Tag Archives: grammar

Punctuating quotes: UK and US differences

Outside or inside, before or after? Punctuating quotes can be a bit of a minefield, as Luke Finley points out.Us-UK English

A quick search on the SfEP forums reveals that punctuating quotes is an area that trips many of us up – and not just those with less experience. This isn’t a surprise, because there’s extensive variation in the conventions. In this column I focus on quotes in non-fiction texts: conventions for reported speech in fiction are arguably even more subjective.

Academic/formal writing

In academic writing and other materials that cite in a strict academic style (policy papers and the like), the conventions are fairly fixed.

UK/US variation

In US English, closing punctuation goes inside the quote marks, whether the quote is a complete sentence or not, and whether the punctuation was there in the original quoted material or not:

Svolik identifies the “twin problems of dictatorship,” going on to explore how different institutions address these problems.

In UK English, in the same example the comma would follow the closing quote mark (which would more usually be a single quote mark – but that’s another story). However, UK English does put the closing punctuation inside the quote marks if the quote is, or ends with, a complete sentence:

Balkin says that ‘almost all political activity may be constitutional. Often we may only know what counts later on, when practice and precedents become settled.’

Punctuating with citations

Where a parenthetical citation (eg in author–date style) appears immediately after the quote, the punctuation follows it, in UK or US style:

‘… precedents become settled’ (Balkin, 2011).

Displayed quotes

In displayed quotes there are typically no quote marks to interfere with the closing punctuation. In this case, if there is a citation it follows the closing punctuation:

… precedents become settled. (Balkin, 2011)

Other non-fiction texts

Separating quotes from text

Where quoted material is part of a longer sentence, it’s often separated from the text using commas:

He said, ‘show me where the comma should be’.

In more formal writing, or where the quoted material is longer, a colon might take the place of the comma. Or it might be omitted altogether for very short quotes or where the quote is integrated into the syntax of the sentence:

About commas, he said simply ‘Hate them!’

He said that he was kept awake at night worrying about ‘the horrors of punctuation’.

Punctuation inside or out?

The UK approach is generally to be guided by whether or not the punctuation ‘belongs’ to the quoted matter. ‘Belongs’ is often interpreted (eg The Economist Style Guide goo.gl/w52udb) to mean a natural pause regardless of how the original quote was punctuated.

‘This sentence’, she said, ‘has a full stop but no commas.’

‘On the other hand,’ she continued, ‘this sentence has both.’

The US approach – which is common in British fiction and increasingly in journalistic writing – is to punctuate inside the quote marks regardless of whether the sense of the quoted matter requires it.

Use your own good judgement

As is clear from my qualified statements, these are conventions, not hard-and-fast rules. Sources such as Butcher’s Copy-editing and New Hart’s Rules are good for the range of approaches but don’t necessarily tell you which to use in a particular case. Others, such as Trask’s Penguin Guide to Punctuation, offer their own preferred approach – which may be clear and persuasively argued, but doesn’t necessarily preclude a different approach.

In the end, it comes down to your client’s preference, the need for consistency and your own judgement. For example, Trask argues for minimal punctuation – why use additional marks to signal that a quote is coming up when the quote marks already do that job? This notion is attractively straightforward but, as an editor or especially as a proofreader, you won’t always be in a position to impose such an approach.

 

Luke FinleyLuke Finley, an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP, set up Luke Finley Editorial in 2013 and left the public sector soon after, to edit and proofread full time. He will edit just about anything but specialises in social policy.

 

 


This article first appeared in the SfEP magazine, Editing Matters, in November 2016.


Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

Picture credit: raphink, on Pixabay.

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

‘Pedantry is not a good look’: the radical message of English Grammar Day

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

So, when I told another SfEP member that I was going to English Grammar Day at the British Library, he was like, ‘I hope it doesn’t just involve complaining about Americanisms and overworked shop assistants writing “Out off order” signs’. Well, I was kind of expecting it would be just that – but, you know, it actually turned out to be kind of a subversive celebration of language change. And, yes, it also acknowledged the numerous linguistic tics I’ve already used in this opening paragraph. I suspect that prescriptively inclined delegates went home despairing of the deteriorating state of the English language. But, if they did, they weren’t paying attention.

