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What to do when you encounter plagiarism: business content

PlagiarismThis post is for editors who suspect that they might have encountered some deliberate or accidental plagiarism when dealing with content for their business clients, particularly in regard to websites and blog content. By sharing my tips and practices, I hope that I can gather a resource of best practices for other editors / proofreaders.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. In the business world, this usually involves copying someone else’s content, word for word, without linking back to the original work or acknowledging that it has come from elsewhere.

I’ve noticed that I and colleagues are fairly often confronted with content to edit that has  been pulled wholesale from another (often rival) website, used word for word without attribution. That would be stolen. It’s found most often, in my experience, in business marketing content such as websites and blogs. Note that I have written about plagiarism in student work in another article.

Plagiarism in the business world

Why is plagiarism bad? Two reasons:

  1. If you steal someone else’s content, you are liable to be found out, either by a prospective client who is looking at several different websites in one business area, or by the originator of the content, who may be alerted by a search service such as Google Alerts or plagiarism-detecting software such as Copyscape (thanks Arlene Prunkel for the heads-up; she has blogged about her own experiences using this software).
  2. Using the exact same wording in two places alerts the search engines that something is amiss. It’s never clear exactly how the algorithms work, but you run the risk of your content not being indexed and found anyway.

Why is not flagging plagiarism bad for the editor?

  1. OK, we haven’t signed a Hippocratic Oath of Editing or anything, but it’s the job of a principled and decent editor not to allow plagiarism to happen – surely?
  2. Someone finds out that a site you’ve edited has plagiarised their content. You let it pass unmentioned. The plagiariser says, “Oh, my editor didn’t flag it up”, and the finger starts to point at you.

What form does business web content plagiarism take?

As with student plagiarism, business plagiarism can be deliberate or accidental – or a mixture of the two.

Deliberate plagiarism

I’ve edited web text where the style and content varies so much that it’s clear that it’s come from different sources. Sometimes the client is clear about this, “Oh, I picked it up from various places, it doesn’t matter, does it?” Yes, it does.

On other occasions, I’ve been given a link to a single blog post or article, or perhaps a web page, usually by necessity published by the client’s rival, and been asked to “rewrite this so it doesn’t look like we’ve used their words”. Not ethical.

Deliberate or accidental plagiarism

Sometimes it’s not clear whether a client realises that you’re not supposed to lift text wholesale from another place. So it’s important not to pour scorn or invoke human rights and laws, but to quietly educate.

Accidental plagiarism

Very often, a client or indeed other blogger won’t realise that reposting the whole of an article or web page, with a reference or link at the bottom, will prejudice the search engines against them and lead to their content not being indexed. Here, it’s useful to drop them a line to suggest that they only post a few lines of the original with a link to where it can be found in full. Link-backs all round and happily shared content!

What to do when you encounter plagiarism in business texts

I have a sliding scale of activities depending on the level of plagiarism and overtness about the plagiarism:

Here’s what I do to avoid my clients plagiarising on their websites and blogs:

  • If I find lots of reposted blog content which is referenced, I will have a quiet word about posting teasers and links instead.
  • If I suspect content has been lifted from elsewhere, I’ll pop a few sentences into Google and see if I can find the source. Then I’ll raise the issue with the client by marking the sections or just emailing them to ask if they had permission to quote the source. I’ll then suggest that they rewrite it (or have it rewritten) using a variety of sources.
  • If a client has quoted an industry leader or other person but not referenced where they got those quotes, and it’s clearly not from a direct conversation, I will advise them that they should quote their sources in a source list or footnote or link.
  • If I am asked to rewrite one blog post or web page to make it suitable for the client, I will go back to them and either offer to research the topic myself or ask for a list of suitable resources from which to research it (which can then be referenced in the text)

I will always explain why plagiarising is a bad idea and the effects it can have on their business, reputation and search engine results. Most clients understand the issues once they’re explained: any that ask me to continue helping them to plagiarise whatever will become ex-clients. I can’t risk being associated with this kind of activity, and I don’t wish to be implicated in any scandals, plus it’s against my ethics to promote or encourage plagiarism.

I’ve talked here about strategies for dealing with plagiarism in business texts. If you have any other practices you’d like to share, please do submit a comment below!

Related posts on this blog:

What to do when you encounter plagiarism: student work

Top 10 blogging sins

My terms and conditions

 

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What to do when you encounter plagiarism: student work

PlagiarismThis post is for editors who suspect that they might have come across deliberate or accidental plagiarism, or are concerned that they are doing “too much” and thus causing their client to unwittingly engage in plagiarism. By sharing how I approach this, and asking for comments, I hope I can gather together a resource of best practices for other editors / proofreaders.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is, at its most basic, the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. It usually involves copying someone else’s work, text, content, however you want to describe it, without pointing out that  you’ve copied it or referencing it back to the original work.

In my work, plagiarism is found most often in student work and business marketing content such as websites and blogs. This post is about student work, and I discuss business content in another post.

Plagiarism in academic work

Plagiarism is, unfortunately, rife in academic work. You can kind of understand it: students are under a lot of pressure, and overseas students in particular can have a lot of financial pressure from their funders to return home with a good degree and pick up a high-level job. With courses over-subscribed and A-levels often not preparing students for the rigours of academic work, the student may not understand that they are not supposed to use other people’s work unattributed, although universities do provide them with reams of paper and things to sign which are intended to explain and prevent plagiarism.

I tend to find two kinds of plagiarism, deliberate and accidental:

Deliberate plagiarism

I’ve come across some pretty shocking examples of deliberate plagiarism in my work. This includes sections marked in a different colour, with a note in the covering email: “Can you please rewrite the sections I’ve highlighted”. More heartrending are the examples where the author says to me, “My English is not good enough to rewrite the parts from other authors, please help me to rewrite them”. But I can’t.

