Category Archives: proofreading

Do I need editing or proofreading?

Do I need editing or proofreading - pens and inkNew authors who come to me for editing or proofreading services are often confused about the difference between the two. This is probably because what we in the business call ‘editing’ is called ‘proofreading’ in the outside world. But they are two different things, and this article aims to help you to choose which service you need.

Do you need line / copy editing, substantive editing or proofreading services? Read on to find out the difference and work out whether you need to ask your editor (whether that’s me or somebody else) for proofreading or editing?

What is editing?

Editing is all about the words and content of your book – not its layout and presentation.

Editing is usually done in Word, using the Track Changes feature so that your editor can mark up suggested deletions, additions and changes, as well as making comments about various aspects of the text, and you can see exactly what they’re suggesting and choose whether you accept or reject the changes.

What is line editing / copy-editing / editing?

Line editing, or straight editing (which most people think of as ‘proofreading’ is done, as I said, in a Word document version of your book.

It covers identification and resolution of:

  • typos
  • spelling mistakes
  • punctuation
  • grammar
  • sentence structure (repetitive structures, etc.)
  • wording (repetitive word use, etc.)
  • consistent spelling / hyphenation / capitalisation throughout the text
  • comments where wording is unclear and suggestions about changes

Ask for editing / line editing if … your book has been written by you and you’ve gone over it at least once yourself, and had your beta readers read the book for flow, characters, plot, etc. It’s the stage before preparing the book for publication and will make sure that everything’s correct and consistent as far as it can be.

Note that in English, many of these areas do not have a strict right or wrong, especially in terms of capitalisation and even some spellings, and things like use of -ise- and -ize- spellings. Your editor should create a style sheet for the project, which lists the editing system they use (e.g. Oxford, Chicago Manual of Style etc.) and any choices they made within the text.

What is substantive editing?

Substantive editing means your editor digs around in the very substance of the book, looking at aspects such as:

  • Characterisation
  • Plot
  • Flow
  • Timelines
  • Missing or repetitive sections

Your editor will typically go through and mark up with comments, they may also produce a report on the book as a whole with suggestions for changes – which may be major or minor

Ask for substantive editing if … this is your first novel, you haven’t had it beta-read yet, it’s a long and complicated work and/or you need a thorough going-through of the book. This will often be more expensive than line-editing, and it doesn’t include the items listed under line-editing – it’s hard for an editor to see the wood AND the trees at the same time, so if you have a substantive edit, you will probably need a line edit at some stage, too.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading is generally done just before the book is published (in print or electronic form). It concentrates on the look and layout of the book more than its content (this is why you have an edit done first, then a proofread).

Proofreading is carried out on the final form of a book, often a pdf or maybe a printed version, and the mark-up will be done using pdf marking-up software or pencil marks in your print copy.

Proofreading covers identification and resolution of:

  • Book layout – does each chapter start on a right-hand page in the print version?
  • Page numbers and headers – do the page numbers run consecutively? Do running headers reference the appropriate chapter title? Are footers correct?
  • Contents pages and indexes – does the contents page include the correct page numbers for each chapter start?
  • Page layout – are there any odd gaps on the pages, is there a heading on one page and its paragraph on the next? Are any illustrations correctly placed and referenced? Are any footnotes correctly laid out?
  • Paragraph layout – are three any odd gaps or spaces between paragraphs? Have words that belong in the same paragraph got separated? Are all paragraphs in the appropriately sized font?
  • Consistency – a final check that numbers, dates, heading styles, hyphenation etc are consistent (using the style sheet that the editor created as a guide)

It would be extremely difficult to do a full edit at proofreading stage because, as with line and substantive editing, your editor/proofreader is looking for different things. It is also best to have a different person do your proofread than the person who edited your book – for the same reason that no one can really edit their own work: they will be too familiar with the text and are more likely to miss errors.

So do I need an editor or a proofreader?