Editors tend to be descriptive, not prescriptive, in their approach

For me, the day raised the issue of how we, as editors, can balance the prescriptive and descriptive elements of language use. It’s all very well for academics to shrug their shoulders and agree that things change, but where do we stand when our job is to ensure that text in the public domain is correct?

Or is that our job? Perhaps we should regard our work more as facilitating communication. Most modern editors would probably agree that it is. SfEP members formed a good proportion of the audience and I didn’t hear any of them grinding their teeth (except when it was suggested that nobody would miss the possessive apostrophe). In fact, most of us nodded at Rob Drummond’s graph indicating that pedantry decreases as language knowledge increases.

When people criticise the language of others, it’s almost always about more than language

Take Zwicky’s bias warnings, quoted by David Denison:

  • The recency illusion – a belief that things you notice recently are recent.
  • The frequency illusion – once you’ve noticed something, you see it everywhere but that doesn’t mean it happens all the time.

We all have our tics and bugbears. I hate constructions like ‘We were sat on the bench’ and ‘Come with’ (it’s ‘come with ME’, dammit!) and would correct these in written text without a second thought. On the other hand, I am aware that all my conversations are peppered with the oft-despised ‘like’. As Rob Drummond said in his talk, ‘standard’ English is an arbitrary accident of history, reflecting the balance of power and personal choices that may, or may not, have gained wider traction. The speech of those who decry ‘like’ or the exclamatory ‘so’ almost certainly features other discourse markers that nobody seems to mind – ‘kind of’, ‘well’, ‘you know’, ‘I mean’, ‘actually’. Your ‘overuse’ of linguistic tics may be someone else’s normal. They’re not necessarily devoid of meaning, either – it was pointed out that certain academics’ use of ‘as it were’ could imply that the speaker feels that ordinary words are not adequate to express the brilliance of their insight!

There is evidently a difference between what people say and what people think they said, and, frankly white, middle-aged, middle-class men – those with the power – receive less linguistic criticism than other groups in society. Everyone has preferences but when these become judgements and prejudices, these preferences are problematic. The use of ‘he’ as a singular generic pronoun has, thankfully, fallen out of favour but the lack of an alternative term raises new issues. Charlotte Brewer analysed actor James Woods’ recent tweet complaining about the singular ‘they’, taken by many to be transphobic. Dictionaries tend to avoid the matter, as well as failing to reflect new definitions of other gendered words – ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, for example. Do dictionaries record or sanction use – or neither? A woman may have a wife, whether or not the dictionary says it’s possible.

Non-standard may become standard but, even if it doesn’t, non-standard does not mean sub-standard. In fact, it often does a better job of communicating than standard forms. A good example is the sophistication and eloquence of much grime music and rap. Check out The Hip-hop Shakespeare Company for more evidence.

To misquote Taylor Swift: ‘Hey, kids! Grammar is fun!’

Grammar is often taught in primary schools by those who are not confident in describing the technical details. To be honest, many editors make a good living without knowing what a modal verb is, or caring about the difference between ‘which is better?’ and ‘which is best?’. Does it matter? Probably not, if the aim is to pass Key Stage SATs or to make a passage of text easier to understand. But English Grammar Day showed that grammar is about much more than whether fronted adverbials improve a piece of prose.

Editors normally work with the written word. Most users of English differentiate between writing and speaking modes, but younger people often blend the two. Electronic forms of communication (texting, for example) may reflect spoken language written down, but we don’t yet have the terminology to grammatically assess it.

There is always an element of choice in how we use language. Non-standard grammar can both reflect, and play a role in, the performance and expression of our identities. Code-switching is not a problem for most speakers if they first recognise the need and then choose to do so. Contrary to rumour, there is apparently no evidence that GCSE and A-Level examiners have come across text-speak – clearly, young people know how to meet the standards appropriate to the situation. The theme of our 2017 SfEP conference was ‘context is key’ – nobody is saying that students shouldn’t use standard grammar in formal essays, but they don’t need to use it in everyday writing and speech, as long as their audience understands them.

