An American Editor

July 2, 2018

PerfectIt Now Offers Long-awaited Mac Version — 10 Questions Editors are Asking about PerfectIt Cloud

Daniel Heuman

This one actually goes to 11!

1. What is the fuss about?

Up until now, PerfectIt has only been available for PC users. With PerfectIt Cloud, Mac and iPad users can finally run it. That matters because PerfectIt speeds up mundane and distracting copyediting work so you can focus on substantive editing. It finds consistency errors and other difficult-to-locate errors that even the most eagle-eyed editor can sometimes miss. When time is limited (and it is always limited if editing is your business), PerfectIt gives you the assurance that you’re delivering the best text you possibly can.

2. Why would I spend money on PerfectIt when I can find every mistake that it can on my own?

Because PerfectIt will save you time and back up your skills. It’s true that every single mistake that PerfectIt finds can be found manually. You can make sure that every use of hyphenation, capitalization and italics is consistent. You can make sure every abbreviation is defined and that the definition appears on first use. You can check every list to make sure it is punctuated and capitalized consistently. You can make sure every table, box and figure is labeled in the right order. You can check that every heading is capitalized according to the same rules as every other heading at that level, or you can get software to find those mistakes faster so you can do the work that no software can do: improve the words used and the meaning communicated. That software is PerfectIt.

3. How much time does PerfectIt really save?

The time saving depends on how you edit. Editors who read through a text multiple times will find that they don’t need to read through as many times. That time saving is massive. Other editors find that they spend the same amount of time as they used to, but they deliver a better document.

4. Does PerfectIt work with fiction or nonfiction projects?

PerfectIt can be used on works of both fiction and nonfiction. It’s used on reports, proposals, articles, books, novels, briefs, memos, agreements, and more.

5. Does PerfectIt work with British, Canadian, Australian, or American English?

PerfectIt is international. It works with all of the above. It is primarily a consistency checker, so it won’t duplicate the functions of a spelling checker. Instead, it will spot inconsistencies in language — it won’t suggest that either “organize”’ or “organize” is wrong, but if they appear in the same document, it will suggest that’s probably a mistake.

PerfectIt also comes with built-in styles for UK, US, Canadian, and Australian spelling, so you can switch it to enforce preferences.

6. What do I need to run PerfectIt?

PerfectIt is intuitive and easy to use. It doesn’t require any training. You can see how it works in our demo video. To run PerfectIt Cloud, you just need a Mac, PC, or iPad with Office 2016 and an Internet connection.

7. When should I run PerfectIt?

The majority of editors run PerfectIt as a final check because it acts as a second set of eyes, finding anything that slipped by on a full read-through. Running it at the end of a project also acts as a check against the editor to make sure that no consistency mistakes are introduced during the edit (an easy but terrible mistake to make).

Some editors prefer to run PerfectIt at the beginning of an assignment. That clears up a lot of timewasting edits at the outset. It also helps the editor get a quick feel for the document, what kind of state it’s in, and what issues to look out for.

Everyone works their own way, and some editors find it’s even best to run PerfectIt both at the start and the end of a manuscript.

8. How much is it?

PerfectIt Cloud costs $70 per year. However, members of professional editing societies around the world can purchase at the discounted rate of $49 per year. Independent editors are the foundation of this business. Their feedback and support has driven the product and we hope the permanently discounted rate makes clear how important that is to us.

That price includes all upgrades and support, and it lets you run PerfectIt on multiple devices, so you can run it on both your main computer and iPad with one license.

9. I have the PC version — should I upgrade?

If your main computer is a PC and you already have PerfectIt, then we are not encouraging you to upgrade. In fact, even though PerfectIt Cloud looks a lot nicer and is easier to use, it doesn’t yet have some of the features that the PC version has. For example, it has built-in styles (such as American Legal Style), but it does not have options for customizing styles. It also doesn’t have the ability to check footnotes. We’re working to improve all of those aspects, but we are dependent on Microsoft for some changes. As a result, it will take time to give PerfectIt Cloud all of the features that the PC version has. Our first priority is PerfectIt 4 (due at the end of this year), which will bring a variety of new features to both versions.

That said, if your main computer is a Mac and you only have a Windows machine to run PerfectIt, then it is probably worth upgrading. The differences are relatively small compared to the pain of maintaining a separate computer.

10. I have to upgrade Office to use PerfectIt. Should I get the subscription or single purchase?

Get the subscription. Definitely get the subscription! Not only is it cheaper, but Office 2019 will arrive this fall. If you have the subscription, that upgrade is included.

11. It’s a first release, so is the software still buggy?

We’ve been beta testing PerfectIt Cloud for more than six months with editors from around the world, so it is tested and solid, and the number of bugs is minimal. The probability is that you won’t find any bugs at all. However, no amount of beta testing can fully prepare software for the real world, and there are a few things we still want to improve, so if you purchase before July 10, 2018, your entire first month is free while we put finishing touches on the product and eliminate the remaining bugs. To take advantage of the special offer, click this link.

Daniel Heuman is the creator of PerfectIt and the CEO and founder of Intelligent Editing. His software is used by thousands of editors around the world. Members of professional editing societies can get a 30% discount on PerfectIt here.

August 3, 2015

Numbers in Sentences: Customizing PerfectIt to Find What You Want

by Daniel Heuman

PerfectIt’s test of numbers in sentences generates more questions from customers than any of PerfectIt’s other tests. Here are some (anonymized) questions that users have sent:

“When assessing inconsistencies in how numbers are handled, PerfectIt finds, say, 4 instances, when there are 10 it should have found.”

“My version of PerfectIt isn’t finding numbers. Is there a fix?”

“Why is PerfectIt missing the number ‘2’ in a sentence?”

What do all these queries have in common? They all assume that PerfectIt’s test of numbers in sentences should find every number in a document. But PerfectIt doesn’t work that way. To understand why, it helps to explain the philosophy behind PerfectIt.

How PerfectIt Works

PerfectIt is an add-in for MS Word. It checks documents in one of two ways:

  • It looks for inconsistencies. For example, if the number 3 appears in numerals in one sentence, but the number four is spelled out in another sentence, that’s an inconsistency.
  • It can be set to check user preferences. For example, you can set it to make sure that all numbers over 20 appear in numerals.

By default, PerfectIt checks consistency in three separate groups: 1-10, 11-20, and 21-100. PerfectIt checks for inconsistency within those groups, but not between them. So, for example, it would check if the numbers 1 through 10 appear in numerals and spelled out. It would not compare the appearance of the number 4 to the number 16 since those are in separate groups. Some style guides work 0-9, 10-19, and 20-99, so you can also set PerfectIt to look at those groups instead. In any case, PerfectIt goes through and alerts you to any inconsistencies. It shows each location and suggests one is likely to be wrong (leaving you to decide which).