This is the basic order in which the process goes:

  1. Write the book – author
  2. Edit the book – author
  3. Substantive edit – by an editor
  4. Edit the book based on the substantive edit – author
  5. Beta read – friends, family, other people in your industry / genre
  6. Edit the book based on the beta read – author
  7. Line edit / edit / copy-edit – by an editor
  8. Edit the book based on the line edit
  9. Prepare book for publication – author or book designer / formatter / both
  10. Proofread – by a proofreader
  11. Edit the book based on the proofread (may need to go back to designer / formatter)
  12. Publish

Other resources on this blog:

Copyediting and proofreading

Working with track changes

Proofreading as a career

If you’ve enjoyed this article and found it useful, please share it using the buttons below.


Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Copyediting, proofreading, Word, Writing


Tags: , ,

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


Tags: , , , , ,

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


Tags: , , , , ,

Searching for jobs on Twitter

I had planned a post on exactly how I would go about searching for freelance (or otherwise) jobs on Twitter, then ended up discussing the topic with another editor, who’s keep on working on cookery books. So, here comes a worked example of how to search for jobs on Twitter.

Why search for jobs on Twitter?

People talk a LOT on Twitter, and they also use it for information seeking purposes. How many times have you seen a friend or just someone you follow ask a question, or look for a recommendation? Especially if you’re a freelancer, people will throw a question out: “Does anyone know a good transcriber?” and other people will answer them. It’s brilliant if one of your own clients does this and gives your name (this happens quite regularly to me, so I promise that happens), but if not, as long as you’re not over pushy about it, there is no harm in tweeting to that person to tell them about your services.

Does searching for jobs on Twitter really work?

Yes. Yes it does. I can say that with certainty, because I know it does from experience. Here are just a couple of examples:

1. I ran my regular search (see below for how to do this) on “looking for proofreader”. I found a Tweet by a woman working in PR. I contacted her, she became a client, she took me with her when she joined a big agency, and when she left that agency, I ended up with them and her as clients.

2. A journalist I followed on Twitter posted the tweet “Can anyone help me with some transcription?” At the time, I didn’t offer transcription as a service, but I was a trained audio-typist. I got in touch, again, it went to email for the negotiations, and I ended up with that journalist as a long-term client. Plus, she recommended me (via Twitter and email) to other people, who also recommended me, and I ended up with a regular client base of music journalists.

So yes, it does work. Here’s how to do it.

First, make sure your profile represents you accurately

When you tweet to someone, the first thing they’re going to do is look at your profile. So make sure it includes:

  • Your photo
  • Your full name
  • Your company name
  • Your url
  • What you do

How do you change your Twitter profile? On the standard Twitter website, click on the Tools icon (the little cog) in the top right and drop it down to get Edit profile:

edit profile 1

Now you have the option to change all of your details and your Bio(graphy). Make sure that you get all of your keywords in, press Save Changes at the bottom, and you’re reading to go and encourage people to look at it!

edit profile 2

How do I search in Twitter?

At the top of the screen, you will find a grey box with a magnifying glass icon in the right-hand end. You can type any words you want to search for in here and hit Return to run your search.

You do need to think about your search terms and what you think people who might be searching for a cookery book proofreader might need. Here, I’ve gone for “writing cookery book”, on the grounds that if someone is writing one, they are going to need editing help at some stage. So I input that, hit Return, and when the results come up, I choose All rather than Top or People you follow – to make the results list as wide as possible.

1 search

How do I interpret the Twitter search results?

Bear in mind what you’re looking for: people who are writing cookery books and might need your help. Scan down the results list, and you’ll soon see some hopeful ones. I would send a quick note to all of the people I’ve circled, but not the one above, which just mentions a cookery book, not really associated with someone writing one right now:

2 results search

Advanced search in Twitter

Twitter searching doesn’t use wild cards, which means you can’t input cook* book and get it to search for cookery book, cook book, cooking book, etc. Once upon a time, you’d have to run searches for all the different words you wanted. But now you can run Advanced Search and search for lots of different things at the same time.

