Archive for the ‘Technical writing’ Category

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And my work here is done!

December 11, 2019

One of the environmental scientist authors I work with emailed me this earlier this week:

I’m reading the book ‘Sapiens’. It is written by a scientist and littered with ‘in order to’. Great book but I feel like putting a pen through the unnecessary words. You’ve ruined it for me :-)

My work here is done!

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Lessons learned from a corporate report

November 30, 2019

I recently did a few editing passes on a 640+ page environmental report that was to be submitted to a federal regulatory authority. I wasn’t able to fully edit the report, but I was able to tame the formatting issues in Word (including making sure all tables had a similar look), check for inconsistencies in common terms and phrases, fix the cross-references to other sections/figures/tables/appendices, check the abbreviations/acronyms list reflected the abbreviations used in the document, ensure nonbreaking spaces were used between values and units of measure, etc. There was no corporate template or style guide to use (the company is very young), though someone had put a very basic template together—cover page, headers/footers and the like—but hadn’t set up styles, therefore the formatting of bullets, numbers, body text etc. was all over the place. Multiple authors had worked on this report, and each had done something a little different with their formatting, and varied in the terms they used and whether they capitalised or hyphenated them or not.

After I returned the document to my contact, she asked if there were some ‘lessons learned’ that she could share with her boss and others involved in the document. Here’s a summary of the email I wrote to her:

  1. Template: Get a corporate report template in place, with as many necessary styles in it and sample tables set up ready to be copy/pasted and modified. Learn how to use it and WHY you should use it.
  2. Style guide/sheet: In the absence of a full style guide, set up a corporate style sheet that lists the preferred ways of spelling/using terms (e.g. the correct spellings/hyphenations for place names, words that can trip you up – e.g. wellhead/well-head/well head, tophole/top-hole/top hole). Make your authors use it, and that you forward it to whoever edits your docs so that they can follow the decisions already made.
  3. Styles:
    • Discourage writers from using the buttons on the Word toolbar for bullets and numbers (there be dragons!) – use the relevant List Bullet and List Number styles
    • Learn how to apply styles to new text, and how to paste text from another doc and format it correctly (NEVER copy across section breaks, for example – more dragons lie there!)
    • Learn how to apply table formatting/styles – for example, in the [company] doc there’s a special button on the Table Tools > Design tab for applying the green table, but I wonder how many know how to use it and instead spend ages setting up the borders, shading etc. manually.
  4. Clickable cross-references (x-refs):
    • In the absence of a program like EndNote, learn how to do x-ref numbered citations so you don’t end up with [CorporateAuthor] 2019a, 2019b, 2019c etc. This sort of citation is a nightmare to update
    • Learn how to assign x-refs (clickable links are recommended for anything that’s going to be PDF’d and read on screen).
  5. References: Make sure authors are CONSISTENT in doing references, specifically when to apply italics, what punctuation to use, how to indicate when a URL was valid etc. (a style guide would help here). I didn’t check any for accuracy, but verifying references online is a BIG job to do after the fact—far easier for the author to grab ALL the citation details when they are writing the doc.
  6. Terms: Make sure authors are pedantic about adding initialisms/acronyms/abbrevs, units of measure etc. to the relevant terms lists—it’s easier to check if something is there or not than to create the list from scratch after writing the doc. I use software macros that can pull out some of this, but not all.
  7. Unlearn/break bad habits that work for university but not for business/corporate writing. Think like a business person with limited time and NOT like a uni researcher! The habit of writing to a word or page count has been ingrained since about Year 5 and reinforced all the way through to doctorates and, later, journal and other publications. Business reports need to be succinct, use plain language, and get to the point in as few words as possible, without losing meaning. Some examples of bad habits:
  8. Learn new habits: e.g. keyboard shortcuts for things like nonbreaking spaces (Ctrl+Shift+<spacebar>), turn on/off track changes (Ctrl+Shift+e), add a comment (Ctrl+Shift+m), change case (Shift+F3).

I also mentioned and linked to presentations I’ve given to government departments, editors groups, and conferences on plain language writing and on working more efficiently with Microsoft Word (http://cybertext.com.au/presentations.html).

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Catching potentially expensive errors of fact

June 30, 2019

How much does an editor really save a company compared to how much you pay them? Here’s a recent example…

I edit a lot of documents written by those in companies associated with the heavily regulated Australian oil and gas industry. Many are environmental management plans or safety case documents that must be approved by state and/or federal regulatory bodies before a multi-billion dollar project (e.g. a new drilling platform, pipeline, or processing plant) can go ahead. So getting these approval documents right the first time is important—it costs a LOT of money if the approvals process is held up because of errors in the documents. Errors mean they have to go through another round of corrections, technical, editorial, and legal review, and submissions, and this can take months—in this industry, months of delays equals a LOT of money.

Which is why the small thing I caught the other day could have had very expensive implications (both in cost and reputation) for the Big Company who had contracted out the document to the Specialist Company I was working for.

The document detailed the Big Company’s compliance with a piece of federal legislation and a program that resulted from that legislation (I expect these paragraphs were copy/pasted from a similar document written by Big Company some years ago). I wasn’t familiar with the Act, so I checked for its correct wording and date, as well as the official name of the program—I believe that this is part of my job as an editor. Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the federal government link to find out the Act (and the program) were repealed five years’ ago! And neither was replaced with anything else, which meant that all Big Company’s statements about how they were complying with the Act were now called into question. I flagged it in a comment to the author (adding links for them to verify what I found), and made sure I included that information in my final email to my contact at the Specialist Company when I sent the edited document back. She was stunned and very grateful to me for picking it up—none of the authors had.

Now, because all these documents go through Big Company’s legal department before submission, you might wonder why it wasn’t picked up by them. Well, what tends to happen is that the Specialist Company writes the document (often based on previous documents supplied by Big Company), I edit it for the Specialist Company, then when it’s all OK from their end, they give it to Big Company, who then have their technical specialists and lawyers review it before it gets submitted to the federal/state regulators for approval. Yes, it’s likely that Big Company’s legal department would have picked it up, but that would have then cast doubt on the reputation of the Specialist Company. And had it slipped through that final check, someone in the regulators’ offices would have picked it up—after all, they need to know the relevant Acts and compliance stuff backwards—which meant it would have been sent back and the approvals process started again.