If you set PerfectIt to enforce a preference, you can set the preference for each of the groups (1-10, 11-20 and 21-100). So, for example, you could set the numbers 0 to 9 to appear spelled out, then the numbers 10 to 19 and 20 to 99 could be set to numerals. PerfectIt will then go through and alert you to any instances that do not conform to that preference (and you can decide which to change). This video explains how to set those preferences.

What PerfectIt Finds

So going back to the users’ questions, the first thing to understand is that PerfectIt tests for numbers in sentences (not numbers in other parts of the document). If you want to find all numbers in a document, you can do that with Word’s wildcards (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: Wildcarding for Dollars). PerfectIt, on the other hand, specifically focuses on numbers in sentences.

So let’s say we set PerfectIt to spell out numbers less than 20. With that preference, how many numbers would you expect PerfectIt to find in this paragraph?

As described in Chapter 4, we started our work in 1996 when we were just 18 years old. Since then, a simple experiment that takes only 7 seconds has been copied by over 3 million people.

What do you think? There are four numbers under 20, so should PerfectIt find all four and suggest spelling them out? The answer is none. PerfectIt doesn’t alert you to numbers in sentences that it “thinks” are intended to be that way. So it won’t check numbers following the word “Chapter.” It won’t check numbers that indicate someone’s age. It won’t check measurements. And it won’t check numbers before the word “million” or “billion.”

Before you write us a letter of complaint (we’ve had several about this), think about the advantages of that functionality. Why should PerfectIt show every number? If that’s what you want, you can do that with Word’s wildcards (the pattern to search for is “<[0-9]{1,}>”). But showing every number would slow users down. More importantly, the more false positives that PerfectIt displays, the more likely it is that users will skip results. So focusing on locations that are most likely to be errors is how good software should work.

Fine-Tuning PerfectIt

Not everyone works the same way. So with all the queries around this test, we decided to change things in PerfectIt 3. PerfectIt 3 gives users the ability to fine-tune the test of numbers in sentences to work in exactly the way the user wants.

The figure below shows the Fine-Tuning tab of PerfectIt’s style sheet editor (double-click on image to enlarge it). It gives four new options for customizing how PerfectIt treats numbers in this test.

PerfectIt Style Sheet Editor

PerfectIt Style Sheet Editor

The four new options are:

  • Skip Numbers Followed By: This is the list of words that PerfectIt will look at after each number. If any of these words appear, then that number will be skipped by PerfectIt. Each word is separated by the “|” symbol (as seen in the image). You can add words, take individual words out or even take all the words out.
  • Skip Numbers Preceded By: This is identical to the list of words after numbers, but it’s the list that PerfectIt will check that appear before numbers.
  • Skip Numbers Joined By: Because numerals are usually used for comparisons and ranges, PerfectIt skips instances such as “between 3 and 4.” It does that based on the word in between the two numbers. You can change, add to, or remove those in-between words.
  • Skip Extra Words Found Preceding Numbers: PerfectIt looks for words like “Chapter” that often precede numbers. It also scans for other words that frequently appear before numbers and attempts to automatically figure out what those words are (even if they are not listed above). Tick this box if you want it to look for similar words; untick it if you don’t.

With these options, you can set PerfectIt to find as many (or as few) matches as you want. But remember, just because you can fine-tune PerfectIt, it doesn’t mean that you have to! These are features that we added for the small minority who want to alter these settings. For everyone else, the best approach is not to even look at these settings. It just helps to understand what PerfectIt will find (and what it won’t).

Learning More

There are lots of other tests that you can customize in PerfectIt, and our series of video tutorials covers all of them.

Daniel Heuman is the founder and CEO of Intelligent Editing, and the author of PerfectIt. If you have a PC with MS Word, you can get a 30-day free trial of PerfectIt from Intelligent Editing.


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September 1, 2014

On the Basics: Thou Shall Behave Ethically — A 4th Commandment for Editors

Thou Shall Behave Ethically —
A 4th Commandment for Editors

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

Recent discussions of ethics for editors here and elsewhere have inspired the concept of a fourth commandment:

Thou shall behave ethically.

To have an ethical editing business, it helps to understand two definitions of ethics. As Rich Adin has noted (see The Business of Editing: An Editorial Code of Professional Responsibility), one is “the rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession” and another is “the study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy” (vide American Heritage Dictionary).

I see being an ethical editor as somewhat of a combination of the two. I have rules for how I conduct my business — rules that I think can or should apply to any editor who wants to be seen as both professional and ethical — and I have a philosophy grounded in a moral code. That code is based on honesty: being honest about my skills, qualifications, availability, fees, and business model, and being honest with clients about their projects. It’s based on competency — I see competency and ethicality as complementary.

To me, being an ethical editor starts with presenting oneself as an editor, freelance or in-house, only if one has a level of training and experience that can support the claim to being able to do this kind of work. Far too many people nowadays are hanging out shingles or applying for jobs as editors (among other professions) who have no such training or experience. That puts authors and other clients at a serious disadvantage — they are often trusting their work to the hands of untrustworthy editors, and don’t know enough about publishing (or editing) to know the difference.

Granted, many of us start out in editing without much formal training. We learn on the job at publications, or we become editors because we’re the only people in the company who care about good grammar, correct spelling and punctuation, proper usage, and other aspects of ensuring that written material is clear, coherent, consistent, cogent, and whatever other c-words colleagues can come up with to describe well-written documents.

We find a deep-seated love of language, of words, of making clunky material into something readable and usable, even beautiful. We move on from there, sometimes getting additional formal training; sometimes learning from more-experienced colleagues; sometimes developing self-study mechanisms. If we really care about what has become our trade, we look for ways to continually hone our skills and become ever better at what we do. That, to me, is a hallmark of an ethical editor.

It probably should be noted that a skilled editor is not the same as an ethical one, although I like to think that a truly ethical editor is also a skilled one. Someone can have topnotch editing skills and still be unethical — charging for time not spent on a client’s project is probably the most common violation of an ethical code. An honest or ethical editor is one who doesn’t inflate or outright lie about skills and competency.

One of the most important aspects of an ethical editing business is to only charge for the work the editor actually does. If a project is based on a flat fee and the client doesn’t care how long it takes to do the work, it is ethical to charge the full fee, even if it takes less time to finish than expected. However, if the fee is based on an hourly rate, it is dishonest and unethical to charge for more time than one works. If a project is budgeted for 50 hours at $50/hour but it only takes 40 hours to complete the job, the ethical thing to do is to charge the client for only those 40 hours. Such honesty — or ethicality, if you prefer — is not only the right thing to do, even if it means losing a few dollars, but usually works in the editor’s favor over the long term, because it establishes an honest relationship with the client, who is more likely to trust such an editor and thus use that editor again.