Deliberate or accidental plagiarism

I often come across direct quotations used as if they are the author’s own words. Unfortunately, to the experienced editor, it becomes all-too-clear when a direct quotation is being used without being referenced. Here are some markers of the unattributed block of text that I’ve found:

  • The language changes subtly: more multi-syllable words, different kinds of linking words used
  • The standard of the English becomes markedly higher, with no corrections needed to be made (even if you miss these as you go along, the island of white in a sea of coloured corrections and highlights stands out as you look at the page)
  • The language changes from American to British English or vice versa (many students are inconsistent in their spellings, but a block of the opposite type of English is a real giveaway)
  • The font, size or colour of the text, or the indentation, line spacing or justification changes – a classic case of copy and paste

Sometimes you can give the student the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe they meant to rewrite and reference and forgot. Maybe they didn’t realise that they couldn’t use blocks of text like this. But it doesn’t mean that it can go unmarked.

Accidental plagiarism

I would count accidental plagiarism as a case where a student who has clearly rewritten ideas taken from other texts and referenced direct quotations and such ideas misses off a reference after a piece of text that is clearly from someone else. Of course, the cases above may be accidental, too, but they do still need to be addresses, as does the odd missed reference.

Plagiarism by the editor

There’s another form of plagiarism which the editor must resist themselves: rewriting so much of the text that it’s the editor who has in effect written the text, and not the student. I talk about how I avoid that below.

What to do when you encounter plagiarism in student work

It’s our duty as decent and principled editors to flag up plagiarism when we find it and help our student customers to realise how they should be referencing and when they’ve made a mistake. It is not our job to rewrite text or make so many corrections and suggestions that we have in effect written the essay ourselves. There are plenty of dodgy proofreading companies out there that will do that (and essay writing companies that will sell students ready-written essays), but as a decent editor, you should not be involved in those sorts of practices.

If you don’t flag up these problems, it is likely that the essay will be run through the university’s plagiarism software and that will flag them up to serious effect (many students know this, and that’s why they might ask us to rewrite sections for them). If you’re concerned about returning work to a student with plagiarism noted and discussed, remember that you’re saving them from possible penalties or even expulsion from their course if they continue to plagiarise and attempt to pass others’ work off as their own, even if you’re not concerned about helping people to obtain qualifications fraudulently.

Here’s what I do to avoid helping the student to commit plagiarism by passing off my own words as their own:

  • I always work with Track Changes turned on and instruct the student to check each change and accept or reject it themselves. Yes, I know they can press “Accept all changes”, but I send them instructions on how to work with Track Changes that don’t include this option.
  • I will delete, add and rearrange only if either the words are all correct but the order is incorrect, or the order is correct but the tenses are incorrect. You soon get a feel for the light touch needed to bring writing up to a clear output without rewriting.
  • If a sentence is obviously wrong in terms of content, I will insert a comment and advise the student to check the correctness of the content.
  • If a sentence is so garbled as to not make sense, I will insert a comment and ask the student to rewrite it.
  • If a sentence could mean one of two things, I will insert a comment to suggest the two opposite meanings and ask which they mean.
  • I am clear in my terms and conditions on this website and in my initial text to the student that this is how I operate.
  • When dealing with a bibliography, I will make small amendments to isolated errors in punctuation or order, usually up to about 10% of entries. If more than 10% of entries are not formatted according to the rules the student has sent me, or are completely chaotic, I stop editing the bibliography and insert a comment to remind the student that the bibliography is supposed to demonstrate their skill and knowledge, so they must work on it themselves.

Here’s what I do to stop the student plagiarising:

  • If I find the odd missed reference for a direct quotation, I will highlight the offending quotation and insert a comment reading “Reference required”.
  • If I find the odd obvious copy and paste which has not been referenced, I will highlight the offending sentences and insert a comment reading “Reference required”.
  • If I find an isolated substantial section which has clearly or even possibly been lifted from another source, I usually copy a few sentences and pop it in a Google search to see whether I can find the original. Then I will highlight the section and insert a comment along the lines of “This appears to come from another source without being referenced. Mark as a direct quotation and reference, or rewrite in your own words and reference”.
  • If I find several substantial sections like the above, I will stop editing and write to the student advising that much of the text has been lifted from other sources without being referenced, this is plagiarism and they need to address the issues.
  • If I find anything more than the odd missed reference to a direct quotation, I will mention the referencing issue in my covering email when returning the work, to ensure that the student is reminded to reference all direct and indirect quotations (thanks to Liam for his comment below reminding me that I do this).

What if the student says it’s OK to rewrite their work?

Sometimes when I return work to a student advising that it’s risking plagiarism to have me continue working on their text (usually because of the level of changes I’m having to make to the text rather than lifting work from other writers), they will come back to me to say that their supervisor / tutor says that it’s OK to do this amount of rewriting.

If they do this, I request that their tutor writes to me telling me it is OK to engage in this level of correction. I require this letter to be on headed paper, signed by the supervisor and scanned in and emailed to me. This hasn’t happened very often; when it has, I have contacted the supervisor to check, and continued with the work. I have saved the scanned letter alongside my copy of the student’s work in case of any comeback.

This article has outlined what I do when I encounter plagiarism in student work. I have resources on this website about plagiarism (listed below) which I am happy for you to reference if you need to (but not copy!). If you have other ways of overcoming this issue, please do submit a comment!

Related posts on this blog:

Plagiarism in business texts

On plagiarism

How to quote sources without plagiarising

Referencing for academic writing

Choosing a proofreader – student edition

My terms and conditions

Why has my proofreader not edited my bibliography?

On (not) crossing the line

 

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When should I say no?

Say noWhen you work for yourself, especially when you’re starting out, it’s all too easy to say “Yes, please!” to every job that comes your way. But it’s a good idea to start saying “No, thank you” early on – not to everything, but to certain kinds of job. What you say no to depends on where you are in your career and what your schedule’s looking like, but here are my top jobs to turn down …

Note, with all of these, it’s often OK to say “yes” to one of the kind of job, just to see. But you’ll probably find yourself saying no later on!

