Category Archives: Skillset

Why should editors be thinking about and using conscious language? [shared post]

Why should editors be thinking about and using conscious language? [shared post]

Today I’m sharing what is the best explanation I’ve seen of the need for editors to be aware of conscious language. I’m a non-fiction editor and Louise Harnby edits fiction but the principles remain the same.

In her article, Louise Harnby covers:

  • What is ‘conscious language’?
  • ‘But I’m not part of the “woke” brigade’
  • The foundations of editing
  • Are you part of the professional editing brigade?
  • Why conscious language is also about successful authoring
  • Why conscious language is about consideration rather than prescription
  • A case study
  • Helping our clients
  • Tools that help with conscious language

Read the rest of the article here.

This is such an important topic. I’ve been using “singular they” for a long time, and other aspects I’ve covered in my editing include not gendering people when they’re mentioned as examples in texts, working to eliminate terms in networking which are now outdated and pejorative and suggesting different terms for ones which are now considered pejorative in an ablist context.

As Louise mentions, as professional editors, we’re aiming to help our authors reach as wide an audience as possible, and if they risk alienating portions of that audience through the use of language that can be avoided, it’s our job to help them not do so.


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Automatic transcription – some real-world case studies 2: automatic closed-captioning

There has been a lot of talk lately about automatic transcription, or AI (artificial intelligence) transcription. This includes speech-to-text software and means that a transcription of your voice or recording is made automatically rather than by a human. I’ve recently experienced working with clients who use voice-to-text software and receiving an automatic closed-captioning file from a video meeting platform, and I’m taking the opportunity to share my experiences with both. Last time, I looked at features to look out for with speech-to-text software and this time I’m talking about automatic closed-captioning.

Using closed-captioning to create live subtitles and texts

A client for whom I’m transcribing focus groups (so discussion groups of several people with one facilitator) had one group that included a participant living with a hearing impairment. They turned on the closed-captioning feature in the video meeting platform they were using, so that the participant could read what the other participants were saying. As it recorded everyone’s speech in real time and then generated a text afterwards, my client sent it to me to see if I’d find it useful.

As I’ve been thinking about offering an automatic transcription editing service next to my full transcription service, I was really interested in seeing how this worked.

What does real-time closed-captioning or automatic transcription look like?

In my opinion, automatic real-time closed-captioning is not there yet in terms of generating a good, usable transcription. Here are the downfalls I noticed in the tape (you’ll notice some of these if you turn on the subtitles on the news, etc. – which are very rarely produced by humans these days).

  • Time stamps were added every few seconds which is great for some clients but my focus group transcription clients usually only want it every ten minutes.
  • There was no differentiation of speakers, although new utterances were usually started on a new line (this could be a new utterance by a new speaker or a new utterance by the same speaker).
  • If two people spoke at once the speech was jumbled.
  • Even captioning of the slowest, clearest and most “accentless” (Received Pronunciation) speaker was full of errors including homophones, missed words and repeated words.
  • If someone had an accent (regional or English as an additional language), it pretty well failed to cope at all.
  • If someone spoke quickly, it pretty well failed to cope at all.
  • Ums and ers were not recorded, which is understandable in terms of a participant needing to know what the others were saying, but is not useful when your client has requested a full verbatim transcription (see my article on the types of transcription here).

In summary, the transcription produced for this session by the closed-captioning software would not have been of any use to the researcher without extensive editing.

I have also had a look at the automatic transcription on various video playing platforms such as YouTube and the same issues have appeared there, too.

Is it quicker to edit an automatically generated transcription than to transcribe it from scratch?

With this particular client, while the participants varied over the groups, I had transcribed a fair few groups and had an idea of how many audio minutes I was transcribing per hour. It’s also worth noting that I’m experienced in editing other people’s transcriptions, as I used to be the go-to transcriber for tricky sessions at a big worldwide conference.

Bearing those points in mind, using the closed-caption transcript and editing it to the same standard as one I had done from scratch took exactly the same time as transcribing it from scratch would have taken! There was less actual straight typing, but more mouse work and clicking, so I don’t think it saved me much risk of RSI, either.

I will keep looking at this issue over the next few years, as automatic closed-captioning and the transcripts it produces are bound to improve with improved technology and voice recognition.

