Tag Archives: proofreading

Support from the SfEP for newbie proofreaders and editors

By Tracey Roberts

After gaining employment as an editorial assistant I investigated options for training and career development, and my research immediately led me to the SfEP. I was impressed by the range of training opportunities and advice available, and applied for membership straight away. I have benefited from the advice provided on the website (especially the forum and blog), and wanted to contribute something myself. But as I’m just starting out in my new career I have little editorial experience to share and I can be best described as a ‘newbie’.

newbie

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a newbie as someone who has just started doing an activity, a job etc.

Starting a new career can be daunting. But being a newbie should be viewed positively as an opportunity to learn something new, and I have learnt so much during my first year of SfEP membership. I have completed the ’Proofreading 1’ and ‘Copy-editing 1’ courses via distance learning, and I would highly recommend them as a starting point for anyone considering a career in editing or proofreading. I’m currently studying ‘Proofreading 2: Progress’, where your work is assessed by your tutor (an unnerving prospect for this newbie). Signing up for the mentoring programme will be equally daunting. But progress requires constructive feedback and I am looking forward to what I will learn from these courses and what new opportunities they may bring.

I am also grateful for the networking opportunities that membership has provided, and I have benefited greatly from the knowledge and experience that has been shared by other members. A number of networking opportunities are available and, regardless of your circumstances, newbies can find a convenient way to meet other members. The SfEP has pages on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and those keen to meet in person can also join a local group (a Skype group is available for international members). I attended my first meeting with the East Midlands group, where experienced members shared valuable advice and made me feel very welcome. New members are also encouraged to attend the annual conference, although I appreciate that this can be a daunting prospect when you don’t know anyone yet (see recent blogs by Karen and Katherine).

To aid my professional development I applied for the position of SfEP blog coordinator and was thrilled when I was offered the role. We have a number of great blog pieces written by experienced editors which will be published over the coming months, and we would love to hear from anyone else who would like to write for us. The blog covers any topics relevant to editors including freelance business advice, editing tips, guidance on using new software, sharing insight into your specialist area and anything else you think may be of interest to members. See 10 tips for your first proofreading job by John Espirian which will be of interest to new members.

I would also like to invite other newbies to write for the blog and share their experiences as they progress in their new career. No one ever said that starting a new career would be easy, but training and sound advice goes a long way to making this experience easier. This is what membership of the SfEP provides. As the new blog coordinator I look forward to sharing the thoughts and experiences of other members, both long-standing and new.

If you are interested in writing for the blog or have any feedback please get in touch blog@sfep.org.uk.

Image shared via Creative Commons:
Anne https://www.flickr.com/photos/ilike/4942572797/in/photostream/

Tracey
Tracey Roberts recently graduated with an MSc in Neuroscience and is an Entry-Level member of the SfEP. She currently works as editorial assistant for the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group based in Nottingham and is the SfEP blog coordinator.
Twitter: @traceystweets01

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

Beyond the proofreader’s remit?

By Liz Jones

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

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

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

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

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

What should make a proofreader wary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can we do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

7 questions to consider when naming your editorial business

photo (2)One of the most important decisions you’ll make when starting any new venture is what you should call your new business. Here are seven questions that will help you come up with the perfect name for your editorial business.

1. Should I use my own name?

If you are already well established in your editorial career, it can be helpful to use your own name in your business as it will help potential clients find you, particularly if they have worked with you previously. However, this doesn’t work if you have a more common name. If your moniker is along the lines of John Smith, you may prefer your business name to be a little more original.

2. Should I include details of what I do?

It can be helpful to outline your services as part of your business name, but be careful not to box yourself in. While ‘X Proofreading’ may be a perfect description of your business offering today, next year, after you’ve expanded into copy-editing or developmental editing, you may find that the proofreading part of your business name restricts you.

3. Is my proposed business name easy to pronounce and spell?

Picture the scene: You’ve met a really promising contact and exchanged business cards; a week later your new contact wants to get in touch. Unfortunately, they’ve mislaid your contact details, but that’s not a problem because they remember your business name. A simple internet search should yield your phone number or email address. Except when they type in what they remember as the name of your business, they spell it differently. Or maybe they have seen your business name written down and they are recommending you to a colleague, but they pronounce the name of your business as they remember hearing it, not as it is actually spelt, so they can’t find you. You’ve lost out on potentially valuable business. So keep your business name simple and avoid homonyms or puns that could confuse potential clients when they try to find you. Moreover, slightly odd spellings could be seen as detrimental when you are trading as someone who specialises in catching typos.

