The Wordstitch blog

In the editorial world, it’s generally thought that the person who copy-edited a text shouldn’t also be the person to proofread it.

This is a sound rule to follow wherever possible: a proofreader is often referred to as a ‘fresh pair of eyes’, and this freshness can be invaluable. In the same way that an author can become blind to the errors in their own work through overfamiliarity, a copy-editor tends to lose that ‘edge’ that comes with seeing a text anew.

Therefore, having a separate proofreader is usually the best strategy.

However, there are various valid reasons that an editor might find themselves proofreading text they’ve already copy-edited. For example, the anticipated proofreader might have dropped out at short notice. Alternatively, it can be attractive for authors if an editor offers a package of services containing both copy-editing and proofreading.

So, if you find yourself in this situation, what should you keep in mind? Following are some suggestions covering tips to avoid the disadvantages and aspects you can turn to your advantage.

Tips to avoid the disadvantages

1 Leave it as long as you can

The longer and more complete a break you can have from the text after you’ve copy-edited it, the better. This will help you to approach it with fresh eyes.

2 Clarify the brief

Make sure you’re clear on what your client wants you to do. For example, if you were given considerable latitude to suggest amendments in copy-editing, check whether creative input is still welcome in proofreading or whether a more restrictive approach (e.g. only correcting obvious errors) is required.

3 Change the format

Often, the text you’re sent for proofreading will be in a different format from the text you copy-edited (for example, text in a Word file may have been typeset and converted into a fully designed PDF). However, if this isn’t the case, consider changing the font, the font size, the text colour, the background colour, the margin depths, and anything else that could fool your brain into seeing the text as if for the first time. Print it out if you need to. Do the work in a different room. Changes of this kind will make it more likely that you’ll spot errors.

4 Use what you learned while copy-editing the text – but not too much

Whereas it’s sensible to keep in mind your thought processes from copy-editing so you don’t end up reinventing the wheel or reversing previous decisions, it’s important not to rely on this previous decision-making too heavily. For example, don’t skip over passages simply because you know a lot of effort was put into them in copy-editing (in fact, this should be more of a reason to concentrate on a passage, as text that has been heavily edited can be more likely to contain errors). The trick here is to have the editing history at the back of your mind, not the front.

5 Look everything up again

It doesn’t matter if you checked all names and dates during copy-editing. Look them up again. Whatever you would normally do as a proofreader, you should do this time, regardless of whether you already did it as a copy-editor.

6 Don’t trust your style sheet too much

If you created a style sheet during copy-editing, treat it with a fresh eye too. Try to approach it as if it was written by somebody else. Is it internally consistent? Logical? Compliant with any house style guide provided by the client?

7 Don’t forget the design

Proofreading usually requires an eye for design consistency as well as textual accuracy. Be sure to engage the design part of your brain and don’t just plough ahead looking only at the text.

8 Be extra-vigilant about personal preference

We all have our knee-jerk edits (changes we make almost out of habit, because we take the need for them for granted). In most cases these are probably fine, but proofreading can be a great opportunity to identify and change instances where a copy-editor (in this case, you) has applied a zombie rule (or perhaps a rule that’s partly putrefied and is on its way to becoming zombified). Be sceptical regarding your assumptions about what changes are ‘essential’ or ‘standard’, and be sensitive to the possibility that you may have made inappropriate changes in copy-editing that have skewed the text.

9 Check your ego

During proofreading, you will find (and should expect to find) errors that you missed in copy-editing. This is natural – you’re only human (or I assume you are). When you find these errors, mark them just like you would in any other proofread. Don’t allow worries over exposing your own slips to cloud your judgement about what needs to be corrected. If you do, you’re not fulfilling your obligations to your client.

Don’t assume anything: Take your copy-editing hat off, lock it away in a cupboard, and then put your proofreading hat firmly on. Do whatever you need to do to fully disengage your brain and then re-engage it in a different gear.

Things you can turn to your advantage

If you find yourself proofreading text you’ve already copy-edited, you may as well take advantage of the following positive possibilities.

10 Knowledge of your client

Copy-editing often facilitates a closer level of engagement with a client than proofreading, so you may have an advantage here over somebody who only proofreads for the client. Copy-editing may have enabled you to build up a solid understanding of the way the client prefers to work and the kinds of things they care about in relation to their publication. This may enable you to better tailor your service to match their goals and requirements. (However, see tip 2 above for a caveat.)