In this article, I have discussed the use of automatic closed-captioning and whether it can be used to generate transcripts that replace or can be used as a basis for human transcription.

If you have experience of using automatic closed-captioning, particularly in languages other than English, please comment with anything else you’ve noticed that it would be useful for people to know.

Other relevant articles on this website

Automatic transcription – some real-world case studies 1: voice-to-text software

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


Posted by on November 22, 2021 in Skillset, Transcription


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Automatic transcription – some real-world case studies 1: voice-to-text software

There’s a lot of talk about automatic transcription, or AI (artificial intelligence) transcription, also known as voice-to-text software. This means that a transcription of your voice or recording is made automatically rather than with human input. What’s the state-of-art of this at the moment? I’ve recently experienced working with both a client using voice-to-text software to generate text that I edit and receiving an automatic closed-captioning file from a video meeting platform, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to share my experiences with both. This article looks at speech-to-text software and the next one will examine closed-captioning.

Using voice-to-text software to create text documents

A couple of my regular editing clients use voice-to-text software to create documents which they send to me for me to edit. I have also worked with a number of students who, because they live with a visual impairment or a physical issue (for example, RSI that makes typing painful and difficult), have used this method to generate sometimes very long documents.

What common features of voice-to-text-generated documents can an editor look out for?

Here’s what I’ve noticed about what documents look like when the client is using voice-to-text software

  • The outcome is a lot more accurate when using more sophisticated voice-to-text software that can “learn” the speaker’s voice, rather than out-of-the-box, one-size-fits-all software.
  • The outcome is also a lot more accurate and able to cope with “standard” (Received Pronunciation) slowly and clearly spoken English (in this case; I’m guessing it’s the same with other languages but would love to know for sure). The software can struggle with accents and fast speakers.
  • The most common issues with voice-to-text software are
    • Homophones – the software doesn’t know which spelling the speaker wants to use out of two alternatives that sound the same – bear/bare, which/witch, etc. This is really common and can lead to some very odd sentences and potential embarrassing issues. Note that these can’t be spotted by having the software read the text back to the speaker, as the words sound the same.
    • Added words – the software registers two separate words when there’s only one: “repeated distractions” becomes “repeat and distractions”.
    • Missed words and parts of words – if the speaker speaks quickly and skips over short words or swallows the middle of words, they might not register in the software: “paddle boards” becomes “pad boards”; “fruit and nut” becomes “fruited nut” or “fruit nut”.
    • Missed punctuation – this usually has to be spoken in in a set formula by the speaker. If they don’t do that, the punctuation won’t be there.

These issues are quite different from the usual ones met in editing people’s texts, whether their English is their first or additional language. Just as particular Language 1s will bleed through into writers’ other languages (as an L1 English speaker, I am likely to put French and Spanish sentences into an incorrect English word order, for example), dictated English has its own little oddities and patterns that you need to look out for.

How can the speaker and editor combat issues with speech-to-text documents?

There are a few things the speaker and then the editor can do to mitigate these issues.

  • The speaker could speak slowly and clearly, enunciating all the words and their endings and putting the punctuation in as required.
  • If there is an option to “teach” the software the speaker’s voice, I recommend doing that for optimum results.
  • Always have someone check a speech-to-text-generated text.
  • The speaker/client could let the editor know that they’ve used such software, so the editor can be on high alert for the features listed above (remember that Spellcheck won’t necessarily notice correctly spelled homophones).
  • The editor could watch for oddly worded sentences as well as the grammar / spelling / punctuation issues they usually look out for.

In this article, I have discussed voice-to-text software that is sometimes used to generate documents, what the client/speaker can do to make sure the text they generate is as accurate as possible and what the editor of such documents can look out for.

If you have experience of using speech-to-text software, particularly in languages other than English, please comment with anything else you’ve noticed that it would be useful for people to know.

A friend talks about this issue with regard to an interview she conducted – read about her experience in this guest post.

Next time, I’ll talk about my experience of automatic closed-captioning on a video meeting platform.

Other relevant articles on this website

Automatic transcription – some real-world case studies 2: automatic closed-captioning (coming soon!)

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


Posted by on November 8, 2021 in Skillset, Transcription


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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

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 27, 2021 in Skillset, Transcription


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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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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?

Leave a comment

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


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Track changes – how do I get rid of the text box that appears when I hover over words in a Word document?