Click on the cog to the top right of your search results and drop it down. You’ll have an option to Save search (we’ll look at that later) and Advanced search. Pick Advanced search

2 advanced search

…. and you’ll be taken to the Advanced Search input screen. Here you can handily choose words that must be included in the results, and words that could be included. So, here, I’m saying that all tweets that Twitter finds must include the words “writing book”, but they can also include any of “cooking”, “cookery”, “cook” and “recipe”. This means that it will look for “writing book” plus any one or more of the other words.

4 advanced search

What effect does this have on the results? Well, we can see a few that aren’t really any use, but two from people writing cook books (circled). Result, and we’ll have more results doing this than for each of lots of different individual searches, all in one place.

5 advanced search results

(You can see that at the top of the search screen it’s written out your search as “Results for writing book cooking OR cookery OR cook…” and this means that it’s using the Boolean operators AND, OR (and NOT, if you want), so if you’re familiar with online searching, that’s what it’s doing.)

How do I save a Twitter search?

When you’ve found a good search that has a lot of useful results (no search will have ALL useful results, but this seems a good one), you can save the search. Click on the cog, drop it down and choose Save search:

6 save search results

When you next click in the search field, you will get a list of Recent searches and Saved searches. Our search is in Recent searches at the moment, but will stay in Saved searches, now you’ve saved it.

7 saved search

This means that you can just click on that search query rather than typing it all in again.

8 run saved search

How often should I re-run my Twitter job searches?

I recommend running each of your searches every 24 hours. This gives you only a few extra results each time, it’s easy to note where the ones that you’ve already seen start, and if you want to reply to a tweet, it’s not too long since the person tweeted it.

It might be worth running them more frequently at first, but keep an eye on how many new results come up during 24 hours and you’ll get an idea of the schedule to use. I wouldn’t leave it longer than 24 hours, for fear of missing out, as Twitter is a very immediate medium.

How do I pitch for a job on Twitter?

You might feel a bit uneasy about this. But I can promise you that no one minds one short, friendly and non-pushy contact in reply to a tweet they’ve sent out. I’ve sent loads, I’ve had a certain amount of success; some people have ignored me, but no one has ever complained.

Here’s a worked example of how I’d approach this situation as a proofreader looking for work on cookery books:

9 reply

So, a very non-pushy, friendly and polite tweet inviting them to respond. If they did respond positively, I’d very quickly move to giving them my website URL (even though it’s on my profile, I’d put it in a tweet) and initiate email contact so we could discuss the project in more detail.


So there we go: that’s how I searched for jobs on Twitter – and won them. My use of this network was a while ago now, but you know what? I still have both of those original clients who I talked about above!

If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, please do use the sharing buttons below and leave me a comment!

Related posts:

How do I get freelance work?

Reciprocity and social media

Karen Strunks on using Twitter in your business


Tags: ,

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!


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?


Tags: , ,

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!


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


Tags: , , , , ,

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


On being edited

editsWriters are always being told by other writers (and editors) about the importance of being edited. But what does it actually feel like to have someone go through your precious words with that dreaded red pen? Only recently, as I’ve struggled with edits in my own book, have I realised how my clients must feel when they receive their poor corrected texts back from me. I hope this new understanding will help me to be a better editor …

On being edited

I’ve been putting together an e-book based on my Libro Full Time blog which has charted my experiences of going full-time self-employed. I pulled all the blog posts together, added some commentary, an introduction, fleshed it out a bit, read it through … but before I went to publish it I did as all good writers (should) do and considered having it edited.

I put a call out for beta readers and a few kind volunteers spoke up. One read it and made some excellent, useful comments, although I was a little thrown even then to see my words through someone else’s eyes. Another friend did EXACTLY as I hoped she would – she went through it line by line, picking out errors, suggesting better ways of writing sentences, AND commented on the structure, the way it hung together, how the experience of reading it could be improved.

