mortality. (9 words)

This would reduce patient mortality. (5 words)

Using single verbs instead of phrasal verbs can also reduce the word count. For example:

We cut down on the amount of drug administered over time. (phrasal verb; 11 words)

We reduced the amount of drug administered over time. (single verb; 9 words)

You can cut this down even further by choosing more appropriate words:

We reduced the drug dosage.

The first person

Using first person pronouns (I, we, me, my, mine, us, our) is a great way to emphasise the author’s perspective and engage the reader. But the first person isn’t always suitable. Take a look at the following example:

We discovered that regular exercise reduced stress levels in healthy participants.

This is not an effective use of the first person. Keep the tone objective when describing results – and doing so will use fewer words:

Regular exercise reduced stress levels in healthy participants.

Redundant information

Delete any words that do not contribute important information. Prepositional phrases (groups of words without subjects or verbs) are often redundant and can be deleted without changing the meaning. For example:

  • Large instead of large in size
  • Round instead of round in shape
  • Red instead of red in colour.

Also check whether the modifiers in the article are necessary. For example:

Careful hemodynamic monitoring is necessary to prevent tissue hypoxia during cardiac surgery. (Nobody will infer that careless hemodynamic monitoring is acceptable if you delete careful.)

Extensive inclusion criteria were used to define the target population. (The inclusion criteria will be presented, so no need to tell the reader they are extensive.)

Double negatives are also redundant – and unclear. For example:

Although the difference was small, it was statistically significant

is shorter and clearer than

Although the difference was small, it was not statistically insignificant.

Filler phrases such as it has been shown that, it is widely accepted that, and it should be noted that are often redundant, but can be used sparingly to guide a reader through the author’s evolving argument.

Be specific

Concrete language is often more concise than abstract language. It also makes writing easier to understand. For example:

Patients with pancreatic cancer were examined by oncologists.

is specific and less wordy than

Patients with pancreatic cancer were examined by appropriately qualified medical personnel.

Use tables and figures

Save space by presenting large amounts of data in a table. Remove any redundant information (eg a column headed Sex is not necessary if all participants were female) and put units in the headings or footnotes rather than in each data field.

Don’t repeat yourself

Avoid repetition. Unnecessary adjectives are a common culprit – for example, past history, end result, advance planning, in actual fact, various different. Adverbs can be repetitive too – definitely proved, completely eliminate, may possibly, repeat again. Check whether adjectives and adverbs give new information. If not, delete them.

Do not repeat information from tables and figures in the text. A brief reference to what the figure or table is showing is sufficient. For example:

We collected data on age, sex, BMI, use of hormonal contraceptives, and Becks Depression Inventory score for all patients (Table 1)

is wordy and redundant. Try:

Patient characteristics are presented in Table 1.

Emphasise with care – intensifiers don’t always add meaning: exactly the same, absolutely essential, extremely significant, and very unique are all examples of redundant intensifiers and can be deleted.

Avoid continuous tenses

The continuous tenses indicate that something is ongoing. They are usually best avoided in research papers because they force unnecessary use of the verb to be. For example:

We measured creatinine levels in patient urine (simple past tense)

is concise and easier to read than

We were measuring creatinine levels in patient urine. (past continuous tense)

Abbreviations

Abbreviations can make text concise because they avoid repetition of long words. Many scientific words are better known by their abbreviations, such as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and PCR (polymerase chain reaction). These abbreviations improve the flow and clarity of the writing and usually do not need to be defined:

Patient DNA was amplified by PCR

will be understood by most readers. However, non-standard abbreviations should be defined when first used:

The SN, SC, and IC are components of the MB

is impossible to understand. The reader needs to know what the abbreviations mean:

The substantia nigra (SN), superior colliculus (SC), and inferior colliculus (IC) are part of the midbrain (MB).

Don’t define abbreviations more than once in the main text. Abbreviations will only reduce the word count if they are used consistently after they are defined.