How do you get rid of document tooltips? How do you stop the little text boxes appearing when you hover over deleted or added words in Word. I had a query about this in a comment and thought that it warranted some screen shots and instructions.

What’s the problem here? What do you mean by these text boxes?

When you’ve worked with Track Changes enabled in Word, as well as showing you what your editor or collaborator has deleted or inserted into the text in red and with bubbles in the margin, you also get text boxes when you hover over the change. Here’s what that looks like:

Some people get annoyed by this, so here’s how to turn it off.

How do I turn off document tooltips aka those little text boxes that show me what I’ve deleted?

This process works for Word 2010 and later versions:

Click File on the far left of the tabs and then Options:

Once in Options, choose Display:

The Display dialogue box has an option to Show document tooltips on hover. Untick this by clicking in the square, then choose OK.

Now you won’t see those boxes in the document.

However, it does NOT turn off the useful tooltips in the rest of Word – so if you hover over any of the items on the Ribbon, you will still see the usual tooltips there.

If you’re using Word 2007, click the round button in the top left corner, choose Word Options at the very bottom of the dialogue box, then as above, select Display and untick Show document tooptips on hover.

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?


Posted by on February 13, 2019 in Copyediting, proofreading, Skillset, Word


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How to Make the Switch to Fiction Editing (by Sophie Playle)

How to Make the Switch to Fiction Editing (by Sophie Playle)

I’d like to welcome Sophie Playle from Liminal Pages to my blog today: Sophie is a fiction editor and also trains other editors to do what she does. I tend towards working on non-fiction, marketing, informational and academic texts myself, but if you’re interested in moving into fiction editing, Sophie outlines here the ways to start going about this. I hope you enjoy reading this excellent article; do post a comment or share the article if you’ve found it useful. Over to Sophie …

So you’re a freelance editor. You’ve done the training, built up your business, maybe even tucked a few years’ experience (or more) under your belt. By day, you edit textbooks. Or technical papers. Dissertations. Journal articles. But by night … you lose yourself in the latest Man Booker Prize winner, or perhaps a heady romance or a brain-tingling sci-fi.

And you wistfully think to yourself: I wish I could spend my days editing books like this. Editing novels. But you don’t have the right skills, you tell yourself. And besides, you’ve already built your business, and fiction editing doesn’t really come into it. (Other than the occasional proofread that comes your way.)

If you harbour the desire to become a specialist fiction editor but are worried about changing your business model, I’m going to tell you step-by-step how you can make the switch. Really – it is possible! What you need most is a shift in focus and a plan.

Step 1: Change your mindset

We build our identities around a number of factors. One of the more dominant is what we do for a living. It’s often the first question we’re asked when we meet new people. ‘So, what do you do?’ Changing our profession feels like changing a core part of our existence. Scary stuff, no?

But you’re more than your job; your job doesn’t define who you are. We grow and change throughout our lives. Just because you’ve set yourself down a certain path doesn’t mean you have to stick to that path forever. ‘I’m a biomedical-sciences editor’ can become ‘I’m a fiction editor’ if you want it to.

If you’re not entirely happy with the business you’ve built, you can change it. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed at building the right business for you. It simply means the time has come for a change. Your business has served you well to this point, but you’re ready to steer it in a new direction.

Big change can be scary. But if you’re feeling stuck in a rut and wish your professional life were different, it’s scarier to think you’ll be in the exact same position feeling the exact same way ten years down the line.

Step 2: Build your confidence

Editing fiction can be quite different from editing other kinds of text. You need to pay extra-close attention to the author’s style. Different characters will have different voices, too – you can’t make them all consistent. Then you might have to consider whether the author has deliberately deviated from convention for effect. (Did the author mean to use the passive voice continuously throughout this passage?)

But don’t panic. I want you to remember two things.

  1. You’re already skilled. Proofreading and copy-editing focus on the technical side of writing rather than the artistic side of writing. A misplaced modifier is still a misplaced modifier whether your editing a thriller or a journal article. And a homophone is still a homophone. You already possess the skills to spot and correct these mistakes. And if you’re proofreading or copy-editing a novel, that’s still exactly the kind of thing that’s required.
  1. If you’re an avid reader of fiction, you’re already an informal expert. Reading fiction might seem like just a hobby, but I bet you’ve subconsciously absorbed a whole lot of information about what makes for good writing in fiction. If you know your stuff as a reader, you can apply this knowledge to editing novels.

