Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category


Editing: It saves your readers’ sanity

December 1, 2018

Bottom line: Even something as simple as a birthday invitation can benefit from editing!

A client and I have recently been discussing academic journal writing and lamenting why it’s so stilted, wordy, written in the third person, and generally hard for an audience (especially a general audience) to understand. Our email discussion was triggered by an article in The Atlantic: The myth of dumbing down.

A few days later he shared with me a birthday invitation he’d received from an academic he knew. It was some 950 words long! While it mostly used plain conversational language (there was at least one ‘therein’…), it was way too wordy. The essentials of the message were lost or well hidden in the word salad.

I couldn’t help myself—I edited it down to 250 words and sent it back to my client, purely as an example of how editing could keep the message but communicate it in clear, plain language.

Below is the original version (with all personal and place names changed) and my edited version. The original also included the names of those who were attending and those who’d put in their apologies, which I deleted from both versions.

Original version (950 words)

Dear Family and Friends,

This email will communicate (hopefully final) details regarding the re-scheduled 50th-birthday dinner-party for me at Gurpreet’s Indian Restaurant at 280 Highline St., Anytown, on Saturday 1st December.

VENUE: I realise that some of you have eaten at Gurpreet’s Anytown restaurant in the past and so will know how to find it. But for those of you who need instructions about its location I detail them in the following section. The restaurant is on the south side of Highline Street (= Main street of Anytown and Rosella) and is just two-shops east (i.e., towards the Melbourne CBD) of what used to be the Main Town Hotel on the SE corner of Highline Street and Mountain Street (which former hotel is opposite the Anytown Post Office). The restaurant occupies a converted terrace-house and is conspicuously signed at the front above and at street level; its map location is: 2018 edition UBD, Map 32 A6; see also Google Earth image attached).

PARKING: Highline Street is metered along its entire length as are many of the side streets running off it to the north and south. The meters on Highline Street are turned off each day at 7:00 pm but not on the side streets (so I’m told) and resident-permit restrictions apply in some of these side streets after business hours.

There is a 30-minute FREE parking concession along the whole of Highline Street, but you still need to get the relevant ticket from the meter and display it on your dash board. So if you were to find a parking space on Highline Street relatively close to the restaurant after 6:30 pm and obtain a 30-minute free ticket and display it on your car dash, you would not have to worry about getting a parking fine for the rest of the evening.

Nearby to the restaurant, there is also a Council-owned free parking lot on the north side of Battle Street (2018 edition UBD, Map 32, B7) just west of its acute-angled junction with Highline Street at Federal Square (this lot is not exceptionally large off, and possibly ‘busy’ on Saturday nights). This lot is best accessed while driving east on Battle Street (so as not to have to turn left against the oncoming traffic if otherwise driving west). There is a 2-hour time-limit in this parking lot but I think that restriction ends at 6 or 7 pm (read the signs therein); so if you park there after 6:00 pm there shouldn’t be any trouble about being fined (see Google Earth image attached for location of this parking lot).

Additionally, there is free unlimited parking on all four sides of the MacDonald Terrace, a divided-lane street (with very wide intervening green-strip) that runs parallel to Highline Street one block north of Highline Street between Birchbroom Road (on the west) and Roundhouse Street (on the east). There is also free parking on Carton Road (= eastward extension of MacDonald Terrace; see attached Google Earth image). Parking on MacDonald Terrace and/or Carton Road will entail having to walk up-slope for a whole block to the restaurant, so is not recommended for anyone with mobility problems.

Anyone with a disability parking-permit can park anywhere free of charge any time unless signed-posted otherwise.

TIME OF ASSEMBLY: Can I suggest that we start assembling at Gurpreet’s between 6:45 and 7:15 pm? If we are all assembled by say 7:00 or 7:15 pm, then we could begin the dinner at 7:15 or as soon as possibly thereafter. Please try to be punctual so as to facilitate an ordered start to the dinner.

DRINKS: Gurpreet’s is both licensed and BYO. I suggest you buy the house beers (which include both Indian and local brands), but bring your own wine (because the restaurant wines are relatively expensive — this is true of all restaurants because the licence to sell alcohol is very expensive!). A large variety of both Indian and local non-alcoholic drinks are available. Also, there is a bottle shop with a large range of beers and wines just around the corner from the restaurant (= the only surviving licensed element of what used to be the Main Town Hotel), so if necessary additional drinks can be purchased there.