Be ruthless with your red pen

Authors are often reluctant to delete the words they have taken so much time to write. But cutting unnecessary information from a paper will draw attention to the important content. If time allows, put an article to one side for a while before deciding what to delete. This will make awkward phrases and irrelevant information easier to spot. Following the tips outlined in this article will help you decide what needs to go to get the word count under the journal’s limit.

 

Claire Bacon is a former research scientist and an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She edits manuscripts for non-native English-speaking scientists and works as a copyeditor for The Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.

This article was published on Claire’s blog on 23 October 2019. Many thanks to Claire for granting permission to amend and republish it.


If you’re interested in learning more about helping authors to make their writing more clear and concise, then consider taking the SfEP’s Plain English for Editors course.


Photo credits: You choose your words – Brett Jordan on Unsplash; Books – Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Proofread and posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Editing memoir, life writing and creative non-fiction

At this year’s SfEP conference, writer Emma Darwin led a workshop that was mainly focused on non-fiction authors, but the many questions discussed are relevant to both authors and editors. Loulou Brown summarises Emma’s key things to consider when working through a text.

Creative life-writing/creative non-fiction uses the techniques of fiction to write real, non-fictional stories. Non-fiction work presents real life. It informs, summarises and reports, and separates facts from inferences and guesses. It is explicitly factually ‘true’, including uncertainties and gaps, and it acknowledges influences and assumptions.

The author should consider why they want to write about a particular subject, and what is at stake. It is then necessary to think about the project to be worked on.

  • What is important?
  • What will the project contain?
  • Whose story is it?
  • Who are the important people?
  • Where are the important places?
  • When do the important historical events take place?
  • What gets told and how?
  • Is there more than one story; if so, how are they related?
  • What might the ‘spine’ or ‘backbone’ of the narrative be?
  • What will the ‘vertebrae’ be?
  • Where does the author start?
  • Where does the author finish?

The author needs to decide the following:

  • What will their personal rule-book be for when to do what?
  • How will fictional techniques help to make the non-fiction material compelling?
  • Where are the gaps and ‘awkwardnesses’: in facts, causes and motivation; in thoughts, feelings and physical experiences? How will these be filled or bridged?
  • How will discrepancies be acknowledged and resolved, or discrepancies be acknowledged and left to lie?
  • How will explicit inferences, guesses and explanations be made?
  • How will they imagine, reinvent or alter?

The narrative is very important and the following issues need to be considered:

  • Who is doing the narrating?
  • How will the narrative put flesh on the spine?
  • Who or what is the narrative centred on?
  • How will the narrator draw the reader along the spine?
  • Where is the narrator ‘standing’, relative to the events?
  • What will the narrative evoke, dramatise, show?
  • Where will the narrative inform, summarise, tell?

Narrative techniques:

  • Using a narrator or storyteller and actors in the story.
  • Interweaving different timelines.
  • Working with point-of-view.
  • Showing versus telling (evoking/telling the reader; informing/explaining).
  • Working with voice and tone.
  • Working with psychic distance.

The author needs to think about his or her readers and consider the following questions:

  • Who is going to read what is written?
  • Will the journey be worth the reader’s time and money?
  • What is at stake for the reader?
  • How will the writer engage the reader?
  • Why should the reader care?
  • How is the reader convinced by what the writer is saying?

Emma listed a number of features that can go wrong with the manuscript. Editors should carefully take note of these potential problems.

  • The voice is not compelling enough.
  • The reader doesn’t care about what is being said.
  • The text is confusing, irritating, or too quiet, too noisy, too slow, too long, or too short, or too rushed.
  • The storytelling is jerky.
  • There is a ‘soggy’ middle.
  • The story fizzles out.
  • Although competent, the story is dull.
  • The text is over-written.
  • The text is under-written.
  • There are repetitions.
  • There is too much description.
  • There is too much introspection.

Emma ended her workshop with a list of potential problems that might arise between authors and publishers.

