Archive for April, 2018


ACES Conference 2018: Chicago

April 30, 2018

I’ve just finished attending the ACES Conference in Chicago (American Copy Editors Association). This was my fourth conference and it was the biggest yet. In fact, the conference was sold out several weeks beforehand, and attendance was 710 members!

The conference was held at the historic Palmer House Hilton, a gorgeous building with ornate architectural features. The rooms were standard hotel rooms for a Hilton, so nothing much to say about those. However, the conference rooms we were in on the 3rd floor left a lot to be desired — many had large pillars slap bang in the middle of the room, which created issues for speakers, their screens, and for the audience who either couldn’t see the speaker or the screen, or both. And on the first day, the sessions I attended had no microphones for the speakers! By Day 2, the rooms I was in all had microphones, though some were wired and taped to the floor, which didn’t allow the speaker to move. Others had radio mics that kept failing (mine failed at the beginning of my session AND again halfway through). No lapel mics were provided.

The program was extensive, and the sessions I attended were mostly excellent.

Freelancers Happy Hour

This was held the evening before the conference started and was not an official ACES event. It was sponsored by and was held at the Encyclopaedia Britannica world headquarters in Chicago! Wow! What a room we had, with all sorts of editions of Britannica publications on bookshelves surrounding us, and with big screens projecting elements of Britannica’s style guide to us. The food was good, the company was good, and the room was LOUD.

Day 1

On Day 1 after the opening session, I attended a session on diagramming bad sentences (Hillary Warren), one on editing for inclusion (Pam Hogle), and one on readability (Sam Enslen).

As far as I know, Australians don’t learn to diagram sentences, so I wanted to know a bit more. I came away very confused and wondering why I would go to so much trouble when I already move and remove things in a bad sentence in my head anyway. I always learn something in every session, and in this one I learnt that sentence diagramming is not something I’m likely to do ever again! Full kudos to Hillary for operating under terrible conditions — the room layout with the pillars was really bad and she had no microphone, so she moved to the centre of the room and projected her voice from there. She also had a room of 100+ people, and got us to work in (very loud) groups — I’m sure it was like herding cats! (Hillary also recommended pretty much anything on Reddit if you want examples of bad sentences.)

Most of Pam’s session on editing for inclusion was familiar to me, so it was a good refresher. But I did learn that there’s something called ‘audio description’ that’s now being included in movies etc. If you’re watching a movie/DVD on your own TV and it has audio description, you should find the setting to turn it on in the language settings. She used the example of the Frozen trailer with and without audio description — it was funny without it, and even funnier with it.

The final session of the day was Sam’s on readability. When I got to the room, it was standing room only, and I was at the very back of the long narrow room. Sam wasn’t provided with a mic either. She let those of us at the back know that her session was the same as the webinar she did last month that’s available for free on the ACES website for members, and suggested that we might find that easier to access than trying to hear her at the front of the room. Along with others, I left to do just that, only to find that it’s only available to those who registered for the webinar! I’ve let Sam know and she’ll get that sorted after the conference. By this stage, I was wondering why I’d come halfway across the world to sit in a hotel room to watch a webinar that I couldn’t access! Had she been provided with a microphone, I’d have stayed in the room — she’s a good speaker and always has lots of interesting stuff to say.

That evening we had the Reception, which was held in the opulent Red Lacquer Room on the 4th floor.

Day 2

The sessions I attended today were on dealing with difficult situations (Laura Poole), managing your freelance business (Melanie Padgett Powers, Michelle Lowery, Sea Chapman), and Microsoft Word macros 201 (Amy Schneider). I also presented my session on being more efficient with Microsoft Word. The evening ended with the Conference Banquet in the Red Lacquer Room (excellent food, great keynote speech by Lynne Murphy on American and British English differences).