This is the Thing: One It was like having ME edit that book. And I know I’m a decent editor

This is the Thing: Two I hated reading those comments the first time round

This is how I make my clients feel!

That was my first thought. No: my first thought was, “My text, my beautiful text! How dare she muck with it??” All defences up, all crests raised, spines bristling, eyes watering …

And I must be at pains to point out here that my friend:

  • Did it right – she said exactly what I would have said had the document been written by anybody else
  • Did it kindly – no snarkiness, no visible or invisible sighs
  • Did a good job – she picked up micro and macro errors
  • MADE THE TEXT BETTER – she really, really did

But my knee-jerk reaction, in pretty well this order, was

  • Anger – how dare she mess with my text? I write stuff all the time! It can’t be wrong! … oh …
  • Horror – how did I not notice THAT?
  • Shame – I was going to publish this pile of rubbish?
  • Embarrassment – someone has seen this in this state!
  • Despair – will I ever get this into shape or should I just give up now? I know, I’ll give up

In the interests of research, I’ve gone back and looked at the text. It’s fine: it can be whipped into shape and it will be a much better book for it.

Once I’d gone through these cycles of shame, horror, despair and … finally … acceptance, the terrible realisation dawned on me …

This is how my clients must feel when they get their work back from me

Is it just me, or is it everyone?

I asked some editor colleagues, writers and people I’ve worked with what being edited feels like to them. We all know it’s a worthwhile process – but I was after the emotional reaction.

My old friend, Annabelle Hitchcock from Yara Consulting reported that she feels quite comfortable about being edited, “but specifically about being edited by you, Liz. I know you and I trust you and I know that you know my writing style and won’t alter it into something that it’s not. I also trust you to give me feedback, and to make sure that I’m actually communicating what I THINK I’m communicating”. So that trust is very important, and makes it easier (although I trusted the ladies who looked at my text, too, of course … )

Trust comes up for Alison Mead of Silicon Bullet, too – “Personally for my blog posts, knowing I am going to be edited means I can type my stream of consciousness without worrying too much about grammar and spelling , so my words can have the flow they would if I was talking them – but I have the confidence that those errors will be picked up and corrected. To be honest I don’t notice the edits – so have no idea how many changes you actually make! It is good to have that trust and confidence about the job being done well!”.

So these two highlight the ideal working relationship between an editor and a writer. It’s worth noting that I have been working on small blog post texts for these two ladies for a few years now, and have known them for significantly longer. But how do you build up that trust instantly? And what if’ you’re an editorial and writing professional yourself?

Here’s someone who actively enjoys it, but do note that he still finds it challenging: “I enjoy being edited. It gives me a chance to see how other editors do things, gets me to think about things I have done unthinkingly, and reminds me that all writers, even if they are also editors, have blind spots sometimes. It is also a little nerve-racking, of course – but then many worthwhile things are!” – Sebastian Manley of Manley Editorial.

And another editor colleague, Katharine O’Moore Klopf of KOK Edit, has a similar emotional pathway to mine: “My initial reaction to being edited—and I’ve been an editor since 1984—is ‘Oh, #@&^!’ And then I start reading through the edits and nodding my head, thinking, ‘You know, that’s a good edit. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.’ And by the time I’ve finished reviewing the edits, I’m thinking, ‘Thank goodness for editors!’ You’d think I’d go straight to the ‘thank goodness’ part by now, but there is always that first little shock.”

And what about fiction authors? I suspect that fiction and memoir writers are the ones most wedded to their words, as they are perhaps most personal to them (I might be wrong there, though!).