An ethical editor knows and uses the standard tools of our profession. We don’t make up rules to suit ourselves or reinforce our own assumptions. Among other things, we learn and internalize the accepted rules of grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling. We identify and use the appropriate style manuals for the sector(s) in which we work — the Chicago Manual of Style for book and much magazine publishing; the Associated Press Stylebook for journalism; the Government Printing Office manual for government-agency projects; the American Psychological Association manual for much of academic publishing; the Merck Index, Dorland’s, or, perhaps, American Medical Association manual for medical publications; etc. We have the leading dictionaries on our bookshelves and/or computers.

Of course, someone starting an editing career is unlikely to know any given style manual inside-out; that’s why it helps to work in-house in a professional environment. The ethical editor lets a prospective employer or client know his or her experience level and if  the editor is new enough to the field to still be learning the essentials of whatever manual the employer or client expects the editor to use. Some may think that such honesty will mean losing out on jobs, but we all have to start somewhere, and employers and clients understand that.

Along the same lines, an ethical editor stocks his or her bookcase with guides to grammar, because none of us can claim to be perfect. We’re all likely to have grammar gremlins or simply need the occasional refresher to make sure any changes we make are justified. If nothing else, we may need a reference at hand to support a proposed change with a client who needs to see a reason for everything done to a document beyond “I can’t explain why, but I know this was wrong and that my version is right.” Editors aren’t parents; we can’t get away with “Because I said so.”

Because an ethical editor believes in continually honing skills and knowing when to consult appropriate resources. We invest in the current versions of the appropriate manuals — often, we have more than one on our bookshelves — and learn as much as we can about them. For when the right choice doesn’t leap to mind, we subscribe to online versions of those manuals so we can check or verify our decisions. Beyond those tools, we learn (sometimes even establish) in-house preferences, since a publication, publisher, organization, or company can use one of the standard manuals as a starting point, but go its own way on some details.

We also wait until we know how to use the technical, as well as the academic, tools of our trade before inflicting ourselves on employers or clients. That is, we learn at least the basics of using Word and, in some environments Framemaker, Excel, Acrobat, InCopy, etc.

An ethical editor also stays current on language trends. Language evolves and changes constantly. An ethical editor knows to find ways to pick up on when new words enter the lexicon and existing ones change (just think of the country names that no longer include “the”), through reading and interacting with colleagues.

An ethical editor is connected with trustworthy colleagues and resources to ensure that she or he understands the nature of the work and sees information about new trends or changes in language, editing techniques and tools, useful resources, and other aspects of being effective and professional. (Interacting with unethical or dishonest editors could make an ethical editor turn into an unethical one, but I find that unlikely.)

Similarly to members of the medical profession, the ethical editor “first does no harm.” It is the role of the editor to enhance, clarify, and convey the author’s or client’s voice, not to rewrite the work in the editor’s voice or from the editor’s point of view. This also relates to being trained and experienced in grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, etc. — doing no harm means not trying to fix clients’ material based on inadequate skills and knowledge, because that would mean both introducing errors and missing problems a skilled editor would be expected to recognize and fix.

Another important element to being an ethical editor is to incorporate clear communication with clients into our business practices and processes. That means letting clients know how we will work on their projects, what the fee will be, that we will meet their deadlines, and if there are problems that affect how and whether the editor can do the work and still meet those deadlines. It means asking questions rather than making assumptions, and keeping the client informed along the way.

The ethical editor does not do certain kinds of projects — writing a thesis or dissertation for someone, for instance, no matter how tempting the fee. An ethical editor may develop a kind of radar for material that doesn’t “fit” and should learn how to use antiplagiarism tools on behalf of clients such as book publishers and journals. An ethical editor also doesn’t do the client’s writing.

An ethical editor learns the differences between various levels of editing and between editing and proofreading, how to educate clients on what those differences are, and how to provide the services a project needs. For many reasons, both a lot of prospective clients and some colleagues have no idea that there’s a difference between copyediting and substantive or developmental editing, or between any type of editing and proofreading. Some clients are trying to get higher-level skills at lower-level fees or wages; others are truly ignorant of the difference. Either way, the ethical editor speaks up.

Being an ethical editor boils down to being honest about all aspects of one’s work process, skills, and presence in the field. To hold up your head and be a success in our profession,

Thou shall behave ethically.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

August 25, 2014

The Practical Editor: What You Need to Know to Edit Fiction

What You Need to Know to Edit Fiction

by Erin Brenner

A copyediting student asked me recently how she could learn to edit fiction. The copyediting and copyediting certificate program I teach in covers basic and intermediate skills of copyediting. While it’s a good program, it doesn’t cover everything (no program could). Hence, my student’s question on what to do next.

To specialize in editing any subject, you should have a good grasp of that subject. I participated in a Twitter discussion lately on how much you have to know to copyedit a subject intelligently. We didn’t conclude anything, but we generally agreed that you have to know something about the subject to edit it.

What I know about fiction, I learned in obtaining my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature. At this point, a lot of it comes naturally to me, so I had to do some research on what resources were out there and what other editors did with fiction manuscripts.

Disappointingly, there aren’t many training tools (an opportunity for someone, surely!) and of those out there, few seem to distinguish genre fiction (science fiction, romance, mystery, etc.) from literary fiction (everything else). Naturally, if you want to edit genre fiction, you want to be familiar with the specifics of the genre, as well.

Here’s what I gathered.

Developmental Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Generally speaking, a developmental editor works with the manuscript’s structure, either before the author has written the book (common in nonfiction) or after (common in fiction). It’s the big-picture view.

As a developmental editor, you’re looking for structural and organizational problems. You’re judging whether the author’s concept or theme works throughout the manuscript. Is the structure logical and appropriate? You’re looking at the author’s voice closely: Is it consistent? Appropriate for the story and audience? You’re also looking for sections that don’t work, whether they ramble on or are starved for detail.

Beyond that, you need to look at the various elements of the fiction work:

  • Plot. Does the plot make sense? Does it hold together? Are there any holes?
  • Timeline and events. Is the timeline logical and believable? Do events advance the plot? Build character? Are there any events that don’t add to the story in some way?
  • Setting. Is the setting appropriate for the story? Does it enrich the story or seem at odds with it?
  • Pacing. Different stories have different speeds. Does the pacing here seem to drag? Move too quickly?
  • Characters. Are the characters well-formed and believable? Do they grow, as real people do? How well do characters interact with each other?
  • Dialogue. Does the dialogue match the character? Does it seem believable? Move the plot along? Is there any dialogue that seems mismatched in some way?