  • The publisher says that the author’s voice is dull and clunky.
  • The publisher gets frustrated because the author cannot remember what the publisher considers to be important incidents.
  • The publisher is irritated that the author won’t tell the ‘best’ bits.
  • The publisher is annoyed that the author finds it very difficult to write about important incidents.
  • The publisher is bored because the author feels it necessary to write about incidents in great detail.
  • The publisher is cross because the author over-explains events.
  • The publisher is peeved because the author doesn’t put in enough detail.
  • The publisher is upset because the author resists any restructuring.
  • The publisher is furious because the author balks at fairly drastic changes.
  • The publisher gives up when the author resists all changes to the text.
  • The author becomes paranoid when the publisher wants the text to be sexier.
  • The author is upset that the publisher does not appear to understand what they are writing about, given the changes the publisher wants to make to the text.
  • The author hates major restructuring of the text that they have worked on for years.
  • The author is disgusted that the publisher appears to be interested only in how much money the book will make and does not appear to be interested in the content of what has been written.
  • The author has a seizure when the publisher pushes hard for delivery of the text.

Loulou Brown is a professional member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. She has an MA in women’s studies and an MA in English literature. She specialises in editing academic work in the humanities and social sciences and has also edited a lot of biographies and autobiographies. Her major interest is in editing fiction and she has recently become an associate editor at Bloodhound Books, a crime fiction publisher.

Emma Darwin has published four books: two novels, The Mathematics of Love, and A Secret Alchemy; and a ‘how to’ manual, Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction. Her latest work, published this year, is a memoir about her family: This Is Not a Book about Charles Darwin. She has an MPhil in writing at the University of South Wales and has completed a PhD in creative writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.


Read more conference session summaries in the November/December edition of Editing Matters (free to members).


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.

Photo credits: Light bulbs  Skye Studios on Unsplash; Pen on book Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

‘You spend all day reading?’ Why we need the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading

All events in this blog post are based on true experiences, as reported by editorial professionals. However, details have been changed to protect the identities of not only the editors but also their friends, family and contacts. Thanks to everyone who volunteered their stories.


It’s 8.30am on a typical Wednesday morning. I’ve been up for two hours and, after hanging out all the laundry and getting the kids up and off to school, I finally sit down at my desk and check my To Do list. Today, I have a specialist journal article and its references to edit, six people’s comments and corrections to collate on a textbook’s second proofs and a weekly catchup meeting with an in-house project manager. I smile to myself. I love my job and I’m still basking in the happy news that soon the SfEP will become the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

I check the 15 emails I’ve received overnight. The author of the article has sent a new version with 2,000 extra words and 15 new references but hasn’t used Track Changes so I can’t immediately tell what’s different. One of the consultants on the textbook has asked for the chapters to be reordered. I settle down to work.

9am: An email arrives from a marketing agency. ‘Here’s a PDF of our latest brochure. It just needs a final proofread by lunchtime.’ Apparently, by ‘final proofread’, they mean complete restructure using different words. I respond explaining, as I did last time they made the same request, that the level of changes required means it would have been quicker and cheaper for everyone if I’d have been able to edit the text in Word before it was set in InDesign. They ask how much this would cost. I give them my standard copyediting rate, which reflects my years of continuing professional development and experience. They reply that their budget doesn’t stretch to more than half that amount for such a simple task – after all, they haven’t spotted any typos in the leaflet. I politely decline the job so that I can maintain my professional integrity (and, by extension, that of the SfEP).

9.30am: The email reminds me that I used to do a lot of work for another agency, so I call my contact there. He apologetically tells me that all editing and proofreading is now handled in-house to save money. The new boss had questioned why external editors were charging twice for doing one job. My contact had tried to explain that copyediting and proofreading were two different aspects of a thorough editorial approach but the boss now gives all the ‘checking’ to a marketing assistant with an English degree. My contact confides that they’ve made a few mistakes in their marketing material recently that have ‘negatively impacted their brand perception key indicators’.

11am: My edit is interrupted by the phone. I consider not answering but it’s my mother and there might be a family emergency.

