Archive for the ‘Technical writing’ Category


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!


US SIM cards

February 25, 2018

I used to get my US SIM card on leaving Australia, but the company has closed down its kiosks at Sydney and Melbourne international airports and you can only buy from them online now ( Although buying online isn’t an issue, the only mobile plan they sell that suits me is from T-Mobile. However, my experiences with T-Mobile on the past few trips have been less than stellar, to the point SimCorner have refunded part of my money as compensation for glacial speeds (meant to be 4G), and lack of connection, even in major cities like Boston.

Time to look for another Australian provider of US SIM cards. In my search, I found a website ( where you can put in your phone model and get an assessment of which US carriers your phone is likely to ‘play nice’ with. In that check, I found that AT&T and my phone are the best match (and unsurprisingly, T-Mobile didn’t rate very highly for my phone model).

I investigated a few providers — some were based in Europe, some required you to do the activation yourself on arrival (not good after a 16+ hour flight while waiting for a connecting flight), and some didn’t tell you much at all, like whether or not the plan you were looking at allowed you to use your phone as a mobile hotspot (aka tethering). Some also had NO way of contacting them if anything went pear-shaped, except via their online form or an email address — not very good if you’ve just landed at a US airport from Australia and you now have NO internet access. I had to email one seller to find out if any of their plans allowed tethering — only one did, but this was NOT mentioned on their website, so I could’ve spent about $100 on an ‘unlimited everything’ plan only to find out on arrival I couldn’t use my phone as a hotspot. (For those wondering why I need hotspot facility — many hotels have free wifi, but it can be glacially slow and it certainly isn’t secure. Similarly, I tend not to use public wifi.) All the sites I checked had Facebook pages, but many hadn’t updated them in more than a year*, so that’s another red flag, as well as the ‘Community’ posts on their Facebook pages where customers were complaining about not receiving their SIM or being unable to activate their card and needing urgent help.

Eventually, I went with the provider who wasn’t the cheapest (actually they were the most expensive), but whose website was comprehensive and gave me this information:

  • Full details of what each AT&T SIM plan had, along with any limitations and restrictions
  • Automatic activation based on the date of arrival you put in
  • No need for the phone’s IMEI to be provided
  • Various contact/support methods — Australian phone #, 24/7 US phone #, email address, specific email address of the owner of the company
  • Detailed instructions
  • Detailed breakdown of what you’re paying for — SIM card plan, cost of actual SIM card, registered post (plus expected time of delivery)
  • Testimonials (more than the three one website had)
  • Comprehensive FAQ.

Ultimately, my decision was based on how confident I felt that the company would respond to any problems, based on the information provided on their website.

Only time will tell — my next trip is mid-April, so I’ll report back after that.

Bottom line: When prospective customers are looking to buy from you, give them as much information as they need to make that purchase, set out clearly and written concisely. And if the product is one that may require support, make sure you offer more than just a contact form available only via the internet.

Update (March 2018): Since I wrote this, I’ve checked Telstra’s offerings (Telstra is the biggest Australian telco, and who I have my phone plan with). Previously, international roaming with Telstra required you to remortgage your house! They changed that a few years ago, but even a year or so ago, it was still expensive. The $10/day wasn’t so bad, but the data allowance was miniscule and they whacked you very hard if you exceeded it, with the result that you could still come home to bill in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Happy holidays, NOT! However, Telstra has changed (probably to compete with the offerings of the other carriers) and the rates are now more reasonable — it’s still $10/day for global roaming, with a 200 MB/day data allowance (expires each day, so not cumulative). If you exceed your 200 MB in any day, you can purchase another 500 MB for $10, and that 500 MB lasts for 31 days. In addition to the 200 MB of data each day, you get to keep your Australian phone number, and get unlimited standard international calls and texts. For a 20-day trip, you’d be up for about $200 (you’re only charged for the days you use, but be aware the ‘day’ is based on Australian Eastern Standard Time), with a possible extra $10 or $20 for extra data, if needed. Not as cheap as a US SIM, but you don’t have to change SIMs, possibly change APN details in your phone and let the new provider know your IMEI number, tell others your US phone number, update airline and other websites with your temporary US number etc. It’s an option I might consider for the next trip after the upcoming one, though I’d need to find out what data speeds (2G, 3G, 4G?) the international roaming plan defaults to — if it’s glacial, there’s not much point.