So what sort of costs did my fact checking potentially save? Here are some:

  • financial costs of the document going through further rounds of reviews (costs borne by Big Company, Specialist Company, and regulators)
  • time costs of the approval being delayed because of further rounds of reviews (time costs borne by Big Company, Specialist Company, and regulators)
  • reputation costs for Big Company in the eyes of the regulators
  • reputation costs for Specialist Company in the eyes of Big Company (with potential loss of current and future contracts as a result)
  • if the compliance program is still operating despite the Act being repealed, then the costs Big Company pays and has paid over the past five years for compliance audits, meetings, travel to (remote) site, accommodation and meals at site, etc.

If you think an editor’s rates seem high, then consider the cost of NOT getting such a document edited. In the scheme of things, my fee was a drop in a very large ocean, yet could have potentially saved hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of dollars.

[This post was republished on the ACES blog, 25 November 2019: https://aceseditors.org/news/2019/catching-potentially-expensive-errors-of-fact]

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Blast from the past: My first conference paper

June 24, 2019

I was going through some stuff from my first career as a teacher-librarian the other day and found the printed proceedings of the first conference I ever spoke at—in 1990. If I ever had an electronic copy of the paper I presented, it’s long gone on 3.5 floppy discs disposed of many years ago. Because the only copy I have is deep within a more than 500-page second volume, I decided to scan it and convert it to Word.

If you’re interested in what I had to say about my teacher-exchange experience when I changed work and home lives with a fellow teacher-librarian in Canada, you can read it here: Trading_Places_Canadian_Exchange_1986_ALIA_conference_1990 (PDF, 185 KB).

 

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IPEd Conference 2019: Day 2

May 12, 2019

Last week (8 to 10 May 2019) I attended the biennial IPEd Conference (Institute of Professional Editors, the national association of Australian [and now New Zealand] editors), held in Melbourne. These notes summarise MY experience at the conference and my opinions and represent no-one else’s experience or opinions. I took notes for many of the sessions I attended, but as there were several concurrent streams, these notes in no way reflect the full breadth of the conference sessions.

NOTE: Many of the sessions were only 10 minutes long and there was limited changeover time. Some session notes may be missing if I had to leave for the next session before the current session’s presenter finished.

There were quite a few plenary sessions today, and only one time slot where multiple sessions ran concurrently. The first was a 90-minute plenary on the state of IPEd, with information and updates from the chairs of various standing committees. And at the end of the day was the closing ceremony, where various awards were handed out, and the dates and location of the next conference were announced: Hobart Grand Chancellor, 28 to 30 June 2021. I heard a rumour that the 2023 conference will be held in New Zealand, but have no idea if that’s true or not.

Katherine Bode: ‘Digital Collections: Archival and editorial impulses remixed’ (plenary session)

The title of this session gave no clue as to how fascinating it would be! Katherine started off by describing the archival impulse as that which curates, collects, and categorises, whereas the editorial impulse is to transfer that archival impulse into material suitable for specific audiences.

I was still none the wiser when she showed how a Google image search for ‘editing’ gave a lot of images of computer screens etc, whereas an image search for ‘editing writing’ gave images of red pens on paper.

Back to the editorial impulse… she then asked what if you combined the editing impulse with extensive (hundreds of thousands) archives of materials. What were challenges in editing that number of documents? And then she introduced us to ‘To be continued… The Australian Newspaper Fiction Database’ project (http://cdhrdatasys.anu.edu.au/tobecontinued/).

Back in the 19th century, Australia didn’t have a book publishing industry, or at least, not a thriving one, and so newspapers, which were prevalent and cheap, were the main way people read fiction. Sometimes a newspaper would publish a complete short story; other times it would serialise a novel. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of fiction were published this way in Australian newspapers in the 19th century.

The database the project team used was Trove (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/result?q=)—a part of the National Library of Australia (NLA), which has digitised Australia’s newspapers since 2010. Trove (which I use for genealogical research and which I help edit on occasion) is the largest open-access collection of digitised newspapers in the world. By 2015, about 30% of Australia’s newspapers had been scanned and OCR’d. The problem with OCR is that a machine does a ’best match’ for what it thinks a character might be, which means there are many errors in the transcriptions.

The next challenge was how to identify what was fiction in these newspapers. They didn’t all have a heading of ‘Fiction’, so the team used various Trove search algorithms and Trove’s API to narrow it down, and narrowed further by adding ‘paratext’ to the searches—words such as serial, author, chapter, tales, story, novelist, novella, etc. They went from hundreds of thousands of potential fiction articles to 21,000 after they’d cleaned up the data.

They then analysed that data to see if some assumptions about fiction writing and publishing in 19th century Australian newspapers held true; the main assumptions were:

  • most fiction (80%) was by British authors
  • fiction was published almost entirely in metro newspapers, with little published in provincial newspapers; if fiction was published in provincial newspapers, it was assumed that it had been pirated from a metro source
  • according to academics, early colonial readers in Australia were uninterested in Australian fiction.

What they found in the data was quite a different story! Yes, there was quite a lot of British fiction, but not as much as expected. About 25% of the fiction was Australian, 50% British, 20% American, and 5% from other countries.

They also found hundreds of new titles by known Australian authors, and even more by unknown Australian authors (all of which added to their database of author names to search for).

As far as where fiction was published, only 45% was in metro papers, with 55% published by the provincial press. And the sources of the fiction? The metro papers often published the same title at the same time, getting syndicated fiction from a British or American agency. Similarly, provincial newspapers often published the same title at the same time (but NOT the same title as the metro papers) because they got their material from different syndication agencies. These provincial syndication agencies often crossed state lines too, so the same story might be published in NSW and Victorian regions. The team wasn’t aware of these different syndicated sources prior to their study. There was an assumption that most fiction in newspapers was published in the metro papers, then syndicated to the provincial papers in the same state, but this wasn’t the case. The provincial syndicates that operated across the country were the largest publishers of Australian fiction in the 19th century. All this refutes the claim that The Bulletin was the origin of Australian literary culture. And it refutes the claim that Australian readers had no interest in Australian fiction.