Which brings us back to how editors could address these issues. There’s one short answer. Rob Drummond added a coda to his graph that, ‘You can become a pedantic anti-pedant and that’s unattractive as well.’ Our job, as those with the language knowledge, is to educate pedants. And, sometimes, our job is to recognise that we are those same pedants.

With thanks to the day’s speakers, who provided the springboard for my thoughts in this blog post and to whom I apologise for any inadvertent plagiarism: Charlotte Brewer, Jon Hutchinson, David Denison, Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Barbara Bleiman, Rob Drummond and John Mullan.

And with apologies to my proofreader for the first few sentences.

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel. Check out her micro book reviews on Ju’s Reviews. Don’t ask her to explain what a modal verb is.

 


You can brush up your grammar with the SfEP’s online course.


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.

English Grammar Day 2018

By Abi Saffrey

Since 2014, the British Library and UCL (in association with PhilSoc and the University of Oxford) have hosted English Grammar Day. Although the event is primarily aimed at those teaching or studying grammar, the variety of sessions makes it a fascinating day for anyone with an interest on what we do with our words.Dictionary entry for grammarI first found out about English Grammar Day 2018 earlier this year (thanks Twitter) and was very keen to go – despite not having studied linguistics for 20 years, it’s still a subject that fascinates me and grammar is part of my day-to-day editing life. And it’s not often that you can get a day of CPD for the bargain price of £10 (and in the wonderful surroundings of the British Library too).

Jonnie Robinson started the day with a look at the British Library’s Evolving English VoiceBank and WordBank – excerpts of people talking about their word choices and grammar demonstrate how grammar forms part of our identity. The next session, presented by Lynne Murphy (an SfEP conference favourite), showed us the differences between American and British English grammar. Nope, not as different as we might like to think.

After a cuppa and a leg stretch, Rebecca Woods discussed how children acquire the grammar needed to ask questions – how they build up the components necessary to create a grammatically correct question (and how short a time it takes them), and of course what funny things they come out with in the process. How chickens?Small chick with other chicks behindTeaching and understanding grammar is on many teachers’ minds following curriculum revamps over the past few years. Suzannah Ferguson, a primary teacher now moving into postgraduate study, explained how there is a generation of teachers in schools who are without grammar knowledge and without second language knowledge. They face a steep learning curve just like their pupils. Suzannah was passionate about reassuring children (and teachers) that grammar is not the scary beast that it can easily be perceived as.

After lunch, SfEP President David Crystal brought humour and warmth to his session about grammar teaching.

‘Poppy knew what adjectives and nouns are.
She’d been drawing circles around them for ages.’

Giving children (and writers) the ability to play with words, to ask why changing the ‘standard’ word order changes the effect, develops their love of language. (Anyone for a game of adjective tennis?) Most children know many grammar rules through their acquisition of language – David believes we quibble and debate about around only 5% of grammar as a whole. We’re all grammar experts by the time we start to learn to write and read.

The final session was a panel discussion with all of the presenters, chaired by John Mullan from UCL. In summary:

  • Breaking (grammar) rules is fun.
  • Observe, explore and investigate language to make it – and grammar – interesting.
  • Usage creates norms.
  • Grammar arguments quickly evolve into identity.
  • Linguistic prejudice is real, and wrong.

Although the day was not directly aimed at editors, it did feed my appetite for language awareness and grammar knowledge. It reminded me to question my own preferences for certain structures or word choices; an author’s voice must be respected when it does not sound like my own.

I will certainly be booking my ticket for English Grammar Day 2019 as soon as the email arrives next spring – join me, editors and language lovers!

Abi SaffreyAbi Saffrey is an editorial project manager and copy-editor, and is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP. She really should get around to finding a suitable postgraduate linguistics course.

 

 

 

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

SfEP social media round-up July 2016

You are probably aware that many editors write great blogs for their own websites on a range of issues related to the world of editing, which are regularly shared via the SfEP Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. The social media round-up has therefore been expanded to introduce a new section with some good posts from SfEP members’ blogs published each month that we think you will enjoy reading.

