Tag Archives: experience

Wise owls: the best CPD I’ve ever done

The wise owls are soaring into summer with some reflections on the best continuous professional development (CPD) they have undertaken.

Melanie Thompson reading the SfEP guide 'Pricing your project'Melanie Thompson

About 25 years ago my employer sent me on a three-day training course called ‘Selling for non-sales staff’ (or some such title). The underlying ethos of the course was that people buy from people and that it’s best to engage potential clients in conversations to try to find out their aims and needs rather than to deluge them with a list of your (your company’s/product’s) ‘features and benefits’. It all seems rather obvious, once you pause to think of it, and it’s something I’ve tried to remember ever since.

But I learned a much more important lesson during the role play (two words that fill many freelancers with dread); namely that it’s important to ask open questions. At that point, with only a few years’ work experience under my belt I’d never even heard of the concept of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ questions. That was one of the most valuable lessons I have ever been given – of benefit for both business and personal interactions.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I’ve done plenty of CPD as a copy-editor, but the best was probably a one-day business finance course I did yonks ago. From that course I picked up two nuggets, both of which I’m apt to trot out at the least provocation: (1) it’s easier to save money than to make money (as I said last time) and (2) cashflow is even more important than profit.

Cashflow is simply having enough money coming in to cover your commitments: enough to pay your mortgage or rent, fuel and power, tax bill and internet connection, and still put food on the table. But freelancing doesn’t lend itself particularly easily to smooth cashflow. This is why budgeting is so important – you need to understand how much money you need to make and when your invoices are likely to be paid, follow up late payment quickly and often, and price your work correctly. It’s also vital to do all you can to build up a cushion to tide you over the lean months. With many business clients paying on a 30-, 45- or even 60-day cycle, you can find yourself with loads of cash one month and almost nothing the next, even if you’ve been working steadily. Calculate what you need and make it a priority to save enough in the bank so that you can still pay your bills – and replenish what you spend. Then squirrel away a bit more to help you should a client suddenly go bust. After that, you can go and whoop it up in the fat months!

Liz Jones

I’ve undertaken plenty of CPD in the decade I’ve been freelance, including attending various SfEP courses and five conferences. They’ve all helped me a lot in terms of teaching me new things, giving me more confidence to run my business, and helping me access a wonderful international community of editorial professionals. Perhaps the thing that has been best for my own learning, though, has been teaching other editors via the SfEP’s mentoring programme.

Helping others learn how to do things has compelled me to examine my own practice, and improve it. It’s been necessary for me to find out more about how to do things myself to be able to explain to others how to do them. I’ve been amazed by the high standard of many of the people I have mentored over the years, in copy-editing and proofreading – and inspired to up my game as a result.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

I was lucky when I started in publishing that I found an employer willing to train me, fresh from my PhD, in copy-editing and proofreading. Those classroom courses at Book House in London – three days of copy-editing and one of proofreading, run by the Publishing Training Centre – were the most valuable of my career as they set me up in what I was going to do, every day, working in-house. The experience I gained on the job after that had a firm bedrock on which it could be built. But is that CPD? I’d only just started so it was more like IPD – initial professional development.

But since being freelance it’s harder to point to any one day or piece of CPD and say ‘yes, that’s the best bit’ because CPD builds you incrementally into the publishing professional you are at any point. Once you have done the basic training the continuation and building of a career is less about huge leaps in knowledge and more about little nuggets of information and wisdom that change one’s practice and allow you to make small improvements in the services that you provide. On reflection, in recent years my most inspiring piece of CPD in terms of the renewed enthusiasm that it gave me was the SfEP’s Education Day in London in early 2018. It featured a day of speakers who weren’t so much teaching as giving a state of the industry, a snapshot of the state of affairs for editors. After that event I wanted to improve the service I give to educational publishers, as it’s an aspect of my work that I hugely enjoy but which is also challenging too, at times. That day was less about learning something new and more about garnering a new resolve for the work that I do.

Margaret HunterMargaret Hunter

The best CPD I’ve ever done is undoubtedly all the opportunities I’ve had for learning on the job. I love how pondering the different writing styles (and quirks) of different authors makes me question my assumptions. If something’s not written the way I would do it, is it wrong, or do I need to broaden my editorial horizons?

I’ve been editing for a long time but I still get stopped in my tracks and have to look things up, and I think that’s no bad thing. It also makes me think about how much (or how little) to change and how to let the author’s style through, rather than my own preferences. (But I do love a job where the author doesn’t care and is happy for me to preference away!)

Sometimes an author does something ‘odd’ so consistently that I begin to doubt myself, and often the more I look at it the more odd it looks! It’s a great opportunity to look up various style guides, consult the reference books or ask on the SfEP forum. It’s great revision, or it’s a great revelation. In any event, it’s great CPD.