Update (April 2018): I arrived in the US last night, and turned on my phone after installing the new SIM while in the air. It connected immediately to the AT&T network for phone calls and text messages, but not for data. However, the provider had given full instructions for updating the APN settings on an Android phone if it didn’t connect for data (not necessary for iPhones — it seem they connect automatically), and after I entered those settings and waited 5-15 mins, I had data connection. However, I didn’t have email connection on my phone as I link to Exchange Server for my email — I didn’t worry about changing those settings as I get email fine when I’m on wifi, AND I’d set my ISP email settings to send a copy of all my email sent to my Gmail account, which I can access without any issue on my phone.

The data connection isn’t particularly good close to San Francisco International Airport (SFO), despite all coverage maps for all companies showing ‘excellent’ coverage in and around big cities and airports. I used to check, and got 1.22 Mbps download and 1.86 Mbps upload, with a 27 ms ping rate. This was with 1 bar of 4G coverage. A few minutes later it was still 1 bar, but I got 3.18 down and 0.89 up. I’ll monitor it over the next few days, but will use free wifi for general browsing and checking email where it’s available and has better speed. (Note: Checking via Speedtest chews up quite a bit of data [about 7 mb each test?] so I won’t do it often otherwise I’ll use up all my data just checking the speed!)

Oh, the Australian company I got my SIM card through? I bought the MAX plan as it allows me to use my phone as a wifi hotspot in areas of very bad or no wifi coverage. The other plans with more data don’t allow this.

Further to this… I contacted the Australian supplier about the speed near SFO and after getting me to check a couple of things which didn’t work (they were VERY prompt in their replies to me!) they put me in touch with the AT&T help desk, where the lady I spoke to was also very helpful. The issue with speed resolved itself as soon as I moved out of the SFO environment, so I’m guessing something weird was happening at that location.

A week later… I took the train from San Francisco to Chicago. There was no wifi on the train, so I HAD to use my cell phone as a wireless hotspot if I wanted connection. My previous T-Mobile SIMs would almost die if I took them away from a major city, but this AT&T SIM was like the Energiser Bunny — it just kept on and on, even out in the wilds of the Sierra mountains and Colorado where I didn’t expect any coverage. Yes, in some places coverage was patchy, but we were in the middle of nowhere and no-one had signal in those cases. So, based on my experience on the train, I’d go with AT&T again.


* Yeah, I’m also guilty of not updating my CyberText Facebook page — to be honest, I only grabbed the page way back when to prevent someone else from grabbing the name; I never intended it to be a method for anyone wanting my services to contact me.

[Links last checked February 2018]




Microsoft Style Guide

February 15, 2018

The online (and free) Microsoft Style Guide ( has been released. It replaces the previous Microsoft Manual of Style, a ‘must have’ style guide for those working with online text — user interfaces, online help, etc.


ASTC 2017 Conference

November 12, 2017

I attended and spoke at the Australian Society for Technical Communication (ASTC) 2017 Conference, held for the past two days in Sydney. Although it was a small conference with only one track for sessions, it had lots of valuable information presented, and the small size allowed for more regular and personal interaction among the attendees.

There was a great mix of sessions — from highly technical information, to case studies, to new ideas and approaches. I usually take notes of the sessions I attend, but this time the super-smart Sarah Maddox was also attending and speaking, and she takes far more comprehensive notes than I ever could. So if you want to read about the sessions, head over to Sarah’s blog and check out her summary of the conference, and the links to her blog posts for each session:

[Link last checked November 2017]




The benefits of downtime after a conference

September 17, 2017

For the first time ever, I allowed an extra day after the conference before flying home. Usually I leave the day immediately after the conference in my hurry to get home. But not this time. This time I stayed. And you know what? I got an awful lot done!

Typically, I get home from a conference and life takes over. I have my scribbled notes, websites I want to investigate, business cards for those I need to add to my contacts list and send an email to. And it can take a week or two — sometimes some months — before I get around to doing all that, or I do it in dribs and drabs, eventually not doing some of those things as their priority and my interest slips down the list. Paid work takes priority and, as I said, normal life resumes.

So to have a ‘free’ day to just work on catching up from the conference was great. I went for a long walk, then back to the hotel to type up my notes in blog posts, add contacts, send emails, and investigate websites and software that I heard about during the conference. In fact, this day went so well and I was so productive, I didn’t have breakfast or lunch, finally stepping out around 4pm for a bite to eat!

Another advantage of doing it all the day after was not having to bring home paperwork (e.g. conference program, vendor flyers) to refer to later — except the ones I investigated/read on my day off and decided to keep. The rest went into the hotel’s recycle bin and I saved on a little weight in my luggage.