Steve Hewson, author of “The Wild Earth” writes,”I asked Linda Bates to edit my first novel. Prior to the process starting, I imagined that the it might be more of a grammatical check (necessary because a) I am very (and unavoidably) careless b) I don’t really know anything about grammar. However, it soon became clear that editing was a whole other level of input. Once I’d decided to put in the effort to properly respond to Linda’s editorial suggestions (I was rather busy and somewhat tired of the whole affair prior to giving it to Linda) I found it really challenging and enjoyable.” So there’s the c-word again – “challenging”. Steve has gone on to kindly describe the whole process for us:

“I remember being aghast that the first page (which I thought was pretty good) had loads of changes suggested. (17, after counting them!). Then on the next pages I saw that Linda had added many comments concerning word definitions, writing styles and so on. I was dismayed at the clear time implications of working on these and also thought that Linda might be overdoing the proofreading job. However, I took the plunge and accepted the changes and realised that the result was more streamlined and clean.

Once I had decided to devote my energies to reworking the book I soon got into the stride and began to welcome the editorial changes rather than dread them. I think that being edited is rather similar to being filmed whilst teaching or lecturing: unconscious habits of pen are unearthed in the same way that the camera reveals unconscious habits of speech (such as saying ‘erm’ very frequently). I realised that I made frequent use of double adverbs. It was really very tough (see what I did there …) to realise that this habit made the text less engaging, but was good to realise this.

The sort of comment that I never got used to were those concerning the ways that the characters spoke or behaved. I love my characters and to be told ‘X wouldn’t say that sort of thing’ was always met defensively. I was particularly distressed to be told that I had (at a key moment) unconsciously reinforced gender stereotypes with Gracie. This was a difficult pill to swallow, especially since I had deliberately attempted to eliminate this sort of thing. Still I emerged a better person for it, and Gracie has a little more action at a key part of the book. I’m sure she’d thank me for it …”

Thanks to Steve for that great description of what it feels like to be edited – I’m sure my fellow editors will read it with great interest!

How do we make it right?

So, as editors, how do we make this process as smooth as possible for our clients? I have realised that they will never just grab the new document with joy, making all the changes immediately and unquestioningly. Well, some of them will, but going by the comments I garnered and discussed above, only people I’ve known for years who just have little bits and bobs for me to work on are likely to do that.

As for the rest of them, well, now I have some inkling of how they feel when they receive my annotated manuscript back, I’m going to make these resolutions:

  1. Try to build trust first of all – I already send links to my references, and many of my clients come via recommendation – and I have a new procedure whereby I send the style sheet I’ve put together during the editing process to the author at the end, thus proving I know what I’m doing and there are reasons for my choices.
  2. Remain kind. Sometimes I do get a little exasperated. But I, too, make the same mistakes throughout, repeat myself and am not always consistent. So why should I expect anyone else to be any different?
  3. Understand that when the client asks a question, sometimes they just need reassurance that they’re  not stupid or rubbish at writing. And they are almost never casting doubt on my ability, but either wanting to know why in order to make their writing better, or being anxious generally.
  4. Make sure I praise as well as criticise. I do try to do this already; I will try to do it more, now. Whether they’ve written a great bibliography or coined a smart turn of phrase, even if they’ve just managed to avoid plagiarising or quoting Wikipedia this time round, there’s always something to praise and I must find it and mention it.


Has this article struck a chord? Are you a writer with something to say about your emotional reaction to being edited? Are you an editor who’s found ways to smooth this emotional path? Do share in the comments!


Top Libro posts this year


Arrow: when I started blogging!

I received an update from WordPress about my stats for the year this morning, and was inspired to have a look at the top posts on this blog in various categories.

I hope you found some of these useful or entertaining, or discover them anew today!

