Tag Archives: Editorial Excellence

Editing across time zones

By Janet MacMillan

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

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

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

Getting to grips with time zones

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global colleagues and opportunities

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

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

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

 

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

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Excellence


Susie Dent's Wonderful Words

English revels in the bad, sad, seamy side of life – any slang thesaurus, for example, will provide far more words for misery and failure than for happiness and success. Which means synonyms for ‘excellence’, as in the title of the SfEP’s newsletter Editorial Excellence, should be particularly cherished.

The Oxford English Dictionary provides a number of historical superlatives well worth resurrecting. We’ve sadly lost, for example, ‘lollapalooza’, a gem from the US for anything outstanding in its field. It sits alongside the equally expressive ‘humdinger’, another US term for something so good it positively zings.

Something may be such hot stuff it’s ‘mustard’, a 19th-century term of approbation implying piquancy and zest, best known in the expression ‘cut the mustard’ (‘cut’ here works in the same way as ‘she cuts a fine figure’).

Close up of yellow mustard flowers, with a yellow field of mustard flowers behindA person of brilliant attainments, meanwhile, might be a ‘diamond’ – a glittering example in their field. Or they may be ‘peachy’, a simple play on something sweet and juicy. Their brilliance might even have once led to the epithet ‘carbuncle’, rarely associated with positivity these days but originally described as a precious stone (rather than a swelling) of blazing, fiery red.

More obviously wonderful is a ‘corker’ – something so fizzy it pops – and a ‘ripsnorter’ – anything remarkable in terms of size, vigour or appearance. Alternatively, you might describe something first-rate as a ‘spanker’, ‘tip-topper’, ‘phoenicle’ (a little phoenix), ‘bobby-dazzler’, ‘beaut’, ‘pippin’, ‘bosker’ or ‘killer-diller’. Or possibly a ‘screamer’, too, once another name for the exclamation mark. All of which are ‘bonzer’, a classic Australian adjective that’s an alteration of ‘bonanza’ and comes ultimately from the Spanish for ‘fair weather’.

Finally, let’s not forget the fanciful phrases we’ve come to love for any acme of excellence or pinnacle of success. Joining the ‘bee’s knees’, back in the 1920s, were the ‘kipper’s knickers’, the ‘caterpillar’s kimono’, and the ‘elephant’s adenoids’. These, of course, were born out of our love of fanciful word play, but there is another favourite in the list that once enjoyed a very different life before joining the lexicon of distinction. ‘The dog’s bollocks’ was first recorded among printers, who used it to refer to the typographical colon-dash :-, thanks to its shape.

Excellence: something to strive for, if not always easy to achieve. At least we’ll have plenty of ways to describe it once we get there.

Susie Dent, honorary vice-president of the Society for Editors and ProofreadersWonderful Words is a regular feature by Susie Dent, honorary vice-president of the SfEP. Susie is a writer and broadcaster on language. She is perhaps best known as the resident word expert on C4’s Countdown.

 

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Editing translated or non-native English

By Allison Turner
Large, flat stone with an engraving that says 'A translation from one language to another'

I like to think of editing as bridging the gap between what the writer wants to communicate and what the reader actually understands. If the writing has been translated or written in a language other than the writer’s native one, that gap is typically wider. That’s why an editor of translated or non-native English has a few extra points technical and stylistic to look out for.

The first aspects to be aware of are the technical ones arising from the differences between the source language of the translation or the writer’s best language, as the case may be, and English. An obvious example is false friends – words that look very similar in the two languages but have different meanings. For example, several European languages have a word similar to ‘eventually’ that, instead of meaning ‘at some point in the distant future’, means ‘possibly’.

At the next level up, the sentence level, it helps to know how the grammar of the writer’s language differs from English grammar. For example, Italian rarely uses subject pronouns and Russian has no articles, so writers from those language backgrounds may have trouble with these issues. I have an Italian client whose English is great, but she occasionally misses the ‘there’ in a sentence like ‘There are many reasons.’ Not surprising, since its purpose is purely grammatical rather than meaningful – but it can be confusing if you don’t expect it (especially when the sentence is more complicated than that).

I see this type of editing as a kind of word puzzle, especially if I know the writer’s native language at least a little. ‘What word could they have mistranslated into this one?’ or ‘How would this sentence likely have been written?’ German – which I can confidently say I know at least a little – is particularly fun for this, as it has some word order rules entirely different from English ones.

Scattered Scrabble letter tiles

A professional translator will know how to avoid these technical traps, but there are stylistic issues to be aware of that apply to translations as well as non-native writing. One of these is words that are not so much false friends as fair-weather friends. These have quite similar denotations but a different connotation or tone. For example, a Portuguese speaker might use ‘foment’ to describe creating something positive, but that would sound odd to English ears. Or a French speaker may use a word that is more recherché than the tone of the text calls for, because the French cognate is much less obscure.

It’s a good idea to clarify the connotations are correct. For example, I might say ‘This sounds harsh (or flippant, or negative) – is it meant to?’ Of course this is true of all editing, but I think it’s more likely that a non-native writer will not realise how they are coming across.

On a more general level, different languages have different ideas of style. My grammar teacher put it this way: ‘English likes verbs, French likes nouns.’ So a sentence that sounds good in French could sound quite stuffy in English, simply because it has too many abstract nouns that could easily have been verbs. Or a writer who speaks Arabic, which tends to be more flowery than English, might in English come across as excessively wordy.

The last thing to think about – and arguably the most important – is the author’s voice. If the author’s English isn’t great or is non-existent, what we want is not quite their own voice, but more like an idealised version of it. I speak French and German regularly, but I know I’m not as smart in French or as funny in German as I am in English. I don’t edit fiction, and I’m sure there are additional considerations for those who do, but every piece of writing expresses something about the writer – whether they want to show themselves to be knowledgeable, or approachable, or empathic, or witty, or all of the above. A good editor can help with this.

I need to conclude by admitting that sometimes I really don’t know what the writer means. In such a case, I still almost always offer one or more suggestions. Even if I’m way off, in most cases the user can tell from my guess what went wrong, and eventually (in the English sense!) together we come to the best way of expressing it. One of my favourite clients said it best: ‘You think with and for me.’

Allison TurnerAllison Turner is a textual healer and a Professional Member of the SfEP. A Canadian who lives in Switzerland and a former ESL teacher, she edits almost exclusively non-native and translated English, mainly for academics and entrepreneurs.

 

 

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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