Author Archives: Liz Dexter

About Liz Dexter

Book blog is at Writer, proofreader, editor, transcriber. Also runner, gym-goer, volunteer and BookCrosser! My married name is Liz Dexter but my maiden name and the name on the books I write is Liz Broomfield.

Essay mills are to become illegal in the UK

The BBC has reported that “essay mills”, where companies sell pre-written complete essays to students, are to be outlawed as part of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. I welcome this, and hope it will drive this practice away from higher education. However, this does need to be accompanied by better essay-writing and pastoral care support for students, who are often tempted to cheat, not out of laziness, but because of high social and academic pressures.

What is an essay mill?

An essay mill is a company that exists to make money from providing pre-written essays and even dissertations on topics which students purchase and try to pass of as their own.

In my (of course entirely legitimate and very careful) dealings with student clients, I come across so many examples of organisations who prey on them and abuse them while extracting money from them. More times than I can count, a student has come to me having already had their essay “edited”, which has, at best, involved running a simple spell check over it. Particularly for students whose English is an additional language to the one or more languages they are already fluent in, this can be woefully insufficient for them. They pay money, often a lot of it, and are left with something not fit for purpose that needs re-editing. When I worked on a university campus, I would see stickers on lamp-posts offering editing or proofreading services for students, or, indeed, advertising essay mills.

Why are students tempted to use essay mills?

I firmly believe this is not all out of laziness and trying to buy your way through university. Of course, some examples may be that, but in my decade and more of dealing with students, especially overseas students who are not fluent writers in English, I have seen the huge pressure to perform that can sometimes overwhelm. Overseas students in particular pay huge fees to attend British universities, even higher than national students, and this money has been paid by families or sponsors. I am not sure that English language support is even across institutes of higher education and I have come across many students who clearly understand their topic but lack the skills to present it in English that is deemed acceptable by their authorities.

I need to emphasise here that I have huge respect for anyone pursuing higher education in their second, third, fourth, whatever language. My French is decent and my Spanish is getting there, my Icelandic can raise a wan smile and I can speak Italian only when in Italy: I would not wish to write a university-level essay in any of these languages. Also, it’s not only overseas students who use essay mills.

So you’re pressured to make good use of the money that’s been spent on you, you know your English skills are not brilliant, and you see an ad where you can buy an essay. What are you going to do?

What happens if a student submits an essay they’ve bought from an essay mill?

Universities and colleges are of course wise to the use of essay mills and the purchase of pre-written essays. Of course these essays aren’t individually written for each student, so they will crop up regularly. Plagiarism software will pick them up easily, and the tutor may also realise that the language used is very different from the student’s usual level of English.

I would hope that the university would offer support in English language skills and essay writing rather than simply censuring the student. I hope there’s more understanding for the people they have brought over and charged highly for this British education.

Dealing with plagiarism carefully

Of course this is all about plagiarism: passing someone else’s work off as your own. Legitimate and careful editors/proofreaders who work with students, like me, are very careful about plagiarism. I have a line I won’t cross in terms of how many corrections and suggestions I’ll make to a student’s work, and I have turned down work several times where it’s clear that too much help is needed from me, and advised the student to approach their tutor for support. I have some resources about plagiarism below.

If you’re a student looking for help and support with essays, I suggest you do the following:

  • Ask your tutor or the library support staff if there are any courses or classes available
  • If you need a proofreader for your essays, ask your tutor or classmates if they can recommend someone
  • If you need to find a proofreader for your essays or dissertation yourself, look for a service provider who has a statement about plagiarism and terms and conditions on their website. Ask them how they do the work, and check that they leave Tracked Changes turned on so you can see and assess their changes and decide yourself if you want to accept them.

This article was triggered by the announcement that essay farms are going to be made illegal in the UK. I have explained what they are and why students might used them, pleaded for understanding and discussed how else students can find support, with a mention of how they might choose that support. There are some resources below on plagiarism which you might also find useful.