Top Five Word short cuts posts

1 What to do if your comment boxes go tiny in Word – written over a year ago and still going strong

2 How to put text in alphabetical order in Word – a relatively new post but gaining momentum

3 Customising Track Changes – the most popular of the series I did on Track Changes

4 What to do if my comment boxes are running right to left – ah, those comment balloons!

5 Working with Track Changes in a document – recent and helpful to clients and visitors

Top Five Troublesome Pairs

1 On route or en route – still going strong with more hits every week!

2 Yours or yours; your or you’re – people still get it wrong, though …

3 Comparative or comparable – hits every week!

4 Themself or themselves - always a tricky one

5 Asterisk or Asterix – I wrote this for a giggle although it was based on a real example

Top Five business-related posts

1 What is transcription?  – related to what I do rather than straight business but very popular

2 What is copy-typing? – I don’t do much of this, but people certainly search for it!

3 Proofreading as a career – I’m glad I wrote this as I do get asked and people obviously want to know!

4 Is it actually worth the stress? – inspired by a friend who has gone on to flourish!

Top Five small business chats

1 Dick Margulis – editing and book production. He put a link on his blog and talked about it …

2 Liz Light – a local person so local Tweeters picked this one up

3 Liz Broomfield – who, me? Blush!

4 Lindsay McLoughlin – we proofreaders know how to spread the word online, don’t we!

5 Tammy Ditmore – and the editors do, too!

Top Five posts overall

1 On route or en route – OK, sometimes I do slightly tire of this one. I should be grateful, I know.

2 What to do if your comment boxes go tiny in Word – made me realise my blog could be popular

3 What is transcription?  – you can’t assume people know what you do!

4 How to put text in alphabetical order in Word – did you realise you could do it automatically?

5 What is copy-typing? – see 3!

Bottom Five, unloved posts

1 What I did in July – to be fair, from last year. But I don’t bother with these now as they’re not popular

2 Happy Christmas 2010 – 1 view this year (25 all time) – the 2011 and 2012 posts have had 58 and 161 views respectively, showing how my audience has grown!

3 Be careful: literally – I did think this would get more views … people don’t like the more ranty posts, though

4 Test match … special – limited interest or just misguided?

5 Stationery or stationary – this does surprise me


Tags: , ,

Keeping it formal – your academic writing

I’ve worked with many different academic texts, written by native and non-native speakers alike. Many issues are the same all over the world and crop up in anything from an undergraduate essay to a journal article. One of the major ones is making sure the language and style used is appropriate to the academic environment.

Here are my top tips for keeping your academic writing formal and appropriate.

No contractions

Contractions are not suitable for academic writing. That’s right, don’t do what you wouldn’t see in a textbook.

  • Change don’t to do not
  • Change there’s to there is
  • Change isn’t to is not

The only exception to this (and to all of these rules, actually) is if you’re quoting, either the literature or the direct speech of your interview participants / writing in entries to your questionnaires. Then, go ahead and use what someone else has said (but see the section on tidiness below).

Colloquialisms and slang – not cool, man

It’s very easy to be tempted to write as you speak. This includes those contractions that we’ve just talked about, of course. The classic one I see here is “lots of”; you just need to upgrade that one a little, and the same happens with “really”.

  • Instead of “Lots of researchers say this is wrong”, try “Many researchers say this is wrong”.
  • Instead of “This happened in lots of places”, try “This happened in a large number of cases”
  • Instead of “Interviewee A appeared to be really upset about this”, try “Interviewee A appeared to be very upset about this”

If you’re tempted further into slang, then think twice. Is there a way to make this sound less informal? What word would you use if you were talking in a seminar, or to your grandparents?

There is no place for the exclamation mark!

This one is more about objectivity than anything else. If you’re writing an academic text, you need not to appear partisan (even if you are) and your language needs to be very cool, calm, collected and academically rigorous. An exclamation mark is a surefire way to allow your own personal feelings to creep in.

Contrast these two examples:

  • When they were claiming expenses, senior managers would often claim for an extra meal that they did not order or eat!
  • When they were claiming expenses, senior managers would often claim for an extra meal they did not order or eat.

In the first one, we can’t help reading a value judgement – this is a bad thing, right? Well, it might be, but your job is to report the facts and then draw conclusions from them, backed up with the theory from your literature review.

