Getting into proofreading – making the most of your transferable skills

A spider diagram showing transferable skillsWhen writing my Spotlight entry for the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) website, one of the questions I was asked was ‘What advice do you have for people starting out on an editorial career?’

Meeting new and established editors and proofreaders – at my local SfEP group in Manchester, at the annual conference and on social media – has shown me that there isn’t one fixed route into an editorial career. We’ve all had different experiences in our professional lives and outside work. There isn’t just one type of editorial career, either: there are many different client groups, all with slightly different needs.

One piece of advice I think is useful no matter what type of editorial work you’re looking for is to make the most of your transferable skills.

If you’re new to proofreading or editing, you’ll need to do some training (and the SfEP courses are a great place to start!) but you’ll also have plenty of other skills that can help you make your business a success.

I’ve focused on skills and experience gained at work, but there are many other areas of life – volunteering, family life and personal projects, for example – that you can draw on. I’ll write about these another time.

IT and software

It’s great if you have IT experience that’s specific to editing and proofreading (such as using PerfectIt and the advanced features of Microsoft Word). But being familiar with other software is useful too. For example:

  • Design software and publishing platforms
  • PDF editing programs
  • Accounting software
  • Translation software
  • Content-management systems (CMSs – the part behind the ‘face’ of a website, where information is uploaded)
  • Analytics software.

Such experience could make your service more attractive to clients, because you can offer to work with formats that are more convenient for them. For example, if you’ve regularly added content to a CMS, you could offer to edit web copy online. If you’ve used translation software (such as Trados), that could help you get proofreading work with translation agencies. Experience of working with design software will allow you to give clients valuable advice about the layout of their documents.

These skills can also help you with your marketing materials – for example, if you’re confident in using a platform such as Weebly or WordPress, you can save money when it comes to creating your website.

Marketing and communications

Marketing is a big part of running a successful proofreading or editing business. If you’ve worked in marketing or communications, you might have experience that will give you confidence in these areas:

  • Coming up with a marketing strategy and turning it into a plan
  • Branding your business
  • Putting your marketing plan into practice – for example, by contacting potential clients, networking, writing blogs, recording podcasts and videos and using social media
  • Making yourself stand out from the competition
  • Getting feedback using tools such as SurveyMonkey and then acting on it.

If you don’t have these skills, there’s plenty of advice in plain English from people who do. For example, proofreader and copy-editor Louise Harnby has published a book, Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business, and regularly provides tips on her blog. The SfEP has a guide, Marketing Yourself: Strategies to Promote Your Editorial Business. Editor and proofreader Liz Dexter has dedicated chapters to marketing in her business books.

Research

Maybe you’re moving into proofreading straight after doing your degree, or perhaps you’ve been working as a librarian or in a research role in an organisation. Of course, research outside work counts too (think weddings, pets, travel…)!

When editing and proofreading, you’ll often need to look something up in an authoritative source – whether it’s to check the spelling of a person’s name or find out whether something that looks wrong to you is really incorrect or a style choice.

Knowing how to search the following effectively can make you quicker and more accurate:

  • Corpora (such as the British National Corpus and the Business Letter Corpus)
  • Databases of journal articles and books (such as PubMed and Project Gutenberg)
  • Dictionaries and books, articles and blogs on language usage
  • Forums for editorial professionals
  • Google (including refined searches – for an example, see this tip from technical writer and editor John Espirian)
  • Referencing guides (such as the Purdue Owl)
  • Specialist materials and websites (for example, in a field of study or area of work)
  • Style guides (such as the Chicago Manual of Style).

Research skills are useful for your business more widely, too – for example, identifying and learning about potential clients, finding tools that make your processes more efficient, and so on.

Reference books and website

People

Diplomacy, tact, empathy, assertiveness … these are all skills that make us good editorial professionals and easier, more predictable people to work with.

Good people skills will help you:

  • Find clients
  • Deal more effectively with any issues that come up with a project, especially if several people are involved (authors, project manager, copy-editor, proofreader, designer and so on)
  • Write diplomatic, considerate queries
  • Negotiate prices
  • Keep clients coming back to work with you again.

The techniques you might have used previously when dealing with customers, colleagues, funders and service providers – even (and perhaps especially!) friends and family – are worth taking with you when setting up your proofreading business.