Other resources on this website

For students

Choosing a proofreader – student edition

My terms and conditions

Why has my proofreader not edited my bibliography?

Referencing – how to keep track and how to refer to your reference materials

How to quote sources without plagiarising – rewording and quoting appropriately

Essay tips for new students – handy for undergraduates

Top tips for dissertations and theses – from people who’ve been there

Top tips for writing up your PhD

Appropriate language in academic writing

For editors

On (not) crossing the line

Plagiarism – what it is and how a proofreader should work with student material (and my terms and conditions)

Student at risk of plagiarism 1: What do you do when a text isn’t referenced properly?

Student at risk of plagiarism 3: Sending feedback to your student client and their supervisor


Posted by on October 11, 2021 in Copyediting, Ethics, proofreading, Students, Writing


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How do I prepare my focus group for transcription?

If you’re running focus groups for your research, information-gathering or market research, it’s likely you will want to record them and get them transcribed. How do you get a transcript with the voices labelled? How do you work with your transcriber to get the best possible transcript output that is most useful for you?

Top tips for running your focus group if it’s going to be transcribed

When you get a focus group transcribed, you probably want your transcriber to differentiate the voices, adding the participants’ names to their utterances. Most transcribers are really good at telling different voices apart and labelling the speakers. However, you can help them by following these good practices:

  • If you are recording a focus group in real life (as opposed to on a video chat), place your recorder in the middle of the group or table so that everyone can be heard equally.
  • Ask the speakers to introduce themselves at the start of the session, with their name and a brief sentence – this can be about anything but helps your transcriber to match names to voices.
  • Encourage speakers not to speak over each other, but to allow the current speaker to finish before they speak – if it’s in real life, the transcriber will hear two overlapping voices; if it’s a video call, the first speaker will typically be silenced by the second one.
  • Every now and then, confirm who is about to speak or has just spoken – “What do you think, Jim?” “Thank you for that contribution, Sophie”. This really helps your transcriber to check they are still matching the correct voices to the names.
  • When you send the recording to your transcriber, include a list of the speakers’ names – it’s also useful to note if one comes in part way through the recording. Then they can double-check who they’re listening out for.

Sending your recording to your transcriber

When you send your recording to your transcriber, do make sure that you …

  • Include a list of the participants’ names, as mentioned above
  • Specify what kind of transcription you need (verbatim, tidied up, etc. – see this article for more on the types of transcription). Transcriptions of focus groups often need to be absolutely verbatim, ums and ers and everything, and you need to tell your transcriber this.
  • Provide any other basic information your transcriber might need – see this article for more detail

In this article, I’ve explained how you can run your focus group, then record and send it, in the best possible way in order to get a transcription that’s exactly what you need. Please ask any questions in the comments, or comment and share if you find this useful.

Other relevant articles on this website

Why you need to be human to produce a good transcription

Using a transcription app rather than a human transcriber – pros and cons

What are the types of transcription?

What information does my transcriber need?

How to be a good transcription customer

How long does transcription take?

Recording and sending audio files for researchers and journalists

How to get into transcribing as a job

The technology transcribers use

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Posted by on September 27, 2021 in Skillset, Transcription


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A lovely review for my book on starting a business!

Business books by Liz BroomfieldI get quite a few enquiries via email and my contact form asking for advice about becoming a proofreader, editor or transcriber. Often, the person hasn’t looked at the information available on this blog and I direct them to a few starter posts. However, when Katie Baker, newly setting up a proofreading and transcription business, got in touch with me, she had already had a look through this website and picked up a lot of information she needed, and she had some specific questions she wanted to ask that I really didn’t mind answering at all. I also sent her an e-book copy of my first business book “How I Survived my First Year of Self-Employment“, something else I’m happy to do, as helping someone directly means so much more to me than getting an extra book sale.