Me, me, me (I)

It can be quite hard to work your own practice into the text in an appropriately formal way. It’s not usually acceptable to use the word “I” and you will need to find a way to work around this. It’s a good idea to check local practice here – some institutions favour “we”, some go for “the researcher”, and some won’t let anything personal through at all, and you’ll have to do some rather acrobatic writing to twist it all round into the passive tense.

Please note that this one can change depending on the academic discipline within which you’re working, and the agreed common practice of your institution. So check this one with your supervisor or the style guide you may have been given at the start of your course or contract, and adhere to the rules you’re given there above my rules. If you are not given any guidance, then use my suggestions to keep it as formal as possible. It’s worse to be under dressed than to be over dressed!

Here are some examples of the options:

  • I found that not all of the respondents answered every question
  • We found that not all of the respondents answered every question
  • The researcher found that not all of the respondents answered every question
  • It was found that not all of the respondents answered every question
  • Or, keeping it simple: Not all of the respondents answered every question

Eliminate sloppiness

It’s oh-so-easy to let sloppiness and inconsistency creep in, especially when you’re writing a long document with lots of sections. These are a few of the major culprits

  • Not checking the spelling of names in your references. Spell-checker won’t notice this and if you go too far wrong, your proofreader might think you’re talking about two different authors.
  • Not being consistent in your headings styles and numbering (read this article and the ones it’s linked to if you need help setting this up to be automatic)
  • Not being consistent with how you lay out new paragraphs and indented quotations (those big ones that you put in a special paragraph all on their own)
  • Not being consistent with your -ise- and -ize- spellings (organisation vs. organization)
  • Not being consistent with your capitalisation – there are rules for this which I’ll treat on the blog at some stage, but there are often choices to be made, too
  • Not being consistent with hyphenation – similar to capitalisation
  • Using abbreviations without spelling them out the first time

The editor’s solution for this? Use a style sheet. If there’s something you need to use consistently, note down your preferred way of doing it on a separate Word document, and keep it open to refer to as you need.

With abbreviations, note down each one and when you first use it (chapter and section will be enough), Keep this updated if you’re working on the chapters in an unusual order, and make sure the first instance is the one that has the words spelled out.

Keep it tidy

This is related to sloppiness, but a bit more specific. This is all about keeping the document looking nice, so how it looks doesn’t distract from what it says. I find two main culprits here:

  • Putting everything into direct quotations from interview respondents. I often find a quotation like this: “… and um the thing the thing is that, it’s not going to … work … at … all”. A much neater way to put this, which is going to get across the meaning a lot more clearly, would be “And the thing is, that it’s not going to [pause] work at all”.
  • Emphasis overload. If you’re indenting a quotation and putting it in italics, you don’t need to put quotation marks around it, too – it’s pretty obvious that it’s a quotation. If it’s a quotation in the text, just quotation marks, no need for italics except for emphasis. If you’ve got a heading, bold, underline and italics plus a colon at the end might just be too much

As a basic rule, keep it simple, keep it neat and tidy: don’t distract from the reader’s experience of the content of your writing.

Reference, reference, reference

I cover this in detail in another article, but it’s worth reminding you of these rules …

  • If you state an opinion that hasn’t come directly from your brain as an original thought, reference it: “Many people think the sky is green (Jones, 2010; Smith, 2012)”
  • If you talk about something that’s come out of your research, reference it and make sure you label your respondents: “One teacher thought this was rubbish and said so (Interviewee A2)”
  • If you state your own opinion, still back it up: “When reading the responses from the students, it struck the researcher that this needed looking into”; “As we have seen from the teacher respondents, not everyone agreed”. “We found that, contrary to Green (2011) our results suggest pupils do respect their teachers”


I hope you’ve found these pointers useful. If you’re a student or a supervisor and you can suggest any more hints and tips, do please use the comments below to share them! And you might find my other resources for students and resources for Word users helpful – do take a look.


Posted by on October 31, 2012 in New skills, proofreading, Students, Word, Writing


Tags: , , , ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,497 other followers