A client of mine wrote a book proposal based on her dissertation, sent it to a publisher, and was invited to submit the manuscript for a round of peer review. She contacted me after she had gotten the book back with comments and asked me to help her restructure it based on the feedback the peer reviewers had provided.
I took the manuscript and comments, read it thoroughly while taking notes, and designed three options for a new outline and structure for the book, also noting which parts I thought could be deleted. All three options were based on a different type of structure with a different story/argument buildup. After my client picked her preferred option, I got to work restructuring the book, moving parts around, deleting other parts, and creating six new chapters. She then took it from me, edited it, and sent it back to me for a last pass. The book has now been published!
This kind of editing is what I call structural editing. Structural editing is the most rewarding but also most taxing form of editing. When writers come to me because they need help developing their argument, untangle their main points, restructure their book or article, or anything else that involves the content of their work, I always know that I’m in for a lot of work. In order to do a structural edit well, I have to know what the author is trying to argue. I have to immerse myself in their writing and their thought process.
Like all other professionals, editors need training. While you may be great at grammar and have always been able to spot typos from afar, the editing process involves a lot more than simply correcting grammar and spelling mistakes (although this is an essential part of it!). In fact, I would argue that the majority of the work I do consists of other things:
I strengthen a text’s message and improve its clarity, flow, and coherence by changing words, phrases, and overly long sentences (depending on my mandate of course);
I improve a text’s accuracy by fact-checking names, dates, and titles;
I clarify a text’s structure by inserting and/or formatting headings to create a clear outline;
I ensure that citations and references are formatted correctly, that sources have been properly cited, and that any potential ethical or legal issues are flagged;
I ensure that author guidelines, spelling preferences, and style guides are applied consistently and correctly.
All this requires training because how does one, for example, improve a text’s clarity? This is a vague requirement that is made a lot more concrete with examples and exercises, of which I’ve had plenty in the past years. Since starting my editing training, I have completed three out of the five courses of Queen’s University’s Professional Editing Standards program (“Fundamentals of Editing Standards,” “Copyediting Standards I,” and “Copyediting Standards II”) and one SfEP course (“Brush Up Your Grammar“). I’m planning to take the remaining two Queen’s courses (“Proofreading Standards” and “Structural Editing Standards”) next year in order to obtain the certificate.
This is not where it ends, of course; any professional editor will engage in lifelong learning in order to stay up to date and hone their skills. I’m definitely planning to take more advanced copyediting and grammar courses and sharpen my MS Word skills in the future (especially concerning macros and wildcards).
For now, I’d like to share a few things that I have learned from my editing courses, thanks to fantastic instructors and colleagues. Of course, I learned much, much more than I can convey in one blog post, but I hope the selection below gives an idea (warning: long post!).
Note: An edited version of this post was published on the SENSE blog.
On September 21, SENSE, the Society of English-Language Professionals in the Netherlands, held its biennial Professional Development Day (PDD), a one-day professional-development workshop for editors and translators. I was excited to be attending my first SENSE conference!
After some coffee and networking, the day started with a plenary lecture by Jenny Zonneveld, who gave us a number of valuable tips on how to gain repeat clients: be an expert in your field, network, attend events, and build sound relationships with clients and your colleagues. This will require leaving your comfort zone, leaving space in your schedule so you can be flexible, spreading your risks, and learning from feedback.
Next, I attended a fascinating presentation by Dianna Beaufort on writing and translating in architecture and urban planning. I have a background in urban studies and am familiar with the embellished writing architects can produce. Beaufort guided us through some examples of problems caused by “architecture and urban development speak” or false friends and showed us how she dealt with these. Translating “een karakteristieke oppervlakte” into “a characteristic surface,” for example, does not work!