11 Knowledge of the text

It can be an advantage to know the text already. You will know what issues have already been discussed and the details of how they were resolved, and this knowledge may help you to spot knock-on effects or related issues that weren’t noticed in copy-editing. (However, see tips 4–6 above for caveats.)

12 Potential for efficiency

You’ll already have a feel for the project and be familiar with the style sheet, so, despite the need to approach everything with a fresh eye, this will give you a step up in terms of time and efficiency. (Again, see tips 4–6 for caveats.)

13 Potential for learning

Most of the time, copy-editors don’t get to see the details (or indeed anything at all) of what happens to a text during proofreading. However, it can be invaluable to see what a fellow professional finds to correct. Although this possibility is naturally rather limited when you’re your own ‘fellow professional’, it can still be edifying to see what you missed and how you might be able to improve your copy-editing practice in the future.

Find the silver lining: The very thing that puts you at a disadvantage (familiarity with the project) can be squeezed for advantages if you go about it carefully. And don’t forget to learn from the opportunity to evaluate your own earlier work.


As the caveats included in tips 10–12 may suggest, proofreading text that you’ve already copy-edited is very much a balancing act. There can be major advantages, but the potential pitfalls – blindness to errors and overconfidence that aspects have already been dealt with – are serious.

In my opinion, in an ideal world, the copy-editor and proofreader should always be different people. However, reality doesn’t conform to ideals. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to be prepared, so you can mitigate the natural disadvantages and turn everything you can to your advantage, in order to provide the best possible service to your clients.

Posted in Editing, Proofreading | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

At some point (hopefully very rarely), every proofreader and copy-editor will find themselves working on a project where it seems that somebody, somewhere, at some point, dropped the ball in a big way.

As a copy-editor, you might discover that the developmental editor seems to have let through major inconsistencies and that swathes of detail are missing. Or, as a proofreader, you might find that the copy-editor appears to have fed the style guide to a passing llama or didn’t seem to heed that the order of words in a sentence is actually somewhat important.

It can be really difficult to determine the most ethical and professional way to approach a situation of this kind. On the one hand, you might feel that the issues are so bad – so systemic – that they raise serious questions about the quality of the previous work. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that you have the whole picture: there are all sorts of potential reasons a manuscript could have reached you in a poor state, and you have no way of knowing who is responsible – if, indeed, any single person is responsible.

It’s a dilemma, and deciding how to approach the situation can feel like a big weight of responsibility.

What to do?

So, what do you do? Do you quietly fix the issues and say nothing to your client? Do you send a few pointers of feedback but keep silent about the real scale of the problem? Or do you shout from the rooftops about how dreadful everything is and how unreasonable it is for you to be expected to fix it?

The answer will probably be none of the above (and it’s never the last one).

Instead, in my experience at least, I’ve found it’s best to give full feedback in an honest and objective manner – but, crucially, to leave all questions of who (who is responsible?) and why (why did this happen?) to the person who knows the circumstances best: the client.

Let’s take a deeper look at some of the possible ways to achieve this.

Frustration at the issues you’re facing is natural, but it’s vital to be as objective as possible in how you handle the situation.

Reality check

The first thing I do before I start to draft any sort of feedback is to make sure my instincts are on solid ground.

  • Self-filter. Are the issues you’ve identified really errors as opposed to preferences or choices? Are they truly as widespread or as devastating as you feel they are? Can you find support for your opinions in appropriate style guides? Can you consult trusted colleagues (being careful to remove all potentially identifying details) to see whether they agree with you?
  • Check you have the correct version of the files. Occasionally it happens that the wrong version of a manuscript is used by accident.

Self-filter: Avoid casting aspersions that turn out to be ill-founded. This risks damaging others’ reputation and even your own.

Send feedback: why?

Once I’ve satisfied the above two criteria and any others relevant to the project, I find it helps to remind myself why I’m sending feedback. I almost certainly wouldn’t mention all of these ‘whys’ explicitly in my communications, but I find that keeping them in mind can help me to maintain a constructive mindset.

Firstly, there are two practical reasons to send feedback:

  • You need to justify extra costs and time to your client. If the scope of the project has increased, it’s likely you’ll need extra time and/or money in order to do the extra work. You will need to provide a clear explanation of why as a starting point for the negotiation.
  • Your client may want input on how the issues are fixed (or even whether they are fixed). As mentioned above, one option is to fix the issues yourself without telling your client. But, if you do that, you only have your perspective to go on. Your client will understand the whole project and its parameters better than you do. And, even if your client replies that they want you to go ahead and fix things for them as you see fit, it’s wise to have their authorisation to do so, to avoid challenges to your work later on.