Some of my notes from Laura’s session:

  • Key principles:
    • frame around recipient’s needs
    • what’s in it for them
    • use their language
    • practice manners and positive spin
  • Make it right, even if it costs you
  • Be firm and blunt if polite doesn’t work
  • You can be a ‘people person’ but you don’t have to be a ‘people pleaser’
  • Legally you own the copyright on the edits until you are paid
  • Raising rates:
    • my new rates are… (don’t apologise or explain)
    • negotiate with existing clients, if necessary
    • backup your case with facts, if asked (can be hard to quantify your value — see below)
    • am I willing to lose a client if I raise my rates? know what you’re willing to walk away from
  • Some ideas for quantifying value (from audience):
    • how many edits do they accept/reject?
    • times you’ve worked overtime, gone above and beyond, done extra work
    • kudos received, LinkedIn recommendations, brag book, ‘win jar’
    • before/after examples to show how written material affects brand
    • ‘good catch’ file
    • what could potentially happen that would reflect poorly on company if the editing wasn’t done
    • check before/after work with readability tools; readability = time = money
  • Rejecting/leaving a project:
    • “Your project would benefit from a different kind of editing”
    • “This work falls outside my area of expertise and skills”
    • “The scope of the project has changed”
    • soften with a referral to someone else, if you can
  • Firing a client:
    • “I’m not available” (repeat)
    • “I’m specialising in a new area”
    • “Take me off your freelancer list”
  • Applying for a job/gig:
    • highlight skills (not job positions)
    • describe relevant communications tasks
    • learn what you need to to get the job
    • list topic specialties
    • list tools familiar with
  • “It only needs a proofread”:
    • “I’ll take a look and see what it needs”
    • “I’ll give it a standard edit”
    • “I maintain editorial standards for this organisation”
  • Triage editing:
    • have a ‘levels of edit’ document that describes what you do, what each level includes, and approx how long it takes
    • what can you cut out?
    • you can never guarantee perfection or that the final doc will be 100% error-free
  • Reporting plagiarism:
    • contact client immediately
    • be clear about the problem — give passages, link to original sources
    • ask for guidance
    • escalate as necessary

The session on running a freelance business had an extensive handout that I won’t reproduce here. However, I was pleased that one of the presenters clearly defined ‘opportunity cost’.

My session on Microsoft Word efficiency tips was packed. There were 102 seats in the room — all were full and I had about 20 people sitting on the floor at the front and at least that many sitting on the floor or standing at the back. As mentioned earlier, my mic died halfway through so I had to use my teacher voice — with no mic, an Aussie accent, and the fact that I speak fairly quickly, some people may have had difficulty understanding me, and for that I apologise. This was the 3rd consecutive year I’ve presented this session and each year it’s been as packed as the previous years. I might have to offer it again for next year’s conference!

The final session of the day was Amy’s on Word macros. Wow — she uses macros like I’ve never seen before. She showed us some loop and shell macros she uses, and explained them. I’ll definitely have to go back to her slides to get my head around what she’s doing and how.

Day 3

The third and final day of the conference! I attended sessions on why English spelling is so weird (James Harbeck), promoting your editing services in a corporate environment (Kristen Legg), letting go of perfectionism (Alysha Love), and finally, 79 editing tips (Mark Allen), which might have been 79 or not — no-one’s really sure! And then the closing session, followed by the Saturday After Party at the Chicago Athletic Association about a block and a half away.

First up was James’ wonderful romp through English spelling through the ages, from Old English (which he spoke!) to Middle English (he spoke words in that as well!), to the Great Vowel Shift, then on into Modern English, with some side tracks into Greek (he spoke those words too!). It was way too fast and fascinating to take notes, but believe me when I say this was an outstanding session on why we currently spell words like we do.