Though it doesn’t deal with fiction in particular, Developmental Editing by Scott Norton is the go-to resource for editors wanting to do this type of editing. The Author-Editor Clinic offers online courses in developmental editing for fiction and creative nonfiction.

For fiction in particular, try resources for about literature itself: themes, models, symbols, archetypes, and so on. One promising book (which I haven’t read) is How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. It appears to have a good overview that would give editors a working understanding of general fiction. (If you read it, let me know what you think of it.)

If you’re up for a challenge and really want to dig into literature, check out the works of Joseph Campbell and The Nature of Narrative by Robert Scholes, James Phelan, and Robert Kellogg.

Midlevel Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Any time you define editing stages, someone else will have different definitions. One editor’s developmental editing is another’s structural editing. A third editor might see structural and line editing as the same stage, with developmental being its own stage.

Whatever you call this stage that comes between developmental and copyediting, you’ll be doing a line-by-line edit of many of the tasks in the developmental edit. You’ll also look at flow, usage, and sometimes language mechanics.

I couldn’t find any resources for this specific stage of fiction editing. (If you know of any, please share them in the comments.) A trained editor could pick up the skills necessary from a developmental fiction editing resource, I’d wager.

Copyediting Fiction Editing Tasks and Resources

Copyeditors look at the word and sentence level of a manuscript. Grammar, usage, spelling, and style are all concerns here. So are logic, consistencies, and basic facts.

To copyedit fiction, you should be familiar with some of the basics of story structure, story elements, and character building so that you can edit without harming the story. You need to be alert for continuity issues (e.g., changes in character descriptions) and plausibility. If the story is set in present day, the details should be right. If it’s set in the future or on another planet, the world should follow the rules the author set up. Keep an eye out for possible trademark and copyright issues, too.

Editcetera has a correspondence course on copyediting fiction, and at Copyediting we’ve covered fiction editing in a couple of ways:

  • A fiction-editing audio conference with Amy Schneider. For those who don’t know, Amy works as a freelance copyeditor for the big publisher, and authors regularly request her (translation: she really knows her stuff).
  • The April-May 2013 issue of the Copyediting newsletter. This issue contains several articles on fiction editing, including one by Amy on the style sheet she developed for editing fiction. I’ve used the style sheet; it’s fantastic.

As I said at the beginning, a lot of what I know about fiction I internalized a long time ago. What other tasks do you think are particular to fiction editing? What resources do you use to obtain the skills necessary? Share your thoughts below!

(Starting in September, you can read more about fiction editing in Amy Schneider’s monthly column.—AAE.)

Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.

August 18, 2014

Lyonizing Word: Let’s Go Spelunking

 Let’s Go Spelunking

by Jack Lyon

Spelunking is the recreational pastime of exploring caves. It’s a dark and dangerous hobby, an extreme sport for those who are confident in their ability to climb, navigate, and even swim (there’s usually water down there).

I try to avoid such hazards, but I’m not afraid to explore some of the deeper reaches of a computer program — Microsoft Word, for example. That’s one reason I know quite a bit about that particular program. Some of my friends, however, seem terrified of making a “mistake” on the computer. They want a concrete series of steps to follow in everything they do. “How can I make a word bold?” they ask. I reply:

  1. Double-click the word to select it.
  2. Click the “Bold” icon on the Ribbon.

Then they say, “Oh, that’s wonderful! Let me write that down for next time.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with learning to use a computer in that way, and those who are comfortable with that should keep a big Microsoft Word reference book close at hand. These are probably the same people who would enjoy taking a guided tour of Timpanogos Cave, which is about an hour away from where I live.

But that’s a far cry from spelunking, and I doubt that any of the people on the tour discover something new.

So what kind of a person are you? Do you like someone to hold your hand along the well-marked trail? Or would you rather descend into the dark depths of the cavern with only a flashlight as your guide? Either way is fine, but sometimes it’s nice to get off the beaten path; you never know what you might find. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I can only walk with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled.”

Want to learn something new about Word? Try exploring Word’s features that aren’t on any menu, the caverns that aren’t on the map. Here’s how:

  1. Press ALT+F8 to open the Macros dialog.
  2. Click the dropdown list next to “Macros in.”
  3. Select “Word Commands.”

Now, in the window under “Macro name,” you’ll see all of the commands available in Microsoft Word, whether they’re on the Ribbon or not. If you click one, you’ll see a description of its function under “Description,” at the bottom of the dialog. These descriptions are minimal at best, but along with the name of the command, they’ll give you some idea of what the command does. You can also click the “Run” button to run the command, which may give you even more insight. (Be sure to do this only with a junk document; you don’t want mess up an actual project.)

Let’s take a look. Don’t be afraid; I’ll be right behind you all the way.

So we’re scrolling through the list of Word commands in Word 2013, and what do we see? “CharacterRemoveStyle,” which, according to its description, “Clears character style from selection.” What?!? Does this mean it’s possible to remove a character style without affecting text-level formatting (such as italic)? If so, I sure didn’t know about it. Let’s find out. We type a junk sentence into a junk document:

This is a test to see what will happen.

We apply italic formatting to “test” and the character style “Emphasis” character style to “see”:

This is a test to see what will happen.

The formatting of those two words looks the same, but the formatting is not the same. Now let’s see if the “CharacterRemoveStyle” command works. We select the sentence, press ALT+F8, scroll down to “CharacterRemoveStyle,” and run it. Look at that! Our test sentence becomes:

This is a test to see what will happen.

The character style is gone, but the text-level formatting is still there. Neat!

Okay, one more, and then we’ll go back up to the surface. Down, down, down, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. What’s this? “RestoreCharacterStyle.” I’ve never noticed that command before. The description says “Restores character style and removes direct formatting.” Could this be the inverse of the command we just finished exploring? Again we type our junk sentence and apply the same formatting as before:

This is a test to see what will happen.

Then we select the sentence and run the “RestoreCharacterStyle” command. Yes! The sentence now looks like this:

This is a test to see what will happen.

The text-level formatting is gone, but the character style remains!

But why does Microsoft say that this command restores a character style? If we remove the character style from our sentence and then run the command, does the character style come back? A quick experiment shows us that no, it doesn’t. Then why the odd name? I suspect that under the hood, Word is removing all character-level formatting but then restoring any formatting applied with a character style. It’s the equivalent of (1) identifying the character style, (2) pressing CTRL+SPACEBAR (to remove character-level formatting), and then (3) reapplying the character style — which means that the command was named from the programmer’s perspective rather than the user’s perspective. There’s a lot of stuff like that down here in the dark, and it’s part of what makes exploring so interesting.