LLouise Bolotinouise Bolotin

Back in 2001, I joined the editorial team at a large investment bank in the Netherlands where I worked on a huge range of equity analysis reports. I had only a lay knowledge of stocks, shares and the markets when I took the job. My boss sent me to London for a week to learn how to analyse and value a company. I didn’t quite manage to complete the final tasks on the last day – they required too much algebra, but I learned so much anyway. I’d never thought myself very numerate, despite being able to tot up Scrabble scores in my head and check a restaurant bill is correct. The course proved otherwise – I am. And I can read balance sheets, profit and loss accounts and more like a pro. I can skim a financial report and instantly understand the underlying issues. I can scan financial tables and errors leap out at me. Best of all, I gained confidence in my ability to handle figures. And while I still edit financial materials of all sorts, I can apply what I learned on the course to all kinds of other things I edit (annual reports a speciality). So thank you, Frans!


The SfEP’s parliament of wise owls started sharing wisdom and experiences back in 2016. All of the wise owls are Advanced Professional Members, with many years of experience and thousands of hours of CPD between them.


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.

 

Editing technical materials: what you need … and what you don’t

By Liz Jones

I’ve been editing highly technical material for two and a half years, mostly for a local content agency. When the company first approached me, I had little knowledge of the areas they work in, mainly electronics and artificial intelligence. They knew this, but were happy to try me out, and I’ve been editing for them regularly ever since, working on press releases, blogs, white papers and user guides, as well as various other short documents and web content.

Editing technical content is in some ways just like editing anything else … and in a few other ways, it isn’t. Here’s a quick overview of what you need to tackle this kind of work – and also what you don’t.

Willingness to engage beyond your expertise

My degree is in architecture, and my entire subsequent career has been in educational publishing and general non-fiction. But in the past couple of years I’ve come to love the language of electronics and computing, and find in it a certain solace and even – on occasion – poetry. The materials I spend a considerable portion of my working week on bear no relation to any other aspect of my life, but it doesn’t matter. Work is work, and the problems to be grappled with remain the same. Does it make sense? Is it consistent? Will the person reading it be able to understand?

An eye for detail

This is, of course, essential for any editor, whatever field we work in. The difference is that when you’re editing technical content, small inconsistencies in product serial numbers or units of measurement are crucial to the sense of an article. You might not know yourself if a measurement is wrong, but you need to be able to spot if something doesn’t look right and flag it up for someone with the expertise to verify it. 50 mA is very different, for example, from 50 MA.

The ability to live with inelegant language and prioritise clarity

For the client I work with, much of the work I do has been written by people for whom writing is not a vocation, and often English is not their first language. I try to smooth out the expression as far as I can, but at the end of the day what the client cares about is conveying the important information about a product or innovation. Often there is limited time available to work on a document, and in that case it’s more important to focus on accuracy and clarity than on beautiful prose. That said, even small changes can make a big difference to the readability and accessibility of a text, and I do what I can in the time available.

Restraint

Resisting change, unless there is a solid reason for it, is a good approach for any editor, but it’s especially helpful with technical content. Often things are worded in a very particular way for a reason, and even transposing words might completely alter the meaning of a sentence. This always matters, but it matters double when a misunderstanding could cause a short-circuit, for example.

Embracing of camel case

Technical texts reference many brand and product names, platforms and protocols. In these cases, capitalisation matters, and often there will be strange use of cases to contend with and get right. Nobody’s going to die as a result of a brand name being presented inaccurately, but mistakes in this area will reduce credibility and trust, and make a document appear half-finished and messy.

Ability to work with a number of style guides

Working for an agency can entail editing material for a number of end clients. They will all have their style preferences, and text may be destined for audiences in particular geographic regions. For example, I am frequently called on to anglicise or Americanise text, and to switch between clients who prefer spaces before their SI units and ones who don’t, or clients who favour abbreviations where others might spell out a term (such as Internet of Things) in full. Documents are frequently very short, so I might need to switch between several different style guides in the course of an hour.

Responsiveness

When you’re editing press releases, they often need to be turned around on the same day. This is likely to be the case for a range of business content. It’s not like books, where manuscripts can marinate for weeks or months (even years!). To do this kind of work it therefore helps to keep to fairly regular business hours, and to be able to move work around and handle small requests at very short notice.

In-depth subject knowledge – not needed!

To my surprise, I found it didn’t matter too much that I started out with little to no knowledge of electronics or computing terminology, beyond a rusty grasp of GCSE-level Physics. However, after two years of near-daily exposure, I can now say with some confidence that I know my amperes from my ohms. I’ll never be an expert, but I’ve really enjoyed learning more about a field I’d never otherwise have encountered. My continued education benefits me as well as the client – I’m sure I do a better job now than I did at the beginning, but my position as a reasonably well-informed layperson still grants me a degree of valuable objectivity. All in all, it’s been a joy, and I’m so glad I said yes to editing in a field outside my comfort zone.

Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She edits for a range of publishing and non-publishing clients, specialising in art, architecture, cookery, vocational education, general non-fiction and technical proofreading.

 


SfEP members have a broad range of knowledge and expertise – visit the SfEP directory to discover Professional and Advanced Professional Members’ niches and the services they offer.