Kristen’s session was full of all sorts of useful information and I’ll be rechecking her slides once they’re up on the ACES website. She works in an editorial team that’s part of an engineering and environmental consultancy (of 35 people) in Seattle. Her theme was about making yourself an essential part of the team/company. Some notes from her session:

  • Use before/after examples to show value — esp. embarrassing errors that you caught that could have reflected badly on the company
  • Have consistent requirements for editing:
    • makes things easier for you/your team
    • helps when scheduling and estimating time
    • provides info to authors
    • reflect corporate initiatives
  • Stay relevant:
    • find ways to drive point home (e.g. levels of edit, best practices, QC data, historical documentation, how to ‘write good’)
    • send list of docs due
    • additional skills editing team has
    • weekly emails re workload
    • market yourself and your team – advocate for yourself, let boss know stuff done for others
    • let know when super busy or if worked extra time to get out a huge doc you’re proud of
    • recap 6-monthly to boss and discuss any general issues with authors
    • provide public praise to authors who work with you to make your life earier
    • make yourself known — get to know co-workers
  • Work with your authors, not against them
  • Be visible and be needed
  • Use internal deadlines to hold authors accountable — “Missing a deadline by 1 day cuts back on my time to make the document better”
  • Have a chart of time estimates for different levels of editing and make authors aware of it
  • Have a ‘top 10’ list of items from the style guide and promote with authors
  • Summarise # track changes/comments/fixes in transmission email to author(s)
  • Explain that not just ‘other scientists’ will read the material — other stakeholders, executives, possibly public too
  • Sometimes you have to let some things go — e.g. send out doc as is with note “this hasn’t been edited”
  • Dealing with conflict (see slides)

Alysha’s (from CNN’s political desk) session on perfectionism and letting things go covered some definitions of perfectionism (it’s NOT a defined mental illness, though some defined mental illnesses have perfectionism as a trait!). My notes:

  • Hewitt and Flett define three types of perfectionism, all of which lead to negative outcomes:
    • self-oriented (what we expect of ourselves; may have positive attributes, such as resourcefulnes)
    • other-oriented (what we expect of others)
    • socially prescribed (what we THINK others expect of us)
  • Why should we learn to ‘let it go’?
    • time
    • energy
    • money
    • mental wellness
    • helps our relationships with others
    • stress — fighting an uphill battle
  • Working on letting it go:
    • adjust self-expectations
    • communicate with others to clarify and understand their TRUE expectations (not what YOU think they are)
    • implement strategies to help catch what matters most (NOTE: you should still have high standards)
    • reality check re deadlines
  • Reframe goals:
    • catch most important errors in allotted time
    • make sure this aligns with boss’ assessment of what’s important
    • type of content can lead to different expectations (e.g. breaking news, Tweets, versus a book)
    • spend the appropriate amount of time and focus on each type of content you edit, given the constraints that exist (e.g. Tweets are ephemeral)
  • Online stories/content:
    • readers find grammar errors troubling and distracting
    • they notice garbled and confusing writing, misspellings, misused words
    • less concerned about style errors and structure than about professionalism and grammar
  • TRIAGE!:
    • decide what’s most important to fix under pressure (hint: rank each item in the triage list from career-altering errors [1] to personal nitpicks [5])
    • process: 0. Prepare; 1. Assess the situation; 2. Determine the action; 3. Edit; 4. If time available, reassess; 5. Let everything else go.
    • STEP 0: Prepare:
      • boss’/client’s expectations
      • client/company priorities
      • what does the audience care about
      • what tools can help (e.g. spell check, consistency checkers)
    • STEP 1: Assess:
      • how much time do you have?
      • what are the critical needs?
      • can you fix it on a later pass?
      • size of audience?
      • how long is the written piece?
    • STEP 2: Action:
      • what’s important? STICK TO THAT
    • STEP 3: Edit:
      • stick to triage list
      • know your needs versus nitpicks
    • STEP 4: Reassess:
      • if there’s time, decide if it’s worth investing more time in it
      • if so, what’s the next level of triage to fix
    • STEP 5: Let it go:
      • what can you let go?
    • Triage list (rank each as a 1 to 5, with 1 the highest priority; no order in the list below):
      • cosmetic fixes
      • career-altering errors
      • smooth transitions
      • errors readers care about
      • grammar
      • hyperlinks
      • accuracy
      • potential libel
      • flow
      • voice
      • tone
      • fact check
      • full rewrite
      • profanity
      • name spellings
      • math
      • style
      • split infinitives
      • errors that cause harm
      • plagiarism spot check
      • duplicate words
      • wordiness
      • consistency
      • clarity
      • trademark attributions
      • sources and refs
      • word preferences
      • bad breaks
    • You can’t do everything — triage so that you’re meeting realistic expectations AND serving your audience
  • Identify needs versus mitpicks
  • Consider evolution of language and writing
  • Keep type of content, lifespan, and audience in mind as you edit
  • Reframe your goals, know your triage rankings, and keep it in perspective
  • has an article on acceptable error rates in editing