I think I’ll add an extra day to my conference agenda from now on (well, after the next two conferences, as I’ve already booked and paid for them and Qantas charge a HEAP to make a schedule change).


Conference etiquette

September 16, 2017

I’ve just finished attending a 2-day conference and half-day workshop. I’ve attended plenty of both, but some things happened at this one that made me just a little bit angry because I felt I didn’t get what was promised. These things irk me at ALL conferences, not just this one, so I’m not picking on the one I just attended. Most are to do with attendees, but a couple apply to the presenters or conference organisers. So if you’re attending a conference in the near future, take note.


It’s a while since I taught a hands-on computer software class, but I really felt for the presenter when the questions started coming and she was running around like a blue-arsed fly trying to sort out people’s issues because they:

  • didn’t download the program beforehand, or tried to download it the night before the workshop but failed and were now trying to do so on a shared but limited Wifi connection in the convention centre AFTER the class had started (the info on downloading the software had been on the conf website and in the confirmation email for months)
  • didn’t follow the presenter’s emailed instructions (with attached class files) and load the files onto their laptop, as requested, meaning the presenter had to run around with her thumb drive to help those people
  • saw that their Mac screen was different to the Windows screen of the presenter and despite having a complete set of instructions WITH CORRECT MENU PATHS and screenshots for a Mac, continued to ask how to do it on a Mac
  • didn’t know how to resize a window, or a pane within a window, or sort a database column, move column headers etc.
  • asked about things the presenter had just given CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS (with a demonstration) for
  • turned up late (some were in a late-finishing morning workshop, and the conference organisers had only allowed 30 minutes for lunch — unfortunately, there was only one place close by for lunch, and they had to wait for their orders to get filled and to eat their lunch); the result was that the presenter waited nearly 10 minutes for them to arrive, thus penalising those of us who’d turned up on time.

The presenter wasn’t a quick talker, so there’s no reason why some people seemed to get left behind. I didn’t hear any needless chatter from where I was sitting, so I’m wondering if some people just don’t listen or read, despite them all working in the field of clear communication.

On a side note, questions like some of those above, plus some late arrivals, meant that it took about 20 minutes of the 4 hours before the presenter could really get started. That’s a real red flag to me — I’ve paid good money to get a 4-hour workshop and to find that effectively it’s 3.5 hours, less another half hour break for afternoon tea (not announced in the program), so effectively 3 hours, doesn’t sit well with me.

For workshop organisers

  • Allow enough time between workshops for lunch, especially where there’s only one lunch venue for the whole convention centre, and many will be trying to get their lunch at the same time. Or get lunch catered for and add it into the workshop fee.
  • Arrange for enough power outlets for any hands-on computer software training! All participants in my workshop got an email from the organisers two days beforehand telling us there’d be no power in the room and to make sure out laptops were fully charged!! During my email exchange with the organisers I was told this was a ‘safety’ issue. Really? In a convention centre that hosts hundreds of events each year? Fortunately there WERE some power points around the room, so those who needed them were able to charge their laptops. Despite mine being a recent laptop with specs indicating an 8-hour charge (I think), I was down to 65% after 2 hours. Anyone with an older laptop might have been struggling.

Conference organisers

These suggestions are for conference organisers and the people who introduce the speaker(s) to the audience. In the conference I attended last week, all sessions were 45 minutes, which included a mandatory 10-minute question time, so effectively 35 minutes. There was NO break between one session ending and the next one starting — with sessions running simultaneously in three rooms, that meant running from one room to the next.

  • Allow sufficient time for attendees to move from one room to another — 5 minutes as a minimum, but preferably 10 minutes. This also allows the next speaker time to get to the room, set up, and do any final prep for their session — and to breathe…
  • Do NOT let those introducing the speaker repeat the biographical info that’s already in the printed program, on the website, and in the conference app. We can read. It’s a waste of time for everyone concerned, especially for a tight session.