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.

The benefits of young editors

By Rachel Rowlands

Older man sat among piles of books, reading

I was browsing social media recently and came across a comment from an experienced editor who was worrying about the future of language because of younger editors and how they work. It got me thinking about ageism in publishing – as well as those that think someone can be too young to edit, there was an article floating around not too long ago about whether or not people can be too old to edit.

I started my freelance business when I was 26. I’ve grappled with being taken seriously as a ‘younger professional’ – and I put that in quotes because I’m closer to 30 now. I’ve always looked a lot younger than I am, and I’m aware that many editors (and writers) have years on me, and much more experience and knowledge behind them from lengthy publishing careers, or other careers entirely.

Young adult sat on red chair, reading a red book

Different experience and knowledge

People often overlook that, although younger editors might not have 20 or 30 years of experience, they might have other experience that forms a solid foundation for building a career. Internships, work with student newspapers, years of reading certain types of books, degrees in specialist subjects.

Younger editors and publishing professionals have a lot to give. Language is constantly evolving, and younger professionals are often more clued up on newer slang terms, including internet and entertainment slang, or slang among young people. Fandom vocabulary, anyone? It’s not about destroying the future of the English language, either; it’s about keeping up with it as it changes. That’s just what happens with language.

Every editor, no matter their age, can bring something to the table, and will know things another editor won’t. The generation someone comes from plays a huge part in the types of knowledge they’ll have and the language they’re familiar with.

This brings me to my next point: editing specialisms. One of the reasons I edit and write young adult/children’s fiction and fantasy today is that it was booming when I was growing up, and I devoured tons of these books. There are plenty of specialisms a younger editor can bring to the table in this way. It’s unfair to suggest someone is lacking in knowledge because they’re a certain age, or because they have don’t have ten years of office work behind them. They might have different types of knowledge – something that they studied at degree level, or from a hobby or personal experience that they’ve spent years working on in their free time.

Young girl sat on a sofa, reading a book

Same skills, same battles

Aside from all that, we’re living in tough times, meaning most of us have to fight tooth and nail to succeed – perhaps more so than in recent decades. And that’s a positive. Determination, a willingness to learn and grow, the ability to bounce back. These are all important, especially for editors who want to freelance, because we have to be business-minded and constantly learning.

Editors can’t know everything – whether young or more seasoned. We shouldn’t judge those who are less experienced, because we all have to start somewhere. We shouldn’t undermine the intelligence of younger editors. Age doesn’t dictate ability.

 

Rachel RowlandsRachel Rowlands is an editor, author and professional member of the SfEP. She has a degree in English and Creative Writing and specialises in fiction, especially YA/children’s, fantasy and sci-fi, romance, and thrillers. She also edits general commercial non-fiction. You can find her at www.racheljrowlands.com or on Twitter.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

The thinking behind the new upgrade system

SfEP logoThere’s been much talk within the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) recently about encouraging people to move up the membership levels, to show that the SfEP endorses their experience and professional development. The changes to the upgrade system, launched this week, are designed to make this possible for more people, with a wider range of backgrounds and editorial experience.

When making the changes we wanted to retain and build on the things that were already good about the existing upgrade system. We already had a carefully considered and anonymous assessment of individual applications by the Admissions Panel. We had fairly demanding yet somewhat flexible criteria, showing that people who had upgraded successfully had achieved something of real worth. We also had a system that made a genuine attempt to deal with a wide range of experience … but with room for improvement.

Under the old system, the biggest problems came when an applicant presented training, experience or references that were untypical or unproven (an undocumented training course, or a referee without obvious editorial expertise, for example). If these applications could not be made to fit the rules, the application would often have to be rejected. We also found that experienced editors were unwilling to join as associates, and this meant that the SfEP was failing to acknowledge and endorse real expertise as well as potentially missing out on many highly experienced and well-qualified members.

Before making any changes, we consulted the membership. Their feedback told us that the paper application process needed updating, and the supporting information needed simplification. They also found that some aspects of the system were too prescriptive and inflexible. Particular groups of people felt excluded by the upgrade criteria. And finally, there was much demand for a test to allow people to demonstrate their editorial skills.

To address these issues, the new system has the following important features.

  • We’ve taken the system online. There’s now an online form to replace the paper application, which also allows for plenty of flexibility.
  • We’ve aimed for more clarity. The explanatory materials have been rewritten and redesigned.
  • A wider range of experience can be counted. This has been achieved chiefly as a result of the editorial test, which provides points towards upgrading, and can be used to support experience and references. We plan to introduce an advanced editorial test in 2015 to complement the basic test now offered.

We hope these changes will smooth the path to upgrading for many more applicants from a range of backgrounds – both recent entrants to the profession and highly experienced editors – and will ensure that our accreditation process remains fit for purpose for years to come. To find out more about upgrading, and the editorial syllabus and test, visit the SfEP website.

Liz Jones is the SfEP’s marketing and PR director, and worked on the changes to the society’s upgrade system in her previous council post (professional development).