Knowledge of the publishing process

Whether you plan to work with traditional publishers or organisations that publish documents themselves, if you know where the editor and proofreader fit into the process this will make things easier for everyone else who’s working on the project. For example:

  • Understanding the roles of others involved, such as web designers, professional copywriters, typesetters and project managers, and what they need from you
  • Knowing who to write queries to and what to ask
  • Appreciating the importance of keeping to the brief, and the kinds of delays that can be caused by last-minute amendments
  • Understanding what will happen to the document after you’ve finished with it.

You might have learned these things by working closely with web designers or professional copywriters in a previous role, or you might even have been in one of these roles yourself.

This might sound obvious, but if you’ve worked as an editor or proofreader in-house – whether it was for a traditional publisher or not – you’ll have learned from colleagues and built up experience that you can mention in your marketing materials and when talking to potential clients.

Experience in another sector

Having knowledge and experience of a specific sector – for example, health or education – can help you attract clients in that sector. It makes things easier for them if they’re working with someone who understands:

  • Their world
  • Their jargon and terminology
  • Their audience or readership
  • The kinds of pressures they face.

Once you’ve done your proofreading training, this knowledge can help you to specialise.

Maybe you have experience of how things work in the public sector or you’re familiar with the terminology used in health, engineering or law. It’s easy to take for granted the inside knowledge you’ll have picked up, but you can use it to help you stand out.

Admin and secretarial

From the dreaded tax return (I do hear some people enjoy it … ) to the time-consuming invoicing, you can’t avoid admin when you work for yourself. But if you have skills in this area, you can do it more quickly and efficiently.

You might have experience in:

  • Effective communication via email or phone
  • Formatting and layout features in Word (for example, styles and using templates)
  • Invoicing software and payment platforms (such as Quickbooks, PayPal or Transferwise)
  • Systems for naming, organising and controlling files, and storing information (this article on naming files by John Espirian is excellent if you need some tips)
  • Touch-typing
  • Excel (for example, for accounting, tracking time spent on projects).

I picked up plenty of admin experience from previous roles, from temping in the summer holidays to teaching English abroad. These skills are useful no matter what work you do.

Project management

Whether you’re working on one enormous project or lots of little jobs, previous training and experience in how to plan, organise and monitor progress on a project will help you:

  • Schedule your work efficiently
  • Estimate costs accurately
  • Keep projects on track and within budget, and meet deadlines
  • Keep others involved in a project on schedule, in a professional way
  • Analyse a project and improve your processes for next time
  • Make sure you don’t miss any steps in the editing process.

You might also be used to working with project-management software. If you want to improve your project-management skills, the Publishing Training Centre runs a course in editorial project management.

What if I don’t have all these skills?

If you don’t have every skill mentioned here, that doesn’t mean you can’t do a good job – they’re ideas, not a list to tick off. You probably have other useful skills that I haven’t thought to cover here.

Everyone likes to be asked for help – it’s flattering to be thought of as an expert. If you know someone who’s good at project management and you have no idea about it, you could ask them for a little advice in exchange for some proofreading (or a posh box of chocolates).

If you don’t know anyone personally, there’s plenty of information online. Someone else has probably asked your question before, so forums (such as the SfEP forums and professional Facebook groups like the Editors’ Association of Earth) are great places to start. One of the many benefits of joining a professional society is that you’ll meet people who have good advice to offer.

You won’t know everything about running a business when you start out. I certainly didn’t, and I still have many things to learn. But make the most of any experience and training you do have if you’re moving into proofreading and editing from another area of work, whether you’ve gained this in your job or in another area of your life. These transferable skills can help you run your business better, save you time and make you stand out from the crowd.

 

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Posted in Starting out, Working from home

How to create table headings and figure captions in Microsoft Word

If you’re writing a long document that contains lots of tables, figures or illustrations (for example, a company report or a PhD thesis), using Word’s ‘Insert Caption’ tool helps you format, number and list them more efficiently.

In this post, I’ll explain what the Insert Caption tool is, describe the benefits of using it and give you step-by-step instructions on how to use it.

What is Word’s caption tool?

The Insert Caption tool allows you to create table headings and figure captions that are numbered automatically. They are kept with the table or figure they refer to.