For more tips in this area, read my guest post on Louise Harnby’s blog: How to edit fiction with confidence.

Step 3: Increase your knowledge

A lack of confidence almost always comes down to a lack of knowledge. I hope the above points will make you realise that you know more than you think, but there’s even more you can do.

  • Learn about all the different types of fiction editing. The path to publication for novelists is not quite the same as it is for other types of writers, and editors can come into the fold at different points along the way. You might already possess the skills to provide proofreading and copy-editing at this point, but perhaps line or development editing interests you, too – in which case, you’ll likely need to bolster your knowledge.
  • Learn how to adapt your editing style. I’ve already touched on this point, but generally being open to rule-bending to allow for style while still applying a degree of consistency is key. This is where your informal knowledge comes most into play, and where you’ll need to both exercise your judgement and hone your querying skills!
  • Study the craft of writing. There are many excellent books out there on how to write fiction. If you want to develop your copy-editing skills, focus on books that talk about style, self-editing and point of view. (Try The Art of Fiction by David Lodge, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne and The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley.) If you want to develop your line or developmental editing skills, read books on bigger topics like plot, story and characterisation. (Try Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivated by Roz Morris.) You could also take a fiction writing class and learn by doing!
  • Read novels analytically. As an editor, you might find you do this already. (I know I always have ­­– I can’t seem not to!) Read slowly, carefully and thoughtfully. Take notes in the margins and underline passages, if you like. Keep a reading log and write out your thoughts. You’ll learn so much about fiction editing by simply reading with awareness. Grab a copy of Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose for more advice on how to do this.

Step 4: Re-do your website

Now that you’ve built your confidence and knowledge, it’s time to take the leap. If you want to edit solely fiction, I strongly advise that you market yourself as a specialist fiction editor. Not as a generalist who also happens to edit fiction. But as someone who just edits fiction.

Why? Imagine for a moment that you’re an author who wants to self-publish. You have a crime novel that’s ready for copy-editing and you’re looking for someone to take on the job. Who do you choose? An editor who works on business flyers, cook books, journal articles and the occasional novel? Or the editor who focuses solely on novels? It makes sense to choose the editor who has their head firmly in the novel-editing game.

It makes sense to make fiction editing your niche.

The most important thing you can do now is totally re-do your website. Your website is one of your key marketing tools, and you want it to attract and engage the right clients – people looking for a fiction editor. This may seem like a big task, but it’s essential if you want to make the switch to fiction editing.

Step 5: Build your client base

It would be short-sighted to immediately sack all your current clients and expect a boatload of fiction clients to land straight in your lap. I know you don’t think that. In fact, it’s probably one of the things stopping you from making the switch.

Instead, keep working with your current clients – even though you’ve now totally changed your website. (They probably won’t notice anyway.) As the fiction editing enquiries start trickling in, start dropping your existing clients. You can always keep the ones that bring you the most benefits if you really want, but eventually you’ll be able to transition to full-time fiction editing, at your own pace.

Of course you’ll also need to start marketing yourself as a fiction editor. Most people won’t land on your website by chance, so you need to start point prospective clients towards it – through directory entries, online and in-person networking, advertising, content creation and so on.

And there you have it!

Switching your business model to specialise in fiction is perfectly doable but requires a little courage and some careful preparation.

If you’d like to know more about setting up a fiction editing business – and would also like some guidance and feedback as you make the transition ­– my online course, Start Fiction Editing, goes into much more detail.

 Come and join us – and make the switch! Visit to learn more.

Sophie Playle runs Liminal Pages (, where she offers editing to authors and training to editors of fiction. She’s a Professional Member of the SfEP and often packs her laptop into a rucksack to run her business while traipsing around Europe.


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What is prosopagnosia and how does it affect the self-employed person?

Cartoon expressing the experience of prosopagnosiaI read an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper this week about prosopagnosia (or “face blindness”).This is a condition I suffer from (not in the most severe way, but it does affect my life – and my business life), and I haven’t found much else about prosopagnosia and the businessperson. So, I thought it might be useful to share some information about what it is, how it affects me, as an example, and some coping strategies I’ve worked out for it. I would love other prosopagnosics to share their experiences and solutions, too, and I have added links to some useful resources at the end.