Newspapers reflect what their readers want, and in colonial Australia, readers chose Australian fiction. In fact ‘Australian’ was a common term in many of the fiction titles. And sometimes newspaper editors changed a overseas story to give it Australian locales and names!

The team used two computational methods in analysing the data:

  • topic grouping, with the 200 most popular words in an article shown graphically (like a word tag cloud)
  • decision trees, which look for tendencies in word usage and use dataset variables to see where they align [no, I didn’t understand this bit either!].

One thing they found was the consistent representation of aboriginal characters and women in the newspaper fiction. This contradicts the view of terra nullius. Interestingly, the Australian fiction chosen to be published as books in Britain rarely showed aboriginal or female characters (and rarely published Australian female writers), thus perpetuating what they [the British?] THOUGHT colonial Australia was. This is not reflected in the newspaper fiction, where aboriginals and women were depicted often, and where women fiction writers also had a voice (though some may have written under a male pseudonym in the hopes of getting published more easily).

The team has opened up the database to crowd sourcing, allowing people to fix transcription errors from the OCR. Contributors can also add any fiction they find that’s not already in the database. Public editing such as this can improve a digitised archive. Trove harvests the corrections each week and these go back into the main Trove database.

There were concerns regarding crowd sourcing: how to ensure quality, how to prevent errors from being introduced, etc. But nothing happened! Many of those who correct entries come from editing and associated professions and are passionate about getting it right and contributing to the archive. The feedback often refers to wanting to rescue stories from the database and turn them into books, and the team has already done so for some stories. Ultimately the aim is to have publication platform where people can curate their own collection and publish as ebooks or even printed books. Ebooks published by this process will also be harvested by the NLA/Trove and become another legitimate edition of the book.

Michael Webster: ‘The book is far from dead: A review of the 2018 book sales in Australia’ (plenary session)

(This was a last-minute replacement session as the person heading up the Style Manual review who was slotted to speak couldn’t do so under a caretaker government, with a federal election just a week away)

The ebook has NOT taken over—only about 18 to 20% of sales of all books in Australia are in ebook format.

[removed Bookscan data as I was informed that it was confidential]

Bookscan collects data about books actually sold (from point of sale systems), NOT what the publishers say they’ve sold to booksellers (~20% of publisher ‘sales’ are returned unsold). It captures more than 92% of book sales, including online sales, discount sales (e.g. BigW, Target), chain and independent bookshops. Note: BigW sells more books than anyone else in Australia.

Any bestseller lists from Bookscan are for sales two weeks prior. But what is a ‘best seller’? If you sell 3000 to 4000 copies of an Australian fiction title, that’s very good. Authors want to know number of sales, whereas publishers want to know the value of the sales.

Sales trends follow predictable peaks—school/uni return, mothers day, fathers day, and a HUGE spike in the weeks prior to Christmas, with almost nothing in January (bookshops are returning books to publishers in January). Some 13% of total sales for the year are in the Christmas peak, and many are cookbooks. If you want to publish a cookbook, make sure it’s in colour, is hardback, and is released near Christmas, but never after it.

The book sales market has been growing slowly but steadily the past few years. There was an appreciable drop when Angus and Robertson went under (they sold 20% of all books), and even more so in regional towns where their stores closed and weren’t taken over by other bookstores, leaving many towns without a bookstore.

Other information:

  • 2018 sales were driven by key non-fiction categories, with a slight lift in adult fiction.
  • YA lit is purchased by teenagers, whereas children’s books are purchased by adults.
  • The Barefoot Investor took the number one spot in 2018.
  • Australian authors took six of the top 10 spots in fiction sales in 2018.
  • Chains/online sales had 55% share of the market, then DDS (what’s DDS?) and independent bookstores.
  • US/Canadian bookstores can’t compete with Amazon on price (though he didn’t say anything about the effect, if any, Amazon Australia has had on sales).
  • The top nine adult fiction publishers in Australia account for 95% of ALL fiction sales in Australia, so if you go with a small press, you will have a huge battle to get distribution into bookshops. If an author is not represented by one of these big nine companies, you effectively can’t get into the market.
  • Established publishers are risk-averse, so it’s very hard to find a publisher that will take the risk on a new fiction author.
  • For non-fiction, the top ten trade publishers account for 76% of the market, and for children’s books, 80% of titles come from just ten publishers. Again, distribution is the biggest issue facing new authors. Local/independent/small presses account for just 13% of Australian publishing—combined.
  • Paperbacks dominate, but hardback popularity continues to grow (21% of the market in 2003, and 27% in 2018). After the global financial crisis (i.e. after 2008), publishers reduced the prices of hardbacks.

Grant McAvaney: ‘Copyright for editorial gatekeepers’ (plenary session)

Grant took us on a very quick journey through the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (on 1 May 2019, it was 50 years since it came into force). The Act was amended substantially five years ago.

I took as many notes as I could but he covered a LOT of ground. He did say that the Copyright Council’s website (https://www.copyright.org.au/) has many free fact sheets that cover the detail of what he spoke about.

Copyright myths:

  • No, you don’t have to apply for or pay for copyright protection.
  • There is no ‘fair use’ defence in the Act, but there is a ‘fair dealing’ provision.
  • There’s no legal term for plagiarism; instead it’s ‘unauthorised use of someone else’s copyright’.
  • Generally, there’s no ‘10% rule’ (except under specific circumstances).
  • Anything on the internet is NOT public domain.