Back up in the daylight, we assess our adventure, which I’d have to say has been a success. We’ve discovered two commands we didn’t know about before. Could they be useful in our actual editing work? Yes, indeed!

Personally, I enjoy crawling around down there in the bowels of Microsoft Word. Yes, it’s dark and it’s dirty, and sometimes I find something nasty under a rock. But I also make lots of interesting discoveries, and I nearly always learn something new.

How about you? Ready to go spelunking on your own? Have fun, and don’t forget your flashlight!

Jack Lyon ( owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

August 11, 2014

The Proofreader’s Corner: Proofreading for Publishers Outside Your Country of Origin—Is There a Market?

Proofreading for Publishers Outside Your
Country of Origin — Is There a Market?

by Louise Harnby

Folk in the editorial community often talk about the increasing internationalism of work opportunities; now that we can edit and proofread onscreen (e.g., in Word or on PDF), and deliver our work electronically (e.g., via email or using ftp sites), where we live in relation to our client no longer matters. Our market is global. Or is it?

Certainly, when it comes to working for students, businesses, and self-publishing authors, geographical location is no longer as limiting a factor as it had been. And if one is a structural editor or copy-editor, the same could be said of working within the mainstream publishing industry. However, if we are talking about proofreading for publishers, we need to be extra cautious before we claim that our market is global.

Why Might Location be an Issue?

Location can be a restricting factor for the proofreader focusing on publisher clients because of the way in which the production process works (page proofs vs. word-processed files), the medium in which those page proofs are presented (paper vs. digital), and the delivery method (post vs. online).

Page Proofs vs. Word-processed Files

Proofreading for publishers and proofreading for other types of client involve, more often than not, different things (see “Not All Proofreading Is the Same: Part I — Working with Page Proofs” and “Not All Proofreading Is the Same: Part II — Working Directly in Word”). Most of the time, proofreaders who work for publishers are dealing with page proofs, not Word files. There is overlap in terms of problems to identify—locating the spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and grammatical blunders, for example. But with page proofs we are also looking more broadly at how the book works in terms of layout, and we have to be aware of the domino effect that our changes can have on the book’s content (for more information about this, take a look at “The Proofreader’s Corner: Page Proofs and the Domino Effect”).

Paper Page Proofs vs. Digital Page Proofs

Some publishers still require their proofreaders to mark up on paper, even when they provide a PDF for reference. Others have moved to a digital workflow, so the proofs, usually in the form of a PDF, are identical to their paper sister but are annotated onscreen using comment-and-markup tools and/or digital stamps based on proof-correction symbols (see, e.g., “Roundup: PDF Proofreading Stamps” for a link to my proofreading stamps, which are based on the British Standards 5261-2 (2005) proof correction symbols, and some other useful PDF markup resources).

Postal Delivery vs. Online Delivery

This is the crux of the matter. Given that most publishers require proofreaders to work on page proofs, and that some page proofs will still be paper based, delivery to the proofreader (and return of the proofs to the publisher) will sometimes entail snail-mail delivery costs. Because publishers’ margins are tight, and because they want to keep production costs as low as possible, it’s unlikely that, for example, a London-based publisher will be prepared to bear the cost of delivering paper page proofs to a freelancer in Reykjavik. That means that a proofreader who focuses on working for publishers does not have a global market.

The Proofreader’s Real Market

As a proofreader I think of my overall market as being global. I live in the UK. I’ve worked for clients here at home, and in America, Canada, China, The Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden. However, my publisher clients are all in the UK. If I wanted to expand my publisher client base to include presses outside the UK, I could do so, but I’d first need to do some careful market research that would identify those who require/accept onscreen proofreading and digital delivery.

That’s where the caution comes in. I can’t just assume that I’m a good match for every publisher in the world whose lists match those of my UK publisher clients. Some publishers still want their proofreading markup done on paper, even though they supply PDFs for reference. And, as all of us know, a key part of developing a sustainable editorial business is the readiness to be able to work in the way our clients want us to work. So if a publisher wants paper markup, and I want to work for that publisher, I have to include paper markup in my service package.

When I was planning my proofreading business, especially my marketing strategy, I needed to consider not only where my clients lived, but also how they worked and what they wanted. I wanted to specialize in proofreading for publishers, but the whole world was not my oyster, not by a long way, because not all publishers want digital markup and electronic delivery, even if all of their copy-editing work is done onscreen.

A United Kingdom Case Study

So, just how prevalent is paper proof markup in the publishing industry? I don’t have a definitive answer to that. The best I can offer is a snapshot of my own experience. Before I present my overview I should tell you that I specialize in working for publishers whose lists are in the social sciences, fiction, and commercial nonfiction. I have no experience of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) proofreading, and limited experience of the training/education and children’s book market.

I also want to reiterate that I am talking about proofreading, not editing, for publishers, which entails working with typeset page proofs.

Looking at 17 UK-based publishers for whom I regularly work, the requirements are as follows:

  • Paper proof mark up and postal delivery: 8
  • PDF proof markup and digital delivery: 7
  • Word markup and digital delivery: 1
  • Paper or PDF: 1 (it depends on the book)

So, for my client list, paper is not dead. And if my Reykjavik-based doppelganger considered those 17 publishers to be her target clients, the proof-delivery restrictions would render her market 50% smaller than mine, given that I’m based in the UK and she’s based in Iceland.

Plan Ahead — Identify Your Market

Do the planning and market research first. Different clients in different markets will be differently accessible because they have different requirements. Don’t assume that if you live outside China, but are regularly proofreading for students, self-publishing authors, or businesses in China, you can persuade a Chinese publisher to hire your proofreading services. It’s not a given. Even if you are native Chinese, your Mandarin or Cantonese is flawless, and your proofreading skill set is second to none, success will still depend on the publisher’s delivery requirements.

If you want to proofread for publishers, find out what they want and how they work before you invest money in training, expensive style guides, and other resources. For example, if you live Reykjavik and decide that the key to the sustainability of your proofreading business requires tapping the UK publishing industry, but most of your potential clients insist on sending paper proofs, you need to know this before you invest hundreds of pounds in a training course that’s geared towards UK publishing conventions and markup language. If your research tells you that you’re more likely to be successful by tapping US publishers, you’d be better off finding appropriate training and resources that focus on the US publishing market’s requirements.