  • Do NOT repeat all the biographical info that’s in the program, website, and app, or on the THREE slides you have that describe your history from childhood. In one of the sessions I attended, by the time the person doing the intro had given a potted bio, then the two presenters had each given their bios, we were nearly 15 minutes into the session, leaving effectively 20 mins to present the information.
  • And while on bios, I don’t want to hear “I really loved reading as a child” unless for some reason your topic is on childhood reading issues! Any bio info must be recent, preferably summarising only things related to the work you’re doing now and nothing older than 10 years. Before that, no-one cares!!!
  • Speak up if there’s no microphone — those at the back WILL strain to hear you. If there’s a microphone, speak into it. If there’s a hand microphone, learn to use it so that it doesn’t end up well away from your mouth and no-one can hear you.
  • When you get a question from the audience, REPEAT THE DAMNED QUESTION into the microphone. One, it shows that you heard/interpreted the question correctly; two, those sitting at the back can’t hear any question a person facing you has asked.
  • Start on time. Do NOT reward latecomers by starting late.
  • Finish on time or even beforehand, especially if there’s no break between sessions. Often there’s a session straight after yours and the next person needs time to get set up.
  • Pack up your stuff and get it out of the way of the next presenter ASAP. If there’s time between sessions and some people still want to ask you questions personally, move aside, or take the discussion outside into the corridor.

I’m sure there are more, but these are the ones I identified at this conference.

Rant over.


IPEd Conference 2017: Day 2

September 16, 2017

Panel: Building Alliances

There was a slight change in the order of business today, with the Keynote address coming after the Building Alliances panel.

The theme of the panel was the issues facing similar and/or allied organisations to IPEd (Australian Institute of Professional Editors), and how can we work together to address them. The panel comprised representatives from the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the Copyright Agency (CA), the Queensland Writers Centre (QWC), and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI).

Issues facing the various organisations


  • Assault on copyright
  • Funding issues (actually, no funding!)
  • Changing markets (publishing and producing is easier than ever, but the marketing side is more difficult as there are fewer opportunities for writers to get a foothold with more risk-averse big publishers)


  • Similar issues to ASA
  • Small membership base; most are freelance indexers; ageing membership (difficulty in attracting younger members)
  • Diversification of publishing models (without large publishing houses, more difficult for indexers to market themselves and know what’s going on)
  • More of the larger publishers are outsourcing indexing to overseas indexers
  • Need to advocate for quality indexes
  • Understanding required as to the many types of information that indexers work on


  • Working rights and conditions for freelancers, as well as in-house employees
  • Copyright issue is huge; lots of plagiarism
  • Diversity of membership and the sorts of things they are able to get published (e.g. a [insert name of ethnic group/culture] cookbook might get published, but probably not a work of fiction)


  • Same concerns as ASA
  • How do we communicate the value of what we do, and thus give the best advice to members


  • 30K members in Australia
  • Lots of educational content, but fighting the impact of globalisation of textbooks
  • Copyright issues and threats, with global forces trying to water down Australian copyright law

Key issues for partnership with IPEd

  • Promoting the value of what we do and being paid appropriately for that
  • Developing standards, codes of conduct so we are seen as trusted professionals and not hobbyists
  • Fair and equitable pay
  • Strategic issues (e.g. Style Manual, copyright, education and training)
  • Sharing resources between groups
  • Educating politicians about copyright, and the benefits of a sustainable local publishing industry

How can we work together as a bloc to address these issues?

  • Work together as a group for advocacy and lobbying
  • Change focus from dealing with crises (e.g. copyright issues) to looking for opportunities to cooperate

Keynote: Sean Leahy

Sean is a well-known Australian cartoonist, most noted for his topical and political cartoons and for the more light-hearted ‘Beyond the Blank Stump’ comic strip. Some of the highlights of his talk:

  • Online comic books/graphic novels are more like games with choices (‘choose your own adventure’ style)
  • Too much separation of comics/cartoons and books; however, children’s picture books join the two.
  • Cartoonists have difficulty monetising their content on the web, so they often get into merchandising other product with their cartoons

Sean showed us many of his astute political cartoons, and explained a little about how he caricatures political figures — and some of the responses of those caricatured (including talking about a defamation writ from a previous Queensland Premier, which was later dropped when the issue it was about actually came true some weeks later). He finished his presentation by drawing about half a dozen quick sketches of some of his favourite Australian politicians (favourite to draw, that is, not necessarily favourite person), including Pauline Hanson, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, and John Howard.

(As an aside, here’s a hint for presenters — find out beforehand if you can access the internet from the room [he could but didn’t know he could], and make sure the site(s) you want to show are either preloaded in the browser window, or are written down so you can type in the URLs and not spend 10 minutes doing random Google searches in the hope you find what you want to show, then wait to install Flash Player only to find it wasn’t the site you wanted anyway! You can seriously alienate an audience if you don’t.)