Mum: ‘Hello! I was going to phone your sister about this, but I don’t like ringing her when she’s at work. Are you working?’
Me: ‘Yes, Mum. I’m always working at this time.’
Mum: ‘Ha ha, yes, you work too hard! I do wish you’d start actually using your qualifications, though, after you spent all that time studying. What job do you say you do again? You’re a word processor or something?’
Me: ‘I’m a copyeditor.’
Mum: ‘When are you going to become a real editor? Anyway, I called to tell you …’ [Long story of exactly zero importance or urgency ensues about some relative I don’t know.]
Me: ‘Mmm … uh huh … really? … Oh dear … yes … I mean no, that’s terrible!’ [Trying to sound interested and maintain work mode.]
Mum: ‘Are you listening to me?’
Me: ‘Well, actually, I’ve got this deadline …’
Mum: ‘Well, why didn’t you say so?’

12.30pm: The doorbell rings. I think it’s the postie needing me to sign for a contract I’m expecting by registered post so I answer the door. It turns out to be a friend holding a homemade cake.

Friend: ‘Hi! I was just passing and I knew you’d be at home so I thought I’d pop in for a quick coffee.’
Me: ‘Er, it’s nice to see you but I actually have a deadline today.’
Friend: ‘Oh, I’ll only be half an hour. It’s lunchtime! Time for a break!’

She walks in and casts a critical eye on the unwashed breakfast dishes.

Friend: ‘Oh, I could never work from home! I’d get too distracted by the housework!’
Me: [Ahem, clearly that’s not my problem …] ‘If I spent all day doing the housework, I wouldn’t get paid.’
Friend: ‘Oh, come on, your husband has a good job. You don’t need to work!’
Me: ‘Editing is my career. It’s taken me years to get to where I am now.’ [To gain the skills, experience and contacts to get a steady stream of work and become an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP.]
Friend: ‘So which book are you reviewing at the moment?’
Me: ‘I’ve told you before, I’m not a reviewer, I’m an editor. I don’t comment on it, I fix it. Reviewing and editing are different jobs.’
Friend: ‘Oh, so you just run spellchecks all day? Beats a real job! Right, no more time to chat – I’m off to my Pilates class.’

I’d been planning on a walk round the block but I don’t have time now so I get back to work.

3pm: I go to pick up the kids from school. A mother I’ve never spoken to corners me.

Her: ‘You’re a proofreader aren’t you?’
Me (warily): ‘Well, I’m mainly an editor but yes, I do proofread …’
Her: ‘I’ve decided to become a proofreader too. I’m always spotting mistakes in books. There was a typo in the crime novel I’m reading. If you’ve got any overspill work, let me know!’
Me: ‘I don’t suppose you’ve got half a day to edit 1,500 references into Chicago style and cross-check them against the citations?’
Her: ‘Um.’

A father has been listening in.

Him: ‘You’re a proofreader? I didn’t know that was still a thing. Do they actually employ people just to do that stuff? Isn’t there software for that?’
Me: ‘Yes, my brain.’
A nearby childminder looks scandalised: ‘You spend all day reading? Flipping through books? Nice for some – the rest of us have work to do!’

With perfect timing, my youngest child rushes out of the classroom and announces that he got 100% in his English comprehension test. The adults are suddenly silent.

3.30pm: As I get home, a neighbour comes over to chat. I ask how her husband is after his recent operation.

Neighbour: ‘I think he’s all right but I’ve not been able to get over to see him in hospital today. I was hoping Roger opposite would give me a lift – he works from home like you, you know, but he’s a man. He’s not got to ferry his kids around all day like you do.’
Me: ‘Perhaps he’s contracted to work certain hours. If he’s self-employed, he might even work longer hours than people with office jobs.’
Neighbour: ‘But he’s got time to walk his dog! Oh, by the way, here’s your copy of the charity cookery book you helped with.’

Inside the house, I eagerly look at the book. I’d voluntarily spent hours laying out pages, sourcing illustrations and explaining how to pay for them, warning them of copyright infringement and copyediting the recipes. The acknowledgements merely thank me for sorting out the author’s grammar.