Katie has very kindly posted a review of my book on her own blog. I don’t think people always realise how important reviews are to, especially independent, authors – in this case, Katie found she was unable to post the review on Amazon as I’d sent her the copy and it only wanted validated Amazon purchases to be reviewed, so she did this instead, for which I’m equally grateful. Reviews from peers and colleagues are always hugely welcome and appreciated.

As somebody in the early days of my business, I found Liz’s guide to be genuinely useful, insightful, and above all, enjoyable to read.

Read Katie’s full review here.

And details of all of my books and where you can find them are here.


Posted by on October 20, 2020 in Business, Ebooks, Writing


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Using a transcription app rather than a human transcriber – advantages and disadvantages

Have you considered using an app to transcribe interview tapes or dictations, rather than doing it yourself or hiring a transcriber? Today I have a guest post from my friend Mary Ellen about her experience using a transcription app. When she told me about how she’d used one to transcribe the interviews she conducted for a magazine article, I was very interested and asked her to write me something about how it all went.

I’m not saying don’t use apps – but if you have the funds and you want an accurate and quick transcription, it’s worth learning from what she found out.

Recently, I was commissioned to write an article about visually impaired runners. Being inexperienced, I blithely accepted the challenge to interview five runners without realising the effort that is needed in getting all of their interesting stories into text.

Aware of the fact that there are people who transcribe interviews for a living (like my lovely friend Liz), the fact was that my fee was a free copy of the periodical and so the budget did not cover the expense of paying a transcriber. The instructor for the writing course I was taking recommended the transcription app Otter so I put it on iPad and used it while interviewing.

It had occurred to me to transcribe it myself, but as I was also working full-time as a teacher time was at a premium. So, with a deadline looming, I cracked on with the interviews which I loved doing. However, after each one I was soon to realise that the app was not ideal for getting their words into print accurately. Oh the errors! The software, to be fair was able to differentiate between the person I was interviewing and me. Aside from this, the text it transcribed was disjointed and while some words fit, most of the sentences made little sense. After each interview, 
I had to correct the errors in the transcription.

Luckily I had written notes so I knew roughly the quotes I wanted and could then listen to the sections I wanted to quote from. However, this was labour-intensive as I then had to hand write the correct words and then re-type the corrected quotes. Worse still, I was writing the article on the iPad I had recorded the interviews on and so had to hand write the correct words before I typed them. This was frustrating, since I knew if the app had transcribed the words correctly this was a step I could have avoided.

So my first adventure in interviewing for an article was great since I loved talking to interesting runners but really, I could have done without having to retype the faulty automatic transcriptions. It makes me tired just thinking about it now. I am determined to continue pitching ideas to periodicals and hopefully get a paid assignment soon. I would definitely pay for a transcription by a trained professional for an article I was being paid for since it would make better business sense. Not only would it save me time, it would also allow me to take on more work, since I wouldn’t have to spend precious hours transcribing. Given that it took me about about an hour and a half per interview to type out my quotes, that is about 7 and a half hours.

In the end, I think the transcribing app, though free, was a false economy that made the article much more labour-intensive than it had to be. Live and learn!

Mary Ellen Flynn writes about special educational needs and disabilities and running. You can find her at @mareflynn on Twitter.

Other relevant articles on this website

Why you need to be human to produce a good transcription

How to get into transcribing as a job

The technology transcribers use


Posted by on September 4, 2020 in Skillset, Transcription


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A real-life example of beta reading #amwriting @edprice7 @steev8

I often encourage the writers I work with, especially those who are publishing independently, to get a beta reader or two to read their text before they get it edited, so they have a reader’s point of view and can make the necessary changes before going through the first or maybe a subsequent stage of editing. You can read my article about beta readers here. But what is is like to be a beta reader?

I came across this article by Ed Price through the writer Steve Chilton mentioning it in a reading runners’ group I’m in. I don’t often share articles on here but this one explains exactly what it’s like to be someone’s beta reader and is hugely valuable for that. Here’s just the start of it all – Ed goes into lots of fascinating detail which will be useful for any writer or person who has asked to be their beta reader, I’m sure …

Steve asked me to be his ‘critical friend’ after he had finished the first draft of the manuscript. While I have a good deal of experience putting coursebooks together, I’d never before been involved in the editing process of a biography. So what could I bring to the role of critical friend?