Copyright is a bundle of rights:

  • Copyright protects things that would otherwise have no protection at all: ‘works’, and ‘subject matter other than works’. ‘Works’ include literary, artistic, dramatic, and musical works; ‘other than works’ include films, sound recordings, broadcasts, published editions. Copyright does not protect ideas.
  • While those things are protected, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to acknowledge those works.
  • There’s only a copyright breach is there’s substantial use, but defining ‘substantial use’ is a very grey area. It might only be as little as the line of a poem or song. For larger works, small quotes or snippets MAY be OK. Facebook posts, Tweets, etc. are not classed as substantial works.
  • Even if larger chunks are used, the fair dealing defence may come into play (e.g. it may be OK for a review/criticism, news report, parody/satire, access for those with a disability).
  • Copyright is the starting position, but contracts trump everything (e.g. an author may have assigned it or licensed it to someone else in such a way that prevents even them using it).
  • In general, copyright lasts for the life of the creator + 70 years.
  • Broadly, if you create it, you own it. But there are exceptions.
  • The owner of the copyright (may not be the author) has exclusive rights to reproduction, communication, public performance, adaptation, publication, and broadcast of the work.
  • Ownership does NOT equal licence.
  • Attribution is not a defence to copyright, but often calms the author down.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s protected?
  • If it’s protected, is it ‘substantial use’?
  • Is there a ‘fair dealing’ defence?
  • Do I REALLY have permission? (remember, the permission may not be the author’s to give) Ask the person what copyright permission they have, and GET PERMISSION.

Moral rights:

  • are for individuals—they can’t be sold or assigned to someone else, like copyright can
  • life of the creator + 70 years
  • right of attribution
  • right against false attribution (and more that I didn’t note down).

In 2018 the Copyright Modernisation Review was started—currently on hold while the government is in caretaker mode prior to the 2019 federal election. But it’s likely they will cover fair use, extra fair dealing rules, orphan works (where you can’t find the owner after due diligence), quotations, etc.

Kevin Young, Hella Ibrahim: ‘Agents for change: The in-house /freelance editor working relationship in digital-first educational publishing’

The presenters work for Jacaranda Wiley educational publishing and talked about how they edit digital-first content.

Traditional workflow was print first then convert to digital. Switched to ‘digital first, with an initial strategy of no print. However, schools still wanted print. Content is the same no matter where/how published—printed, online ebook, online course. Online has the advantage of being able to include lots of extra resources and links to other resources.

Single-source content, so edit once for all formats.

Tools must be user friendly so editors can just focus on the content.

Freelance editors must have good traditional editing skills, plus:

  • assess user experience
  • course creation spreadsheets (I’m not sure I got that right)
  • edit interactive content elements, assessment tools, etc.

How do you tune out technology to focus on content? You don’t—embrace technology. Same skills, different format.

Where does traditional editing role end and digital start? When to use in-house editors or freelance editors?

How can tools be improved to help improve the process? Identify pain points and issues. Editors are part of the process of suggesting improvements, and are considered ‘agents of change’ (i.e. someone who promotes and enables change to happen in an organisation). How can the process or tools be improved? Editors are encouraged to be proactive. Editors can and should be agents of change in digital-first production.

Rebecca Campbell, Jessica Carr, Emma Knight: ‘Editing for print and digital in educational publishing: efficiencies, challenges, and the future’

(also with Wiley)

Manuscripts are generally fairly complete by the time they get them.

They start with a Word doc and need to keep in mind the eventual final product.

Needed to identify what in print is superfluous in an ebook. Page numbers were an obvious choice—instead, they use directional callouts (e.g. links to section/figure/table numbers).

Images in print and digital may need to be laid out/wrapped differently, plus alt text for screen readers.

Simplified design so that print and ebook look similar.

Ebook advantages:

  • can include other media (video, quizzes, etc.), but then there are other challenges (embed? Stream? What about different operating systems, devices, browsers, etc.?)
  • supports different learning styles
  • accessibility (screen readers, alt text, closed captions in video)

They use a single-source XML-based system to help deliver to the requirements, thus a shortened production time. Once the content is approved, titles can get to market quicker.

Print and digital runs are done in parallel.

Media editing includes editing scripts, storyboards, captions, etc.

Efficiencies:

  • continued growth in automation
  • what styling can be done in Word and flow through to XML etc. (e.g. non-breaking spaces)

Doro Forck: ‘CCAMLR’s approach to preparing and editing meeting reports’

CCAMLR: Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources

International body set up in 1982; comprises 25 countries. All materials are produced in four languages concurrently—English, French, Spanish, and Russian.

The Secretariat supports the meetings, which are typically one to two weeks long. In 2018, there were eight meetings with more than 500 participants.

They needed a modern system for reports that fit with their website, was multilingual, only available to registered members, etc.

In 2012 they used Drupal to create their new website:

  • contains all meeting-related information
  • they have a meeting server
  • need to track status, workflow
  • need email alerts of changes
  • need version control
  • system available to all participants, and all can see new comments/changes

Rapporteurs draft meeting report text (different ones for each agenda item), and are the only people who can upload new versions.

On the final meeting day, everything comes together. All meeting reports—in all languages—are available on the last day [WOW!].

Meeting report server:

  • accommodates requirements of different user groups
  • also used for drafting legislation (??)
  • flexible, adaptable system
  • user feedback easily included
  • transferrable.

Stacey King, Rachel Westbury: ‘Editing in the modern workplace: Everything you wanted to know about using collaborative tools’

Even for a 20-minute session, ‘everything’ was always going to be a challenge. Their focus was Google Docs, which has track changes, commenting, and real-time collaboration [which can also be done in Word, BTW].

They work for the University of Queensland and have eight student guides to produce, involving 35 stakeholders.

Their old process:

  • extract and convert content from PDF into Word (I’m not sure why they stated with PDF and not the original Word docs)
  • distribute to stakeholders, compile feedback
  • mediate conflicts
  • input final changes into InDesign

Challenges:

  • version control
  • managing communication and mediating conflicts between stakeholders
  • enforcing deadlines

New process (with Google Docs):

  • extract and convert content from PDF into Google Docs
  • split content into separate docs and have a shared spreadsheet (Google Sheet) to manage the process
  • invite stakeholders to review in Google Docs
  • stakeholders add updates, resolve queries and conflicts among themselves (i.e. NOT involving the editors)
  • lock down permissions at the deadline (forces the final deadline)
  • edit and transfer updated changes to InDesign

This new process removed the editorial team from acting as middlemen for the conflicts.