What to say no to early in your career

  • Working for free. Caveat. If someone asks you to work for free AND they are an influencer who is likely to recommend you on AND they agree to give you a reference AND you’ve got time to do it without turning down paid work, then go for it.
  • Doing something you feel uncomfortable about. It’s good to push yourself into new areas. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about content farms or writing essays for students, if you’re an editor (see this article for more on this kind of thing), or anything on the wrong side of your ethical line. Just because you’re just starting out and you’re a bit desperate for work doesn’t mean you should go against your own morals.
  • Doing something way outside your normal line of work. I think it’s a good idea to consolidate your reputation in one area and then branch out from there. By all means try something out, but if you don’t like doing it or it doesn’t fit, say no next time.
  • Working again with rude, pushy or unreliable clients. If someone’s rude to you on the first job you do for them, or they don’t pay when they say they will, it’s OK to say no next time. You are worth more than that, and a difficult client now will always be a difficult client. Demanding, fine; rude and pushy,  not fine. Don’t let your self-worth get undermined before you get started.

What to say no to at the mature stage of your business

  • Anything that will  overload you. If you find yourself saying, “Well, I could fit this in if I don’t sleep on Thursday night” or “Well, if person x doesn’t send me their chapter on time I could do this”, it’s probably time to say no and recommend someone else.
  • Small jobs that don’t look like they’ll turn into regular customers. Cruel but true – the smaller the job, the more noise to signal (admin to work) there will be. Pass the little ones on to your newer colleagues who need to build up their portfolio.
  • Discounts. You should be experienced enough to stand by your pricing. You will have discounts worked out for various sectors (I give them to students and individuals) but at this stage, you shouldn’t be in the business of buying work, and that’s what this is doing. If your prices are fair, don’t offer discounts except in exceptional circumstances.
  • Regular clients who don’t match your needs. Maybe they don’t pay well / on time or are difficult to deal with or have time scales that don’t match your own – sometimes it’s time to say goodbye and pass them on to another recommended practitioner.

What to say no to throughout your career

  • Any job with “danger” flags. To me, the main one here is “We’ve been through a lot of people and haven’t found the right partner yet” or “I’ve had problems with my previous editor / roofer / plumber”. By all means, check what the problem was. There are bad examples of every job out there, and you can be the one to fix the problem. However, if there’s an on-going pattern of problems, or they can’t be specific about what went wrong last time, my advice is to avoid.
  • Any job where you need to spend a lot of time learning a new system or skill UNLESS you really do have the time to do that and it’s going to be useful for lots of work in the future. I have had to turn down jobs that involve learning a new kind of translation software recently – I knew I had time to do the work, but not to learn the software. Best to tell the client up front!
  • Any job that goes against your moral code – however much of a dip or a bad patch you’re going through, however much it comes from a current client, if you feel uncomfortable doing it, don’t do it. (I had that situation a little while ago – I said no, I said why, they were fine with it and are still working with me.)
  • A client with unrealistic expectations. If someone expects me to write their book from their notes in a small space of time but call it (and charge for) proofreading services, or think you can transcribe 10 hours of tape in 12 hours, they are likely to be turned down. Setting and managing expectations is a whole nother post, of course …

——–

It’s great to say yes and it’s great to be busy – but it’s also vital to be able to say no and to be able to keep your busyness to a decent level. If you’re going through a dip in your mature business, go back to those early stage nos, and keep firm about them!

Oh, and although I do say no fairly regularly, I do almost always refer the prospect on to a recommended colleague who might have the time / capacity / skills to help them better. Which makes it a win-win-win – the client will come away with a great impression of you, your colleague will have a new prospect, and you will feel reassured that you’ve done the right thing and not left them without any support.

What do you say no to in your line of work? Have I missed any? What has been your experience of saying no to customers?

Related posts from Libro

Careers index

How do I decide who to work with?

What’s the best mix of customers?

How to make more money in your freelance business

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Business, Copyediting, Ethics, Jobs, Organisation

 

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How to turn a new customer into a regular customer

handshakeWhatever field you’re working in, having a stable of good, reliable regular clients who send you work, are good communicators and pay decent rates in good time is a good place to be. The kind of client you want as a regular is the kind of client who follows all of these rules. You may have chosen to work with them based on these criteria. And, in fact, if you follow these rules for freelancers yourself, you should have no trouble in attracting regulars.

I’ve written about how to decide which companies to work with. Here are some ways to help you turn a good first-time client into a trusted regular. If you have other suggestions, do add a comment to this post!

Do a good job the first time

This one’s a bit obvious, but it’s worth saying. Do a good job the first time, and you’re likely to create a regular client just like that!

Be memorable for your good customer service

Leave the client with a good final impression. I’m always sure to say thank you for their payment and to wish them well with the publication / website / new service / novel / whatever it is that you’ve done for them this time.

Make sure that your client knows you’d like to work with them again

When I send my thank you for their payment, I make sure that I make it clear that I’d like to work with them again. Something along the lines of “I’m looking forward to working with you on future projects” will set a good note.

Remind the client that you’re available

When you’re establishing a relationship with a client, the odd little email reminder of your availability is fine (obviously don’t hassle them). If you have a newsletter, asking them if they’d like to be added to your mailing list and sending them a monthly newsletter can keep you in their mind.

Make sure that clients know about all of your services

If, like me, you offer more than one service, make sure that your clients know this, too. I’ve got several long-term customers who use me for more than one service – one has moved from using my transcription services to using me as an editor (I also still transcribe for them) and a few use me for editing and localisation. Even if they only do one thing themselves, it’s useful for people to know your range, in case they recommend you to their colleagues.

Offer an incentive

Once I have completed a job for a new customer and they’ve paid me successfully, I offer then an incentive. No, not money off! But I will usually offer to invoice them for all of the jobs I do for them in a month, at the end of the month. Win for them: they are given longer to pay and will receive one invoice for several jobs. Win for me: I only have to produce one invoice and record one payment, and I can add them to my monthly invoice run.

