Tag Archives: standards

Standards and the SfEP

Standards, in one way or another, lie at the heart of almost everything that the SfEP does. When Norma Whitcombe called the meeting in November 1988 that resulted in the formation of the Society, one of the agreed aims was to encourage high standards based on high-quality training and engagement with publishers. Thirty years later, while our horizons have expanded to include much more than just traditional publishing, our mission remains the same: to uphold editorial excellence.

A hand writing words: knowledge. learning, experience, skills, ability, competence, training, growth

From the outset, the SfEP has sought ways not only to encourage high standards but to measure them as well. As early as 1996 the Accreditation and Registration Board was established, and a rigorous accreditation test, supported by a programme of training, enabled members to become accredited proofreaders. More recently, the then tests and mentoring director (now our chartership adviser) Gerard Hill established our current online basic editorial skills test, launched in 2014 and supported by a detailed editorial syllabus. Our system of membership levels rewards excellence in editorial practice while offering potential clients the reassurance that members in professional grades have the necessary training, knowledge and experience to provide the quality of service that they require.

Anyone who uses the services of an editor or proofreader would expect the person they commission or employ to have the skills to do the job. But how can they be sure? If you were looking for a plumber to fix your boiler, or seeking advice from a medical consultant, you would expect them to have taken the necessary training and hold the certification to prove it. Clients should have the same expectations of an editorial professional, which is where the SfEP comes in.

Anyone who aspires to become a Professional or Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP must meet the standards expected of the grade, and every application for those membership levels is independently and anonymously assessed by our Admissions Panel, made up of knowledgeable and experienced members of the Society. Their assessment requires evidence of suitable experience, know-how and training, together with a commitment to continuing professional development. As a result, you can be confident that a member of one of the SfEP’s senior grades will know what they are about.

In support of its mission to uphold excellence the Society has created a detailed code of practice, first issued in 1995, to which all members must adhere. We have also prepared model terms and conditions that can be used or adapted by members to enable them to establish a professional relationship with clients, and to help clarify understanding and expectations, for both parties, of the work that is being undertaken. In the unlikely event that anything should go wrong, the client has recourse to a rigorous and independent complaints procedure, which has been revised and updated this year to ensure that it meets and exceeds the standards that would be expected of our Society.

The heading of ‘standards’, then, encompasses many aspects of the SfEP’s work, but the concept of excellence is a thread that runs through all aspects of what we do. Professional and Advanced Professional Members are expected and encouraged to undertake continuing professional development to ensure that they refresh their skills and keep up to date with current practice. The Society’s training programme offers courses, many of them available online, to support both new and established members. Looking ahead, our existing basic editorial test will in due course be complemented by an advanced test to help ensure that members have demonstrated unequivocally that they have the knowledge and experience expected of them.

Our quest for standards in editing and proofreading, however, goes further than simply ensuring that our members have the skills that clients expect and require. In seeking to become a chartered institution, the SfEP’s aim is to ensure that editorial excellence is universally recognised and promoted, so that anyone seeking the services of an editorial professional can have confidence in the quality of the service they will receive. But if you are looking for a copy-editor or proofreader then there’s no better place to start than the SfEP’s online directory.

Ian Howe, the SfEP's standards directorIan Howe has been a freelance proofreader and copy-editor and an SfEP member since 2004, and joined the Council as standards director in 2017. Based in north-west Cumbria, he has worked on a wide variety of subjects and is also a distance learning tutor with the PTC.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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.