Challenges:

  • anonymous comments (people forget to log in)
  • reluctant stakeholders (unwilling to try new technology)

Top tips for trialling Google Docs with a team:

  • meet with stakeholders and offer support
  • decide how will break large project into clear and logical sections
  • communicate importance of logging in before adding comments

Benefit: streamlined as administratively intensive process

Benefits of Google Docs to small (one-person) editorial business:

  • version control (only one master file)
  • transparency (version history, email notifications)
  • editing/collaborating in real time
  • clients can accept/reject changes as you’re making them, if you choose to do this
  • store and share templates (e.g. style sheets, briefing templates)
  • saves changes automatically

Considerations:

  • live editing = stage fright!
  • no PerfectIt (but can export to Word, run PerfectIt, and make changes in Google Docs)
  • no macros
  • potential client confusion with the process
  • not always accessible (cloud-based)

Top tips for using in your own business:

  • consider what jobs it might be suitable for
  • give clients/users clear instructions (e.g. changes save automatically, so there’s no ‘save’ button)
  • set boundaries/expectations

Rachel and Stacey made a video covering the basics of Google Docs for editors: http://bit.ly/iped2019gd

Justine McNamara: ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk? How our ‘other’ professions inform editing practice’

Justine has had many careers, several in the medical and allied professions, before becoming an editor. She shared the insights she gained when she looked at her careers as a whole, and how many common themes or threads emerged when she made connections that weren’t readily apparent, and how these linked with her current editing career.

Often editing is an ‘accidental’ profession with people ‘falling into it’ from another career. When she analysed the IPEd membership directory, she found about one-third of members mentioned their previous careers in their profiles (she also mentioned that it’s possible there are many more who have had other careers but DIDN’T mention them in their profiles).

Questions to consider:

  • How do your past careers tell you about your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes?
  • What knowledge/skills do you bring from earlier jobs that you can apply to editing?
  • How can you use this information to carve out a successful and enjoyable editing career?
  • How can you use this information to market yourself as an editor?

Messages for the future:

  • beware insecure employment
  • welcome technology
  • look after yourself

(Note: I did something similar several years ago, looking at how the careers I’ve had all seem to follow a pattern: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/brain-connections/)

(Also, I still don’t know what the raven reference is in the title of her talk)

Penny Modra: ‘Editing in the age of content’ (plenary session)

  • In business, writing is an assumed skill and there are many ‘writing workers’.
  • All brands now publish (e.g. social media, magazines). About 20% of marketing dollars in the US are now spent on Facebook marketing. [source?]
  • Australian schools removed grammar, punctuation etc. from curricula in the 1970s, so there’s not a few generations of students who have no idea.
  • What do businesses need? Editors!

They think they need a style guide, but they really need:

  • training
  • efficiencies
  • systems
  • empowerment
  • audience advocacy
  • [and others I didn’t have time to jot down]

BEEFUV:

  • buy-in:
    • editors can bring neutral reader advocacy
    • people in charge have misconceptions: ‘We already have a style guide’ when they mean brand guidelines; ‘Our people already know how to write’ when they are unaware of the long arguments about hyphenation; ‘We have other budget priorities’ when they don’t realise that the words they show to the world ARE their reputation and the main way their customers interact them. Consistency is absolutely critical to credibility—consistency IS branding. Consistency is critical to readability
    • from the team: open the worm-cans: language changes (often resistance); grammar versus style; how style guides work
  • extent
  • examples
  • format
  • updates
  • voice and tone

[I didn’t take many notes for the rest as I found the presentation jumped here and there. However, one thing that did resonate was the capping of job titles, and how that can almost represent hierarchies of greater and lesser jobs—for example, if Chief Executive Officer is capped, are you also capping Cleaner?]

Closing ceremony

At the closing ceremony the next IPEd conference venue and dates were announced: 28 to 30 June 2021, Hobart Grand Chancellor (yes, the middle of winter in Tasmania!). Theme: ‘Editing on the edges’. Conference website: https://iped2021.org.au/

The conference dates will be book-ended by the Dark Mofo winter festival (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MONA_FOMA) and the Festival of Voices (https://festivalofvoices.com/).

Finally, I observed that the plenary sessions had lots of people, and guessed the attendance to be around 300. I asked the conference organisers on the last day, and they said about 350 attended the conference, which included those who only came for a single day or for a workshop. The ACES conference over three days earlier this year had about twice that, but to put it in perspective, North America has more than ten times the population of Australia and New Zealand combined, so IPEd is punching well above its weight to get 350 attendees for a two-day Australasian conference.

See also:

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IPEd Conference 2019: Day 1

May 12, 2019

Last week (8 to 10 May 2019) I attended the biennial IPEd Conference (Institute of Professional Editors, the national association of Australian [and now New Zealand] editors), held in Melbourne. These notes summarise MY experience at the conference and my opinions and represent no-one else’s experience or opinions. I took notes for many of the sessions I attended, but as there were several concurrent streams, these notes in no way reflect the full breadth of the conference sessions. NOTE: Many of the sessions were only 10 minutes long and there was limited changeover time. Some session notes may be missing if I had to leave for the next session before the current session’s presenter finished.

Opening Ceremony

Blah blah blah… Call me cynical, but I’ve attended many many conferences, and most opening ceremonies are full of thanks from the organisers, rah rah rah about how good this conference will be and how much ‘fun’ it will be, messages from the high levels of the organisations and other ‘dignitaries’. This one was no different. However, despite a lot to cover and limited time, one of the invited ‘dignitaries’ went on and on and on and on… So much so that she cribbed a lot of time from the opening speakers who actually had interesting stuff to say. I felt very sorry for these invited opening speakers—the keynote speaker (yes, the important keynote address) didn’t start until 30 minutes after her allotted start time, and was pressured to finish early. All because the blah blah blah stuff went on too long.

The two other speakers in the opening time slot were good. First up was Angela Savage on ‘Great moments in editing’, where she shared some anecdotes from several Australian authors about how their editors made them look good. Much of the stuff the authors related were where their editors had picked up issues related to fact checking and verification, such as who really was playing cricket against whom in the year the novel was set. And whether a left-hander could hit a ball into the holly bush in the backyard based on where the editor had mapped all the backyard vegetation to be. Or the fact that a certain brand of sports shoe wasn’t released into the Australian market until after the date in which the novel was set. She finished by adding that a robot editor couldn’t do that sort of work.