4. What is my story?

If you decide not to use your own name, don’t just think about the services you offer, think about your story. Is there a particularly original path you took that brought you to this career? Could your business name hint at your story? An added bonus is that this will give you something to talk about when you first introduce your business to prospective clients.

5. Is geography important to me?

Perhaps you have a local landmark or heritage that you’d like to reference in your name. Or would you rather not tie yourself to a particular region? Remember to think about the future as well as the present. If you are likely to relocate, would this impact on your business if your name is linked to a particular locale?

6. Are there any other businesses already using my proposed name?

You’ve come up with the perfect name; it’s so original no one else could have come up with it — never assume this is the case. Always search on the internet first. Google your ideal name and see what comes up. Then check the common domain name providers to see if the address is available. And don’t forget to search across social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to see if other organisations or individuals are already using your proposed name. The last thing you want is to buy your web address and then discover that someone is already using your business name on Twitter, particularly if they are in a less salubrious line of business!

7. What do friends and family think of my name?

Test out your proposed business name on friends, family, colleagues, or even the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) forums. What does the name say to people? Is there anything about your business name they can spot that you didn’t notice? For example, do the initials spell out an unfortunate acronym?

Are there any hints or tips you would add to this list? How did you come up with your business name?

Joanna BoweryJoanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she offers freelance marketing, PR, writing and proofreading services as Cosmic Frog. Jo is an entry-level member of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Alex Matthews.

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

Full circle? Why the SfEP and the SI are uniting to hold their first joint conference

Derwent College University of YorkBookings for the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ (SfEP) first joint conference with the Society of Indexers (SI) are now open. So why have we joined forces with the SI? And what can delegates expect from this year’s event?

Although this is the first SfEP and SI joint conference, the two organisations share historical links thanks to an SI conference back in 1988. It was at this event that Norma Whitcombe, the SfEP’s founder, asked for help in setting up an organisation similar to the SI, but aimed at freelance editors and proofreaders. This led to the establishment of the Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders (renamed in 2001 as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders to reflect the fact that it is also open to in-house members) later that year.

Since then, the SfEP and the SI have maintained close ties. The two organisations even shared offices and an administrator in the 1990s, and some members who belong to both societies.

So it is apt that the theme of the first joint SfEP and SI conference, which takes place from 5–7 September at Derwent College at the University of York, is ‘Collaborate and innovate’.

Joining forces enables both organisations to offer a rich and varied conference programme including plenty of opportunities to network with other editors, proofreaders and indexers. There will be a wide range of workshops and seminars on a range of topics, including an introduction to Word, book art and its role in developing literacy, indexing for editors, and the challenges and ethics of editing students’ theses and dissertations.

Highlights include the Whitcombe lecture by John Thompson, a founder of Polity Press, Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge and author of Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century, and an after dinner speech by linguist, editor and indexer (and honorary vice-president of the SfEP) David Crystal.

Previous SfEP conference delegates have always commented on the friendliness of colleagues attending the conference and have mentioned that the events offer something for everyone ‘whether seasoned veteran or someone just starting out on a freelance editing career’. Others have even gained new clients!

So, if you’ve not yet booked your conference place, what are you waiting for? There’s an early bird discount if you book your tickets before 17 April 2015.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s conference?

Joanna BoweryJoanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she offers freelance marketing, PR, writing and proofreading services as Cosmic Frog. Jo is an entry-level member of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Patric Toms.