4.30pm: An email arrives from a graduate student, for whom English is a second language. ‘I have just finished writing my MSc dissertation and need some urgent editing and academic proofreading work done. It’s about 70,000 words. This may be the final proofreading I do before submission this week by Friday.’ I politely decline.

5pm: I’ve put my focusing skills to use today and made quite a bit of progress, despite everything. I take a quick look at Facebook. A friend is starting up a small business and asks about GDPR and how tax is handled by sole traders. I send her a copy of my GDPR policy and a quick outline of the HMRC self-assessment process. She’s grateful for my help and messages back, ‘You’re wasted as a proofreader! I didn’t know you knew about this sort of thing! I thought you were just a language pedant. Is that how you spell pedant? I’m scared you’re going to correct me!’ I respond, ‘Don’t worry, if you’re not paying me, I won’t correct you.’ She replies, ‘Oh, I was going to ask you to check my new web text but I’ll ask my English-teacher friend if you want paying for it.’

5.30pm: I’ve still got a few hours’ work to do, after all today’s interruptions. Just before I return to the endless references, I remind myself of the SfEP’s original rationale for chartership:

‘We want to see greater appreciation of the value of good editing (in its widest sense), based on recognised qualifications, high standards and an understanding of what editorial professionals do, with a commensurate rise in their status and pay.’ (www.sfep.org.uk/about/governance/aim-of-chartership)

It seems that, as a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, I’ll soon be taking another step in my ongoing public relations journey.


Photo credits: Man on sofa – Austin Distel on Unsplash; Head in book Siora Photography on Unsplash

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The right tone: how to edit writing about classical music

By Paul Kilbey

Editing classical music text is much like editing anything else, except that the text continually reminds you that the subject matter is a whole language of its own, but one that resists all attempts at translation or explication. True, classical music has its own vocabulary, but it is insufficient for many reasons: it’s horribly technical, it relies on huge amounts of background knowledge, and half of it is basically Italian. It’s difficult – and that’s an understatement – to capture in writing the essence of how the music feels, to hint at what it really seems to mean.

Try and describe what’s actually going on in a piece of music, and you will either get ludicrously specific very fast, or stay almost hopelessly vague. One of the first questions an editor has to ask is who the text is for: text for academics or knowledgeable classical music fans is quite different from text for newcomers, to the extent that specialist text can feel like its own dialect, much like legalese. Tell a newcomer, for instance, that the major-key exposition’s second subject is in the mediant, and they’ll look at you blankly – and quite right too. Tell an aficionado, and they’ll say, ‘Goodness gracious! You mean it isn’t in the dominant?’

While this is an issue when editing work on any topic, with classical music it is particularly acute. It’s vital to make sure that writers speak consistently in the right register (to borrow a musical term): to put yourself in the shoes of a reader with whatever level of musical knowledge, and make sure that the text will sound right to them. There’s a perpetual debate in classical music concerning elitism: an art form with wealthy patrons and connotations of high culture has to take special care not to appear cut off from society at large. Getting the tone of the text right is therefore a very delicate balance: newbies have to be welcomed with open arms, while connoisseurs must be treated unpatronisingly.

Having a decent knowledge of classical music isn’t a prerequisite for this sort of editorial work, but it’s certainly a great advantage. I studied music at university, and am thrilled to have found one of the few careers (outside actually performing or writing music) in which my knowledge of fugue terminology, Schoenberg opus numbers and the libretto to The Rake’s Progress has been genuinely helpful, rather than something to be irritatingly shown off at bad parties. It’s unpredictable which areas of knowledge will be called upon for a given editing task, but as well as understanding the full gamut of technical terms, from squillo to Personenregie, it’s important to have familiarity with the basics of not just Italian but also German and French. It doesn’t hurt to know how accents work in Hungarian, too. Plus, on occasion, you’ll need to navigate musical scores, to confirm tempo markings or texts or instrumentations. And of course, it helps to know what all the works you’re reading about actually sound like.