The Welcome Address was given by Roly Sussex, who talked about language shortening and widening. My notes:

Shortening:

  • Over the centuries, the time taken to write and publish has shortened from months, even years, to milliseconds.
  • Reading time has also shortened, and people tend not to read long passages of text anymore.
  • Production time has collapsed (e.g. newspapers, books), with a flow-on effect on quality.

Widening:

  • Despite more than 6000 languages worldwide, there’s more of a move to English than any other language. English has become the ‘world language’ for business, commerce, and in other areas.
  • Initially, only the educated male clergy could read and write. With Caxton, literacy jumped the gender barriers, and with the 1871 Education Act in the UK, literacy was available to all. Now, anything can be published, whether it should be or not.
  • About 75% of English transactions are now carried out by those whose first language isn’t English (e.g. India, Pakistan, etc.)
  • English may have widened, but is has also weakened. Unlike French, there’s no regulatory body that decides what’s in the dictionaries, how the language is used, what words can be imported into the language etc. In the absence of a regulatory body, editors are guardians/gatekeepers of English language usage.

Other notes:

  • In public, written English, there are country/regional variations (spelling, date formats, punctuation rules etc.).
  • Australian English has three main dictionaries and three main usage guides as authorities.
  • Editors in some industries (e.g. newspapers) are in danger.
  • Be guardians of flexibility and innovation, exercise judgment.

Keynote Address

As I mentioned earlier, the keynote address started 30 minutes late and therefore the (invited) speaker had to finish much earlier than she would have expected. This was really unfair to both her and the delegates and I’d have been furious had it been me.

The keynote speaker was Susan Butler, a previous editor of the Macquarie Dictionary. Her topic was ‘When to care and when not to care: The editor’s angst’. The premise of her talk was based on words that are often confused, and which ones we should take note of and stand firm on, and which ones may well be becoming acceptable terms. Her pet peeve was using ‘infamous’ instead of ‘famous’. Common usage errors are often caused by confusion and proliferated in social media and the like (e.g. alternate/alternative, toll/toil, endure/endear, ensure/ensue, etc.). We need to make sure we respect the author’s wishes, but also need to advise authors if we think they are making an error, and thus aim to protect the author from ridicule. Confused words affect clarity.

She also said she’s in favour of killing off the apostrophe as it’s so often misused in plurals. However, she thinks she’s a lone voice on this and doesn’t think that will happen any time soon.

When new words were introduced to Macquarie, she said they always got the pedants riled who sent in letters stating ‘I’ve never heard that word in my life’ [and therefore it can’t be a real word]. She emphasised that old dictionaries and style guides are NOT an authority [and I’ll add that your 5th grade teacher isn’t an authority either!]. Similarly, not every word in use has to be in the dictionary to be a legitimate word.

By the way, she said that ‘a wigwam for a goose’s bridle’ [a common Australian expression that I remember hearing often when I was a kid], was derived from ‘a whim-wham for a goose’s bridle’ (a whim-wham is a trinket).

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After the opening session and keynote address, we broke for a yummy morning tea. There were some nice savoury items as well as sweet, a pleasant change from many conferences were there are only sweet items. But still no soft drinks or juices to cater for those who don’t drink tea or coffee. We always have to buy these ourselves, which always seems unfair when the tea and coffee drinkers get all their drinks (and as many as they can imbibe) included in the conference fee.

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Next up were the main conference sessions. There were three streams running concurrently over 90 minutes, and 14 sessions to choose from. Most sessions were about 10 minutes long (an incredibly short time for a conference presentation!) with a 5-minute changeover. You could stay in the one room for the whole stream or chop and change according to your interests. For this first concurrent session, I went to five different presentations across two streams, going from Ballroom 3 to 1 to 3 to 1 to 3 again. As a result of the changeover and the fact that nearly every speaker went over time, I missed the ends of many presentations. Also, each speaker was introduced by a host, and many gave their own Welcome to Country message, thus adding an extra two minutes to most time slots and reducing to eight minutes the available time to get their message across. It was always going to be interesting…. My notes are NOT complete—in some rooms, I had to stand at the back and thus couldn’t take notes easily, but mostly I had to leave before the presenter finished. Many of these presentations were understandably rushed and the speakers could not get through all the content on their slides, or even all their slides. Or they went over time. Or all the above.

Pam Hewitt: ‘For love and money’

Pam has done studies of salaries and hourly rates for editors over time and shared some of her findings with us. In the past few decades, editors’ salaries have decreased in real terms (i/e after taking inflation, CPI, average minimum wage etc. in to account), and are now less than the average weekly earnings. For freelancers, the average hourly rate in 2001 was $50, and by 2016 was $60, which doesn’t even cover inflation; taking inflation into account, it should have been $74/hr by 2016.

She also mentioned contributing factors such as:

  • the wage gap by gender (editing is a predominantly female profession, and thus attracts lower salaries; even within evenly gendered industries, women are paid only 77% the salary that a man gets for the same job)
  • globalisation: in-house editors are an endangered species. Clients now have access to editors around the country and around the world; equally freelancers can work with clients around the country and the world, so there are possibly more opportunities for work, though not necessarily at a liveable hourly rate
  • treating editing as a second income or post-retirement income, with the editor not being the main breadwinner, or doing editing as a ‘hobby’. One of the associated issues is the lack of superannuation for women in general, and for editors who don’t work sufficient hours to put away enough Super. Pam suggested including an amount to cover Super in your hourly rate.

Other things for freelancers to consider when setting rates include overheads (advertising, insurances, professional development/education, phone/ISP, maintenance, professional memberships, non-billable hours, office supplies, professional library, accountancy fees, utilities, health, holidays, Superannuation).

She also stated that being transparent with others about your salary/hourly rate can only help the everyone in the profession. IPEd is considering setting baseline rates so that clients know what to expect [I think that’s what she said, but I’m not 100% sure as I had to leave about then].

David Zmood: ‘Scientific and technical editing for the non-specialist editor’

David advised us to focus on what we’re good at—language, and how the information is being conveyed to the reader. Polish the language. ‘Let the researchers research, and the editors edit.’

Look at the document type—different ones have different requirements.

Look at the writing style—passive, or first person/active (which is easier to read and becoming more acceptable)

Is the language clear, consistent, and precise? Remove ambiguity; check jargon, abbreviations, acronyms; check the structure; are units of measure used consistently throughout; when decimals are used, are they to the same level for each value (e.g. 3 versus 3.25, which should be 3.00 and 3.25)?