Secondly, there are at least three (you might think of more) general reasons that might also be relevant to your project:

  • Keeping quiet does a disservice to the client. For whatever reason, your client may be completely unaware of the issues you’ve found. This may be a symptom of ongoing quality implications that could impact your client’s brand and reputation.
  • Keeping quiet does a disservice to the author. The author may have spent years working on their book and publication may be a huge event for them. And, even if that’s not the case, most authors want their book to be in the best shape possible. By coming forward with your feedback promptly, you give the project the best possible chance of any remedial action being taken (if your client decides it is necessary) within the limits of the schedule and budget.
  • Keeping quiet does a disservice to the previous editor (if, that is, your client finds that any specific editor was responsible). It’s possible that this editor will lose out big time in the short term as a result of your feedback. But ask yourself: wouldn’t you want to know – for the sake of the longevity of your business – if there were major issues with your service to your clients? If we don’t know about the gaps in our practice, we can’t fix them.

Be constructive: Why are you sending feedback? If it’s primarily to have a bit of a moan, you might not be in the best mindset to send the most productive, professional feedback.

Send feedback: how?

Once you’re clear in your head about why you’re sending feedback, the next step is to write it. Following are some tips you may find useful.

  • Be prompt, not hasty. Avoid firing off a sketchy email before you have a full understanding of the project. Emailing in haste may mean you either fail to give a full picture of the issues or (much worse) inadvertently paint too severe a picture of what you’ve found.
  • Remember that you don’t have the full context. There may be circumstances that mean the issues are not as problematic as you think. It may also be that no specific person is (wholly) to blame for the issues you’re seeing. Perhaps a lot of work was done on the manuscript after it left the previous editor’s hands. Perhaps there is a sensitive personnel issue that needs to be taken into account. Only your client knows these details.
  • Be precise, not expansive. If there are widespread issues, say so, but where possible give precise, factual examples rather than offering expansive commentaries or interpretation. This means using language such as ‘On pages 4, 17 and 68 I found…’ rather than ‘The copy-editor has not…’ or ‘This is the worst example of xyz I have ever seen.’
  • Empower, don’t attack. Empower your client with the information they need, but keep all accusatory and emotive language out of your communications.
  • Don’t apologise either. Similarly, it’s not your job to apologise for the issues you’ve found. Avoid peppering your email with phrases such as ‘I can see why, but…’ and ‘I’m not certain, but…’ unless you really can see why or are not certain.
  • Offer solutions, not problems. Wherever possible, take a structured approach in presenting your feedback and offer solutions rather than just dumping an unholy mess in your client’s inbox. Try to ensure that your client remembers you as part of the solution rather than a piece of the problem.

Don’t judge: You are the expert witness, not the judge. Focus on the issues, not the person you imagine to be responsible.


Sending this kind of difficult feedback to your client when it seems possible that an unknown-to-you previous editor will get the blame can feel really unpleasant. However, it is important to do so, for the sake of the project and to discharge your professional responsibilities to your client.

How you give the feedback makes a big difference ethically and can also be vital to your own reputation. Depending on the details of your project, the three principles explained here – self-filter, be constructive and don’t judge – are likely to be a sound starting point.


Note: This post brings together some suggestions from approaches I’ve found useful from my (thankfully rare) experience both writing this kind of email (as a copy-editor or proofreader) and receiving it (as a project manager). However, few topics of business communication are as sensitive as this, so always be governed by the specifics of your project and your relationship with your client.

Posted in Client relations, Editing, Freelancing, Paperwork, Project management, Proofreading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I recently received a thought-provoking comment from a fellow freelance editorial professional who has been working alongside me on a project I’ve been managing. The projects I manage are typically very large (hundreds of thousands or even millions of words), and there are inevitably hiccups that arise and have to be resolved. So I found it interesting when the other editor commented that I am more understanding than some other project managers about these kinds of hiccups.

My first reaction, I’ll admit, was an irrational sense of worry: Am I a soft touch? Am I checking editors’ work thoroughly enough? Am I setting high enough standards?