I’m not advising proofreaders-to-be to ignore international opportunities — far from it. What I am advising is that by planning ahead and doing the market analysis first, you will be able to target your investment and your time more efficiently, and that’s good for your proofreading business. There are opportunities to work for international publishers if you take the time to find them. SAGE Publications’ California office is a good example of a publisher who requires its proofreaders to work onscreen; in contrast, its sister company in London has yet to move fully to onscreen proofreading — it depends on the book title and the preferences of the in-house project manager. If you live in Australia but want to proofread for SAGE, it should be obvious which company to market yourself to first.

Publisher Requirements are Dynamic

Nothing in the publishing industry is static. And while the move to digital workflows for copyediting is well established, proofreaders still have to be prepared to work in several media. In years to come, paper page proofs may be a thing of the past and that will lower geographical boundaries. In 2014, however, the business-savvy proofreader would do well to be aware of both the opportunities and the restrictions that still exist in our so-called global marketplace.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.

April 14, 2014

Getting More from PerfectIt: Style Sheets

Successful editors make use of tools that are designed to make editing faster, easier, more accurate, and more profitable. Three such tools are PerfectIt, EditTools, and Editor’s Toolkit Plus. These tools were discussed previously in the three-part series The 3 Stages of Copyediting: I — The Processing Stage,  II — The Copyediting Stage, and III — The Proofing Stage. That series was published in August 2010. Since then new versions of PerfectIt and EditTools have been released.

In this guest article, Daniel Heuman, creator of PerfectIt, explains how to create and use custom stylesheets in PerfectIt. For those of you who do not have PerfectIt, you can download a 30-day free trial so you can try PerfectIt and the stylesheet feature discussed here.


Getting More from PerfectIt: Style Sheets

by Daniel Heuman

PerfectIt saves time when you’re copyediting. It finds difficult-to-locate errors like inconsistent hyphenation and words that appear with initial capitals in one location, but in lowercase elsewhere. If you work with large documents, it’s a small investment that increases the quality of your work and gives you assurance that your documents are the best they can be. However, most PerfectIt users don’t take advantage of all of its features. This article is about how you can get more from the product without spending a penny extra.

PerfectIt is designed to be easy to use. You won’t need to read any manuals or make frantic calls to your tech support wizard wondering why it won’t install. The interface is so simple that you’ll be locating potential consistency mistakes in seconds. But because it’s easy, most users don’t realize that PerfectIt is not just a consistency checker. With a little bit of customization, PerfectIt can be used to check any organization’s house style. Even better, PerfectIt can be customized to store multiple house styles, so you can use it to check a different style sheet for each client that you work with.

The best way to start building a style sheet is to make use of one of our existing PerfectIt style sheets. These are free from our website. Available styles are US, UK, and Canadian spelling, as well as European Union, United Nations, and World Health Organization style sheets. A style sheet for Australian preferences is coming soon. The styles are available at this link at Intelligent Editing.

To start using one of the style sheets, save them to your hard disk. Then import the files into PerfectIt (click PerfectIt’s “Customize” menu, choose “Advanced” and then ”Import”). Then select the file that you just downloaded. When PerfectIt starts, you’ll see a dropdown list and you can choose the style sheet that you want from there. Now your version of PerfectIt checks those preferences as well as checking for consistency. For example, if you chose the US spelling sheet, it will automatically locate all instances of the word “colour” and suggest “color.” The US spelling sheet has more than 800 words programmed into it already (as well as all the variations of “IZE” such as “organize” instead of “organise”).

And you don’t have to stop there. Now that you’ve downloaded a style sheet, you can also customize it. For example, if you’re working for a client that prefers US spelling, but also wants the word “Secretary General” to appear in capitals, you can add that preference to the style sheet. There are two ways to do that:

  • You can wait for the inconsistency to come up as you work with PerfectIt. Then click the “Customize” menu and choose “Always prefer Secretary General”
  • You can add it to the current style manually by clicking “Customize,” then choosing “Advanced” then click the “Edit” button next to “Phrases that PerfectIt always finds” and add the item there.

It’s important to remember that a PerfectIt style sheet can’t include everything within an organization’s house style. PerfectIt is not a replacement for human editing, and a style sheet is not a replacement for reading the style guide. In fact, a PerfectIt style sheet includes just a small section of any style guide. The settings you can customize it for are:

  • Preferred spelling: for example, is the preference “adviser” or “advisor”, “aesthetic” or “esthetic”?
  • Preferred hyphenation: for example, “co-operation” or “cooperation”?
  • Phrases to consider: a test that can be adapted for any words/phrases that should not be misused, for example, “native”.
  • Abbreviations in two forms: for example, “Nasa” or “NASA”?
  • Phrases in capitals: for example, “euros” or “Euros”.
  • List capitalization (lowercase or uppercase).
  • List punctuation (full stops, semi-colons, or no punctuation).
  • Hyphenation of fractions and numbers: for example, “one-third” or “one third”.
  • Hyphenation of compass directions: for example, “north-east” or “northeast”.
  • Choice of letters or digits for numbers in sentences (split by number range).
  • Use of full stops in titles: for example, “Mr.” or “Mr”.
  • Preference between “ISE” and “IZE”, and “YSE” and “YZE” endings

There’s also an option to accompany each preference with a style note/reminder so that you won’t forget any important exceptions to the rules that you add. For example, if you add a preference for “baby boom” instead of “baby-boom”, you might add the style note, “Unless the use is adjectival.” If you’re working in editorial consultancy and want to prepare a PerfectIt style sheet for a customer, that option is especially important. PerfectIt relies on human judgment, so you should use the style note option to make sure that end-users are aware of all possible exceptions.

All of these options are built into PerfectIt and are free to use. And the learning time involved will quickly pay for itself. If you’re not the kind of person who likes to experiment with advanced settings, you can get detailed help with the entire process, and step by step instructions from our user guides. Alternatively, you can get help and advice from users sharing tips in PerfectIt’s new LinkedIn group.

Daniel Heuman is the Managing Director of Intelligent Editing and the designer of PerfectIt. PerfectIt launched in 2009 and is now used by more than a thousand professional editors around the world, including more than 250 members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. It’s available separately or as part of the Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate.


Note: PerfectIt and EditTools are Windows-only programs. Editor’s Toolkit Plus will work on both Windows and Mac OS systems.

Editor’s Toolkit Ultimate is a package of the latest versions of PerfectIt, EditTools, and Editor’s Toolkit Plus at a significant savings.

Do you use PerfectIt and/or EditTools and/or Editor’s Toolkit Plus? If so, please share your experience and suggestions in comments to this article.