You can use the tool to label tables, figures, illustrations, equations, diagrams and anything else that needs a numbered heading or caption.

From these labels, you can create lists (just like a table of contents) – a list of tables, a list of figures, and so on.

Where can I find the caption tool?

You can find the Insert Caption tool in the References tab, about halfway along the ribbon. Here’s how it looks in Word 2016:

Shows the location of the Insert Caption tool on the References tab

Why should I use the caption tool?

Using the Insert Caption tool can save you loads of time and make your work more accurate.

  • It numbers tables and figures automatically, so you don’t have to worry about getting the sequence wrong.
  • The label stays with the table or figure it is for, so you won’t end up with a figure on one page and its caption on the next.
  • After adding your labels, you can create a list of tables (or figures, or illustrations) that is formatted automatically and includes page numbers.
  • If you decide to move, delete or insert an extra table or figure, you can easily update the numbering.

How do I use the caption tool?

The steps for inserting a label are almost exactly the same for a table heading, figure caption or illustration caption.

I’ll start with how to insert a table heading. I’ll then show you what to do differently if you want to insert a figure caption or illustration caption.

How to insert a table heading

Step 1: Click anywhere on the table that needs a heading. It doesn’t matter what order you label your tables in – Word will renumber them automatically.

Step 2: In the References tab, click on ‘Insert Caption’. A box will appear like this:

Shows the box that appears when you click on the Insert Caption button

Under ‘Options’, the label should read ‘Table’ and the position should read ‘Above selected item’.

Step 3: Type your heading into the ‘Caption’ box at the top.

Shows where to type in the table heading.

Step 4: Click ‘OK’. Your heading will appear above your table.

Step 5: Repeat the steps until you’ve labelled all the tables in your file.

How to insert a figure caption

The main differences when inserting a figure caption are that you need to change the label type to ‘Figure’ and (unless your style guide says otherwise) position the caption below the figure.

Step 1: Click anywhere on the figure. In the References tab, click on ‘Insert Caption’.

Step 2: When the box appears, click on the dropdown menu next to ‘Label’. Choose ‘Figure’.

Dialogue box showing how to select the type of label you want

Step 3: Make sure the position reads ‘Below selected item’.

Shows the caption position as below selected item

Step 4: Type the figure caption into the ‘Caption’ box at the top (see Step 3 in the instructions for adding table headings).

Step 5: Click ‘OK’. Your caption will appear below the figure.

Step 6: Repeat the same steps to label all the figures in your file.

How to insert an illustration caption

If you need to label illustrations, such as photographs, you’ll need to create a new label. Here’s how to do this.

Step 1: Click anywhere on the illustration. Click on ‘Insert Caption’.

Step 2: When the box appears, click on ‘New Label’.

The 'Insert Caption' box with 'New Label' highlighted

Step 3: In the box that appears, type in the word ‘Illustration’. Then click ‘OK’.

The 'New Label' box with 'Illustration' typed in

Step 4: Using the dropdown menu next to ‘Position’, choose whether you want your label to appear above or below your illustrations (it is conventional to position them below). Then type in the illustration caption and click ‘OK’, following the steps shown above.

How to create a list of tables or figures

Step 1: In the References tab, click on ‘Insert Table of Figures’. (Although it says ‘Figures’, you’ll need to click on this even if you want a list of tables or a list of illustrations.)

The 'Insert table of figures' button on the References tab

Step 2: A dialogue box will appear. Choose which type of label you want Word to use to create your list. For example, if you want a list of figures, choose ‘Figure’ from the dropdown menu.

Dialogue box for inserting a table of figures

Step 3: Click ‘OK’, and your list will appear.

You can then follow the same steps for any other lists you need.

How to update the numbering

If you move your tables and figures around so they are in a different order, or you decide to delete or insert one, it’s easy to renumber them.

Step 1: Highlight the whole document by pressing ‘CTRL+A’.

Step 2: Right click and choose ‘Update Field’.

A dialogue box showing the option to update field.

Advanced features

The ‘Insert Caption’ tool automatically formats the labels in a specific colour, font and size. You can change these to match your thesis guide or house style. You can also change the number format.

How to change the label formatting

Step 1: Go into the ‘Home’ ribbon where you usually find the text styles. If you have already added table and figure captions, there should be a ‘Caption’ style in the styles pane.