The annual conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), which took place in Birmingham from September 14 to 16, was an absolute blast. Not only were the facilities at the Conference Aston hotel absolutely luxurious, but the delegates were a delight as well. As a first-time attendee, I was invited for drinks with the council before the start of the conference, and everyone made sure that I felt welcome and included. The conference organizers set up a speed networking event and assigned us random seats for the gala dinner on Sunday, ensuring that we talked to new people. They had also provided us with pronoun stickers, which I thought was a great inclusive move! More entertainment and bonding opportunities were provided by conference choir The Linnet’s performance on Saturday night and the after-dinner quiz that same day, during which I learned that I really, really suck at guessing songs based on their first few lines being read out.
It’s been a while since I last blogged! My summer was filled with work, courses, and conferences. To begin with, I completed another course toward obtaining Queens University’s Professional Editing Standards certificate: Stylistic Editing, now renamed Copyediting Standards 2. This brings my total number of courses to three: Copyediting Standards 1, Fundamentals of Editing (completed this spring), and Copyediting Standards 2. I have two more courses to go before I can apply for the certificate! I also enrolled in a course from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) titled “Brush Up Your Grammar,” which I have almost completed.
As it turned out, whatever I learned from my courses could be put in practice right away, as my summer schedule filled up with work. I edited two academic monographs, eight journal articles, two dissertations, two book chapters, a conference paper, some blog posts, and even a card game! Thanks to the courses, I have become quicker at spotting issues, and I more readily know what to do about them. The issues I encounter are not just spelling and grammar errors, but also language that is not clear, coherent, or concise. It is nice to feel more confident in my abilities to spot and correct these instances!
My skills were honed even more by the conferences I attended this September: the Annual Conference of the SfEP and the Professional Development Day of the Society for English-language Professionals in the Netherlands (SENSE). While attending two conferences in such rapid succession was intense and left me feeling a bit drained, I am very happy that I went, because I met many people and learned a ton of stuff. I am working on detailed blog posts about these two conferences, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, I am booked up until the end of October at least, having started work for Terreform’s publishing imprint Urban Research on a forthcoming edited volume that I’m very excited about: an anthology of essays in honor of legendary urban theorist Mike Davis!
On 22 May 2019, the SfEP’s North East England local group organised a mini-conference in Newcastle. As a relatively new member, I was determined to attend my first-ever SfEP conference, even though it involved taking the overnight ferry from the Netherlands to Newcastle. People warned me that it was a notorious party boat and that I would probably not get much sleep. Thankfully, the trip was perfect: it was more like a pleasant mini-cruise than a hyped-up stag party (more on the boat trip here).
Expectations for this conference were high. Not only was everyone enthusiastic about the programme and looking forward to meeting up with old and new friends but a debate erupted on Twitter that raised the stakes for the treats served during the intervals.The pressure was on for co-organiser and cakesourcer, Kia Thomas!
After a wonderful trip, I met up with fellow editors the evening before for a pre-conference dinner. We went to a gorgeous restaurant in the centre of Newcastle, where we shared stories and had a few laughs about my unnecessary boat worries. I love how inclusive and welcoming the editing community is! The following morning, people arrived at the conference venue early, eager to get started. After registering, I socialised with old and new friends. It was great to recognise people from Twitter!
I have not yet reported on my new(ish) membership of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (effective as of March). This UK-based organization has members all over the globe and offers many benefits to editors, including a wide range of courses and many (local) events to attend. Seeing as I’m based in Europe for now, it made sense to join an association located next door with events that are only a train or boat ride away (I’m trying not to fly within Europe; more in this below).
What I especially like about the SfEP is its focus on training and community. Let me say something about training first. The SfEP offers training in core and editorial skills and for in-house editors. Members can obtain different grades of membership: Entry, Intermediate, Professional, and Advanced Professional, dependent on the amount of training they have completed and their work experience. Only members who have obtained the last two grades can advertise their services in the SfEP directory.
I think this thorough vetting process lends a lot of credibility to the SfEP and its members. I am currently an Entry-level member but am planning to upgrade to Intermediate soon (I should have enough training points by now). I will probably take the “Brush Up Your Grammar” course (next to my ongoing coursework at Queens University) and am planning to reach the Professional level as soon as I can. Continue reading →