If you write a blog and would like to share your work in a future social media round-up, please get in touch (blog@sfep.org.uk).

share on social media

Blogs round-up

Catherine Dunn recently attended the Writing East Midlands conference where Cressida Downing gave an excellent workshop on how authors can best work with editors. Catherine shares the tips provided in her blog Working with an editor.

Want to become a ‘digital nomad’? Kate Haigh explains how in her blog Being a location-independent proofreader.

Sophie Playle shared advice on How to edit fiction with confidence in her guest blog for The Proofreader’s Parlour.

Want to start listening to editorial podcasts? In his recent blog post John Espirian shares his favourite Podcasts for editors.

New proofreaders will find helpful advice in Louise Harnby’s guest blog The business of proofreading: taking a long and interconnected view for An American Editor.

Social media round-up

Linguist Oliver Kamm argues it’s finally time to stop correcting people’s grammar.

Taking a dip into the language of swimming.

Omitting periods? It’s about genres.

Pick the right fights when you’re editing.

Birdies, bogeys, and baffies: the language of golf.

Watch the Gutenberg printing press in action.

Written and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

 

SfEP social media round-up – March 2016

In case you missed them, here are some of the most popular links shared across the SfEP’s social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) in March.

share on social media

  1. Men make up their minds about books faster than women, study finds http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/08/men-make-up-their-minds-about-books-faster-than-women-study-finds?CMP=share_btn_tw
  2. Top 10 hateful characters you love in literature http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/02/top-10-hateful-characters-you-love-in-literature
  3. Do you know Irish verbs? Ten verbs from Northern Ireland that you’ll enjoy using http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/03/northern-irish-verbs/
  4. 10 reasons your web design isn’t working (and what to do about it) http://www.elegantthemes.com/blog/tips-tricks/10-reasons-your-web-design-isnt-working-and-what-to-do-instead
  5. Breaking rules and starting sentences with ‘And’ http://www.davidairey.com/starting-sentences-with-and/
  6. Should you only “edit what you know”? http://blog.editors.ca/?p=3440
  7. Fibonacci to Avogadro: numbers with names http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/03/numbers-with-names/
  8. Too many exclamation points? Never!!!!! U.K. educators derided for trying to police punctuation http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/too-many-exclamation-points-never-u-k-educators-derided-for-trying-to-police-punctuation
  9. Ways to make your (editorial) suggestions sound ‘softer’ and more polite http://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2016/03/23/you-could-always-email-him-making-suggestions-sound-nicer/
  10. Ten reasons why you should eat chocolate while reading http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/mar/23/ten-reasons-why-you-should-eat-chocolate-while-reading?CMP=share_btn_tw

Posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator.

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

Conferences can be for oldies too

By Rod Cuff

I have a couple of vivid memories of the first time I went to a conference of what was then in 2000 the SFEP (capital F for ‘[of] Freelance’, as distinct from today’s lower case f for … well, ‘for’). The previous afternoon’s AGM had been dull for a newcomer, everyone seemed to know everyone else and no one had spoken to me, so I was pretty apprehensive as I waited for the conference to start.

But then the chief organiser, John Woodruff, positively bounced onto the stage wearing a T-shirt that read ‘Daily sex Dyslexia rules OK!’ I just might enjoy this, I thought.

Soon I was sitting in a big circle of chairs for my first workshop, on time management and ways of becoming more efficient. As others responded to the workshop leader’s questions, my height shrank by a few inches per minute until I had almost disappeared from sight. But finally, a question I could answer: is there one thing you could do that you know would improve your productivity? ‘Yes!’ I squeaked. A thousand eyes turned on me and glared. ‘I could delete Solitaire from my PC.’

Suddenly, twenty beaming, laughing faces turned to me. ‘We love you!’ they chorused. ‘Please be our friend!’ I drew myself up to six foot one again. I was in.

Some of that may be slightly exaggerated, but what is true is that speaking truth to power (well, the facilitator) turned a key for me, and I learned that, to get the best out of anything, it helps to put in something in the first place.

But, a dozen or so conferences later, I was feeling uneasy about what York 2015 might be like. Old hands tend to fade away from the conference scene eventually because in previous years we’ve done something similar to all the workshops likely to be on offer this time around. The pull then tends to be people rather than learning – meeting up with old friends and contacts, striking up conversations with new people, propping up the bar, singing in the Linnets, enjoying the conference dinner.