The styles pane with the Caption option.

Step 2: Right-click on ‘Caption’ and choose ‘Modify’. This will bring up a formatting box.

The box that appears when you right-click on 'Caption' in the styles pane.

Step 3: In the formatting box, make the changes you want to see. For example, you might want to change the font, the font size, the colour, and the use of bold or italics.

Box with formatting options

Step 4: When you’ve finished, click ‘OK’. Your labels should now be formatted in the style you have chosen.

How to set the numbering style

Step 1: Click on ‘Insert Caption’ and then select the ‘Numbering’ button.

Caption box with 'Numbering' button highlighted

Step 2: Use the dropdown arrow next to ‘Format’ to change the numbering style.

If your document has many chapters and you need to include the chapter number in your figures and tables, click on ‘Include chapter number’. You can then choose from the options for how Word will identify a new chapter (this is where using heading styles comes in handy!) and separate the chapter and table/figure numbers in your label.

Further dialogue box with numbering options

Over to you!

That’s it! You should now be able to add and format labels for tables, figures and illustrations and create lists for each.

I hope this guide has been helpful. If you would like any help with formatting your labels as part of an edit, please feel free to contact me.

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Posted in Academic writing, Business writing

School proofreading: Do teachers need a safety net too?

A picture of a person walking a tightrope

I have a confession to make: with a colleague, I proofread secondary-school reports. Not OFSTED reports – the ones that schools send home to students and their parents.

I say ‘confession’ because when I mention this to friends and family, I get some mixed responses:

  • ‘But teachers shouldn’t need anyone to check their grammar!’
  • ‘Teachers should take the time to get it right.’
  • ‘Oh, that’s good – I’m always spotting errors in the reports we get from the school.’
  • ‘That’s a bit of a luxury!’ (This from a retired physics teacher … who also happens to be my dad.)

My colleagues who work on school reports say they’ve had similar reactions. It seems to be more surprising that a school would have its reports checked by a professional than that Professor Brian Cox would get an article copy-edited or JK Rowling would have a book proofread.

So why do people expect teachers to pen perfect reports without any help?

Maybe it’s because school reports are so highly valued – they’re one of the few ways that parents find out how their child is doing at school, and they’re often kept for years (I still have mine). For some, the quality of the report is a measure of the quality of education that the school provides: if the report has been written with care and attention to detail, this reflects the level of attention the teacher pays to the student.

Another reason might be the belief that there are more important things for schools to spend their money on than professional proofreading, especially with recent funding cuts.

Others might argue that because teachers are providing education, their grammar, spelling and punctuation should set an example to students. In other words, teachers shouldn’t need a safety net when it comes to writing reports.

But …

A teacher is no different from any other writer.

Every writer makes grammatical, spelling and punctuation mistakes – best-selling authors, editors and proofreaders (especially in emails to important clients) and, yes, teachers.

It’s easy to type ‘form’ instead of ‘from’ or ‘affect’ instead of ‘effect’ when your mind is in writing mode, not editing mode. It’s just as easy to miss out an article (for example, ‘Amy is excellent student’). Or your tablet’s autocorrect might decide that you really want to say ‘contentious’ instead of ‘conscientious’. Copying a generic sentence in a rush can lead to the wrong student’s name being used, or ‘he’ instead of ‘she’. Spellcheck won’t pick up on these things, so they can easily slip through into the final version.

This doesn’t reflect teachers’ lack of knowledge – it’s normal for any writer to make these kinds of slips. Even if we have time to re-read what we’ve written, we might not spot the typo, because our eyes see what we think we’ve written, not what’s actually there.

Teachers don’t have much time to write their reports.

Anyone who has a teacher in the family knows that they have a huge number of reports to write, in a very short space of time. The reports have to be up to date and relevant, so it’s not possible to give teachers weeks and weeks to write them. As mentioned in this article in the Times Educational Supplement, they are ‘often written as rush-jobs, late into the night, by teachers with other things on their minds’.

In this article in the Huffington Post, a teacher said of spelling mistakes, ‘that’s just wrong and there is no excuse’. But in the same article, another teacher explains that he ‘didn’t have time to be more thorough’.

People make mistakes when they have to rush, so having a second pair of eyes check the reports can pick up on these. But there’s often not much time to re-read them either, so it’s not always possible for teachers to check each other’s reports.

Not all teachers are grammar pros.

While most people would expect a teacher’s report not to be full of grammatical errors, perfect knowledge of English grammar isn’t what makes a brilliant art, maths, PE, IT or science teacher.

In the UK, many teachers who were at school in the 1970s and 1980s won’t have been taught grammar at all, because of the dominant thinking at the time about how children learn and internalise the grammar rules of their own language.

For some teachers (for example, native speakers of foreign languages taught at the school), English might not be their first language.

So, just like many other professionals, teachers might confuse ‘practice’ (the noun) with ‘practise’ (the verb) or write ‘could of’ instead of ‘could have’.

What’s more, language evolves, and the grammar ‘rules’ that were taught 30, 40 or 50 years ago might now be considered to be simply matters of style.

Is it a mistake or an inconsistency?

In secondary-school reports, it’s likely that different teachers will write different sections of the same student’s report. In UK English, if one teacher writes that a student is very ‘organised’ and another writes that the same student is always ‘organized’, neither teacher is wrong – it’s a style choice. But these can look like mistakes.

So, some schools like to be consistent about certain style choices – for example, whether or not to capitalise subject names, use abbreviations, allow contractions or use ‘-ise’ or ‘-ize’ endings.

It’s not easy to think about these things when your mind is focusing on the content – what you want to say about a student’s progress and how they’re doing.

Proofreading’s a bit of a luxury!

Those who believe this (like my dad, and my brother-in-law too, come to think of it) have a point – when budgets are tight, not every school can afford or wants to pay for proofreading. There are often higher priorities when it comes to allocating spending.

There are ways around this. Some schools check their reports internally – for example, teachers read through each other’s reports, form tutors proofread all the reports for students in their form, or the head of year proofreads all the reports for their year group. Or, non-teaching staff might do the proofreading while the teachers get on with the report-writing. As well as saving money, there are other advantages to having members of staff check the reports, as mentioned in this post by my colleague Helen Stevens.

On the other hand, sending the reports off to a proofreader can free up teachers and other staff to do the work that they do best, it can achieve a higher level of consistency (because fewer people are doing the checking) and it can save time (through greater efficiency).

Schools can choose to pay for professional proofreading or check their own reports – there’s value to both approaches. But I don’t think it’s fair to assume that teachers can avoid making the same kinds of slips that other educated writers make, simply because they’re teachers. If a school does use professional proofreaders, it doesn’t mean that the teachers don’t know where to put a possessive apostrophe or that they don’t care about setting a good example – it just shows they want to spend the limited time they have on what matters most: telling parents about how their children are doing at school.

If you’d like to find out more about how schools and proofreaders can work together, read this personal account by editor Helen Stevens.

Image credit: Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash.

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Posted in School proofreading

Desk bikes – the Tour de Your House

Last Wednesday was National Fitness Day in the UK.

Keeping fit’s a doddle if you work from home, isn’t it? You start the day with yoga. Go swimming at lunchtime. On sunny days you put down your pen (or keyboard) and head to the hills for a long walk – because you’re your own boss and you can do what you want.

Hmm.

It’s not always easy to find time to exercise when you’ve got a business to run.

You might rather keep working on something you’re really enjoying. There’s only you to get the work done, so sometimes you need to keep going to meet all your deadlines. And there isn’t always enough time to go to the gym and be there to sort out [insert home repair job of your choice]. Today, for example, the plumber’s here in the morning and the electrician’s coming in the afternoon. (Stop it, romance editors, I know what you’re thinking!)

Sometimes it gets to Friday and you realise you haven’t been further than the bin since Tuesday. And then you’re working the weekend too!

Added to that, the nature of editing and proofreading is that you’re sitting down for the rest of the time, and if you believe what you read that’s slowly killing you.

And some of us just aren’t that keen on exercise – we’d rather curl up by the fire and read a book, preferably with a nice glass of vino.

So what can we do to move around more? Members of online forums have mentioned using standing desks, treadmill desks and sit-stand desks, and I’ve provided links to articles on these at the end of this post.

I don’t have room for a desk I can stand at (the ceiling is very low!), but I loved the idea of using a desk bike. A year and a half ago I decided to splash out on one – here’s how I’ve been getting on with it.