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

Round-up of the ten most popular SfEP social media posts in February

SfEP logoSocial media moves very quickly, and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds are no different. So, to ensure you don’t miss out, here’s a summary of our ten most popular posts in February:

  1. 33 signs that were vandalised with the most hilarious responses ever. Pulptastic. (Posted on Facebook 20 February.)
  2. The wonderful names Chinese tourists have given British attractions. i100 from The Independent reported on the results of a campaign that asked people on China’s most popular social media sites to come up with names for 101 British attractions. (Posted on Facebook and Twitter 19 February.)
  3. Happy Friday – Is there a copy-editor on board? SfEP (Posted on Facebook 6 February.)
  4. Ten things people once complained would ruin the English language. From the io9 blog. (Posted on Facebook and Twitter 9 February.)
  5. Why reading and writing on paper can be better for your brain. The Guardian reports that reading from a hard copy improves concentration and that taking longhand notes rather typing onto laptops increases conceptual understanding and retention. (Posted on Facebook 25 February and Twitter 26 February.)
  6. 40 brilliant idioms that simply can’t be translated literally. Volunteers from the TED Open Translation Project share their favourite idioms from their mother tongue and how they translate literally. (Posted on Facebook 12 February and Twitter 13 February.)
  7. Editor confession: the things I hide from writers. A contributor to the copyediting.com blog admits to hiding some things from writers when editing their work. (Posted on Twitter 20 February.)
  8. When in Rome… read some place name idioms. The Oxford Dictionaries blog explores the reasons why some locations become proverbial. (Posted on Twitter 24 February.)
  9. Language and words in the news – 21 February. The Macmillan Dictionary blog shares a list of popular links related to language and words in the news. (Posted on Twitter 24 February.)
  10. Anybody can be a proofreader, can’t they? A link to the SfEP self-test in proofreading proved popular in February. (Posted on Twitter 9 February.)

Joanna BoweryJoanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she offers freelance marketing, PR, writing and proofreading services as Cosmic Frog. Jo is an entry-level member of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Anna Black.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect 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.

A round-up of the ten most popular SfEP social media posts in December

SfEP logoSocial media moves very quickly, and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds are no different. To ensure you don’t miss out, here’s a summary of our ten most popular posts in December:

1. Seven words you need to stop capitalising, according to Danny Rubin, managing editor of the Huffington Post. (Posted on Facebook and Twitter 16 December.)

2. 51 of the most beautiful sentences in literature. Many of our Facebook followers were keen to add their own favourite literary sentences to this Buzzfeed list. (Posted on Facebook 11 December.)

3. Celtic and the history of the English language. Jonathon Owen on Arrant Pedantry points out that the origins of the English language are not always clear. (Posted on Facebook 2 December.)

4. Ebooks can tell which novels you didn’t finish. We wondered if any of the books on this list featured in the Guardian stand out as unfinishable, and if any in these lists surprised you? (Posted on Facebook 10 December.)

5. Gram marly texting speedTrue or False? Your texting speed is drastically slower than your friends’, because you insist on using standard spelling and grammar. Via Grammarly Cards. (Posted on Facebook 5 December.)

6. Tips on tact and tone. You may be an excellent editor, but how’s your bookside manner? Pat McNees provides some tips on tact and tone for copy-editors on the Writers and Editors blog. (Posted on Twitter 1 December.)

7. 15 ways to overcome procrastination and get stuff done. An infographic from entrepreneur.com. (Posted on Twitter 12 December.)

8. The continued decline of the homepage. According to Gerry McGovern’s New Thinking blog, every page should be a homepage for someone. (Posted on Twitter 3 December.)

9. Making good use of business down-time. This was also the topic of conversation on the SfEP forums recently. Ruth E. Thaler-Carter suggests a few ideas to ensure freelance editors make the most of any workflow lulls on the American Editor blog. (Posted on Twitter 1 December.)

10. Warm-glow proofreading. SfEP training director Stephen Cashmore got us all into the Christmas spirit of goodwill with a heart-warming tale of a time when he offered to proofread a book for nothing. (Posted on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn on 23 December.)

Joanna Bowery

Joanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she offers freelance marketing, PR, writing and proofreading services. Jo is an associate of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Proofread by SfEP associate Chris Charlton.

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

 

Warm glow proofreading

The Magic DoorSome time ago someone asked on one of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) forums whether it is ever a good idea to do some proofreading or copy-editing for free. Much discussion ensued. Putting to one side for a moment the obligatory proofread of your offspring’s thesis or dissertation, your best friend’s offspring’s thesis or dissertation, or your elderly relative’s treasured autobiography, what is left? Why else might you work for nothing? The forum went on to list a number of possible reasons, and one of them was ‘because it might give you a warm glow’.