Speaking to Steve, it was clear that he wanted a sounding board: someone to read the manuscript and see what worked; what might need more clarification, and whether there were any areas that could be tidied up or even cut. Having spent months buried in research and drafts and edits, it made sense that a ‘friendly’ pair of eyes with a certain degree of critical acumen could be beneficial to him. The longer you spend in researching and writing, the harder it can become to see the wood for the trees; to read a text the way a paying customer would.

Read the whole article here (shared with Ed’s permission).

Other useful articles on this blog

The different kinds of editing and proofreading


Posted by on August 18, 2020 in Reading, Writing



Staying as a “Company of One”

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Yes, even a sole trader gets to have hobbies and holidays!

I recently read Paul Jarvis’ book, Company of One, which I have reviewed on my book review and running sister blog. I enjoy reading business books (and editing them, too) and it’s always nice if you read one that tells you you’ve been doing the right things all along, isn’t it!

I’ve been running my company of one for 11 years now, give or take a month, and as I’ve written before on here, I started off VERY small, working at a day job with only a few clients, then building things up while still working at the day job, working out on a spreadsheet when I was replacing enough income to swap a day in the day job for one on the business until I took the full-time plunge (which wasn’t so much a plunge as a gentle push off into the sea from a gently sloping beach) in 2012.

I’ve never been tempted to take on staff, although I enjoy working in coopetition with other editors, localisers and transcribers, gladly recommending trusted colleagues when I’m not a good fit for a prospect (or a current client’s particular project, as happened recently) or am simply too booked up. And as the image shows, I have reached a stage where I can indulge in my hobby of running and go on holiday (when holidays can be gone on) – there really is no heroism in working every single hour of every single day to the detriment of your physical and mental health and your relationships with family and friends. About a year ago, I decided not to work at weekends if I could possibly help it, and while that has cut down on my coffee break availability during the week, it has given me a proper rest at the weekend.

Jarvis also talks in his book about the importance of maintaining your business in line with your own personal ethics and character, and I think this is vitally important for two reasons. First of all, that buzzword “authenticity” – if you are being your authentic self, people will see that and respond positively, and the people who align with the way you work and your character will come to you and stay with you. Second, it will protect you, as there’s nothing like working outside what you’re comfortable with to make you feel stressed, edgy and unwell.

if you set this out from the start, you can keep good customers you’re aligned with and retain your own comfort. For example, I’m clear that I don’t work on topics which have cruelty or violence (especially animal cruelty or violence) or very upsetting scenes. I have initial terms and conditions which explain this and I ask new clients to read my full Ts and Cs and check they are not planning to send me something which I will find upsetting. If I do end up working on upsetting content I will stop and say no, and explain why. And because I’ve set that expectation, it’s OK, and we can all respect that. For example, years ago when I still edited fiction, I worked on some supernatural thrillers which were really well done but too much for me. I explained after one that I wasn’t going to be able to do these any more as it was too much. My client was absolutely fine, and retained me for working on their non-fiction and another line of fiction that was less brutal. More recently, a long-term ghostwriter client offered me work on a book that I knew from the subject matter I wouldn’t be able to deal with. I found them an alternative transcriber for that project, and am starting work on their next book soon. Setting the parameters from the start allows this to happen and saves me from upset and my clients from sudden unexpected refusals.

So just because other people run themselves ragged hiring staff, pushing for new sales constantly and trying to firefight problems at all times of the day and night, it doesn’t mean you have to, too. You can find a way of doing business that suits you, that works with your ethics and personality. If I can do it (and I was a very much in the background admin person without an “entrepreneurial-type” personality), you can, too.