Check figures, tables, and charts. Watch for duplication of the information in the fig etc. in the main body of the text (don’t make the reader re-read the information). Do figs etc. have a clear purpose, are they introduced in the text, and are they in the right location (i.e. near where they are introduced)? Are they readable and accessible? Avoid 3D charts, colours and patterns that aren’t visible/readable in greyscale, and be aware of other vision impairment issues of potential reader.

Karen Farrar: ‘5 Ws of advocacy – lessons for editors from other professions’

Karen had a varied career in the medical sciences before becoming an editor. She has been a member of many professional bodies and thus can see the commonalities between them and the editing profession. First she defined professional advocacy as ‘raising awareness to achieve change’.

Who:

  • who are you (as an organisation)?
  • who do you represent?
  • who is your target audience for advocacy?
  • who should be involved?

What:

  • what do you want?
  • what are your key messages?

When:

  • when you’re invited to contribute
  • when opportunity knocks
  • whenever you can make connections (e.g. current events)
  • when you can make your own news (e.g. awards publicity)
  • should be done constantly

Where:

  • professional bodies, such as governments, industry meetings and publications, website, social media
  • individuals: educate clients, educate friends and family (they often have no idea what you do)

[I had to leave this session before it finished)

Joely Taylor and Katharine O’Moore-Klopf (via video link from the US): ‘Purging plagiarism: Why authors plagiarise and how to fix it’

[When I arrived at this session, it was standing room only, so I didn’t take notes. The staff brought in extra chairs, so I started to take notes when Katharine started her section of the presentation]

Types of plagiarism:

  • self-plagiarism: re-using your own material that’s been published elsewhere and passing it off as new material; entwined with copyright and research and publication ethics; data augmentation; double dipping
  • patch writing: patching together different parts of words/sentences/paragraphs from the works cited and passing off as your own; unsuccessful paraphrasing; possibly a learning stage
  • copy/paste writing: copied from original works with little/no attempt at paraphrasing; done without attribution.

Finding plagiarism:

  • Look for suspicious text and ask questions about it: changes in language style, syntax, grammar, length of words and sentences; font changes, text background colours.
  • Check Adrienne Montgomerie’s ’10 signs of “lifted” text’: https://aceseditors.org/news/2019/ten-signs-of-lifted-text
  • Plenty of plagiarism detection software available—some free, some not.

Bobby Graham: ‘Blogging for your business’

Bobby updated us on her story so far—it seems at the last conference she’d just embarked on blogging (a niche market blog for those wanting to travel light). She said to date her plans and dreams hadn’t come to fruition and she’d made no money, so she was changing tack.

There are four pillars that sustain a blog/website: technology, design, content, and governance.

  • Technology/design: She recommended all-in-one solutions like SquareSpace (https://www.squarespace.com/), which is a blogging platform with things such as e-commerce, predesigned templates, etc.
  • Content: This is where writers/editors shine. Consider tools such as CoSchedule headline analyser for coming up with alternative headlines to the one you’ve written that are better for search engine optimisation (https://coschedule.com/headline-analyzer)
  • Governance: Have a content calendar for your blog posts

Blogging is a lonely business, so perhaps consult with a content strategist to help keep you on track.

Consider guest blog posts—you being the guest on others’ blogs, and they being a guest blogger on yours.

Look at your target market and consider how you can get noticed where they hang out (e.g. she targets female travellers over a certain age [e.g. http://sixtyandme.com/]). Narrow down your target market—she made the mistake of thinking she would target all travellers, but no is more focused on a particular demographic.

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Lunch was held in the Cliveden restaurant in the hotel and was a delicious buffet lunch, with a good range of hot dishes and salads, and dessert. Much better than in Brisbane when I think we stood around juggling plates of food and trying to talk and eat while standing up. This time we sat at tables of 4 to 6 people, which was much more civilised and much easier to talk with others.

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After lunch, the three streams had a combined 11 sessions over 90 minutes. I didn’t move around so much this time—my first two sessions were in the same room, with the next two also in the same room (though a different room to the first!).

Panel: ‘Academic Editing’ (chaired by Susan Keogh, with panellists Sharon Lierse and Robyn Williams)

The PhD process:

  • Typically three years
  • Student has to write a 10,000-word confirmation of candidature, and an ethics application within the first few months. At this point the supervisor gets a clear idea of their writing skills. Supervisor must sign off on both these submissions.
  • Dissertation may be 80,000 words and is usually supervised by up to three people.

Dilemma: How to convince students to pay for a professional accredited editing services as versus the ‘We’ll edit your thesis in 24 hours for $250’ signs rampant around uni campuses.

IPEd has clear guidelines for editing theses (updated earlier in 2019 and available from the IPEd website: http://iped-editors.org/About_editing/Editing_theses.aspx). They list what editors can and can’t do (e.g. no substantive editing). Essential to make students aware of their responsibilities and that of their editor. There’s a grey area between copy and substantive editing of theses, and sometimes questions of clarification need to go back to the supervisor. Supervisors are more hands-on with the student’s work.

Who pays for the editing? Students often can’t afford the cost. Sometimes the uni pays up to a certain amount. If the uni is paying, then need to involve the supervisor. Some students can afford to pay for editing, but many can’t—does this lead to inequality? Not all unis have editorial support—many are cash-strapped and don’t offer this.

However, once a student has attained their PhD, any editing after that can involve the whole range, including substantive as they are no longer subject to the same rules. The chair asked the panel if this was fair.

If a student’s English is poor, where are the boundaries? Editors need to flag issues, not rewrite (e.g. comment, perhaps with a link to someone like Grammar Girl who discusses the issue). Editors must stay at arm’s length. Typical writing issues for ESL students include: subject/verb agreement, length of sentences/paragraphs, plurals.

At one point, editors weren’t ever involved in PhD theses, but now are getting involved in Masters and sometimes undergrad work. Will editors eventually be asked to edit year 12 assignments? Up to schools to teach students how to write, but often grammar etc. not taught. Should Ed Depts give a blanket statement to schools about the use of editing with students? Is it already happening with some tutoring services? In some private schools? ‘Editors for everyone’?