MENU: Some of you I know have dietary restrictions. Hence I suggest that those persons order their main course(s) separately, while the rest of us share the Banquet Menu. Anyone who doesn’t want to share in the banquet menu can order separately. I have already discussed this suggestion regarding the menu with the proprietor and that is OK with her.

RESTAURANT CONTACT DETAILS: In case anyone has last minute problems with attending the get-together or arriving there on time and need to alert the restaurant, it’s landline’s and mobile numbers are: Landline: 5555-5555; Mobile: 0413-555-555

Proprietor: Shivani Singh (= Gurpreet’s wife; she usually now looks after the Anytown restaurant and her husband [Gurpreet] and their two sons [Deepak and Vikas] look after their other restaurant at Highline Harbour and at their Function Centre at Congress; I don’t know whether Gurpreet and/or either of his sons will be at the Anytown restaurant on Saturday night).

PUBLIC TRANSPORT ACCESS: Busses 41 and 57 leave from Stand A at the QVB in the Melbourne CBD and stop in Mountain Street beside the Anytown Post Office (and across the road from the bottle shop). Both these buses will return you to the Melbourne CBD from bus-stops virtually outside the restaurant.

Edited version (250 words)

Details for my 80th birthday dinner

Date and time: 6:45pm for 7:00pm, Sat 1 Dec 2018

Place: Gurpreet’s Indian Restaurant, 280 Highline St, Anytown (almost opposite the Anytown PO); 5555 5555 or 0413 555 555

Food and drinks:

  • Banquet Menu. If you have dietary restrictions, order your main course separately
  • The restaurant is licensed and BYO. Suggestion: Purchase beer there, but BYO wine. There’s a bottle shop around the corner


  • Metered parking to 7pm along Highline St (first 30 minutes free—so you could get there at 6:30, but you must display a ticket on your dashboard)
  • Free but small parking lot on the north side of Battle St, near the junction with Highline St at Federal Square; usually 2-hour limit, but check signs as likely no limit after 6 or 7pm. Best access is if you’re driving east on Battle St
  • Free unlimited parking on all sides of MacDonald Tce between Birchbroom Rd and Roundhouse St (parallel to Highline St and one street away). Avoid if you have mobility issues as you have to walk up a hill
  • Free parking on Carton Rd (extension of MacDonald Tce). Also avoid if you have mobility issues
  • Side streets: Avoid; likely only for residents with permits.

Public transport: Take bus 41 or 57. Both depart from Stand B at the QVB and stop in Mountain St beside the Anytown PO (across the road from the bottle shop and restaurant). The bus stop for the return trip is outside the restaurant.


Contact me (details on the About page) if you think your written communications could benefit from editing such as this.


EditorsWA Winter Seminar, August 2018

August 28, 2018

On 25 August 2018, I attended and spoke at the annual Winter Seminar, held by EditorsWA, the Western Australian branch of IPEd, the national professional association for editors.

Here are my notes from two of the three sessions; the third session (on efficiency) was mine, so there are no notes for it.

Conflict of interest (Vanessa Herbert)

This was an interesting and thought-provoking session. Vanessa started by explaining what conflict of interest means, and that it can be actual, perceived, or potential. She then spent a bit of time discussing IPEd’s Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct members must abide by, and the Conflict of Interest Declaration that IPEd councillors, committee members, contractors or volunteers must sign.

But the most revealing part of the session was when we worked in small groups, discussing the three potential conflict of interest scenarios she posed for us. The biggest takeaway is that what initially appeared to be black and white, may not be, and that many shades of grey exist between those black and white stances. The group I was in found all sorts of fuzziness around the edges, making it difficult to come to a firm answer. Vanessa had made us aware of using false justifications, and that was the hardest part to reconcile.

As I said, thought-provoking. The bottom line is to be open and transparent in all dealings.