I know this is a long piece, but I didn’t want to be all teaser-ish and leave the coping strategies to another blog post. Feel free to jump down to those, though, if you want to!

What is prosopagnosia?

Prosopagnosia is also known as face-blindness, and this key term really explains what it is. Someone with the condition can see another person’s face OK: they can usually identify it as a face. What they can’t do is recognise who it is, tell the difference between similar-looking people, recognise familiar people in a different context, etc. In severe cases, people can even be unable to recognise their own family members, in whatever context, apart from knowing “If it’s a man in my house, it’s likely to be my husband”. Many prosopagnosics have complicated workarounds to help them to recognise people – their gait, glasses, common items of clothing – but this isn’t always fail-safe.

A side-effect of this can be an inability to distinguish expressions and emotions on people’s faces.

Where does it come from? You can pick up prosopagnosia from a brain injury or stroke, but most people acquire it as what the experts call a ‘developmental disorder’, i.e. it’s a connection that doesn’t get made at the right time when your brain is developing in early childhood.

It can be really distressing to be like this. I’m a reasonably friendly and warm person who likes to help other people. I have a horror of offending people or being rude. How horrendous to find out that you’ve repeatedly blanked someone in the street or to ask someone what they do, only to see a shocked expression and realise that they told you all about their business last time you met.

There’s lots of information and the scientific stuff on a handy University of Bournemouth website.

My experience with prosopagnosia

I didn’t know I was prosopagnosic for years – but I discovered the term in my 30s and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. It was “A Thing”. I wasn’t just weird (well, not in that way, anyway). Other people had it!

I don’t have the most severe form of the condition. I can usually recognise family members and close friends. But it’s not like that thing where you know you know someone but can’t remember their name. I will see someone I spoke to last week – yesterday, even – and if they’ve not “taken” in my mind, I will not have any idea that I’ve ever met them before. Until they walk up to me, know my name, and know things about me, that is.

experience of prosopagnosiaSo, I have trouble recognising people or knowing that I’ve ever seen them before. I will walk past people I know quite well. I have developed coping strategies – I joke that I got together with my husband because he had a distinctive hairline (he had a widow’s peak, not some weird curlicue business) and a goatee and has a distinctive gait. This is only partly true. But I do get very discombobulated when he changes his beard, and I am well-known among my friends at parkrun for having real trouble picking him out in a crowd of runners – even if he has his special hat on.

I’m also not good when watching new TV programmes with lots of people (Strictly Come Dancing can be difficult in the early weeks), such as soaps and reality shows. This sounds funny, but it can REALLY annoy the person you’re watching with. I am known for mixing up pairs of people who I genuinely think are the same person (Matthew Broderick and John Cusack for example). They may not look identical to you, but if they have similar coloured hair and body shape, they’re the same person to me.

I don’t THINK I pick friends based on them having very definite looks or features, but I wouldn’t put it past me. I know I recognised one friend from her shoes rather than her face or hair when I saw her on the high street once (phew, got away with it).

Two things that I find particularly difficult are:

  • Changes in context. Give me someone from running club in running kit on club night or, within reason, in normal clothes and a similar hairstyle, volunteering at parkrun and I’m fine. Present them to me on the high street, in town, on a train, at the airport – not so much. I met someone in the gym the other day who recognised me from one meeting, when I scanned her barcode at parkrun a few weeks before. She knew she knew me from somewhere – not something that I’d manage to achieve!
  • Changes in look. I am constantly amazed that someone I know from said running club can recognise me not in flourescent gear and with my hair down rather than in bunches. To me, that’s a different person, someone I don’t know. How do they do that?

I’ve actually reached a point where I just explain it to new people I meet who I might meet again. I didn’t do this when I started networking for business, and I really wish I had. I certainly remember asking a “new woman I’d never met before” her name and being horrified to realise I’d met her twice before, and had quite long conversations with her. I wish I’d explained my condition then, and I will be sharing this post with her!

The good news: I do eventually get used to people and recognise them pretty well immediately – but it takes more meetings than it will for the average person. I’m also quite good at telling identical twins apart, maybe because I’m used to doing the checking of extra details that non-prosopagnosics don’t have to worry about.