All that said, as an editor (and writer), I sometimes regret not studying English – I regretted this even during my degree, in fact, and still treasure the English faculty library pencil I plucked up the courage to buy in my fourth year. But studying music hasn’t just given me an editorial specialism: it’s also given me a different perspective from which to think about language in general. I often find myself reading text out loud, whether I’m editing it or not, because I want to hear how it sounds. I want to hear how the rhythms flow, how the vowels and the consonants arrange themselves as I say them. I listen to the cadences – a precise, analytical term in music, but beautifully ambiguous in language.

That’s why I take such joy in editing, I think: I like to make words sing. With just the smallest changes made, so much text can instantly become so sonorous. You can think of grammar, punctuation and syntax conventions as rigid rules, but I like to think of them as tools with which language can be made to sound as elegant as a song, as enthralling as a symphony, as dramatic as an opera.

None of this helps with the basic problem of how to effectively talk about music using language. That’s a problem that may not have a solution at all. But still, if we can never do justice to music through writing, the least we can do is use musical words.

Paul Kilbey is a freelance writer and editor who mainly works on classical music text. He is a Professional Member of the SfEP and lives in Munich.

 

 


Editorial Excellence is the SfEP’s e-newsletter; it aims to spread awareness of and encourage good practice in copyediting and proofreading.


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

Photo credits: music stand – Andrey Konstantinov on Unsplash; sheet music Marius Masalar on Unsplash.

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

PerfectIt 4: an upgrade

With PerfectIt 4 now available, Dr Hilary Cadman, a long-time devotee of PerfectIt, reviews the updated program.

Daniel Heuman and the team at Intelligent Editing have heeded feedback from users and made this fabulous program even more impressive.

Simpler to start

PerfectIt has always been user-friendly, but now it is even more so, with an expanded Start panel. As soon as PerfectIt launches, it is immediately obvious which style is selected, and you can change it using the dropdown list in the Start panel rather than having to go to the ribbon. Also, with ‘Choose Checks’ upfront, it is quick and easy to see which tests are selected. Previously, if you deselected particular tests when running PerfectIt, it was easy to forget you’d done that, and then wonder why PerfectIt was missing things the next time you ran it (speaking from experience 😊).

Faster and cleaner

A major improvement from previous versions is the speed of PerfectIt 4. The initial step of assessing the document is impressively speedy, with it now taking only seconds for PerfectIt to complete its scan, even if your document is hundreds of pages long or contains lots of tables and data.

Another new feature of PerfectIt 4 that makes it faster is the function to fix errors. Whereas in previous versions the ‘Fix’ button sat to the right of the ‘Locations to check’ window, it now sits within that window, and each location to check has its own ‘Fix’ button. If you drag the task pane to make it wider, the ‘Locations to check’ window expands, making it easy to see each possible error in context. Thus, instead of having to click on a location, look at it in the document to see it in context and then return to the PerfectIt task pane to fix it, you can now work just within the task pane, saving time and effort.

Initially, I found that I was trying to click anywhere in the highlighted location to apply the fix, but once I realised that you need to have the cursor on the word ‘Fix’, it was fine. Activating the keyboard shortcuts (with F6) speeds up the process even more, because you can use one hand to move the mouse down the list and the other to click ‘F’ to apply a fix.

Also new are the little buttons near the top of the PerfectIt side bar that allow you to easily rerun the test that you’re in, or to open the whole list of tests and move on to an earlier or later one if you wish.

Styles made easier

Managing styles is another thing that’s better in PerfectIt 4. Creating a new style sheet based on an existing one used to involve exporting a style sheet, saving it to the desktop and importing it with a new name. Now, the whole thing can be done from within PerfectIt simply by opening ‘Manage Styles’ and selecting ‘New’ – this opens a window in which you can give your new style a name and say which style you want to base it on.