Note: make sure you are clear that this is an offer and they don’t have to take it up. If they don’t want to do this, make a note and invoice them how they like it to be done, for example.

Thank them for their repeated custom and treat regulars well

I regularly tell my regulars how much I appreciate their regular custom and I treat them well in as many other ways as I can, too:

  • I make it clear that at busy times, I will prioritise their work over new work (and I tell new prospects this, too – I think it gives a good impression to let everyone know that I treat my regulars well).
  • I will also go above and beyond, doing a super-fast turnaround or working late to fit a job in – not to the detriment of other clients or my own health and sanity, but I treat them as well as I can.
  • If I’m booking holiday or other time off, I will email my regulars in advance to warn them, so they don’t just find out when they get my out of office reply.
  • I will offer regulars a named holiday cover contact who they can work with when I’m not available, and introduce them to a trusted colleague if they wish me to.

————-

This is how I have converted one-off customers into regulars, and have built a group of regulars who bring me regular work and income and peace of mind in knowing I’ve got a stable business. And how I keep them!

If you have any more tips and tricks do share them in the comments. And do please click on the buttons below to share this post!

Find more articles about careers and freelancing in this resource guide. Related articles:

How to decide who to work with.

What’s the best mix of customers to have?

 
6 Comments

Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Business, Ethics, Jobs, Organisation

 

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How do I decide who to work with?

dictionary coins watchWhen you’re new to your editing career – or any other freelance career for that matter, it’s tempting to rush around picking up every job you can. But it’s really worth evaluating the companies with whom you choose to work, from the very beginning. At the very least, you can avoid making yourself uncomfortable or making a small amount of money for a large amount of time. At the most extreme, you can avoid losing money, or even breaking the law! Read on for my hints and tips, and do add a comment if you can add any more!

Do conduct background checks

When a company contacts you to book your for a job, it’s easy to say yes without thinking. But it’s always good to do a few basic background checks.

  • If the company has found you through a professional organisation or website that has discussion boards or feedback mechanisms, check what other people have said about the company
  • Run a Google search for [company name] and phrases such as “bad payer”, “didn’t pay”, “don’t work with]
  • Ask your peers or any networks you’re in (on and offline) about whether they’ve worked with them before

I love it when a company approaches me via Proz, a jobs website I belong to, because members can see peer reviews of companies that are also members. The only time I’ve had a problem with a company that booked me through Proz was when I forgot to look at the “Blue board” and assumed they’d be OK.

Do check what they say on their website

This can tell you a lot about the company that wishes to book you. Is their website professional? Does it have terms and conditions? If it’s a middle man itself, does it seem to offer fair terms to its clients (and what’s the difference between what it charges its clients and what it’s offering to pay you – always interesting!).

You can also find massive red flags by doing this. This article was inspired by a friend, new to the editing business, who told me that they were doing tests for a company that offered student proofreading. When we had a look at their website, they were boasting that their rewriting service was able to bypass plagiarism-detecting software! Now, of course, it’s not ethical to rewrite student work – so we could see immediately that this was NOT a good company to work for. Which brings me nicely onto the next point …

(If you’re considering going into student editing / student proofreading via middlemen, it’s worth reading my Choosing a Proofreader: Student Edition article and using that to help you decide who to work with.)

Don’t do something that goes against your ethics – or the law!

Is it worth undermining your own ethics to make a bit of cash? I don’t think so, personally. One, you’re going to feel uncomfortable about what you’re doing, and two, it might come back and bite you later. I certainly wouldn’t want to work with the company I talk about in the above point, and I also wouldn’t want my name to be associated with any company I wouldn’t be proud to be associated with!

I’ve turned down jobs for companies that operate in areas I’m not personally comfortable with (someone writing a website in order to attract people in the sex industry to his professional services springs to mind), and I have certainly turned down work for SEO and linking farms, which I don’t agree with as a concept. I’ve never been asked by a company to write an essay for a client, but I know that I’d say no if I was asked. You can find articles by people who work for content farms, or write fake reviews of products for money, or write essays for people and feel they can justify it*, so it’s not black and white, but do stick with your own boundaries and don’t upset yourself by crossing them,

I have written text for marketing websites that I find to be a bit cheesy and I am not exactly hugely proud of. But they don’t tell any lies (and it was “white label” work, i.e. my name is not on it. Doesn’t mean I’d go against my ethics if my name wasn’t on something, though!).

Do go to the edge of your comfort zone; don’t cross out of it

I took on my first transcription job as a “why not?” kind of test – but I did have audio typing training, so I knew that the skills involved would be close to ones I already had (read more here about what happened next). I also once took on a job doing some audio recording for a website that needed an English accent. I didn’t really have the experience or equipment to do this, and although I did a decent job, I turned down further requests to do this kind of work. The return on investment and the professionalism of the job I was able to do didn’t match my expectations or requirements, so I ditched that idea.

So do push yourself a bit and move into new areas by all means, but don’t jump too far in one go.

Don’t do (too much) work for free

I will do a test for a company for free, but I won’t do more than one, small job for them for free. And I don’t do anything for free for a commercial company (I do do the odd bit for other start-ups or local small businesses, to help them out) nowadays.

Even if you do end up doing something “for free” for a company while you’re building your client base and establishing your reputation, make sure up front that they will supply you with a testimonial / reference with their name and company name that you can publish on your website if you do a good job for them. This does give you some sort of return for the work.

It’s also OK to do work for a ‘skills exchange’ – I wrote some marketing materials for someone who designed some graphics to use on this site. Don’t do too much of that, though, as the tax man can get quite interested in that sort of thing …

The main point is, you don’t want to end up labouring away at unpaid work and – heaven forbid- turning away paid work because you’ve got to get the project finished!