It’s always good to self-evaluate when such questions arise, and there will always be things I can learn about my management of other editors’ work. However, a short bout of reflection and a thorough check of the text re-confirmed that I set high standards and ensure they are met. I was confident that there were no issues lurking.

But this got me wondering: in what ways might editorial project managers expect too much of the suppliers they work with – or even of themselves? Those suppliers might be copy-editors, proofreaders, indexers, typesetters, or anybody else involved in the production of a text-based product.

Here are some ideas.

Expecting to sit back and watch the magic happen

As a project manager, I have to be an active part of the process. Before I send files out to a supplier (usually a freelancer), it’s my responsibility to check them over, familiarise myself with any issues, solve the ones I can, and make a structured plan for how the rest will be handled. I also need to provide a thorough brief. Then, while the supplier is doing their work, I have to be on hand to answer questions, liaise with the authorial team where necessary, and confer across the project team. My role is to provide direction, certainly, but it is also to facilitate and complement the work of the supplier.

The best results are realised when the roles and stages of a project are carefully joined up and everyone is doing their appropriate bit.

Expecting miracles

When work is returned, it has to be assessed in the context of the project as a whole. If the project has been tricky in some way (e.g. a very tight deadline, manuscripts in a particularly poor state, or authors who were unable or unwilling to thoroughly answer queries) then it’s unrealistic to expect perfection. (In fact, while many editors aim for perfection, it’s unrealistic to expect it in any circumstances; Adrienne Montgomerie reports standard error rates in publishing of between 5 and 20%.)

The fact that I often partially copy-edit the projects I manage gives me some helpful perspective here, as I’m generally checking my own work alongside that of other editors. Inevitably, I will find sporadic imperfections in my work – I’d be inhuman if I managed to edit, say, 500,000 words with zero errors. So I have a good understanding (and in fact expectation) that I will occasionally find errors in others’ work too.

I’m also aware that, if my expectations don’t reference reality and if I don’t make plans to deal with shortfalls, then it’s likely I’ll be setting the project up for gaps and failures further down the line. This increases the risk that the final product will be of a sub-optimal quality.

Pie-in-the-sky expectations introduce risk into a project. Project managers should be reducing risk, not introducing it.

Expecting to know everything

It’s tempting as a project manager to feel the need to be seen as the oracle of all things. However, personally, I prefer to try to be the facilitator of all things. First and foremost, it’s my job to facilitate my client’s goals for their project, and that also involves facilitating the ability of suppliers to contribute to that project. This frequently involves asking questions and putting suppliers in the driving seat. It means trusting experts to know what is appropriate in a given situation and how quickly it can be done.

This is also relevant when it’s discovered that a supplier may have made a serious mistake or omission. I might not have all of the facts, so asking questions before jumping up and down on errors is vital.

Effectively managing a project involves asking as many questions as you answer.


For me, the big theme here is risk: risk that the project will not be delivered on time, risk that its quality will not be up to scratch, risk that a key detail will be missed, risk that a key stakeholder will be unhappy with a process or outcome, and so on and so on. Asking questions, setting realistic expectations, and taking an active part by anticipating and managing a project’s issues are key ways to mitigate the risks that will inevitably arise in text-based projects of all sizes.

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If you’re like me, you keep meticulous records of all of your projects, including hours worked, hourly rates, speed of work and so on. It’s easy to quickly rack up a lot of data, but data is no good if it’s not put to practical use. I do various ongoing and yearly analyses of my data, and one of those analyses involves creating a bubble chart to give me a snapshot of my clients’ value to me, both monetarily (the volume of work and how much I get paid for it) and in terms of how much I like working with each client. This gives me a visually intuitive way of seeing the cold, hard facts of the value of my clients to my business.

Here’s what I put into my chart:

  1. client name
  2. overall income for each client
  3. average hourly rate for each client
  4. a subjective rating of how much I enjoy working with the client.

The last of these categories is totally personal to me, and it should be. It takes into account factors such as how interesting I find the subject matter, how well the client’s deadlines and requirements fit in with my way of working, and generally how satisfying I find the working relationship to be. Everybody’s idea of the perfect client working relationship will be different.


A picture is most certainly worth a thousand words, so here’s an example using hypothetical data for a hypothetical business: Fabulous Editing Co. (click the image to enlarge it).