Prosopagnosia and business / self-employment

Business revolves around recognising people. Even if you craftily have a job where you don’t have to deal with your clients face to face (hello, editing and transcription!), you tend to end up doing events, going to networking, etc. All of that can be a minefield. It’s all about who you know, and meeting, liking and trusting people – difficult if the person you’re speaking to seems to think they’ve never met you before when you had an in-depth conversation about widgets last time you met.

If you’re an introvert, by the way, this can make business encounters and networking even more exhausting than they already are!

I’m going to share some coping strategies that I’ve used in my business life (or should have used sooner). If you have this issue, too, I would LOVE you to share your experiences and coping strategies in the comments below!

Coping strategies for the business owner or businessperson with prosopagnosia

Tip 1: Be honest about it

I really wish I’d always done this. When I meet new people who I might meet again, I now pretty well always say, “Just to let you know, I have a condition called prosopagnosia, or face-blindness, which means that I have trouble recognising people. If you see me out and about, please come and say hello and remind me who you are!” It breaks the ice a bit, and I’ve not found anyone so far who’s reacted badly to this (why would they? Would you want to meet someone who did react badly again?)

Tip 2: Use the features of networking to your advantage

Networking events often feature badges and usually feature business cards. Hooray! You can at least make a note of people’s names and check their badges next time. I am good at recognising words and so I’ll commonly collect business cards from people I’ve met, then look out for those names next time. If you can’t read the badge from a distance, make a conversation about it: “Oops, my badge is peeling off,” “Where did you get your name badge from?” (this one only works at the beginning, obviously). Moving around the event and re-meeting people, a quick glance at the badge will reassure you as to whether you’ve met them before.

Tip 3: For one-off events with a lot of circulating, concentrate on a non-facial feature

If you’re at a one-day conference or training day, people aren’t likely to change too much. If you know you’re not good with faces, concentrate on earrings, unusual shoes, an e-watch – any clue that you can pick up that will help you to match the person to someone you know when they come around again (you probably already do this, but just in case).

Tip 4: Try to have a role at events

Weirdly, having a role that means lots of people talk to you can make it easier. They probably won’t expect you to recognise them, so if someone’s chasing up their gluten-free lunch, they’re likely to say so, meaning you can context-match and have the appropriate conversation.

Tip 5: When you’re having a meeting, turn up first

If you’re already in the meeting place, perhaps sitting down in an open and friendly position but looking at your phone or gazing calmly around you, it’s much more likely that the other person will come to you. If a different person you know, nothing to do with the meeting, just happens to come in, you’re just going to have to hope they have very different attributes (different gender, age, etc.) to the person you’re meeting – but I’ve never had a mix-up.

This one works for dates and meeting up with a new friend, too.

Tip 6: Be super-friendly

If you can manage to be super-friendly and approachable with a “Hi, how are you?” you can often pick up hints as to whether the other person already knows you from their answer.

Tip 7: Have a friend with you

If you know you’re going to be doing a regular event, volunteering session etc. there’s no shame in enlisting the help of a friend. I try to take my husband when I’m meeting people at the railway station (so many faces!) and pal up with a known person who can give me clues and cues when I can.

Tip 8: Do a job where you can hide the prosopagnosia

My job, as I mentioned above, doesn’t involve me being face to face with clients. I really do not know how I’d do that, actually. If you do have that kind of role and this condition, I really would like to know how you manage, as it will help other people (pop a comment below or get in touch if you’d rather be anonymous). You can use the tips above to work out who people are, and if you have regular customers, you will start to recognise them in time. How do waiters and teachers manage it, I wonder?

Dealing with prosopagnosics

If you meet one of us and you know (because we’ve told you) or suspect that we are prosopagnosic, please bear with us! We do not mean to be rude! Of course, I’m better at recognising (ha ha) this in other people, and I have managed to reassure and inform a couple of people that it’s not them, it is A Thing, but if someone fails to recognise you a few times, reintroduces themselves to you when you think they know who you are, or has to ask your name when they’re ticking you off a list and they’ve met you a few times before, chances are they’ll have a touch of prosopagnosia.