Universities should have clear policies as to when/if students should engage an editor. Not all do. Role for IPEd?

Editing mills: Very cheap/free. The uneducated consumer doesn’t know the difference between a professional editor and someone who hangs up a shingle and calls themselves an editor. This affects everyone in regards to credibility, wages/rates.

Academic authors want better quality, in a shorter time, and cheaper! (i.e. all three on the ‘pick two’ continuum).

University/scholarly presses: Many are abandoning scholarly publishing (very expensive). Is there a space for indie publishing for academic authors? Uni presses need to maintain high standards to keep their reputations. Some now want authors to pay—self-publishing/vanity model? But do these works go out for peer review? Academics are unlikely to self-publish because their prestige depends on being published by reputable presses.

Cooperation with unis is vital. It can’t just be editors holding up the guidelines—it needs a joint approach from the unis too.

Pam Peters: ‘Best practice for editing – all at one URL’

Pam gave an overview of the upcoming collaborative ‘StyleHub’ portal (http://stylehub.edu.au/; due for launch mid-2019) that is a joint exercise between Macquarie Dictionary and BioText, and will bring together in one place the many resources that editors need, such as:

  • style manual (not sure which one this is, but later she talked about the Australian Manual of Scientific Style [AMOSS] being made more general and being called the Australian Manual of Style [AMOS])
  • Australian style (not sure what this is in comparison to the first one)
  • term finders
  • clear communication
  • research and testing
  • training.

[I had to leave before she finished, and have no idea how much this portal website will cost to access]

Julie Irish: ‘Accessibility: Creating content for everyone’

More than 4 million Australians at any one time have a disability, be it permanent or temporary (e.g. broken arm):

  • accessibility is a requirement for all federal government websites
  • best practice for web design/development
  • available to the broadest possible audience

Other impairments:

  • English is not the first language
  • situational impairments, such as trying to watch a video on a phone with no headphones

Accessible content:

  • clear/logical structure (headings essential)
  • inclusive language
  • good readability (check with Hemingway app)
  • [I missed a few here…]
  • alt text, captions, transcripts
  • link text
  • microcopy (e.g. button text)
  • writing to suit user’s purposes,

Accessibility is for everyone. There’s no such thing as ‘normal’.

Cathy Nicholl: ‘Making the accessible usable when editing for the online world’

Content needs to be useful to visual, audio, and kinaesthetic learners—must cater for different learning styles as well as different abilities.
Accessible, usable, multichannel.

Close of day keynote: Michael Williams, Director, The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas

Michael was a humorous speaker, who made a potentially dry subject very entertaining (governments have an ‘edifice complex’, a need to build something new even though it might already exist in another form).

The Wheeler Centre (https://www.wheelercentre.com/) was established by the Victorian Government after Melbourne became the second UNESCO City of Literature. It brings together in the one place several Victorian and Melbourne organisations associated with publishing, books, writing, comedy etc. They have an extensive talks program (about 250 a year, of which 80% are free to attend), and mentor new writers. By making talks free, there’s a greater chance people will spend that money saved buying the books etc. after the talk. And by starting them at 6:15pm, they get workers before they go home but after they’ve finished work for the day, and still have them back on the train by 7:00pm.

It’s a centre for public conversations that have been abandoned over the years by institutions of old—churches, railway and mechanics institutes, trade unions, local government, etc.

Their eclectic programs cater to multiple tribes. They host local writers and those who are visiting Melbourne.

However, they aren’t just an events organisation—they also help fill gaps in Australian publishing. They are concerned with how well supported the next generation of writers will be. Traditional publishing is typically very risk-averse, so new writers—no matter how good they are—may never get published. They offer a voice to those in the margins, those less privileged. Publishing is connecting an idea with an audience.

The proliferation of small publishers don’t have the resources to work with audiences and promote new writers. So The wheeler Centre, in partnership with Aesop Cosmetics Foundation, have established ‘The Next Chapter’, a mentoring program for ten new writers. Each person chosen gets $15,000, is assigned a mentor, and signs a moratorium contract to NOT go to a publisher. Their job is to hone their craft and make it the best it can possibly be, even if it never gets published. At the end of the 12 months, The Wheeler Centre will act as their agent to help them get published.

Close of day Panel: ‘Things I wish I’d known’

In this plenary session Renee Otmar asked six experienced editors for their take on what they learnt the hard way, or what they wish they’d known early in their editing careers. The panellists were: Ted Briggs, Edward Caruso, Ruth Davies, Loene Doube, Kirsten Rawlings, and Kathie Stove. This was a light-hearted finish to the end of Day 1.

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The Gala Dinner was held this evening, but I didn’t attend. There’s something about ‘fancy dress’ that turns me right off any event that has a dress-up theme!

See also:

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IPEd Conference 2019: Workshop day

May 12, 2019

Last week (8 to 10 May 2019) I attended the biennial IPEd Conference (Institute of Professional Editors, the national association of Australian [and now New Zealand] editors), held in Melbourne at the Pullman on the Park hotel. These notes summarise MY experience at the conference and my opinions and represent no-one else’s experience or opinions. 

IPEd held several half-day pre-conference workshops the day before the conference started, for an extra cost of $175 per workshop. I attended ‘Mastering Macros: Understanding the full potential of Word’, presented by Kevin O’Brien.

I was familiar with much of what Kevin had to say, but I did learn a couple of new things. He covered the basics of macros very comprehensively, then got us to record our own macro, assign macros to keyboard shortcuts, modify a macro in the VBA window (e.g. add a loop command), and helped us debug a failing macro. The sample template he provided has many macros, some of which I may add to my suite of useful macros once I’ve had time to test them out.

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The first official event of the conference was the Welcome Reception, held after all the workshops were finished. The catering staff were very good in providing drinks, but it did take a while for the food to come out to soak up the alcohol. However, when it did it was excellent finger food—hot, small enough to eat in one or perhaps two bites, with a lot of variety. I only stayed for about an hour (it got very noisy, with a couple of hundred delegates all chatting) and then headed back to my nearby hotel (I didn’t stay at the conference venue).

See also: