September 2019 – conference!

With proofreading being a new venture, I took the decision last year to join the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). I am currently an Entry Level Member, working towards Intermediate Member using their excellent training programme and on-the-job experience.

This year, I decided to attend their annual conference. I’m not great at conferences (actually I would go so far as to say I loathe them) and networking is not really my thing, but I felt it would be good to make more contacts within the Society. This blog is a bit of a whistle-stop tour of what I saw.

Beforehand, I did a bit of preparation. What did I want from this? Well, to make contact with other proofreaders, forge links with others in the industry, get my face known (for better or worse). But also, to force me out of my comfort zone: spend time doing something I would usually shy away from. I researched for advice (and found SfEP already had me in mind) but this article was pretty good too. I took note from both and came up with some plans.

Day One

Early (early enough to consider changing plans…) on the 14th Sept, I began my journey north. I’m no stranger to the West Coast Main Line and Birmingham but it was nice to do it in daylight and at the weekend. It was sunny and warm too, nice for mid-September.

I arrived quite early and got my conference lanyard, which was nicely marked up to show I was a first-timer (intimidating and welcoming at the same time). I had a few hours so went to find some of the famous canals (more canal miles than Venice, don’t you know?) and some lunch.

I returned ready for the speed networking, which I seemed determined to call speed dating whenever I had the opportunity. Just like speed dating (I’m told) you are paired up with another delegate and you have a set amount of time to chat before you are moved on. I met a range of proofreaders/editors from old hands to newbies like me, covering specialisms such as environmental issues, Welsh, fiction, legal, IT and chemistry. It really helped to make some connections for later in the conference and beyond. It took an hour and a half, but the time flew by.

The AGM was held and it was great to hear that the SfEP’s petition to become a chartered institute had been approved – now the work begins to transform into the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders.

I then attended the drinks reception for fellow first-timers and found myself talking to a few strangers, before sitting down for dinner and a catch-up with Annie from Proofnow.

The day ended with a quiz, which our team (Kevin – I believe this is an in-joke amongst some members…) managed to win by one point. The two lyrics rounds were hard but there was a pleasing lack of questions about grammar.

I finished off the day reviewing some Tweets and making a note of who liked mine so I could try and find them the next day! A modern ice-breaker, wouldn’t you say?

Day Two

Always joyous to see bacon at breakfast. I managed to get full value for money from the buffet but also sat down with strangers and made conversation.

We had a morning address (9.30 on a Sunday…) from the author Chris Brookmyre. He regaled us with tales from his writing career, publishing over twenty books in crime fiction. There was no swearing, whatsoever. This helped wake everyone up in preparation for the day’s activities.

I’d signed up for some sessions that I thought would be useful for me.

The first of the day was “Creating Effective Style Sheets” by Ian Howe. This outlined what a style sheet is (and isn’t) and gave some handy hints on what to include. This is certainly something I will be exploring and expanding further in a future blog. But, ultimately, it is how you (a publisher, author or organisation) decide on certain variables and preferences over spelling, punctuation, presentation and so on.

The second was “Starting Out: A Guide for Newbies” by Claire Handy. Lots of advice on what not to do when starting out, some of which I could have done with 18 months ago! It was during this session that I met some people I only knew via emails, so it was nice to see them in the flesh.

During lunch, I had a chat with another delegate about some potential work – and so it seems attending the conference was paying dividends already.

After lunch, a chance to look at the Historical Thesaurus which contains almost every single word of English ever used, helping authors to use the right word for the era. I imagine I’ll be perusing it at my leisure to find archaic words to use in the future.

The day ended with the Gala Dinner and speech by Rob Drummond, about pedantry and language. A most non-standard after-dinner speech! A toast to the newly-created Institute rounded off the evening.

Day Three

What better way is there to spend a Monday morning than learning about mark-ups in PDFs?

This was presented by Newgen Publishing and ran through what can be done within Adobe Reader, bringing the principles of hard copy proofreading to PDFs. Once you know how, you can apply the same approaches to PDFs as you would hard copy. The demonstration helped bring it all alive. Possibly the most interesting aspect is that for hard copy we have the BSI symbols, setting a standard for marking proofs, but there is not, as yet, any standards for marking electronic copy. This means that different clients will expect different approaches. Perhaps a standard approach is something for the SfEP to look at in the future?

My second session of the day was “Building Better Relationships” by Ruth Thaler-Carter. She went through lots of hints and tips, in a relaxed delivery with no notes at all! We learnt from some of her experiences and she gave plenty to think about for the future. The key is to communicate with your client and the only assumption you should make is that people make assumptions.

After lunch (and I must admit I was expecting buffets with unidentifiable sandwiches for the lunches, but these were worthy of dinners!), I attended a session on Hansard, the official record of Parliamentary business. This was out of genuine interest rather than to help my business. It was fascinating to hear how they get the spoken word in the House of Lords transcribed and published online within three hours. The team works in five-minute shifts in the Chamber, and then spend an hour typing it up before it is edited and collated. This is a monumental task in itself before you think about how to describe the non-verbal events, what can be omitted to make the written record readable (eg errs, ums etc) and how to deal with a dispute over what a member said. They showed videos of events in the Assemblée nationale, US Congress, the Parliament of Australia, the New Zealand Parliament, the Oireachtas and the Cortes Generales and how each Hansard (or equivalent) dealt with the situation. In a perverse way, it was pleasing to see that elected representatives in other countries behave just the same as our own ‘honourable’ members.

The day ended with an address from David Crystal. He has just published the third edition of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language and described some of the developments in the English language and its use since the second edition was published. With over 2 billion speakers, it is bound to change and evolve differently in different parts of the world, but the impact of social media and text messaging is also covered. Of particular interest was the impact of a full stop in WhatsApp messages. Rather than denoting the end of the sentence (since it isn’t usually used) it portrays emotion.

And to the cap the day off, a little win on the raffle!

Now I’m on the train home, reflecting, with another delegate opposite me (but we’re both too tired to engage in more ‘peopling’).

Did I achieve my goals?

Well, I met lots of new people in the industry, met people I knew only by email and have ideas and leads for the future. I also went up to complete strangers and started chatting to them. That in itself was a biggy for me.

So, overall, bit of a win, methinks.

Here’s to #SFEP2020.

 

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert, WordperfectVA.

 

February 2019

Following on from my January blog, introducing myself and some of my services, I thought I would expand on one of them: proofreading. There are some frequently asked questions whenever I talk about proofreading. I’ve addressed a few of them below.

So, what is proofreading? 

It is a certainty this question will be asked. Not many, outside publishing, have come across the term, so I have prepared a few words to help.

Essentially, it is a check. A check, not only of spelling, punctuation and grammar, but of consistency and accuracy of the text and its formatting. Traditionally, the proofreader would check the final drafts (proofs) of manuscripts for any typesetting errors, etc. This would be the last chance to spot any errors before publication.

As such, a proofreader is the final pair of eyes before it hits the public domain.

Do I need a proofreader?

In my biased view, yes! It’s not just books – anything written can be proofread. Poor spelling, punctuation and grammar can affect your professional image. The littlest of mistakes can make the headlines(*), or even cost you the chance of a job!

Surely a spellchecker does it all?

Modern online spellcheckers are great but only really check spelling. If the wrong word is in there, but spelt correctly, it won’t get picked up. Form instead of from is a good example; something more extreme can be found here.

MS Word is getting sophisticated, in that it can spot the form/from issue in the context of the sentence. But, what if a word is missing and the sentence still makes sense?

Here’s one example, admittedly, quite an old one, but it demonstrates the impact of missing a word and completely changing the meaning of the sentence! This would not be picked up by a spellchecker: only a human eye could spot that (I presume the 17th century proofreader in this case was executed…).

Another consideration is that modern word-processing software will auto-correct. People often spell definitely as definately (or even defiantly!) but the software changes it and so one does not realise the mistake made. That’s great, isn’t it?

Well, firstly, you never learn you’re making the mistake and it creeps into your handwriting as well; secondly, what if it auto-corrects to something else? (When typing this, it changed a mistyping of throw to through – and this was only spotted when it was proofread by a human being!)

One last point on spellcheckers. They tend to default to US English and so wouldn’t pick up spellings such as realize, obligated and fetus. These spellings are creeping in to UK English as a result.

Why should I punctuate? People will surely know what I mean!

The shame is people won’t. It’s (**) why punctuation was developed. Go back far enough in time and there is no punctuation, but as more people learnt to read and more copies of text were available, writers and printers would add notations to aid the reading. These notations would highlight pauses and help give clarity over meaning.

Here’s a good example (and there are many if you search online):

Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was chopped off

Do we mean he was walking and talking after his decapitation? That seems a nonsense, but it is one way of reading the sentence and, in less enlightened times, could be believed as such. Let’s throw in some punctuation:

Charles the First walked and talked. Half an hour after, his head was chopped off.

Now it is clear what we mean: he walked and talked and then, later, his head was chopped off.

Punctuation’s power is clarity of meaning: something very important if you’re trying to sell something!

Even so, surely it is just publishers that use proofreaders?

Not so, these days.

You may be a charity producing your Trustees’ Annual Report or a brochure to help generate donations; a business wishing to promote itself with leaflets; a financial adviser creating reports on a client’s finances; a student writing an essay, dissertation or thesis; a sport club producing a fixture book; or even a restaurant producing a menu.

And it isn’t just hard copy: websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media all promote you and your organisation, so it’s important to ensure that what you practise in hard copy written material transfers to the soft copy online.

And, of course, you may have read it through a few times yourself, but a proofreader provides a fresh, concentrated and independent pair of eyes.

I’m convinced! How can you help me?

A very good and sage question! My services range from a simple check of spelling and punctuation up to suggested edits/rewordings. I can also help you develop a ‘tone of voice’ and house style.

I will help with CVs, menus, essays, reports, leaflets, theses, even Christmas cards! Basically, if you plan to put something in writing in public (be it on paper or online) then I can review it.

Want to know more? Then contact me here.

This blog is based on a presentation made to Southend Peers, the borough’s premier networking group.

(*) There’s a prize (not really) for anyone that spots the errors in the article, criticising the original error…

(**) My spellchecker insisted this should be ‘Its’ until I added this footnote!

Kindly proofread by Janice Gilbert of WordperfectVA.