What is a desk bike?

The one I have is a DeskCycle and it looks like this.

A picture of my Desk-Cycle under my desk.

The pedals are attached to a weighted body so they don’t move. You put the bike under your desk, sit in your chair, and away you go!

Some desk bikes – including mine – have different levels of resistance. You can make it easy to pedal or put more effort in (tip: excellent when proofreading reference lists).

There’s a digital display that tells you how many kilometres you’ve cycled.

What do you like about it?

  • It lifts my mood. I feel brighter when I use it.
  • On the easier settings, I don’t even notice I’m cycling.
  • It keeps me warmer in winter (living north of Birmingham, that’s one of the best bits).
  • I feel more alert. No more post-lunch slump!
  • It makes me feel healthier on days when I don’t have the time or inclination to do anything else.
  • It’s really quiet. No irritating squeaking to get on your nerves or annoy your family. Use it while you’re on the phone – no one will know.
  • The digital display motivates me to see how far I can get.
  • I like knowing I’m doing two things at once. If you can get your exercise in while you work, why not?
  • I feel more comfortable and less restless when I’m at my desk for long hours.

What don’t you like about it?

There really isn’t anything I dislike about it! I love using it – it makes me feel happy – and it’s one of the best bits of office equipment I’ve bought.

I’d just like to be able to hook it up to my electricity supply so my pedalling could power my laptop.

Can you still focus while you edit?

Yes. My upper body stays still, so cycling doesn’t affect my typing or my focus on the document I’m working on. The rhythm of pedalling helps me concentrate.

Here’s a short clip of me working with the bike on a medium resistance setting. We can safely say I’m not the next Kathryn Bigelow, but I hope it shows you how it works!

Is it a good workout?

Unless you use the really high resistance settings, it’s more like a gentle walk than a session in the gym (and, let’s face it, no one wants to be sweaty at their desk). It’s more about improving wellbeing and offsetting the dangers of sitting still all day than replacing your local spinning class.

Is it right for me?

A quiet bike that has enough resistance and doesn’t move when you pedal isn’t cheap, so it’s worth thinking about whether it would suit you.

  • Will it work with your set-up? You need quite a deep desk so the bike fits underneath and you can still be close enough to your keyboard and monitor. You also need enough room between your legs and the underneath of the desk so your knees don’t hit the desk.
  • Do you have a hard floor? If you do, you’ll probably need to attach the bike to your chair so pedalling doesn’t send you sailing backwards across the room. I don’t mind tethering my chair, but if you like scooting from one end of the desk to the other it might restrict you.
  • Do you work in one place? The bike works best if you can set it up and leave it under your desk. You can easily swing it round or slide it out of the way if you need to, but it could be too heavy to carry round the house if you regularly work in different rooms.
  • Will you enjoy it? This is the most important thing. If cycling makes you feel good, you’re more likely to enjoy using a desk bike – and that means you’re more likely to keep using it.

Which one’s best for me?

If you fancy trying a desk bike, different models (including the DeskCycle) are available on sites like Amazon.

Check for things like:

  • whether the bike is designed to be used at a desk
  • pedal height (the lower the pedals, the more room you have between legs and desk)
  • resistance options
  • noise level, and
  • customer reviews.

I love mine so much I could kiss it, but I can’t compare it with those I haven’t tried. If you use a desk bike too, please let others know what you think of it by leaving a comment.

Happy cycling! I’d love to know how you get on.

More about alternatives

Standing desks

Editor Katharine O’Moore-Klopf (KOK Edit) reviews her custom-made sit-stand desk: Why I’m a convert to standing at work

Editor Melanie Thompson on her Veridesk CubeCorner, which you can use on top of an ordinary desk: Standing up for editing

Reviews.com compares four standing desks: The best standing desk

Treadmill desks

BBC reporter Peter Bowes tries one out: Treadmill desks: How practical are they?

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Posted in Wellbeing, Working from home

Ten things I learned from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference 2017

Notepad, pens and conference programme

Earlier in September I drove exactly 150 miles to join approximately 150 other professionals for the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) conference near Cambridge. The theme this year was Context is key: why the answer to most questions is ‘It depends’.