Do ask for recommendations

Hopefully you’ll have been building networks and contacts in your area of work. I have lots of colleagues who I can turn to for advice, and I have a few colleagues who are just starting out in full-time editing businesses. I’m happy to turn to them for holiday, sickness and I’m-too-busy-help cover, and I’ve also passed on some of my clients to them – as my client base has matured, I’ve had to move away from some of my clients who needed me to be able to drop everything to do work for them on a tight deadline, regularly, whereas someone starting out who might be a little less fully booked is ideal to take them on.

It’s always worth asking colleagues if they would like some holiday or sickness cover, or just establish mentoring kinds of relationships that will promote this kind of thing. Hopefully, the clients who your colleague passes to you will be decent payers and good clients (otherwise you might want to look at your choice of colleagues!) so you’re likely not to get burnt.

Do check your return on investment

When you’ve done some work for a new client, and they’ve (hopefully … eventually) paid you, then do take the time to monitor the project and check for return on investment. For example, I always think that a client who sends you several small jobs a month and always pays on time is better than one who sends you a few big jobs but always needs chasing for payment. How much time are you wasting on chasing for payment? Here’s how I tell if a client is worth working with again:

  • Were they decent and easy to deal with?
  • Did they communicate effectively with you?
  • Did they pay me on time? (the payment schedule might be a long one, but did they match it?)
  • Was the work interesting? (this can matter, although at the start and through your career, you will need to accept that sometimes it just isn’t!)
  • Am I proud to be associated with this work / client?

If you can answer yes, then they’re good at working with freelancers (see this article for more detail) and hopefully you’ve got yourself a regular client – try to keep hold of them and make sure you say thank you for their payment and express interest in working with them again.

If they …

  • Didn’t resolve any project teething problems in good time
  • Made you feel uncomfortable with what they asked you to do
  • Didn’t communicate with you and answer questions
  • Didn’t pay / paid late

… those are red flags and, even if you’re just starting out and you feel you’re desperate for clients, I’d have a good think about whether to work with them again.

Do listen to your gut feeling

On most of the occasions when I’ve had trouble with clients and have made a bad decision about working with one, I’ve found that I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t a good idea. If you get a gut feeling, by all means back it up with some of the ideas above, but do listen to it, and save yourself hassle and possibly heartbreak!

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When it comes down to it, we all want clients who:

  • Pay well and on time
  • Have interesting and regular work to do
  • Are likely to become regular clients

These tips and hints will hopefully help you to end up making good choices about the companies with which you work.

* Thanks to Linda Bates for alerting me to this article and this more recent one about why people work for essay writing companies. I wouldn’t do this, but it’s worth acknowledging that these things are a matter of personal preference. I do NOT recommend doing this, however!

Do share this article using the buttons below if you’ve found it interesting and useful, and do post a comment if you’ve got something to add!

More articles on careers can be found here.

Here are tips for how to turn that new customer into a regular customer.

What’s the best mix of customers to end up with?

How to make more money in your freelance business

When should I say no?

 

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Choosing a proofreader – student edition

track changesIf you’re starting an undergraduate, Master’s or PhD course and you think your writing in English might need some help, it’s a good idea to look for a reputable proofreader to help you. You might be using English as a second or other language, or have a different issue to deal with such as dyslexia or needing to use voice-recognition software. Your tutor or personal tutor might have recommended that you find someone to help you, or you might choose to try to improve things yourself. But how do you choose a reputable, genuine proofreader when there are so many companies and people out there? Here are some tips.

Be careful

The first thing I will say here is be careful. Obviously, all proofreading companies want to make money. But some of them do profit from students, in particular, not knowing what to look out for. I have heard a lot of horror stories in my time: students having their work “checked” when it’s just been run through a spell-checker, companies that don’t care about plagiarism, companies that will sell you an essay to use. Just like any other service or product, there are good and bad companies out there. Be just as careful as if you were buying a designer handbag or a car. After all, your academic mark and reputation might be at risk here.

Check with your tutor / university

Some tutors ask their students to get their work proofread, sometimes before they see it, sometimes afterwards. Universities often have policies on proofreading. For example, one university I work with has a form I must complete and sign each time I work with a PhD where I promise that I have only suggested changes in spelling, grammar, etc., and have not rewritten or otherwise changed the content of the work.

If a student comes to me and says their tutor has asked for their work to be substantially rewritten, I will ask for a scanned, signed letter on headed paper from the tutor to confirm that. So, if your tutor wants more than usual to be changed, get something in writing from them first.

Check the proofreader’s credentials

Any company or individual should state what their training and background is. A company should have a page about the kind of proofreaders that they use. An individual proofreader should have a page detailing their experience, qualifications and background.

It’s good for your proofreader to …

  • Have a degree
  • Have experience in your subject area
  • If you have a particular aspect of your language which needs to be addressed, e.g. working with voice-activated software or dyslexia, to  have experience with similar requirements
  • Be a native speaker of the language in which you are writing
  • Have a qualification from an official body (the Society for Editors and Proofreaders or the Publishing Training Centre in the UK) OR have extensive and documented experience

Check what service the proofreader offers

Check what the proofreader says that they will do – exactly.

Good things to look for:

  • Do they mention using Track Changes to mark up your work?
  • Do they mention making a note of any unclear areas?
  • Do they mention coaching students through a degree or Master’s?

Bad things to look out for:

  • Do they mention helping you to avoid getting caught for plagiarism (see section below)?
  • Do they say that they will rewrite your essay for you?
  • Do they say that you can buy an essay that someone else has written from them?
  • Do they mention compiling your bibliography for you?

These are all red flags: red for danger. If a company is offering to help you to plagiarise, avoid them. This will contravene your university’s regulations.

Ask for references and testimonials

A good proofreader / company will offer references and testimonials on their website.

Things to look out for:

  • References from people who are doing the same sort of thing as you (Master’s Dissertation, PhD, etc.)
  • References including full names rather than Mr D and Ms Y (note that not all of them will have the full name, but at least some should)
  • References should not all be identical. They should look like they were written by real people.