April 7, 2014

On the Basics: Is There a “Best Industry” for Editors?

Is There a “Best Industry” for Editors?

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

The publishing business is supposed to be declining, if not actually dying. I’m not sure that’s the case, but there certainly are a lot of challenging changes going on. In case publishing really is heading for extinction, does any other industry offer editors good potential for job satisfaction, career opportunities, and pay?

I say that any and every industry has that potential.

Too many people think the only way to work as an editor (or writer, proofreader, etc.) is to be in publishing per se—to work for publishing houses, publications, presses, maybe authors. They don’t seem to realize that editing (and, of course, writing, proofreading, photography, graphics, layout, etc.) also happens in every profession, business, and hobby there is.

If you aren’t finding success in editing work in traditional publishing with traditional clients such as book publishers, it’s time to start thinking in new ways. A number of “industries” still, and should continue to, need editors and offer opportunities for many of us.

Some of my editing work is for magazines, which I would classify as part of traditional publishing, but some is for law firms, marketing or public relations companies, professional offices in various areas of medicine, associations in a wide range of topics (including my high school alumni group!), businesses, and not-for-profit organizations.

A recent project involved writing and editing award nominations for a local hospital. Another was editing the required annual description of services for a financial advisor. I’ve also edited and proofread websites for several clients, including one for a heating/plumbing company. I write blog posts for a website for veterinary businesses. I just heard from a company in the transportation industry about proofreading its annual report. I’ve done the writing, editing, proofreading, and/or layout of newsletters and special reports for a variety of not-for-profit organizations. Trade and membership associations are hotbeds of publishing activity, producing newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, blogs, and conference materials. I edit letters and blog posts for the owner of a company that packages businesses for loans and sales.

None of these might be what colleagues consider publishing, but all are firmly in the realm of editorial work, and most, if not all, will continue to be needed and thus to need us.

Many such projects require skilled editing more than any particular industry experience or knowledge. These clients are comfortable with the technical or industry side of their material, but aware of their shortcomings in grammar, usage, even spelling and punctuation, which so many of us consider basic to our very cores. If you come across industry-specific technical details that you aren’t sure of, you can flag them for the client to check or verify.

Government agencies and nongovernmental organizations often seek editing services. I’ve done work for the World Bank, which has hundreds of programs and projects that require various levels of writing, editing, and proofreading. And that’s just one entity. I know of someone who has a contract with a local college to edit professor and student papers and, of course, many colleagues work directly with graduate and postdoctoral students on editing their theses and dissertations.

Judging by what I see and hear from several of my colleagues, there also is a lot of work to be had with authors in other countries whose native language is not English, but who need or want to publish their academic work in English-language journals.

Someone is writing and, therefore (in most cases), someone is editing and proofreading all kinds of sales and marketing materials. Think about things like product packaging. Someone has to write, then edit and proofread, the information on every label, box, bag, bottle, carton, pouch, etc. That goes for food, drink, medications, equipment, tools, CDs and DVDs, etc.; even those annoying labels in clothing that stick up from your collar or scrape the back of your neck. Someone also has to write directions or instructions on how to use some of those same items; not all of that is done overseas.

And don’t forget advertising copy, which often desperately needs an editor!

Even though many of us bewail aspects of it, the constantly growing self-publishing industry also can be a fertile field of opportunity for editors. It may take some extra effort to find self-publishing authors who understand the value of having their work edited, but those authors do exist, and their numbers may increase if reviewers and readers react more volubly to sloppy writing that cries out for a skilled editorial hand. And some of the packaging or service companies now offer editing to the people who come to them with manuscripts to publish; the rates from those companies may not be the highest, but some opportunities do exist in those corners of the industry.

What this all comes down to is that there is no one “best industry” for editors—all industries are good hunting grounds for work as editors. Opportunities are out there. Widen your search, and you might be surprised at what you find.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

March 31, 2014

Lyonizing Word: Deleting Extraneous Carriage Returns in Footnotes and Endnotes

Deleting Extraneous Carriage Returns
in Footnotes and Endnotes

by Jack Lyon

During my editing career, I’ve often run into problems with footnotes and endnotes in Microsoft Word. Many authors have no clue about how notes are meant to work, and Microsoft certainly hasn’t made it obvious. In fact, they’ve made it easy to mess notes up beyond repair.

One mistake authors make is to insert extraneous carriage returns before or after a note. Why? Because they don’t like the positioning of the note on the page, which they’re trying to make “pretty,” not understanding the problems that will cause in editing and typesetting.

You can try to remove the extraneous returns like this:

1. Click View > Draft.
2. Click References > Show Notes.

Your cursor should now be in the Notes pane.

3. Click Home > Replace.
4. In the “Find What” box, enter two paragraph codes:


5. In the “Replace With” box, enter one paragraph code:


 6. Click the “Replace All” button.

Word will replace some of the double returns, but not all of them. And if you try to delete some of the remaining returns, you’ll get an error message:

“This is not a valid action for footnotes.”

What’s going on there is that not all carriage returns are created equal. Some of the returns are “special” note returns, and the only way to delete them is to delete the note itself back in the text.

The solution? A macro, of course. But a macro with a twist. As we’ve seen, the macro can’t just find double returns and replace them with a single return. And trying to delete extra returns results in an error. So let’s use that error!

Before running the macro, you must be in Draft view, with your cursor at the top of the Notes pane. (How to get there is explained above.)

In the macro, you’ll see a couple of “comments,” which are explanations or instructions intended for the person reading the code. Comments are preceded by a single quotation mark (‘), which tells the macro to ignore the rest of the text on that line. For example, the first comment in the macro reads:

‘To clean returns in endnotes rather than footnotes, change “.Footnotes” to “.Endnotes” in the following line:

And now, here’s the macro:

Sub CleanReturnsInNotes()
‘To clean returns in endnotes rather than footnotes, change “.Footnotes” to “.Endnotes” in the following line:
NoteCount = ActiveDocument.Footnotes.Count
With Selection.Find

.Text = “^p^p”
.Replacement.Text = “”
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = False
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchWildcards = False

End With
On Error GoTo TrapTheError
While Selection.Find.Found

‘The following line may trigger an error!

GoTo TheEnd

ErrorCount = ErrorCount + 1
If ErrorCount < NoteCount Then Resume Next

End Sub

Let’s look at some of those lines.

NoteCount = ActiveDocument.Footnotes.Count

NoteCount is a variable; that is, it’s a container that can hold a numerical value—in this case, the number of footnotes in the document. We get that value with the VBA command ActiveDocument.Footnotes.Count.


Just to be safe, these lines clear any formatting that might already be applied to the “Find What” and “Replace With” boxes in Word’s find and replace feature.