Top tips for dealing with someone with prosopagnosia:

  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Do introduce yourself, just “Hi, it’s Liz the slow runner, we met at the back of the pack at last week’s run” will work wonders.
  • Don’t think they’re stupid, it’s just one aspect of them. We all have blind spots. I’m really good at recognising voices, for example.
  • Don’t suddenly grow a beard or dye your hair without warning them (that’s a bit of a joke of course, but if you’re close to a prosopagnosic, it’s best to warn them of any major changes in appearance coming up, and remind them afterwards).
  • If they ask you who someone is, or to help them spot their husband in a crowd – again – don’t sigh with exasperation, just try to help.


I hope this has helped anyone with prosopagnosia feel less alone. If you want to get in touch with me about it, feel free to do so via my contact form.

The Guardian article explains things very clearly and easily, with good examples.

If you think you have prosopagnosia, the Cambridge Face Recognition Test (CFRT) is the one to take.

Face Blind UK is an organisation dedicated to raising awareness and providing support

The prosopagnosia website is a bit more formal but ever so useful, and there’s a discussion forum, too!

And as I said, if you have anything to add or any help you can give or stories to share, please comment below. And if you know anyone this article might help, please share it using the sharing buttons below. Thank you!

PS: This was quite a difficult article and image that I wanted to get right. Thank you to the people who helped me out!


Posted by on October 8, 2015 in Business, Prosopagnosia, Skillset


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What to do in 6 common freelance crisis situations

To do listsOh, the freelance life is one that’s full of peaks and troughs, feasts and famines. I’ve already written about how to avoid running out of work and how to avoid overwhelm, and in this article I’m going to run through some common crises and my top tips on how best to cope with them.

I’ve been through all of these in my time … I’d love to know if you have more coping ideas, so please pop a comment at the end if you’ve got something to add!

Notehere are a few links in this article – all of them are to other content that I’ve posted on this blog, so you can click through safely and happily for more information.

What do I do when I’ve got no work to do?

If you’ve got no work to do – don’t panic! It will probably be temporary

What can I do now?

  • Take a deep breath and embrace the fact that you’ve got some down time
  • Make a list of admin tasks you’ve always meant to do
  • Do some brainstorming on some job searching you can do, whether that’s networking, looking for some jobs on Twitter or joining some free sites (see more on how to find freelance jobs in this article)
  • Spend a third of your time doing admin, a third marketing yourself and a third taking a little time to do some things for yourself

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • Consider new avenues of work – diversify
  • Let people know you’re available – including customers you’ve worked with before
  • Keep a note of the ups and downs in your business – if they follow a nice predictable yearly cycle, you can plan holidays and downtime for the low points and hard work for the high points

Tips to avoid running out of work can be found in this article.

What do I do when I’ve got too much work?

Having too much work can be a bit scary. Again, don’t panic. Make lists, be super-organised – you CAN do it!

What can I do now?

  • Don’t panic – take a deep breath and plan instead of panicking
  • Write a list of the tasks you have, their due dates and how long you think they’ll take (better, draw them out on a Gantt chart or calendar)
  • Make a priority list – what must be done first?
  • If you really CANNOT do it all …
    • See if you can rearrange any deadlines
    • See if you can get a colleague to take on any of the tasks
  • Work through your jobs in priority order

Tips on what to do when you’ve got too much work can be found in this article.

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • Find a colleague to work with and make an arrangement to cover each other’s work
  • Look through your client list and see if there are any clients who make your schedule difficult – then see if you can work things out or pass them on to someone else
  • Learn to say no!

What do I do when I’ve made a mistake?

We all make mistakes. All of us. Just the other day, I didn’t pick up on a duplicated word in a text. Most clients should understand that little mistakes come with the territory. Big mistakes need a big apology.

What can I do now?

  • Own up and accept responsibility – don’t fudge or blame other people or things
  • If there IS a reason (e.g. your sewing machine broke or you ran out of thread; your computer crashed and you lost a chunk of the spreadsheet) explain it briefly
  • Offer to make it right – whether that’s doing the work again or reimbursing / not charging your client (see the section below, though)
  • Explain concisely how you will prevent that mistake happening again
  • Forgive yourself and try to move on – better to admit a mistake, redress it and move on and give that customer a chance to forgive you than to hide it all, dwell on it and get in a state

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • If you know what caused the mistake, make a wholehearted attempt to remove that cause from your work life
  • If it was human error down to tiredness / lack of a cuppa / bringing a bad mood from your home life to your work, make a wholehearted attempt to recognise that and work to avoid it in future
  • Accept that everyone does make mistakes sometimes, and move on

What can I do when the customer doesn’t like what I’ve done?