The final session I attended (other than the closing session) was Mark Allen’s ‘Edit Sober – 79 tips for on-your-feet editing’. With no numbering, it was hard to figure out how many tips he (and the audience) offered, but it was a lot. I think I got most of them! Here they are:

  • Look it up
  • Never ignore that little voice
  • Use mnemonics
  • Edit on your feet (use a standing desk)
  • Learn until your brains rot
  • Embrace your ignorance
  • Slow down
  • Always reread the first and last para
  • Think like a reader, not like an editor
  • Step away — you’ll see different things when you come back
  • Change your viewpoint — increase font size, change font, print it out
  • If what you’re editing takes forever to get to the point, read the conclusion and perhaps move it to the front
  • Check the facts
  • Don’t take Strunk and White too seriously — omit needless words, favour the active voice, don’t fear the passive voice, keep the good words
  • Edit out loud
  • Edit sober
  • Always check the quotations
  • Rest your eyes
  • Consider using the pomidoro technique (25 mins focused work, 5 mins break)
  • Be wary of absolutes (always, never)
  • Be a partner to your author
  • You are superior, but you don’t have to show it
  • Set a schedule and stick to it
  • Use online resources, but only good ones
  • Keep a style sheet — use it for yourself and for your authors
  • Follow your cohorts
  • Come back to something that stops you from moving on
  • Resist, but accept that language changes
  • There are no rules (only traditions, conventions, guidelines — and they server communication not vice versa)
  • Follow your style guide
  • Don’t ALWAYS follow your style guide
  • Make peace with words
  • Be conscious of othering language — we all have our own biases
  • Once English accepts a word, treat it as an English word
  • Never stop paying attention and questioning
  • There is no such thing as multitasking
  • Read backqwards
  • Eschew obfuscation
  • Down’t sweat the Oxford comma
  • Limit exclamation points to exclamations
  • Know your audience
  • Errors often travel in pairs
  • Check for parallelism
  • Know your peak productivity times
  • Favour hyphens for compound modifiers
  • Think before cutting emphasis and intensifiers
  • Consider rephrasing to avoid expletives
  • Avoid using qualifiers
  • Always check the maths
  • Amused does not equal bemused
  • Use tools to increase your efficiency and watch your back
  • Don’t fear the semicolon
  • Reset spellcheck in Word to get it to recheck
  • Parenthetical content may not be needed
  • Affect and effect are not the same
  • ‘All of’ — one of these can usually be deleted
  • When figuring a percentage, think chronologically
  • Use an editing checklist
  • Use ‘an’ before a vowel sound
  • ‘Aw’ = cute; not ‘awe’
  • Check all contractions — double check it’s and your
  • Work for the reader not the person who pays you
  • Use your business cards; tell people what you do
  • Be a good editor
  • When you edit well, you bolster the professoin
  • Read once for meaning, and again for grammar, and again for technical/mechanical stuff
  • Assume what you’re reading is wrong
  • Never assume someone else checked all the numbers
  • Change perspective — read aloud
  • Some resources: (subs); Library of Congress website for original documents; Google image search for pics of actual things (e.g. title as listed on the original record album cover)

Roll on ACES 2019 in Providence, Rhode Island!