Another welcome style change is that the built-in styles are now preserved, but if you want to make a change to one of those styles (eg to UK spelling), PerfectIt will automatically create a new version of that style sheet (eg ‘My UK spelling’), which you can modify. Also, the built-in styles will automatically update if Intelligent Editing makes changes to them. A further useful new feature is the option to combine style sheets, nominating which style should override the other where they differ.

Finally, the style sheet editor, which works behind the scenes, was always a rather daunting part of PerfectIt, particularly in comparison to the front end of the program. The basic set-up looks much the same, but a welcome improvement is that changes to the style sheet editor now save automatically, rather than the user having to click on ‘Save and exit’ to save changes.

The verdict

I would highly recommend updating to PerfectIt 4. The upgrade is relatively cheap (currently only US$49/year – around £40 – for those already on subscription), and the benefits will be obvious immediately, particular in terms of time saving. Also, for those who are used to previous versions, the interface is sufficiently similar that updating won’t hold up your work.

If you’re still in doubt, why not give it a try. Free trials for permanent licence holders and new customers are now available (and any style sheets that created in PerfectIt 3 will automatically be brought into PerfectIt 4).

Disclosure: Hilary received a 2-year subscription to PerfectIt as an incentive to pen this review.

Hilary Cadman is a technical editor who has been using PerfectIt for nearly 10 years and has produced online courses to help fellow editors get the most out of the program.


This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Editing Matters, the SfEP’s digital magazine.


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.

I am a Polish editor of English

By Kasia Trojanowska

cat in a plastic carrier bag

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

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

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

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

Delegates at the 2018 SfEP Conference

Professional development at the 2018 SfEP Conference

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

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

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

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

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

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.

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.

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

By Laura Ripper and Luke Finley

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

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

In other words, you want it in plain English.

Water ripples above book pagesWhat is plain English?

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

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

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

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

What is it for?

You can use plain English to:

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

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

What can using plain English do for me?

Writing in plain English can help your organisation:

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

Open book with letters flying outHow can an editor help?

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

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

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

Some editors can also help by:

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

What else can I do?

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

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

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

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

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Project fear: fiction editing

By Gale Winskill

With apologies to Jane Austen, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that most editors enjoy reading’. I say ‘most’, as there will undoubtedly be an exception somewhere – and when you find them, please let me know! Of those who read for pleasure, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority probably opt for some sort of fiction, although again, a small percentage will not.

Drawing of a book with a visualisation of a story coming from its pagesBut those who don’t will quite possibly enjoy memoirs or biographies that share many narrative traits with fiction, as ultimately they encompass a good ‘story’, and require pace and drama.
Fast-forward then to the surprising number of editors who recoil in horror at the thought of actually editing fiction, preferring the relative order of non-fiction subject specialities, academic guidelines and referencing systems over the perceived unwieldiness of fiction.

Spot the difference

And yet, is non-fiction/academic editing really so different from fiction editing?

We all pass an unconscious critical eye over our reading material, of whatever ilk – newspaper articles, web text, books… And how often have we come to the end of a novel only to wonder what happened to a particular character who inexplicably disappeared from view at some point, or to query why an author suddenly switched to American idiom for a protagonist previously noted for their ‘West Country vernacular’?

Is this really so different from spotting in a work of non-fiction that the Russian Revolution occurred momentarily in 1817 rather than 1917, or that Reggio Calabria had transformed into Reggio Emilia, which is at the opposite end of Italy? Leaving incorrect or inconsistent facts in any type of text can lead to unnecessary reader confusion.

But what about all that dialogue and jargon? How is an editor supposed to ensure conformity in a text written in teenage slang, for example? Well, for those of you with teenagers in the house, a quick question in this regard will not only engender a snort of derision, but will also provide the necessary clarification if required. Even if you don’t have direct access to this subspecies of the human race, there are wonderful online resources to keep you up to date, just as there are helpful organisations to keep you abreast of changing terminology and ethical considerations in other areas of your editing life.