Embracing the future: Technologies to transform the business of being an editor (Peter Riches)

This was a great, practical session, with lots of hints and tips as to the sorts of technologies Peter uses in his tech writing and editing business in Melbourne. He split them into two categories — editing and proofreading, and business apps. His business uses Macs, but when he needs to use Word, he runs it via VMWare in a Mac.

He started off with five general tips for choosing tools:

  • Use as few as you can
  • Evaluation takes time and you must use real data for testing
  • You don’t have to use every feature
  • Not all tools (especially the niche ones) will be around forever
  • Sometimes, do-it-yourself is a better option (e.g. he’s created an Excel spreadsheet he uses for estimating)

Editing and proofreading tools

  • Microsoft Word
  • PerfectIt
  • AnyCount (deals with a range of file types, counts words more accurately than MS Word [includes hidden text, text in text boxes, headers/footers etc.]; these word counts are used in estimates for quoting)
  • StyleWriter (he uses this for assessing the overall quality of the writing for quoting; has statistical summaries of use of jargon, passive voice etc.)
  • Quote Engine (the Excel quoting tool he built for his business; not available publicly; NOTE: quotes always include a project brief)

Business tools

  • Daylite (project and lead management tool from Market Circle, Canada; only available for Mac)
  • Harvest (timesheet and invoice app; from the US; records all time spent on a project [including non-billable time] and generates invoices that can be auto imported into his accounting software; sends automated notifications about overdue invoices to clients; can also create a ‘retainer’ invoice for prepaid work
  • Xero (accounting software; cloud-based; can import bank statements; deals with payroll and superannuation payments; integrates with Harvest invoices)
  • Dropbox (he uses it for business accounts, email archives; has replaced a file server and backup, though he still backs up Dropbox data occasionally)
  • Confluence (wiki-based app for internal and external content to share with team members; has style sheets for various clients so all employees and contractors have access at all times; used to document his business’ processes [e.g. file-naming conventions])

Everyday agreements and contracts for editors (Roslyn Copas)

Another great session with lots of practical advice (I much prefer practical sessions where you can take away something immediately to action the following week, than sessions that are more theoretical). Rosyln emphasised that hers was general, not legal advice, and that she wasn’t a lawyer, but her experience with dealing with many state, national, and international contracts and lawyers has given her enough knowledge to share.

She differentiated an agreement and a contract:

  • Agreement: Expression of assent between parties; exchange of promise. May be in writing, could just be verbal. Email agreement is classed as an ‘everyday agreement’.
  • Contract: Specific agreement to do/not do certain things. Often in writing; tends to be more formal and/or complex. May be enforced by law.

General points

  • Using agreements is good practice for your business and makes your business look professional
  • Creating your own agreements or influencing the terms of agreements you’re offered is advantageous
  • If you understand agreements you received before you sign them, it’s more likely to end well
  • Only make agreements that reflect what you really intend to do

Why have an agreement/contract?

  • Clear record for all parties of the intent, obligations, and scope of the project (no conflicting interpretation)
  • Basis for claiming payments, refusing ‘scope creep’, assigning risks/benefits
  • Legally enforceable

Minimum characteristics of any agreement/contract

  • Is always between parties with legal capacity to make the agreement
  • Sets out expectations, obligations, intentions, offer and accpetance
  • Sets out the payments to be made, how, and when
  • Sets the dates — start/end dates, timeframe
  • Specifies the legal jurisdiction (if both parties are in the same State, then defaults to that State if there is no statement of legal jurisdiction; if in different states/countries, must specify the jurisdiction)
  • Signed and dated by all parties (some contracts require witnesses too)

Before you sign

  • Read EVERY word
  • Clarify where necessary — don’t assume you can get a variation later
  • If possible, draft your own scope of services, or influence the other party to do so
  • Verbal agreement is legal, but a written agreement (even via an email trail) will override any verbal agreement
  • Request corrections of any errors, or, for minor variations, make the change and initial it
  • Don’t sign if it isn’t what you agreed — get legal advice
  • Good idea to use an annex to the contract that details the scope of work

When you make an agreement

  • Be precise and specific, and ensure you meet the minimum requirements (above)
  • Make sure what is in the contract is reasonable, do-able, and legal
  • Make sure at least two copies of written agreements are signed, one for each party
  • Keep a safe copy of email agreements

Considerations for editors

  • Intellectual property — who owns it and until when?
  • Plagiarism
  • Confidentiality
  • Future of documents and other files, and ownership
  • Standards and guidelines to follow
  • Meaning of relevant terminology (e.g. client may not know the various levels of editing and these need to be stated)


Giving science a style makeover (Julie Irish)

Biotext, the company Julie works for, released the Australian Manual of Science Style (AMOSS) in 2016. It is only available online, under a subscription model ( At the beginning of her presentation, she announced that they had just signed a formal agreement with Macquarie University (owners of the Macquarie Dictionary), so it would be good if AMOSS and the dictionary could become a combined subscription!