I’m no different, but very much to my surprise I found that this year’s conference turned out to be full of delightfully informative events. Three workshops/sessions, all short ones, are likely to have a direct bearing on how I work, whether on the few paid jobs I still do or for voluntary or recreational projects such as editing the concert programmes for a choir:

  1. practical uses of corpora for checking when particular words, phrases or spellings began to be used or go out of fashion in various kinds of media context
  2. a bracing critique of various ‘rules’ of grammar, which has made me rethink my approach to style guides
  3. a long list of software tools useful for editors, bound to improve my time at the computer in all sorts of ways.

But (sentences in unimpeachable English literature have begun with ‘But’ for centuries – thank you, workshop 2) the really memorable sessions were quite unexpected:

  • the Whitcombe Lecture by John Thompson was the most thought-provoking one I’ve heard for years
  • a hands-on session on simple paper-book making and paper engineering was just a total delight (you rarely see so many happy faces at a workshop)
  • a two-hour run through the development of typefaces and methods of printing made a whole lot of past evolution, practices and technologies clear to me for the first time.

paper-book making at the 2015 SfEP conference

The lesson for me from all this is that you can teach an old dog new tricks, and moreover you can rejuvenate the old dog in the process. Needy spirit Serendipity rules OK!

Rod CuffRod Cuff took up proofreading and editing as a second career after a maths degree, thirty years in computer software development and a lifetime interest in astronomy. Naturally, he spent most of his time copy-editing books on the history of ballet and the maintenance of Swedish reservoirs. He is the SfEP’s Judith Butcher Award winner for 2015.

 

Proofread by Karen Pickavance.

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

How I got started – Graham Hughes

SfEP deskOne of the most common questions asked at Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) local groups and by those interested in pursuing a career in editing or proofreading is: ‘How did you get started?’.

SfEP professional member Graham Hughes shares his story in this regular blog feature, which explores the many different career paths taken by SfEP members.

This really wasn’t part of the plan. From a ridiculously early age – around 14 – computing was the only career I could foresee for myself. I did the O Level, A Level and degree, and joined British Rail (yes, we’re going back a bit) as a programmer.

After about 15 years, several changes of role and a few changes of employer, I was in a rut. Fresh opportunities were limited by my old-fashioned technical skills, and the work was becoming mundane. I started looking for something else to do – first as a sideline, and maybe eventually as a career.

I saw an advert for the Writers Bureau’s Comprehensive Writing Course. This seemed like something I could do. I’d always felt comfortable working with documents, as well as programs. I did the course – most of it, anyway – and went on to have a sports history book, and some articles, published. Soon, though, I was struggling to produce ideas and convert them into paid work. After two years of not quite setting the world alight, my book was remaindered. The idea of making a living from writing seemed far-fetched.

So, what next? Another Writers Bureau course caught my eye: Proofreading and Copy Editing. It struck me that checking my material – rather than actually writing it – had probably been my main strength. How about checking other people’s material, and getting paid for it? Also, as Richard Hutchinson explains in his blog post on how he got started, there are parallels between programming and editorial work.

A plan came together: (1) do the course, (2) re-edit the book (yes, I now realise I probably should have used someone else), (3) self-publish it as an ebook, (4) look for work as a proofreader or editor. The last part was the tricky one.

My first job wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind. After I’d emailed the leader of a local writers’ group, one of its members asked me to type a short play script that he’d handwritten. He accepted my offer to edit it as well, so it felt like some kind of a start.

After that, finding work was very tough. With my full-time employment in IT, I couldn’t take on big jobs, or even smallish time-critical ones. I joined the SfEP, after dithering for several months, and started learning a lot about proofreading and editing, especially from the SfEP forums – but progress was snail-paced for the next year or so.

The big change came when my IT job ended, semi-voluntarily. Rather than looking for a new one, I decided (nervously) to focus on freelance editorial work. I did look for in-house editorial jobs close to home, but there seemed to be nothing available for someone with my limited credentials. The next few months were very challenging: a few small jobs, then nothing for nearly three months; but my progress with the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) Basic Proofreading course gave me some hope.