Scientific writing (David Lindsay)

Some notes I took during David’s session:

  • The theme of all good scientific stories:
    • how and why does it fit (or not) with other scientists’ work
    • how and where does it fit into the ‘real world’
    • what does it mean for science and the real world.
  • The primary aim of a scientific article is to be read by as many people as possible, and for those readers to be influenced by it.
  • These days, the influence of an individual article is measured by the number of citations it gets (i.e. citation indexes), and the influence of a scientific journal is measured by its ‘impact factor’ (i.e. number of articles from that journal cited in the past xx years). Many articles are never cited and many journals have an impact factor <1.
  • The secret of telling a scientific story is based on the principle of expectation:
    • Readers should have some idea of what to expect from the article (informative and interesting title, familiar structure, sections that deliver what’s expected [e.g. scientific method] and build expectation for what’s coming in the next section, writing style that is clear, concise, and brief [avoid being ‘impressive’, otherwise you’ll alienate readers]).
    • The hypothesis is just a prediction of what the scientist expected, and the rest of the article shows evidence to support or reject that hypothesis.
  • The scientific story has these parts:
    • title (must be interesting and informative to attract the reader)
    • introduction (two parts only—the hypothesis, and the reasoning that makes that hypothesis the most plausible explanation)
    • methodology and materials
    • results (prioritise—some are much more important than others, so spend more time and space on these; include those that relate to the hypothesis and those that don’t)
    • discussion (again, prioritise the arguments that support/refute the hypothesis; consequences for others and possibly the ‘real world’; discard anything that just adds fluff and doesn’t help tell the story)
    • references
  • Characteristics of good scientific writing—precise, clear, brief.
  • Every paragraph must have a conclusion and a way to lead into the next paragraph. Every sentence must follow on from the previous sentence.

How a copyeditor can help your business

July 24, 2018

I found this excellent image on Northern Editorial’s website (an editing company based in the UK)—it sums up all the sorts of things I do, with the aim of making you (and your communications) look better.

The text on this image is:

Copy Editors Help Your Business because…

  • They catch: bias, blindspots, politically incorrect language, potential libel, offensive language, copyright problems.
  • They see: what you wrote, not what you thought you wrote; what the reads see, not what you see; holes in our argument; padding in your prose.
  • They find: repetition, overused phrases, ambiguity.
  • They check: readability, facts, links.
  • They fix errors in: grammar, punctuation, format, style, voice.
  • They spot: missing information, mislabelled information, wrong information.
  • They uphold: quality, credibility, standards.
  • They are invisible; they are valuable; they get your message out there and make you look better.

Thanks for allowing us to share this, Northern Editorial!

Update September 2018: Intelligent Editing, the creators of PerfectIt, one of my go-to editing tools, blogged about why you should hire an editor:


About editing and editors

June 17, 2018

In my opinion, this Facebook post sums up editing:

In its early days [early 1980s?], the Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada sent its members a series of sentences to edit, to see which were the most common approaches to fixing some kinds of problems. We were in the very very early days of thinking about standards. One sentence, memorably, was edited by 101 editors. Only one pair of editors made the same corrections to it. So there were literally 100 different edits trying to fix a two-line sentence. And almost all of those edits worked perfectly well.

–Greg Ioannou, Editors Association of Earth (Facebook group), posted 16 June 2018

Every editor approaches a sentence in their own way, and applies the conventions and styles THEY are familiar with or have been asked to use. There are no rules — only traditions**, conventions, and guidelines. This is why I’m conflicted about editing exams and tests — whose ‘rules’ are you meant to apply? And whose ‘rules’ do the examiners follow in marking you? What is ‘correct’?

** Some of  those ‘traditions’ and beliefs may have been embedded into your brain by your Grade 5 teacher several decades ago, and who’s to say they knew what they were talking about? Who’s to say they weren’t repeating what they’d learned at school several decades before too? How much was ‘assumed wisdom’, passed along from one generation to the next without question — or evidence?


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!


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]


IPEd Conference 2017

September 14, 2017

Held in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, September 13 to 15, 2017.

Pre-Conference Workshop: Endnote

This was meant to be 4-hour workshop on learning some of the basics of the Endnote referencing software. However, we only had three effective hours after taking out 30 mins for afternoon tea, and 30 mins for a late start and the presenter dealing with those who, despite multiple emails and other information on the conference website months ago, had not downloaded the required software or sample files.

The actual presentation by Dr Hilary Cadman was good and I learnt a lot. I’d played with the software for a few days the week before the conference, so had some familiarity with it, but this answered lots of my newbie questions and gave me enough information to decide whether to purchase it or not.