Check your proofreader’s policy on plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious offence. If you plagiarise and get caught, you could get kicked off your course. At the very least, if you get caught, you will lose marks. Even if you don’t get caught, plagiarism – passing off someone else’s work as your own – is unethical and wrong. If you plagiarise, you are also not learning what you should be learning from your course.

I found a student proofreading company the other day that boasted of rewriting students’ work so that they will not get caught by plagiarism software. This is a bad thing to do. I would advise you never to go near a company that offers such services.

Another student proofreading company, and the only one I work with myself, has FAQs on their website. These strictly state that you cannot expect them to write your essay for you or to paraphrase sections of your work that you have taken from other books or essays. This is a good thing to do and I would advise you to look for this kind of statement.

I have a statement on plagiarism in my Terms and Conditions. Other places you might find it are in the FAQs or Services or Notes. If you can’t find something on a proofreader’s website, ask them. If they don’t have a plagiarism policy, or they can’t tell you what their policy is, avoid using them.

Regarding bibliographies – your proofreader should not compile your bibliography for you. Putting together a bibliography is one of the central academic skills that you are being tested on when writing your dissertation or thesis. A proofreader will check that all of the relevant entries are there (if you ask them to) and will certainly check for commas out of place and the odd mistake, but they should not write or format it for you from scratch (see more on bibliographies here).

Check that the proofreader is asking a fair price

Many proofreading companies seem to ask for a very high price for their work. I’ve checked and this year prices from proofreading companies for working on a standard student essay, dissertation or thesis in the UK is around £6-£10 per 1,000 words. This increases if the work is urgent.

Individuals often charge a little less – say about £5-£10 per 1,000 words. They may charge by the hour instead.

This is a rough estimate based on searching across websites and should not be taken as anything except a loose guideline. Fees vary according to the location of the proofreader.

If someone is charging a lot less than this, do check their credentials very carefully. It is likely that the work is being outsourced to people who might not be skilled or have English as their first language.

If someone is charging a lot more than this, check what extras they are offering and whether this is worth the extra money.

Check who will be doing your work

This is very important if you’re planning on submitting more than one piece of work to the proofreader. Although the English language does have rules, personal preferences do also come in, and one proofreader may work on a text slightly differently from the next. Therefore, if you’re going to be submitting all of your Master’s coursework or your whole PhD but in separate chapters, it makes sense for the same person to deal with all of your documents.

This is more common with individual proofreaders. But a company will work with many proofreaders and may be able to offer this for you.

It can be very useful and rewarding to work with one proofreader throughout your course. They might be able to pick out certain mistakes you make and help you to work on those for the next essay. This may help you to write well and clearly in English independently of your proofreader in the end.

Book in good time

You should know at the beginning of an undergraduate or Master’s academic year when your main deadlines for the year are. If you’re doing a PhD, you should know soon when you will need to submit reports and updates, and you should schedule time for writing up.

Especially if you’ve been working with someone all year on your Master’s course, book in to have them proofread your dissertation as soon as you know the date. No proofreader minds being booked in advance – and most of us don’t mind if things slip a bit, as long as you keep us informed. But we’re all humans, and sometimes, if you leave it too late to book, we won’t be able to fit you in. That’s when panic sets in, and you might make a bad choice.

Note: If your favourite proofreader can’t book you in, they should be able to recommend other people to try. I always offer a list of alternatives out of courtesy if I can’t fit an enquirer in.

Individual proofreader or proofreading company?

You can use an individual proofreader or a proofreading company. They both have pros and cons:

An individual proofreader:

  • You can talk to them direct
  • They can guarantee to work on more than one document for you
  • They might get busy or ill and not be able to do your work or book you in

A company:

  • Should have enough proofreaders to ensure availability even at busy times
  • Might not be able to guarantee the same person to do every job for you
  • You are unlikely to be able to talk to the proofreader direct

I think you are more likely to find an ethical person among the individuals, but it’s always worth checking all of the points above.

My recommendations

As I’m fully booked at the time of writing this post (and heavily booked most of the time), you can see that I’ve written this post for you, the students, and not to get more work for myself!

I do offer a small list of personal recommendations. I cannot guarantee their availability, price or service, of course. You enter into a discussion with them at your own risk, and you can find them on my Links page. You can also use the SfEP directory to find someone to help you.

————–

In this article I have shared some tips on how students can choose a good and reputable proofreader.

If you’re a student, you might be interested in more posts for students on this website. Do click through and have a look. And best of luck with your studies!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Ethics, proofreading, Students, Word, Writing

 

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Reciprocity and social media

handshakeHere’s a guide to how to be polite and maintain reciprocity on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and your blog, so as to “leverage your social capital”, which actually just means make social media work for you and use sharing and friendliness to help yourself and others.

It’s all about reciprocity. What does that mean?

What is reciprocity?

The dictionary definition of reciprocity – is gaining mutual benefit from exchanging things with other people.

In the case of social media, in which I include blogging, as done well it should be a two-way and mutual activity, this means building strands of connection which can, over time, turn into powerful networks that can help you start, grow or develop your business or other endeavour.

By responding to comments and forging links, sharing and re-tweeting, you make yourself more prominent in other people’s eyes, for the right reasons.

If you are unfailingly polite, share people’s content, always say thank you, share people’s details with other people and act as an ambassador and connector for other people’s personal brands as well as your own, that will come back to you in bucketfuls.

Whether you’re just starting out, embracing a new form of social media, or need a gentle reminder (I know that writing this reminded me to return to sharing more on Twitter), I hope you find these tips useful.