This usually happens with the more creative industries like writing or making craft items for people. It’s a tricky one, but these points might help.

What can I do now?

  • Ask the client for as many details as you can – it might be a minor point that they don’t like
  • Offer to redress the issues – if it’s something I’ve written, I will do a rewrite (although see below, this is included in my Terms and Conditions)
  • If the client has already paid, offer a refund unless this is discussed in your terms and conditions
  • Personally, I’d say the client is always right and apologise / refund / replace graciously as this gives a much better impression than messing them around

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • Make sure that your Terms and Conditions cover this eventuality
  • Firm up the way you do the initial discussion with the client – can you use a tick-sheet or prepare a sketch that they agree on before you start working?
  • You could include x number of rewrites / alterations in your Ts and Cs if you offer graphic design or writing, for example
  • If you make craft items, you could send a photograph of the completed item before sending it off and taking payment
  • Build up a library of items that you’ve made or created so your customer has more to work from when telling you what they want

What do I do when I’m going to miss a deadline?

Everyone misses a deadline every now and again. It’s horrible and sick-feeling inducing, but sometimes things are beyond our control. If there is a genuine emergency, your clients will understand. If it’s down to too much work, also have a look at the section above on that topic.

What can I do now?

  • Be honest and contact your client as soon as possible – this is easier if it’s a sudden emergency than if you’ve got behind
  • Offer an alternative deadline or colleague who can do the work (don’t just send the work to a colleague – do it openly and keep the client informed)
  • Apologise and explain how it won’t happen again very briefly – allow your client time to reschedule the work

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • If it’s down to overwork, review the section on how to cope with too much work above – if you’re missing deadlines and nothing’s actually wrong with you, that’s too much work
  • Cultivate good and honest relationships with regular clients – that way, they’ll stand by you if you have a sudden illness or emergency
  • Enlist a colleague to cover your work if you’re taken ill or otherwise occupied (this is good practice anyway)

You can read more about what happens when you have to cancel a job in this article, which I wrote just after I experienced a sudden and temporarily debilitating bout of flu.

What can I do when it’s All Too Much?

You know what? Sometimes it is just All Too Much running your own business, being freelance. Sometimes you’re in a bad mood, there’s a fly in the room, all your customers seem to loathe you or have impossible demands and you’re finding it all boring. You’ve probably got a cold, too. Is that you?

What can I do now?

  • Stop – if you can possibly stop – stop
  • Even if it’s for half an hour or ten minutes, do one of these things:
    • Go outside and walk around
    • Do some brisk walking or vigorous exercise
    • Read your book
    • Have a bath
    • Phone a friend
    • Rant and rave IN PRIVATE for example with a friend on Facebook messenger or in a private group you might have set up for that purpose
    • Another thing that you like to do that centres and calms you
  • If you only have 10 minutes to deal with hating your life right now, step away from your desk / workbench / stall and do some calm, deep breathing, imagine your happy place, centre yourself and relax
  • Give yourself a little treat
  • Try not to discuss this in public or anywhere where your customers might be – you never know who might be looking, and who might have been just about to book your services

What can I do to stop this happening?

  • Learn to say no so you don’t get overwhelmed
  • Take regular breaks during the day AND regular days off
  • Don’t work late into every evening and over every weekend
  • Have a serious think about how you can redress your work-life balance, because that’s what this is all about – then do it
  • Cultivate a group of like-minded business people or people in your area of work or geographical area and talk to them – you’d be surprised to find that everyone feels like this sometimes

I hope these ideas will help you when you have one of these common crises. Why not bookmark this article or select your most common crisis, print it out and pop it on your noticeboard!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please use the sharing buttons below to share it on your social media platforms. Thank you!

Related posts on this blog

How do I cope with the ups and downs of the freelance life 1: when the work dries up

How do I cope with the ups and downs of the freelance life 2: when there’s too much work

Top ten tips for freelancers

How do I get freelance work?

How to decide who to work with

How to turn a new customer into a regular customer

What’s the best mix of customers to have?

How to make more money in your freelance business

When should I say no?


Posted by on June 25, 2015 in Business, Organisation, Skillset


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