Day 1: 14 September 2017

The first day of the conference started with the usual welcome speeches, including a ‘welcome to country’ from a local Aboriginal elder, followed by a keynote address by Sophie Cunningham who spoke about her editing life in the Australian publishing industry.

Freelancing Panel

This panel comprised six freelance editors, who each spoke for 5 minutes on one aspect of freelancing that they now know that they wished they’d known when they started. Even though I’ve had my own freelance business for nearly 20 years, I still learnt from their experiences. Some points made by the various presenters:

  • After taking out time for 4 weeks’ leave, 2 weeks’ sick leave, and 2 weeks’ for public holidays, you’re left with a possible 44 billable weeks. Assuming you can work 5 billable hours per day (some of the rest of the day may be business admin etc.) and that you work 5 days a week, then you have 1100 potential billable work hours in a year. To calculate your fee, work out the salary you need to earn, take off $5000 for expenses, and then divide the result by the number of billable hours (e.g. $60K salary less $5K expenses = $55K, divided by 1100 hours = $50/hour).
  • Networking as an introvert:
    • Move out of your comfort zone – talk to people in person.
    • Look for opportunities to connect anywhere
    • Be personal and supportive, whether in person or online
    • Present a professional image – personal, website, logo etc.
    • Be confident – in yourself, your services, your expertise.
  • Promoting ourselves online – sand, river, and ocean:
    • Sand: Foundation for our own promotion (website, mailing list of clients, create free product (e.g. videos, handouts)
    • River: Social media (choose three platforms – e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn); online networking (e.g. answering questions on related forums, Quora)
    • Ocean: collaboration with 3rd parties (write for online ezines, IPEd website entry, bid for work on online editing sites)
    • Use a simple strategy
    • Do one marketing task every day.
  • Implement a structure – working in an office gives you a framework; as a freelancer, you need to create one for yourself. Structure time for:
    • Admin minutiae
    • Exercise, lunch, when you stop/don’t work
    • Have weekly and daily plans.
  • Be more efficient with your time by using technology such as IFTT (if this, then that for creating alerts for jobs posted on Twitter, LinkedIn etc.
  • Make sure your business is set up as a business:
    • Cultivate good long-term relationships
    • Take care of yourself – no money comes in if you’re not healthy, so good eating habits, good exercise, and set boundaries.

Editing for Education in a Digital World (Kylie Challenor and Lian Flick)

Kylie and Lian did a joint presentation on how the world of educational publishing has changed at Wiley in the past few years, from printed text books to far more interactive and online media. This was a good session marred by a slightly late start and then more than 10 minutes of the 45-minute session taken up with them discussing their backgrounds and history (much of which was in the printed program), thus leaving only about 25 minutes for the presentation and a short time at the end for questions. They handled the segues from one presenter to the other very well and it was very clear that they had practiced this beforehand.

How will editors adapt to an evolving digital future? (Dr Stephen White)

This was a fascinating look into the editing world of the Geological Survey of Western Australia, where digital atlases, maps, and virtual tours are becoming common. However, despite all the fancy technological innovations, editing existing text once it’s in the programs is still an incredibly manual and time-consuming exercise. What’s desperately needed are tools (external or built into the software tools used) that allow the metadata to be edited directly, or for the information to be tagged for changes.

Keynote: Monolithic and multilithic languages (Roly Sussex)

This was a super interesting presentation on the nature of languages and cultures. Monolithic languages are those that are pretty well fixed and rarely change (e.g. dead languages such as classical Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit; computer languages; and languages such as Icelandic [texts from 900 AD can still be read by Icelanders today], Estonian, and Latvian). Multilithic languages are those such as English, which have many variations (geography, dialect) and no fixed Academy to prescribe the ‘correct’ form of the language. He spent some time on the relationship between language and culture, an aspect that I found particularly interesting (e.g. L1/C1 means you speak the main language of the country and follow its cultural norms; L1/C2 – you speak the main language but follow another country’s cultural norms [e.g. speak Australian English, but follow Chinese cultural norms]; L2/C1 – you speak English as your second language but follow the cultural norms of the country you’re living in; and L2/C2 – you speak English as a second language, and follow the cultural norms of another country [e.g. new migrants]).


Day 2:

[Links last checked September 2017]