Reciprocity on Twitter

  • Always respond to @ comments that require a reply (i.e. they ask you a question or tell you about something).
  • Always respond to RTs, Follow Friday mentions, etc., with a thank you Tweet.
  • If someone recommends you to someone else, always a) thank the original person, b) make contact with the prospect – don’t wait for them to come to you.
  • Take part in peer-group events like #watercoolermoment etc. to encourage the people who run them and engage with your peers – you are likely to find new, interesting people to follow and talk to.
  • Retweet other people’s content if interesting to you / your followers. People often talk about the 80/20 rule – 8 retweets or shares of other people’s content via the social media sharing buttons on their blog posts to 2 promoting your own words or interests.

Note: Twitter works fast. Many people don’t see their whole stream, just snapshots through the day. If someone has seen your content and contacted you / shared, etc., try to thank them within 12 hours or less.

Use Twitter to forge links, have short conversations, support and encourage others and share content with your followers. People who you retweet will be more likely to retweet your posts. People who you recommend to others will remember the favour.

* not sure what I’m on about with all this talk of @ and RTs and followers and # signs? I’ll be putting together at Twitter 101 post to clear all that up soon!

Reciprocity on Facebook

This applies mainly to people using Facebook for their business, however it helps keep the wheels of general social interaction running smoothly, too!

  • If someone asks a question on your business page or a business-related question on your own timeline, always respond. My business page doesn’t always alert me when I have a new comment – so keep checking yours to make sure you’re not ignoring someone!
  • if someone sends you a Facebook message, always respond if it’s appropriate and meant for you, not spam.
  • Check your “other” messages for messages from people who are not “friends” with you but are making genuine contact, and respond appropriately.
  • If people comment on your status updates, “like” their comments and engage with them.
  • If people share your status updates, “like” the share and say thank you publicly or privately.
  • If people recommend you via Facebook, thank the recommender and contact the prospect as soon as you can
  • Share other people’s content.
  • Like business pages as yourself and as your business (click on cog next to message).
  • If you join groups of peers, people in the same business, people who are also self-employed, etc., join in with the group once you’re there, help other people and don’t either relentlessly self-promote or stay silent.

Facebook works on friendship and commonality. Share your peers’ posts and you’ll build up a network of people who will recommend, help and support you.

Reciprocity on blogs

I’m including blogs in social media because the best blogs that work well for businesses and people who want a “successful” blog are those that engage in two-way conversation, share content and link people together. Sounds like social media to me!

  • On your own blog, mention and link to people who have helped, advised or inspired you.
  • ALWAYS reply to comments. If you don’t have time to reply to each individually, at least put up a thank you and a mention to the most important ones.
  • Keep an eye on your search statistics and respond to what your readers are looking for (e.g. I noticed people were searching for “comment boxes too large” so added new blog post about that).
  • If people like and comment on your blog, pop over to their blog and scatter a few comments and likes if you find their content interesting.
  • Use those social media buttons on other people’s blogs to share their content – and make sure you enable the ones on your blog to allow and encourage people to share.
  • Engage with other bloggers especially in your industry sector or area of interest – comment, share, etc.
  • Offer guest post spots on your blog for other people to contribute content.
  • If you give someone a guest blog spot, make sure that you include all their links as well as a little biography about them. Make it easy for people to find them.
  • If you place a guest post on someone else’s blog, make sure that you give them all of your links to include, and talk about it as much as possible on your other social media channels.

Blogs can be a powerful way to meet people, link with people, learn from people and get your content shared around the world.

Reciprocity on LinkedIn

  • When you link to someone, change the standard message to a personal one, maybe reminding them where you met or making another tailored comment. Some people get quite annoyed with the standard messages and might even ignore then on principle, so it’s worth making that extra effort.
  • Introduce people who you think would be useful to each other.
  • Press that endorse button and give your contact some more stats.
  • Use the recommend feature if you’ve worked with someone to place some feedback on their profile, LinkedIn displays how many recommendations you’ve made, and everyone wants to work with someone who’s generous with feedback and honest praise.
  • If someone endorses or recommends you, or introduces you to a third party, send them a message to say thank you.
  • Join groups and share content kindly and generously.
  • When you join a group, get to know people and comment on other posts and questions before you start self-promoting.
  • if a group seems to be full of spam and self-promotion and no discussion and mutual encouragement, leave it alone – you won’t be able to change it and it’ll just annoy you. But learn what not to do from that!

LinkedIn can be a very powerful tool for IT and other business people, with most recruiters looking for a LinkedIn profile these days. Make sure that your full CV is on there, and a good photo.

Reciprocity on Google+

Google+ works much like Facebook, in that you can +1 posts, make comments etc. The major point about Google+ is that if you share your content and others’ on there, Google will pick up on it that little bit quicker to add it to its search engine. So it’s worth engaging on there even if it isn’t as busy or active as the other networks (or maybe it is in your field?)

Reciprocity on Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.

I’ve talked here about points regarding social media networks that I use. I don’t know much about Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. If you have points like the above to share on these, please pop them in the comments or send them to me via my Contact Form, and I’ll include them in this post (with an attribution of course!).

This article should help you to grasp the conventions of reciprocity in social media. If you’ve enjoyed it or found it useful, and think that other people will, too, please take a moment to share it using the buttons below or by sharing any alert you might see on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+. Thank you!

Related topics

10 top reasons to write a blog

10 top reasons NOT to write a blog

Top 10 blogging sins

Scheduling blog posts and keeping going

 

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Why has my proofreader not edited my bibliography?

editsWhen you hire a proofreader to work on your thesis or dissertation, you can expect them to make suggestions on changes to layout, consistency in headings, capitalisation and titles, grammar, spelling, word forms and sentence structures, up to a point (past that point being considered plagiarism). But in a few cases, you will find that your proofreader has not worked on your bibliography.

I’ve written this article to explain why I might not have worked on your bibliography. Different proofreaders / editors will go to different extents to work on your content. I tend to have a light touch, because I want to protect myself – and you – from any whisper of a hint of possible wrong-doing. Passing someone else’s work off as your own is the basic definition of plagiarism (whether that’s not referencing a quotation from a source or asking someone to rewrite your text considerably), and unfortunately, some bibliographies need an amount of work which, if done by your proofreader, would constitute them doing work that you should be demonstrating you can do.