The sessions and conversations with brilliant colleagues filled me with inspiration – all I wanted to do was get home and put some of those new ideas into practice! Here are ten of the things I learned. I hope you find them useful too.

  1. Content marketing is for everyone. The trick is to think about how you can help other people solve their problems, explained Louise Harnby and John Espirian during their workshop, and to do that in a way that reflects who you are and your expertise. There’s no shortage of inspiration for your blog, podcast or video, from questions your clients often ask to conversations on Twitter. We all have our own take on a particular topic and we all have our own audience. Louise’s write-up of the session provides more detail and some excellent ideas for getting started.
  2. Speed networking is fun! Yes, even for those of us who prefer to communicate in writing. On my journey to the conference I wondered what I’d been thinking, signing up for such a daunting activity. It sounded suspiciously like speed dating. Perhaps I could hide in my car and pretend there was a huge tailback on the M1? But I’m glad I didn’t. It was all timed – each ‘date’ was seven minutes long – so there was no need to worry about when to move on. I got to meet people I might never have spoken to if I hadn’t been at this session, which was great preparation for the conference itself.
  3. It’s worth setting aside a little time to yourself. Any conference is pretty full-on when you’re used to working in a garret with only two cats for company. I ignored my FOMO (fear of missing out) and made myself go for a walk, on my own, in a coffee break each day. Being outside and doing something that’s part of my normal routine gave me time to absorb everything I’d learned and stopped me getting overwhelmed. If that sounds like your kind of thing, this article on restorative niches by Abi Saffrey suggests plenty of ways to avoid conference overload.
  4. PhraseExpander could save you oodles of typing time. Many of us use technology (such as PerfectIt and macros) to improve the efficiency of our editing work. In the session on rates of pay, Katherine Trail mentioned PhraseExpander, a tool I hadn’t used before. It allows you to take text you use regularly and create a code for it, which you then type to make that text appear. It’s useful for comments you often add to a file (for example, ‘Please add this source to the reference list’) and explanations you find yourself typing up for more than one author. You can use it for emails and on social media too. I’m having a play with the trial version at the moment.
  5. It’s lovely to meet in person the people you know online. Most of the time, I communicate with my colleagues through the SfEP forums, Facebook groups, Twitter and email, so I was excited to actually meet them. All of them are – I discovered – approachable, kind and generous. Meeting each other face to face adds something to the relationship that continues long after the event.
  6. We can motivate and support each other to get things done, especially when something’s outside our comfort zone. In her session on accountability groups, Denise Cowle explained how to find a small group of people who trust each other and are willing to open up. I love the idea of including people who work in areas outside editing, such as marketing or IT, so that the members of the group benefit from a wider range of skills and experience.
  7. Tracking your work is important. In their session on rates, editors Katherine Trail, Janet MacMillan and Erin Brenner shared their experience and thoughts on increasing the hourly rates we command. It might seem obvious, but at the heart of this was the power of tracking and evaluating the time spent on each piece of work. How many hours did that plain-English edit take? What about the stylistic edit on that journal article? How many words per hour does that equate to? Once you’ve collected these statistics over time, analysing them helps you to quote more accurately and adjust your rates, or find ways to be more efficient so that you earn the hourly rate you want.
  8. The robots aren’t going to do us out of a profession… but according to Astrid DeRidder from Cambridge University Press, we do have to use them to do the routine work so we can do more with our creative and social skills. For example, PerfectIt, macros and other Word tools can speed up many mechanical tasks, Feedly gives you a way to collate all the blogs you want to follow, and invoicing software frees you up to spend more time on paid work.
  9. It’s OK to split infinitives. And to use ‘people that’. And the singular ‘they’. And to begin a sentence with ‘and’ (or ‘so’, or ‘but’). They’re stylistic choices. But it’s not always easy to justify this to someone who believes you’ve broken the rules. Linguist Geoff Pullum cited authoritative resources and statistics (from Google News to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage) that can help us editors make the argument in as objective a way as possible.
  10. And of course … it depends! From deleting a comma to changing a passive construction into an active one, the editing suggestions we make always need to consider the context – the reader, the author’s voice, the purpose of the text, the level of formality, and so on. But in a wider sense, the SfEP conference has most definitely given me plenty to think about – there’s no ‘it depends’ about it!
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