Then, suddenly, the work started coming – mostly from students, largely thanks to the Find a Proofreader website and a helpful, nearby SfEP member with an overflowing workload (thanks Helen). Around this time (spring 2014), I completed the PTC course, along with other training, and became an ordinary member of SfEP (now known as professional member), which helped to bring in more work. To shore up my finances, I downsized from a suburban semi-detached house to an urban flat (no great wrench), wiping out my mortgage.

Since then, things have been gradually coming together. I’ve been doing more work for business rather than students, also proofreading two books for a publisher. I’m now leaning more towards editing, to make use of the decent writing skills that I feel I have (though you might disagree, reading this). Technology and business have become my predominant subject areas. Via a long-winded route, I think I’ve ended up in my ideal job.

If you’re thinking of getting into editing and/or proofreading, I strongly recommend it, if you think it’s right for you and vice versa. Being a keen reader isn’t enough: you need a sound understanding of spelling, grammar and punctuation, a knack for paying attention to detail, a professional attitude and a willingness to stay positive and persistent as you build your business. If that’s you: good luck!

Graham HughesGraham Hughes still can’t quite get used to the idea of telling people he’s a proofreader and editor, rather than saying he’s ‘in IT’. He started doing part-time editorial work, and joined SfEP as an associate (now known as entry-level member), in 2012. He went full-time in 2013, before becoming an ordinary member (now known as professional member) of the SfEP – and an online forum administrator – the following year. To learn more about his background and services, please visit the GH Editorial website.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Susan Walton.

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

How I got started – Samantha Stalion

Samantha Stalion working outsideOne of the most common questions asked at Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) local groups and by those interested in pursuing a career in editing or proofreading is: ‘How did you get started?’.

SfEP ordinary member Samantha Stalion shares her story in this regular blog feature, which explores the many different career paths taken by SfEP members.

As I sit here in the sunshine, with my laptop and ergonomic mouse on the table in front of me, I cannot help but ponder my life. How did I end up here? I guess it’s taken me a while to realise what it is I want to do with my life. I mainly have my husband to thank for my long-awaited eureka moment just over two years ago. But not least I should mention my editor-in-chief father, who has remained supportive and encouraging over the years, and who – although I only recently realised this – has continuously looked over me, exuding his own unrivalled determination and proficiency in the publishing profession. Perhaps it was my adoration for my father and the entrepreneurial mindset of my ambitious husband that have somehow combined to spur me on to reach my own goals and continue to develop professionally.

I don’t think I was ever particularly academically gifted – I was merely an average student – but a certain degree of maturity and curiosity to learn more about the world we live in has enabled me to use my skills to master my profession and steadily move forward, making a living along the way. As an editorial fledgling, I was lucky enough to have some great role models and mentors over the years, and my fluency in various languages and broadened horizons have certainly added to my competency in this profession.

In any case, going back to how I got here … I have a lot to say for my (or indeed anyone’s) multicultural and multilingual upbringing. English, German and Dutch all played an integral role in my early years, and later (at degree level) Spanish was added to these language skills. Not only were the languages a part of my upbringing, so too were the cultures behind these languages and the countries in general. As languages remained very much a part of my everyday life, I began to explore these skills and integrate them into my professional career, choosing jobs that required them. I ventured into translation and successfully completed a postgraduate translation course run by City University London. Having realised that there is much more to translation than generally assumed, I became intrigued by other professions that depended on language skills.

Owing to my father’s connections (and, in a way, I guess my own connections), I was able to land a gig translating articles on religions for an encyclopedia, for a reputable academic publisher in the Netherlands. I worked on this project for a couple of years, on a part-time basis, before being asked to work on other encyclopedia projects – not as a translator, but as a copy-editor. With next to no copy-editing experience, I was given on-the-job training and, four years and a few pay rises later, I am still copy-editing for the same publishing firm on a couple of different projects – I must be doing something right.