I admit it: this suggestion was mine, and I made it because I speak from experience.

Many, many (far too many) years ago I went to Denbigh Primary School in Luton and one of my teachers there was Mr Lyons. I mainly remember him because every Friday afternoon he would put aside whatever work we were supposed to be doing and read a story instead. One of the books he read to us over a period of some weeks or months was The Magic Door. Heard of it? I bet you haven’t.

Long, long after I had left Denbigh Primary I remembered that I enjoyed listening to The Magic Door, and I tried to track down a copy. This was in the days before the internet. Ahem, it was even before the days of personal computers. I couldn’t find any trace of the book. My search wasn’t helped by the fact that I couldn’t remember who had written it.

I tried again when Mr Google was born. Still failed. I moaned about it to anyone who would listen, then thought no more about it. Then several years later I got an email from someone I hadn’t been in contact with for ages. Amazingly, she had remembered me moaning, and by accident had found a site promoting the publication of The Magic Door. Excitedly I clicked on http://www.danbillany.com/books-by-dan-billany/the-magic-door. Try it now and you’ll see what I found.

Needless to say, I bought a copy of the book. While I was about it I read about the author, Dan Billany, who disappeared in WWII and didn’t see the publication of The Magic Door, or indeed of the books he wrote during captivity in Italy. He and another prisoner escaped from prison but were never seen again.

All this was jolly interesting, but I was anxiously awaiting my copy of The Magic Door. Would I still enjoy it? Would my eight-year-old son enjoy it? Or would it be hopelessly outdated, badly written and a terrible disappointment? It was some… er… forty or fifty years since Mr Lyons had read it out to my primary school class, after all. I couldn’t even remember much about the story itself, only that I had enjoyed it all those years ago.

I needn’t have worried. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and so did my son – so much so that some of the phrases from the story have crept into our regular family usage. But as I was reading the book out to my family, I was puzzled to see lots of errors in the text – spelling and punctuation errors. How could this be? It had been a bone fide published book way back in 1943.

I contacted Dan Billany’s great-niece (I think that’s the relationship), Jodi Weston Brake, to ask her what had happened. The answer was simply that there were no electronic versions of The Magic Door available, so she had had it rekeyed but couldn’t afford a proofreader. Now you can feel the warm glow coming. I offered to proofread the book for her, and explained why. She was delighted to hear the story of Mr Lyons, and sent me a pdf of the book (which was useful because at the time I was just teaching myself to edit pdf documents). I don’t know if a second edition has been issued, but if it has and it still has errors in it, they’re down to me. But don’t bother to write.

One thing struck me as I was proofreading the book and warmly glowing: it is very definitely a boy’s book. It’s about the adventures of a class of boys in a boy’s school, and their adventures are… well, boyish. Of course ‘boy’s stories’ and ‘girl’s stories’ were just part of the landscape back then. Maybe that is a topic for another blog post. But I can recommend The Magic Door to anyone with a son aged about eight to ten, especially if you want to feed them some history on the sly. And I can definitely recommend warm glow proofreading.

Stephen CashmoreStephen Cashmore is the training director and an advanced member of the SfEP. He lives on the west coast of Scotland, a stone’s throw from the beach, with his complicated family and not enough hours in the day.

 

Proofread by SfEP associate Anna Black.

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

The internet and the democratisation of English. Part 1: Power to the people

Sue Littleford, an advanced member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), has written a series of four blog posts exploring how the internet has contributed to the democratisation of the English language. Here is part one:

Magnetic letters The very phrase ‘democratisation of English’ is enough to send shivers down the spine of every self-diagnosed language maven who clings to ‘Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction’ or ‘Don’t split an infinitive’ or (hopefully only in days gone by) ‘English should be more like Greek. Or Latin. Y’know, proper languages.’

Breaking news! That thud you hear in the background isn’t the sound of standards falling. It’s the sound of language remaining fit for purpose.