‘But there are no rules to fiction,’ I hear you cry. Well, that’s not entirely true, is it? The basic conventions of grammar, punctuation, tense agreement, spelling and so on still apply … just not always with the same regularity as in other texts. The key is to find the pattern and then impose consistency. Think of it as a challenge, a puzzle to unravel. Patrick Ness’s phonetic transcription of language in his Chaos Walking trilogy isn’t unintelligible; it’s innovative, consistent and apt. It’s completely sensible to expect that a teenage protagonist with no formal education might write ‘station’ as ‘stayshun’. In non-fiction or academia, the word ‘anxiolytic’ might have more resonance for its target audience than the term ‘anxiety-reducing’. Ultimately, it’s a matter of context … and uniformity.

Genres, interest and expertise

But that still doesn’t address the elephant in the room – the huge array of genres: thrillers, young adult, erotica, crime, romance, fantasy, science fiction, children’s, and so on. How can an editor possibly deal with all of that?

Well, most fiction editors don’t. Generally, our editing specialities reflect our reading preferences, in the same way that many non-fiction editors focus on their own areas of general interest or academic expertise. We all have our comfort zones. After all, if you read a lot of crime fiction, you are more likely to spot a glaring narrative discrepancy in a similar work – especially if the ‘error’ concerns the plausibility of that one vital piece of information on which the entire plot hinges – than if you usually read magic realism.

And if erotica or science fiction are not your bag – as self-help, politics or Celtic religion might not be someone else’s – then why would you even consider working on them? It’s not compulsory. The beauty of fiction is that there is such a range to choose from that there really is something for everyone. And nowhere does it state that you have to edit fiction to the exclusion of other types of work.

Bookshelves with clouds and birds aboveNovel impact

At the recent 2018 SfEP conference, I attended two excellent sessions on very different aspects of fiction editing. Although some might think that I had little to learn, given that I have been editing fiction in one form or another for a very long time, I would beg to differ, as I always discover fresh ways of looking at old topics. The sessions brought together newbies and veterans, and each had as much to offer to the discussion as the other. One thing that emerged was that everyone could cite novels that had had an impact on them at some point, and were able to verbalise the reasons why. The same applied to their responses to the various exercise texts.

And if you can articulate your reaction to a piece of narrative prose, you can edit fiction!
Fiction is uniquely subjective and everyone has a different – and equally valid – opinion of what works and what doesn’t, and it is this existence of ‘no right answer’ that scares those who avoid it.

It is true that no two fiction editors will ever highlight exactly the same things in the same narrative, although there will be commonalities. Things that bother me may not bother you, and at the end of the day who’s to say that I’m right and you’re wrong, or vice versa? We can posit an opinion, but what the author does with that information is up to them – as with non-fiction editing.

Fiction editors provide authors with an invaluable service. Not only do they tidy up a text, and ensure that plot details tally, the text is reasonably clean, pace is maintained and the chosen spelling conventions are consistent, but they also stand in for the final reader – the book buyer! They let the author know what works and what doesn’t, and so help them to avoid those often minor, yet erroneous details mentioned above, which can ultimately detract from an otherwise great story.

And next…

So, if you are now thinking that fiction editing may not be quite as scary – or as alien – as you first thought and might like to give it a go, or if you have members of staff who would benefit from an overview of how to get started and what to consider, perhaps you should contemplate the SfEP’s online Introduction to Fiction Editing course.

Written by a variety of experienced fiction editors, it offers a broad overview of the basic things to look out for when copy-editing a work of fiction. There are no fixed ‘rules’ as such, but you will hopefully discover that fiction editing is not quite as lawless or ‘unquantifiable’ as you envisage.

Above all, the course provides ample reassurance that, as long as you can justify your opinion in the context of the novel, your very own ‘no right answer’ might actually be correct. But there’s only one way to know if I’m telling the truth, so why not confront your demons and learn how to kill those darlings?

Gale WinksillGale Winskill is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP who enjoys a challenge. She co-wrote the SfEP’s online Introduction to Fiction Editing course.

 

 

The SfEP also publishes a guide to Getting started in fiction editing, written by Kat Trail.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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