I’ve written my own business books, too. I was just remarking to a friend that I had a review opining that one of them has too many cardigans and not enough bullet points … and that I’m fine with that!


Posted by on July 3, 2020 in Uncategorized


What are the stages involved in writing my book?

a hand writing in a bookWhat are the stages involved in writing a book? Where do editing, proofreading and beta reading fit in?

Authors often get confused about the different stages and people involved in getting a book published. It’s not as simple as “Write a book – get it published!” but nor should it be so complicated that only the professionals understand it.

I work with a lot of people who are indie-publishing or self-publishing their book, however these stages will be roughly the same whether you’re publishing in the traditional route with a publisher, or going it alone. When the publisher gets involved can also vary.

What are the processes my book needs to go through?

Here are the basic stages for your book.

  1. Plan
  2. First draft
  3. Second draft
  4. Beta readers
  5. Third draft
  6. Edit (usually in Word)
  7. Fourth draft and preparation for publishing (layout artist, cover art, blurb)
  8. Proofread (usually in PDF or another file format from which the book will actually be produced)
  9. Publish

Note: You might have a substantive edit before or just after the beta readers; if you have one after that stage, it’s an idea to add another beta read in afterwards, which would give you this:

  1. Plan
  2. First draft
  3. Second draft
  4. Beta readers
  5. Third draft
  6. Substantive edit (usually in Word)
  7. Fourth draft
  8. More beta readers or the same ones again
  9. Fifth draft
  10. Edit (usually in Word)
  11. Sixth draft and preparation for publishing (layout artist, cover art, blurb)
  12. Proofread (usually in PDF or another file format from which the book will actually be produced)
  13. Publish

One last point: it’s better to have your edit and proofread done by different people: just as it’s hard to edit your own work, it’s hard not to miss things if you’re proofreading something you edited. See the link below for how to handle the style sheet you will need.

Other useful articles

The different kinds of editing and proofreading (it’s biased towards fiction but also works for non-fiction):

All about beta readers and what to ask them

Style sheets to pass from editor to proofreader

How to request a quotation from an editor

Negotiating and booking in your project

I hope you’ve found this very quick guide to the process of editing and proofreading useful. If you have, please share this article using the buttons below, or leave me a comment. Thank you!

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Displaying your data in Excel – pivot tables

We can use pivot tables to display the number of times a value appears in a column or row in an Excel spreadsheet.

Why would I use a pivot table to display data?

I keep a record of my reading, including author, publisher, date, fiction or non-fiction, source, if there are any special features like mental health, immigrant experiences etc. I used to tot up some of this information manually using my book blog but this year it’s been in Excel so I can copy other book bloggers and share more detailed information.

I wanted to be able to display numbers of times I read books by x publisher etc. so taught myself this pivot tables / pivot charts procedure.

Setting up a pivot table to display my data counts

Say I want to count the number of times I’ve read books published in particular years in my spreadsheet of books read. I want a graph with the years along the bottom and number of books from each year up the side.

First I select the source data to use, by highlighting the Date column.

Then I go to the Insert tab and select PivotTable then PivotChart:

This brings up a dialogue box. I check the range is in there and then tick the Existing Worksheet option, because I want to display this on my worksheet.

I select the first cell of the destination range to tell it where to paste (I’ve not filled that in yet here), and click OK .

The PivotChart Fields pane appears on the right-hand side of the worksheet. Date (or whatever field you selected) should be showing at the top. Click the tick box next to Date and drag Date down to the Axis section and then the Values section.

The empty Values section populates with Count of Date: this is correct. Once I’ve dragged them down …

As if by magic, a chart appears with my data!

I can move this around and resize it using the arrows that come up as you hover over the box containing the chart.

In this article I’ve shown you how to use pivot tables and pivot charts to make your data display in an easily readable form in Excel.

This works for Excel 2010 and above for PC.

Find other Excel tips in the Excel category!

If you found this article useful, please let me know in a comment!