In the last couple of years, in addition to dabbling in freelance work alongside my full-time job in the printing industry, I decided to consolidate my editorial skills with some additional training and qualifications. I passed the ‘Basic proofreading by distance learning’ course provided by the Publishing Training Centre with merit and completed the ‘Brush up your grammar‘ course offered by the SfEP. After learning the proper use of BSI proofreading marks, and with some helpful tips and advice on how to get started as an editorial freelance, I gained the confidence necessary to jump into the full-time freelance whirlpool. Additionally, I successfully upgraded my SfEP membership status to ordinary member.

Local SfEP group meetings have been a source of encouragement and invaluable advice, and the forum discussion boards on the SfEP website remain a daily source of inspiration and guidance.

Unfortunately, with an imminent move to the States (the price you pay for being married to an American), gaining work and new clients has been slow going. However, I imagine with some extra determination and hard work I will get to where I want to be professionally before too long. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

My advice to other freelance newbies just starting up their own business: draw on ALL the contacts you have and GO FOR IT!

Samantha Stalion profile shotSamantha Stalion was brought up in a multicultural family. She completed her high-school diploma in the Netherlands, studied Dance and Spanish at Chester University and completed a postgraduate translation course at City University London. Recently, she completed the ‘Basic proofreading by distance learning’ (PTC) and ‘Brush up your grammar’ (SfEP) courses and she is currently enrolled on the PTC’s ‘Copy-editing by distance learning’ course. Samantha is an ordinary member of the SfEP and recently launched her freelance business Samantix et al, offering editorial and translation services to academics and businesses.

Proofread by SfEP associate Sandra Rawlin.

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

Top quality editorial training for 2015

SfEP logoMake 2015 the year you start your editorial training, or commit to continuing professional development (CPD). The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) offers a range of classroom courses on aspects of editorial practice at centres around the UK, run by our highly experienced and knowledgeable trainers.

Why train in the classroom?

We believe that our classroom-based courses offer unique benefits:

  • Networking and social opportunities – meet like-minded course delegates, and discuss your interests and concerns with your tutor.
  • Answers in real time – get instant feedback on exercises, and see how others tackle things.
  • Make a day of it – it’s easy, as a freelance, to get stuck behind your desk. Enjoy your time away!

Courses for beginners

Copy-editing 1 (Introduction)
Cambridge, 4 March 2015
Proofreading 1 (Introduction)
Edinburgh, 20 February 2015
London, 6 March 2015
These basic courses are perfect if you need to copy-edit or proofread as part of your job but have had little formal training.

Getting work with non-publishers
Bristol, 23 May 2015
This course helps you reflect on how you can promote your business to non-publishers, and fine-tune your networking activities to get more – and better paid – work.

Going freelance and staying there
York, 17 February 2015
This course provides essential information on the business and organisational aspects of setting up as a freelance.

Courses for improvers

Copy-editing 2 (Progress)
London, 12 March 2015
Proofreading 2 (Progress)
London, 18 February 2015
These courses are suited to those wishing to update, refresh or check their skills in these areas.

Brush up your copy-editing
London, 19 February 2015
This workshop aims to consolidate and extend skills evolved through trial and error, and put editorial tasks in the context of the whole publishing process.

Brush up your grammar
London, 5 March 2015
This course is suitable for anyone working with text and hoping to gain confidence that they are making good decisions in what they write.

On-screen editing 1
London, 2 March 2015
This course is designed to introduce techniques to increase efficiency and improve working practices for those who do a lot of on-screen editing. (It can also be taken with On-screen editing 2, below.)

Introduction to web editorial skills
Edinburgh, 16 March 2015
This workshop is designed for those who want to adapt their editorial skills for a digital medium, or who are responsible for web content but have no editorial skills.

Professional copy-editing
Oxford, 21 April 2015
Designed for those who have taken introductory courses and done some copy-editing work, this workshop teaches crucial skills that will help you offer your clients the kind of service they’ll want again and again.

Advanced courses

On-screen editing 2
London, 3 March 2015
This course is designed to introduce more advanced techniques for improved efficiency for those already experienced in on-screen editing. (It can follow on from On-screen editing 1, above.)

Proofreading for accreditation
London, 1 April 2015
This advanced course aims to help delegates decide whether they’re ready to take the SfEP accreditation test in proofreading.

Find out more

For more about the content of the courses, and to book, visit the Training section of our website.