Monthly Archives: February 2011

Copyediting and proofreading

As promised a couple of posts ago, I will now attempt to distinguish between copyediting and proofreading.

I have used New Hart’s rules: the handbook of style for writers and editors, which is one of the reference tools recommended by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, in setting down these distinctions: any errors, however, are my own.

Copyediting means making sure the copy conforms, first, externally, to accepted forms of word use, spelling, grammar, etc., and any style guide the client might use, and second, internally to itself. The second point is very important and involves checking the author has spelled names the same throughout, referred to people in the same way, arranged rooms described in a house in the same way each time they’re mentioned, etc. That’s a bit like being a continuity person for a film or TV programme, and when there’s a lot of that, it’s called a substantive edit. For example, in a novel I’m copyediting at the moment, I’ve had to pop backwards in the text and insert suggestions for something being mentioned at one point, so it can be referred to later on.

So, copyediting is actually what people usually think of when they think “Liz is running a proofreading business.”

But proofreading is something altogether different. This involves checking a text is ready to be published. Making sure the text starts on the right page, that paragraphs don’t have a trailing word on the next page, that diagrams or tables aren’t split, that the right chapter heading appears at the top of each page. Really, this is making sure the proofs, the final copy before publication, can be published as they are.

Sometimes I do both. I’m working on a non-fiction book at the moment, where I’ve already gone through a copyedit and made sure all the sentences work OK and all the capitalization is consistent. I’m awaiting a copy of the PDF, which I’ll check over for picture captions being correct and the text appearing nicely on the page.

Of course, there’s always an opportunity for people to mix up copyediting and copy-writing. Hopefully, this piece is spelled and punctuated correctly; I haven’t written it half with copyediting and half with copy-editing and I’ve included a citation for the book I’ve referred to. So I’ve copyedited it. The actual writing of the piece in the first place? That’s copy-writing.

New Hart’s rules: the handbook of style for writers and editors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.


Posted by on February 23, 2011 in Errors, Reference materials, Skillset, What Do I Do?


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On asking for what you (really) want

So, how is choosing a pony like choosing a freelancer?

I went horse-riding on Saturday (for the first time in years) and had asked for a “slow” pony. What I should have asked for, I realised, as my pony bucked a little and tried to bite her reflection in the arena mirror, all the while needing to be forced out of a v e r y slow walk, was a “slow and placid” pony. Never mind – I had fun and I could cope with the pony, and learned a lesson about asking for what I wanted as well as expecting what I’d asked for.

And then, I’ve just finished reading a book (look out for the review on my book blog) in which the heroine *twice* gets what she wanted, only to find out it’s not what she really wanted at all. Cue heartbreak and all sorts of lessons learned.

All this got me thinking about how, especially when we’re hiring people to do work for us, we need to think about what we (really) want before we specify the terms and conditions. If you’re using a proof-reader/copy-editor (yes, I know – I’ll explain the difference soon!), it’s useful to realise up front that you need to cut some word count, for example. This is something we can do, but it’s far easier for us (and cheaper for you in terms of time and money) to do it as we go along, rather than having to go back through the document, snipping away. If you’re concerned about a particular aspect of the project, tell us – ask away; if we’re any good, we’ll accept your questions, answer them and reassure you. I would much rather you, the client, were happy with the outcome and relaxed throughout the process, even if that means I do a shorter, smaller project for you or you don’t use me at all!

So, whether you’re choosing a pony, a life partner or a freelancer, think carefully about what you’re asking for, before you ask for it.


Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Business, Ethics, Jobs, Organisation


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So what does a proof-reader / copy-editor / transcriber / copy-writer actually do?

Today I thought I’d share a list of the projects I’ve worked on in the last month or so, to give an idea of what I actually do. Remember that I still work part-time in a library, if this doesn’t seem much; on the other hand, remember that I am always available to chat about booking in your work, and have a flexible schedule, if it seems like a lot!