The following lines, from

With Selection.Find

down to


simply find any instances of double paragraph returns. The replacement text is set to nothing, as we’re not trying to replace those returns with anything:

 .Replacement.Text = “”

Instead, we’re going to try to delete the second return, which (unless the notes are really messed up) is a regular return rather than a special note return:


If it’s a special note return, then trying to delete it will cause an error, and the macro will execute this line—

On Error GoTo TrapTheError

—which sends the macro to this line:


Here’s what happens next:

ErrorCount = ErrorCount + 1

Using the variable ErrorCount, we count the number of errors, adding 1 each time we find one. (ErrorCount is initially empty, or zero.)


We move right and delete the next return.

 If ErrorCount < NoteCount Then Resume Next

If the number of errors is less than the number of notes, we’re not through yet, as one of the remaining notes may still have a bad return next to it. So, we tell the macro to Resume operation at the next command after the error occurred. That command is:


In other words, Word looks for the next occurrence of a double return. And this construction—

While Selection.Find.Found

‘The following line may trigger an error!


—ensures that it will keep looking as long as (While) double returns are found. (“Wend” is short for “While End”—it marks the end of the While construction.)

GoTo TheEnd

When no more double returns are found, this line is executed. It exists simply to avoid executing the error trap (TrapTheError and the following lines) after the macro is finished, at which point


marks the end of the whole operation.

I hope this explanation has helped you understand better how macros work, and in particular how you can actually use Word errors to force Word to do what you want it to do—something that gives me great pleasure.

Even if you don’t understand everything that’s going on in this macro, you can still use it to clean up extraneous returns in notes—something that should make your editorial life a little bit easier.

Jack Lyon ( owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

December 16, 2013

The Business of Editing: Knowing Your Editorial Fit

Recently, in The Business of Editing: Standing One’s Ground, I discussed turning down work. Today’s guest essay by Louise Harnby provides another perspective on accepting or referring work. As Louise points out, knowing when to say no is as important as knowing when to say yes.

Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby, Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn.


Knowing Your Editorial Fit

by Louise Harnby

The biggest reward I’ve received from my comprehensive marketing strategy is that I get a lot of offers of work…not just from publishers, but also from independent writers, students, business professionals, and individual academics. Being in a position whereby I have the opportunity to turn down work—either because I can’t fit it in or because I know of a particular colleague who can do a better job—is something I’ve striven for since I set up my professional proofreading business in 2005. Why? Because taking on work that I don’t have the required skill set for is a lose–lose for me and the client. I don’t want to do a mediocre job.

At the very best, “mediocre” doesn’t bring the client back asking for more, doesn’t generate solid testimonials, doesn’t lead to referrals from my client to his or her colleagues, and brings me a huge amount of stress. At the very worst, it could lead to complaints, a lack of confidence on the client’s part, damage to my professional reputation…and did I mention stress? And those were definitely not on my “strive for” list back in 2005!

Only a few days ago, I received an email from a Dutch academic based at a prestigious UK university. He’d found my website by googling “academic proofreader sociology.” Given that I appeared on the first page of Google’s search results he took a peek and liked what he saw—he told me he loved my profile, my extensive online academic proofreading portfolio, and the page of testimonials from academic publishers. He thought I was a great fit. Money wasn’t an issue so would I be interested in proofreading and editing his presubmission sociology and demography journal articles and his grant proposals on a regular basis? The text would include a lot of data analysis and stats, but nothing too technical.

On paper we do look like a great match—he’s an academic researcher looking for an experienced academic editorial freelancer. What’s the real story, though? The facts are as follows:

  • I’m a proofreader not a copyeditor. They’re different jobs.
  • Most of my academic proofreading work has already been through a round of professional copyediting (arranged by the publisher’s in-house project manager).
  • I work primarily on books, not journals. They are different products with different requirements.
  • The last time I looked at a grant proposal was back in the late 1980s, when I applied for tuition-fee support prior to embarking on my university degree.
  • The words “editing data analysis and statistics” make me feel, well, a tad unwell.

Certainly, I could have secured this job, and the healthy fee that would have come with it, by confirming the client’s initial response to my online profile. But having bagged the work, I know I would have done a mediocre job. Reading between the lines, the client needed someone with a richer skill set than mine. And I knew just the person. One of my colleagues is a former academic researcher and has worked as a scientist in a commercial environment. He’s written for journals, sat on journal editorial boards, and been active in the peer-review process. He’s evaluated research grant proposals and been involved in the writing and submission process. And he’s both an editor and a proofreader who specializes in working on journal articles written by authors for whom English is a second language. This colleague can bring something to the table that I can only dream of. The job he’ll do for my Dutch academic will be richer than anything I can offer. And not just because of his editorial training. Rather, his research background and career experience will enable him to add value in ways that can’t be taught to me.

Furthermore, referring my Dutch academic (with his refreshing focus on quality rather than the lowest price) elsewhere didn’t hurt me one bit. I don’t have the stress of knowing I’ve bitten off more than I can chew; I’ve been honest with the client about exactly what’s required and who can deliver the necessary outcomes; one of my colleagues has (I hope) secured a productive relationship with a new client; and I’m free to continue to use the hours in my working day to bill for work that I am qualified for—work that I can do a really, really good job on, not a mediocre one.

It can be tempting to take on work that one can’t do a really great job on, especially when opportunities aren’t coming thick and fast. That’s why an effective marketing strategy is so important; it helps to put us in the position where we’re able to get enough of the work that we’re excellent at instead of taking risks with jobs that we’re not trained for, or don’t have an aptitude for. It gives us choices so that we can put all that we’ve learned into the place it needs to be. And if we do want to expand into editorial work that requires another skill set (one that can be taught), it gives us the space to generate a regular work stream while we pursue the relevant training.

Few of us are good at everything. Certainly we can diversify, and we can (and should) continue to develop as professionals by educating ourselves. But there are some things that can’t be taught. With the best will in the world, I will never have the research background or journal experience that some of my colleagues have. That’s their bag. I have mine. For each of us, knowing where we fit, and how best to exploit and communicate that fit, is central to commonsense editorial business ownership.

Do you agree? If you were me, would you have taken on the job I turned down or would you have referred it to a colleague? Was this out of choice or necessity?


The issues that Louise raises also reflect on the informal code of responsibility that governs professional editing. Do you include this informal code in your decision-making process?

Louise cites the factors she considered, but we should not forget that there are other factors to be considered, such as whether we think we are capable of working under a tight deadline. What factors do you consider when deciding whether to accept or refer a job? How do you decide which colleague to refer the client to?

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