PhD theses and Master’s dissertations are not just assessed on their content and novelty. One of the things the student needs to demonstrate is that they are able to create references and a bibliography which has the requisite amount of detail and is consistent in its presentation of that detail. So, if I change too much in your bibliography, it will appear that you understand and have applied knowledge that you actually haven’t done.

We all know that bibliographies are a bit of a pain to get right. But you need to demonstrate that you can get it right, and if I get too much of it right for you, it’s not you that’s done the work at the end of the day.

It can be hard to understand the rules of creating and laying out a bibliography. Of course, it’s the last thing you want to mess about learning at the end of however many years of study and writing up. That’s why I don’t leave my clients stranded – I will tidy up 1-5 pages of the bibliography and provide guidelines on how to make the rest of it consistent, so that it’s your work that shines, and not mine.

I want to protect my clients and myself from any accusation of plagiarism, so if I find I have a very inconsistent set of entries in front of me, and I’m going to need to change something in more than about 1 in 5 entries, I will send the bibliography back to you unedited, with notes explaining why and what you need to do (and now, linking to this article). I don’t do this because I’m running out of time, or I’m lazy, but to make sure that you’re showing your abilities to your examiners in the best light possible, to make sure you get the result at the end of your postgraduate course that you deserve.

Related posts on the Libro blog: On plagiarism, Referencing, Referencing for academic writing, Resources for students

 

Happy Birthday, Libro!

Happy birthday, Libro

I’m proud to celebrate Libro’s third birthday today! In August 2009, I really had no idea that I would be working for myself full time, doing such varied things as transcription, writing and editing as well as thesis proofreading, which is what I started out doing.

I am going to have a small celebration at some stage soon, perhaps with friends of Libro, perhaps just with Matthew. I was considering marking the occasion by buying myself something, perhaps a piece of jewellery. But then I had a better idea.

I’ve been doing Kiva loans for a while now: we’ve got two loans on the go and re-loan them as they get paid back. Now I’ve helped to fund five more women entrepreneurs (which means those loans will be on-going too and help more people as they get paid back). Kiva funds grassroots organisations that help people do small, sustainable things that will make a difference to their lives. Here are the groups and people I’ve chosen to donate to. I’ve also made a donation to LUCIA, a charity close to my heart, run by friends from the Library where I used to work, who do the same kind of work in Ethiopia.

So, I’ve helped these women:

These ladies are in Paraguay, where my friend Sandy spent her year out at University, and they make textiles, which is an interest of mine.

This lady from the Lebanon supplies special food for Ramadan – an appropriate time of year to lend to her!

This group of ladies in Mali (location of Timbuktu, twin town of Hay-on-Wye) have already had and repaid several loans.

This lady goes spear fishing to send her children to school. A bit different from sitting at a desk typing to afford to buy millions of books!

And this lady is from Georgia – I met someone from Georgia at the Social Media Surgery last month, so that seemed appropriate.

If you want to start using Kiva, you can have a FREE $25 Kiva loan to make to an individual or organisation: follow this link to sign up and get your first loan for free! (the management of Kiva have sponsored a certain number of free loans to encourage people to sign up).

Thank you for everyone’s support of me and Libro over these three exciting years. Here’s to the next three!

There had to be a cuppa and a bun somewhere in this post …

 
12 Comments

Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Business, Celebration, Ethics

 

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On Mutual Support

Recently, I was invited to present at a training morning on small business and social media. I’m always happy to help other small businesses and community organisations learn about the things I’ve picked up over the years, and, while presenting my case study as a business person who has used social media to get an audience and clients, I emphasised the idea of mutual support.

I talked mainly about retweeting on Twitter and also about the way I feature other small businesses in my “Small Business / Freelance Chat” posts on my blog. I also talked about how some editing colleagues (who I do NOT see as competitors) kindly shared some of my blog posts on various forums to which they belong, which helped a couple of my posts go “viral” (500 hits in a couple of days is a big deal to me).

So I just wanted to take a moment to mention some of the kind instances of support I’ve had from other people in the editing / small business community (and, of course, encourage you to look at their resources too).

Louise Harnby kindly featured my Word help posts as her Link of the Week recently. This and her weekly round-up which included it again have collected me over 40 hits on my own website/blog so far. Add to that a couple of entries on her weekly round-up post for others of my posts, and she’s sent over 50 visitors my way in the past month. Thanks, Louise!

The University of Kent Careers Service found my post on starting a career in proofreading and linked to it on their Careers in Publishing web page. I’ve had a few hits a day from that since that happened.

Editor colleague, Kathy O’Moore Klopf, who is a constant support and fount of information, often (make that usually) shares my links to posts made in Facebook and Twitter. She also shares them with other communities she’s in, via forums and other discussion areas. Of course, I do the same for her! She is one of the people who helped me to those 500 pageviews.

An editors’ forum called The Editor’s POV mentioned my Stress post in one of their weekly round-up articles, and quite a few people popped over to have a look.

And last week, Nicky Getgood from TalkAboutLocal featured me in an article about people who use Twitter, Facebook and other free tools for marketing, information sharing and awareness raising.

All of these different posts in different places give me …

  • A new audience who may not have come across me yet
  • The chance to help more people, as well as to market myself to them – both are truly equally important to me
  • Link-backs, i.e. my URL on their page – Google likes these as they confirm that the site being linked to is valid and useful – so it helps me in their search results

And all this is on top of the retweeting and Facebook sharing – I’ve explained elsewhere why that is important to small businesses.

So, thank you to everyone who’s talked about me on their websites, here is some mutual support back, and if you have a Twitter account, a Facebook account, a website or blog, do share other people’s resources – it’s really worthwhile and can make a friendly small business person very happy!

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 4, 2012 in Business, Ethics

 

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