So, since the beginning of 2011, I have…

Copy-edited a report on someone’s website for a US company.
Proof-read/copy-edited PDF and Word documents for 1 monthly and 1 quarterly issue of a Club magazine, various advertising materials for the Club, and half of their website, for the American PR agency which handles their publications (including a re-write on a particularly troublesome article).
Copy-edited 5 blog posts for one blog.
Copy-edited a PhD thesis on linguistics.
Copy-edited 2 essays for an ongoing client.
Copy-edited a PhD thesis on sports science.
Copy-edited part of a PhD thesis on Nigeria.
Proof-read/copy-edited a short newsletter for a physiotherapist I work for on an ongoing basis, including some re-writing.
Proof-read/copy-edited a tender for a company which writes tenders for other companies (another repeat customer).
Copy-edited a short non-fiction book on Bosnia.
Done some background research for 2 websites for which I’ll be writing the content for the web designer to place in the web pages he’s creating.
Set up working agreements with a printing company (to write content for them) and a virtual secretary (to provide copy-editing services) so that we can get going with projects once they come through.

And coming up, I have these booked in…

Another PhD thesis, psychology this time.
Going over yet another PhD thesis (on the EU) which I’ve already worked on once; the author has passed his viva but had to cut word-count so wants it checked over one last time.
Copy-editing a client’s submission for Chartership to their profession.
A novel.
Monthly newsletters for my physiotherapist client.
Monthly and quarterly newsletters plus the rest of the website for my Club client in the US.
Hopefully some more transcriptions of interviews for my journalist client – while I haven’t done any transcribing for her for a while, I did get to read the results of a few of my transcriptions in the magazine she writes for that I happen to read anyway!

And I think I have a topic for my next blog post… what is the difference between copy-editing and proof-reading?


Posted by on February 9, 2011 in Jobs, Organisation, What Do I Do?, Writing


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On E-Book Readers

Since I put a review of a book I read on my new Kindle up on my book reviews blog, a few people have asked me what I think of e-book readers; whether they herald The End Of The Book, how I’m finding mine, etc. I did mull over whether to write about it on here or the reviews blog, but a couple of the points I want to make are pertinent to my craft and the way I work, so I thought it fitted here.

I’ve settled down to using the Kindle in a particular way, for a particular kind of book. Firstly, I’ve downloaded a number of books from free e-book sites such as manybooks, which offers Project Gutenberg and other texts in a format suitable for the Kindle. They are all free, all legally so, and, as I have a particular fondness for 19th century travel narratives, these are, on the main, what I’ve downloaded. These are books I hardly ever find in bookshops. If I do, they are often very expensive. So this is a new book to have, not a replacement for one I’d buy in print. And I’m fairly sure that I’ll still buy copies in print, if I find them. Secondly, in this category still, though, are e-only books, and those published recently but with Creative Commons licenses to allow them to be downloaded in this way. Just a couple of these at the moment, but I know that LibraryThing Early Reviewers give away e-only books, because I read one before I had the Kindle. Thirdly, I’m picking up free or cheap copies of classics. Classics I already own – but this is for that situation when I’m on holiday, and run out of books. It’s happened twice in the last couple of years, necessitating the purchase of very expensive British magazines or the borrowing of terrible books from the hotel library. So having complete sets of Hardy and Austen on there is very reassuring!

So that’s how I’m using it. No replacement of paper books, no loss of sales. Quite a few people I know are using their e-book readers to access books they just wouldn’t find in print – do I just know people who like obscure texts, or is that common?

A couple of other thoughts …

– It’s very comfortable to use, light and easy to hold (now I have it in a book-shaped leather case!)
– I could just use the Kindle app on the PC, but at the end of a hard day’s proof-reading, I just don’t want to gaze at a PC monitor!
– I think it makes the proper and full proof-reading and copy-editing of books and texts even more important. I’m going to return to the topic, “why bother proof-reading” in another post. But for now – the amount of text you see on the screen is smaller than that on a standard book page. So you don’t see as much context. Context is often how we make sense of what we’re reading, and how we establish what the author meant if there is any doubt. If there’s an error in spelling, grammar or punctuation, I think it’s easier for it to derail the reader, the smaller the amount of text they can use as context.

So – the Kindle. A good thing, in my case. It isn’t stopping me buying print books. It’s convenient, easy and gives me a few things to think about along the way!


Posted by on February 1, 2011 in Reading, Why bother