Over the last few months, I’ve noted more and more blog posts, articles and books that are anti-prescriptivism. Indeed, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s song ‘Word Crimes’ (July 2014) was quite widely pilloried for the number of shibboleths it managed to jam in and many fears were expressed that the – well, let’s be polite here – ‘less aware’ would take it as unadulterated truth and propound True Grammar According To My Teachers while the ‘more aware’ shake their heads in sorrow. There are still so many people posting in online editors’ groups asking for ‘The Rule’ for this or that circumstance, and then arguing about the answers. There is only one correct answer to that question. It depends. It always depends. The rule is, of course, that there are no rules – at least none that hold good for every single case in every single variety of English and in every single register in which it is used. What we do have are norms, set at varying levels of granularity in our language.

Nowhere is more democratic about language than the internet at large. Current estimates put English as the world’s most spoken language and third most common native language, with close to a billion people speaking English in some form.

That’s millions and millions of speakers of different varieties of English (well over 330 million native speakers of one kind and another, with some estimating more like 430 million); speakers with a wide variety of backgrounds, education and needs. All these people have votes equal to the number of times their words are intercepted by the search engines and bots indexing away.

So what will happen? I think that Englishes will, over time – and not too far off at that – start to merge. The differences we keep reminding ourselves of between BrEng and AmEng and AusEng and CanEng and all the other Englishes we edit and proofread will, I think, inevitably become ever more blurred. We might – goodness! – end up with just Eng.

A lot of my editing is of books by non-native English-speaking academics, and I routinely see that their spelling and punctuation wobbles from side to side of the Atlantic; often swayed by whatever they used for that part of their own work – spellings and punctuation mimic the variety of source material without thinking about consistency in the new piece. With so much international writing and international-team writing, we are already well on the way towards obfuscation of the differences between AmEng and BrEng.

Still, Canadians seem to cope with their own spelling caught between a British rock and a US hard place. The Editors’ Association of Canada: Editing Canadian English (9781551990453) is quite open about CanEng being a hybrid, and accepts that Canadians may write both ‘harbor’ and ‘centre’, taking internal consistency to a more granular level than the native British or US speaker is used to. It quotes Peter Sypnowich: ‘Henry Fowler declared that American and British English should not be mixed, an injunction that must leave Canadians speechless.’ I fully expect Fowler would be aghast, but I do think Canada is a model that will be followed by other Englishes.

Is this democratisation of our language a race to the bottom? No! How could it be? There will still be the demand for all the different registers – and there will still be a sense of what is well-written and what is more, well, vernacular, but I don’t see English splitting into elite and proletariat versions, and certainly not into non-compatible Englishes, for two reasons.

  1. Globalisation won’t allow it – people need to be able to communicate and English is the lingua franca of much of the world. How will people who need to be able to communicate with each other find it useful to make new and/or stronger distinctions between my English and your English?
  2. Online, people are, I think, less aware of where a particular person is from. The people I communicate with on various forums won’t necessarily know my nationality. We will pick up quirks of a language we like and use them ourselves, spreading them widely. Others will pick them up and spread them further still. And these usages will live or die according to how useful people find them.

Where does this leave copy-editors, in particular? Well, writing a lot of style notes and word lists – if you want the glib answer. People who work with language, as we do, are pretty attuned to different registers and readily absorb a sense of what will and won’t do in a given piece of writing. It will be a challenge if an author demands to know on what authority you made a certain change or recommendation, and it will be harder if that author is old school and clings to ‘What My Teacher Said’. We will have to develop strategies to deal with that, and talk about norms, readability, flow and clarity rather than rules; and remember that there is not now, nor ever has been, only one right way.

It’s often hard to remember that there is no authority handing down the Rules of English to its speakers. Language doesn’t work like that (unless you’re French…) – there is no committee somewhere out there deciding what English usage is right and what is wrong. Dictionaries describe usage – they don’t prescribe or proscribe. There are only the people using English – an awful lot of people – communicating with each other across the world more than ever before, faster than ever before and deciding by mob rule what works and what doesn’t. And do you know? It was always like that. But now it’s big enough and fast enough for us to pull up a chair, grab the popcorn and sit and watch it happen.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has now been a freelance copy-editor for seven years, working mostly on postgraduate textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller.

Proofread by SfEP associate Alex Matthews.

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