Bubble chart snapshot example

Here’s how the chart works:

  • The areas of the bubbles represent the relative incomes Fabulous Editing Co. receives from each client.
  • The bubbles’ centre points on the Y axis show the average hourly rate Fabulous Editing Co. gets from each client.
  • The bubbles’ centre points on the X axis show the subjective rating of how much Fabulous Editing Co. enjoys working with each client.

It’s possible to derive several conclusions from this bubble chart. However, it’s important to note that the conclusions drawn from any bubble chart will to a large extent depend on the unique circumstances of the business to which it belongs. Factors such as how well established the business is, specific goals (e.g. if the business is trying to break into a particular market) and required effective hourly rate will affect the conclusions drawn from the data.

With that in mind, here are some conclusions that could be drawn from the example above:

  • Client F is arguably Fabulous Editing Co.’s best client. The hourly rate is solid in comparison with the other rates Fabulous Editing Co. receives, and the total income is clearly high. Fabulous Editing Co. also gave Client F a rating of 3 for enjoyment, which means this client is providing a high volume of work that is pretty enjoyable.
  • Client D is clearly Fabulous Editing Co.’s least valuable client. The work is not enjoyable, and both the hourly rate and the volume of work are very low. Fabulous Editing Co. may decide to stop working with Client D on the basis of this analysis, unless there are other factors to take into account that are not reflected in the bubble chart.
  • Client A has positives and negatives. The hourly rate is lower than Fabulous Editing Co.’s average and the enjoyment rating is not great. However, Fabulous Editing Co. may feel these factors are balanced out by the volume of the work.
  • Clients C and I are not high performers economically, but they get high enjoyment ratings. Whether Fabulous Editing Co. continues to work with these clients will depend on the company’s priorities.
  • Client E is a tricky one. The hourly rate is very high and the total income is not negligible, but the enjoyment rating is very low. Again, whether Fabulous Editing Co. continues to work with Client E will depend on Fabulous Editing Co.’s priorities.
  • Clients B, G and H pay well per hour and are enjoyable to work with. Fabulous Editing Co. may want to see whether it can increase the volume of work it does for these clients.

Creating bubble charts for successive years and viewing them next to each other can help to give an idea of how your business is changing over time. Hopefully, over the years, the bubbles will all gradually migrate towards the top right of your chart, indicating that both your hourly rate and your client ratings are improving.

Try it for yourself

This post isn’t intended to be a technical how-to on bubble charts, as there are already many such articles online. I create my bubble charts in Excel (e.g. see here for a straightforward introduction) and it’s also possible to create them in Google Sheets (though I haven’t tried that myself).

Give it a go and see what happens! You may find this kind of analysis brings a helpful new level of clarity to how you conceptualise your clients’ value to your business, enabling you to set smarter goals for the future.

Posted in Paperwork, Professional development, Tools | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I recently read a helpful post (with handy infographic) on how to close a project over at the A Girl’s Guide to Project Management blog, run by Elizabeth Harrin. Although I get a lot out of reading project management blogs, the tips don’t always straightforwardly translate into the kind of work I do, which usually involves delivering an encyclopedia or book project for publication rather than conducting the sort of change-management process more typically associated with project management outside publishing.

However, the more I looked at Harrin’s seven steps, the more I thought of ways they fit in with closing editorial projects. Let’s take each of the steps in turn.

1 and 2 Handover to users (training and support)

Although I don’t have to train anybody in what to do next with my project deliverables (my publisher clients are, unsurprisingly, very familiar with how to print and digitally publish a book!), I do have to give some context for the files I’m handing over. Final versions of all of the project’s basic documentation (such as style sheets, art logs and lists of authors’ contact details) need to be provided. And there might be things the client needs to know concerning oddities in the files that shouldn’t be overridden at later stages. General project context may also be helpful in terms of the publisher managing their relationship with the author(s) going forward. Finally, I’ll generally have been working closely with an editorial board and/or a team of authors, and they need to know what happens next and who to contact going forward.

3 Finalise procurements (close out budgets and contracts)

All costs need to be tallied and checked, with the client updated as necessary. I also make sure all invoices have been properly raised and dealt with so that I can be sure all of the freelancers I’ve contracted can close their part of the project satisfactorily.

4 Evaluate project

My clients generally don’t require a formal project evaluation, but nevertheless I consider some sort of retrospective to be a vital part of finishing a project, both for the sake of my ongoing relationships with my clients and for the sake of my business.