Some information about AMOSS:

  • Covers various scientific disciplines; started with health, biomedical, agriculture, and environment and will expand into other disciplines over time
  • Divided into four broad sections all related to science — writing, editing (including terminology for various disciplines), showing (use of tables, figures, graphs, etc.), and resources.
  • Doesn’t cover general style/grammar, highly technical details for specific disciplines (but has links to those resources)
  • Features: links to international and Australian standards and conventions and related resources; terms to watch out for; examples of usage; internal and external links; tips; search function; bookmarking ability to you can go straight to personal areas of interest; downloadable guides (short PDFs); feedback mechanism

The value of cross-linked scientific information in the age of digital publishing (Maryam Ahmad)

In this case study, Maryam talked about how the CSIRO was part of an interagency, multidisciplinary team (CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology, Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy, and Geoscience Australia) who did a bioregional assessment of an environmental issue covering 13 bioregions on the east coast of Australia.

Some of the issues facing the team from an editorial perspective included:

  • Agreeing on the terminology and creating a common glossary
  • Version control
  • Hyperlinking publicly available datasets and coming up with the GUIDs and URIs to differentiate these, then automating the process of creating a list of datasets (like a list of references)
  • Producing PDF and HTML formats from Word documents

Related websites:

Index of unreadability (Philip Bryan)

I’ve done many sessions  on readability at other conferences and have done some of my own research into readability and usability of screen-based materials. But none was a fascinating as this insight from Philip, who had a bicycle accident resulting in concussion. For some weeks and months later, he had great difficulty reading any material on computers, TVs, and other electronic devices, though he had no problem reading on paper. He decided to investigate why and has come up with his ‘index of unreadability’, based on his own experiences. While his list is subjective, it matches well with information I’ve found over the years from other sources.

Materials in order of increasing unreadability

  • Book (print)
  • Newspaper (print)
  • Magazine (print)
  • Computer monitor (electronic)
  • Web pages (electronic)
  • iPad (electronic)

Philip’s thesis is that communication can be destroyed by the means of delivery.

He distinguished between readability (how hard something is to read) and legibility (the clarity of the material to be read).

Print items and selection options for readability

Print is all on paper — and paper has no other information than the symbols printed on it, which we interpret to mean something.

When selecting options for readability consider:

  • Typeface
  • Line length (too long [>80 words] is tedious  tiring, and causes the eye to flip back to the beginning of the same line when trying to go to the next line)
  • Text colour (black on white is the best contrast)
  • Serif/sans serif (serif for extended reading, sans serif for signs, facts, legibility)
  • Alignment (left-aligned, ragged right is best for readability)
  • Paper colour
  • Regular/condensed fonts (use condensed only for margin text)

No matter what selections you make, they MUST be suitable to the intention of the work, and to the reader.

Electronic items and selection options for readability

The considerations for paper (above) also apply to screen, though line length usually isn’t an issue.

However, other areas of consideration for screen include:

  • Pixellation (every pixel flickers, and with millions of pixels on screen at any one time, that’s a LOT of flickering)
  • Static/active pages (active pages include those with flashing things, autoplay videos, moving tickers, etc.; can use ReaderView [in Firefox and Safari; extension for Chrome] to eliminate ads, sidebars, menus etc. and just display the text and the images associated with the text, with options to change contrast, font size, etc.)
  • Brightness (less bright is better)
  • Moving images in general
  • Blue light, which goes straight through the retina into the brain (suggest get glasses that block out blue light)

Every design consideration has an impact on the readability of a page or screen. Don’t let the means of delivery destroy the communication.

See also:

Conference close

The final session of the conference was the closing, where those involved in organising the conference, the sponsors, etc. were all thanked, and where the team organising the next conference (May 2019, in Melbourne) were introduced. The Melbourne conference tagline is ‘for the love of words’ and the main themes will be inclusion, diversity (people and publishing methods), and editing ‘out of the box’.


See also:

[Links last checked September 2017]