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Posted by on September 25, 2019 in Excel


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Getting your business ready for no-deal Brexit if you don’t pay VAT – EORI number registration

HMRC state UK businesses need an EORI number to trade with Europe after a no-deal Brexit.

I received this email from HMRC yesterday and I suspect I only received it because I signed up for their update emails (none of the others of which have been useful so far). I am just putting it here for people to see – I’ve been through the process and got my number (but when they give it to you, copy and paste the page into your own records otherwise you have to go back in and search for it once you’ve been approved). You need a Government Gateway login to access it.

This is not legal or business advice, I am merely sharing what I’ve been sent in case it helps any other sole traders who are not VAT-registered.

Dear Liz,

The Government has said that the UK will be leaving the EU on 31 October whatever the circumstances.

Leaving the EU without a deal means there will be immediate changes to the way UK businesses trade with the EU that may impact your business.

  • UK businesses will have to apply customs, excise and VAT processes to goods sold into the EU (these are the same rules that already apply for goods and services traded outside of the EU).
  • Trading partners in the EU will have to apply customs, excise and VAT processes to trade they carry out with you, in the same way that they do for goods and services traded from outside of the EU.

HMRC is helping businesses get ready for Brexit by automatically issuing them with a UK EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification) number. We have written to more than 88,000 VAT registered companies to let them know the UK EORI number they’ve been assigned. Businesses will not be able to move goods in and out of the UK without one.

If your business is not VAT-registered, you will still need to apply now for a UK EORI. HMRC cannot give you this automatically.

You can check the next steps you need to take to ensure that your business is ready for Brexit using our trader checklist.

We will continue to provide you with the latest guidance and support to help you prepare your business for the UK leaving the EU.

You can sign up for HMRC emails here.

You can register for Government Gateway here.

Not legal advice. Not tax advice. Sharing what I’ve been sent.

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Posted by on August 23, 2019 in Brexit, Business



Can I print a Word document to PDF and retain the tracked changes?

If you want to print or save a Word document to change it into a PDF, and you have Tracked Changes showing in the Word document, will those tracked changes still show up in the PDF?

I needed to check this myself this morning, so now I’ve confirmed what happens, I thought I’d write a quick article about it, on the grounds that if I’ve had to check, someone else will need to, too (bloggers: this is a good way to inspire blog posts if you’re lacking ideas!).

So here is the definitive answer to the question Can I save a Word document as a PDF and keep the tracked changes showing.

Why save a Word document with tracked changes into a PDF?

This came about because I was discussing plagiarism with a colleague and explaining what I do if I need to confirm from a client’s supervisor that it’s OK to make as many changes as I’m making to their text. I mentioned that sometimes I will send over a copy of the work so far, and sometimes I’ll go as far as to turn the Word document into a PDF so it can’t be altered between me and the supervisor. But will the tracked changes still show up?

Proof that tracked changes still show on the PDF

So here’s my Word document, complete with tracked changes (make sure these are showing):

A word document with tracked changes

Just a reminder that in the newer versions of Word you can save to a PDF automatically without having to go through third-party software. Choose File – Save As then drop the file type down to choose PDF:

Save Word as PDF

Then when you open it in your PDF reader (I use PDF-XChange Viewer), there are all the tracked changes!

Tracked changes showing in PDF

So, if you want to preserve your tracked changes so they can’t be, um, well, changed, printing to PDF will give you an image of them you can share.

I hope you’ve found this useful – do click the Like or Share buttons or comment if I’ve helped you out!

Please note: these tips work for Microsoft Word version 2007 and upwards. They are not guaranteed or tested for Word for Mac.

Other track changes articles on this website

Track changes 1 – why use it, where can you find it, what can you do with it?

Track changes 2 – customising Track Changes

Track changes 3 – working with a document with tracked changes

How do I accept one reviewer’s changes?

Why are my tracked changes changing colour?

How do I get rid of tool tips on tracked changes?

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Posted by on July 24, 2019 in Copyediting, proofreading, Skillset, Word


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