  • Relationships with clients: I always aim to work with my clients as a true partner, so I’m always open to sharing views on what worked well and where improvements might be made in the future. Similarly, I always welcome and act upon feedback from my clients; as I’ve written elsewhere, I work on the basis that there’s a direct relationship between how I respond to feedback and the financial health of my business.
  • Improvements to my business: one of the benefits of running a small business is that you have the ability to continually make and remake your procedures without having to get approval from anybody else (as long as you’re meeting your clients’ requirements, of course). The end of a project is a great time to identify whether I can see ways to refine or overhaul my documentation, communications, quality control procedures or efficiency.

5 Write closure document (gain formal approval for project close)

Formal approval to close a project is quite straightforward: handover of the files for publication is deemed to be the end of my role in the project. However, before I hand the files back, I always look over project communications and to-do lists to ensure that none of my client’s requirements have slipped my mind. As far as I’m concerned, if my client has to ask where to find certain information or check whether I’ve completed a task, I haven’t done my job properly. I want to make it as easy as possible for my client to check what I’ve done and send it on to the next stage of the process.

6 Celebrate (thank the team and celebrate achievements)

On the same basis that I value feedback myself (see point 4 above), I always try to find time to give feedback to freelancers I’ve worked with. In addition, as a project manager, I’ll often ask for feedback from them too, on the basis that the better I understand what they need from me, the better they will be able to deliver what I need from them. As to celebrating, the rush of handing back a large project is always a great feeling. I’ll certainly be celebrating next month when I complete my biggest project to date: a 12-volume encyclopedia that’s lasted over two years.

7 Archive project (file all project information and create archive)

For me, archiving serves two purposes: (1) ensuring I will have everything to hand should queries on the project arise in the future and (2) helping me to conduct regular analyses of the financial and general health of my business. However much I think I should be able to remember the minutiae of a given project 12 months from now, I know that I won’t. Subsequent projects will have made the details of this one fade, so I need to make sure I have the key project facts easily accessible.


Adding that last missing comma is not the end of a project. The way you close an editorial project has a huge bearing on how clients remember you (and thus your prospects of future work) and how you manage your business’s development. These seven steps are a great little checklist to keep on hand to make sure all of the details of a project – in terms of deliverables, stakeholders and evaluation – are wrapped up thoroughly and to everybody’s satisfaction.

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The basics of proofreading are easy, right? You read through the text and mark errors to be corrected. Simple. But of course, as any competent proofreader at any level of experience knows, that’s not the whole story. A proofreader has to carry out numerous tasks to do with technical aspects, style and sense – not just spot where a crucial name is misspelled. As a result, a great deal of finesse is needed to pull off a truly professional proofreading job.

During nearly 12 years in publishing, both in-house and freelance, I’ve seen and done a lot of proofreading. As well as proofreading for other project managers, I manage upwards of 5 million words per year as a project manager of academic encyclopedias and books. Most of those words have to be proofread, so I spend a lot of my time briefing proofreaders, answering their questions, and checking and collating their corrections.

That’s a lot of little squiggly marginal markings – and a lot of potential for confusion, omissions, and other difficulties to arise.

Let’s take a look at some of the more common pitfalls I’ve encountered (both in the work of other proofreaders and from things I’ve learned in my own proofreading) and how to avoid them. I’ll focus here on the macro (the broader, overarching issues) rather than the micro (details of style and how to deal with specific types of error) because the micro will tend to vary from project to project whereas the macro concerns ideas that can be borne in mind in any proofreading job.

(Note: in this post, I particularly have in mind the traditional publishing workflow, where the text has already been copy-edited and has subsequently been laid out on the page for a final check by the proofreader. However, these points will certainly apply to varying degrees in other workflows too. In all cases, your client’s brief should be your guiding light.)

1 Omitting the basics

Once a book reaches proofreading stage, the priorities shift a little. It’s extremely important that, if the table of contents states that Chapter 4 begins on page 78, Chapter 4 does actually begin on page 78. In contrast, it’s slightly less important to identify that ‘Ottoman empire’ is capitalised thus 49 times across the book but twice as ‘Ottoman Empire’.

It is vitally important for the reader’s impression of a published work that the ‘nuts and bolts’ are correct, and as the proofreader you may be the primary (and sometimes only) person to be checking that this is the case. This means methodically checking that all of the basics (page numbers, exact wording of titles, exact spellings of author names, presentation of running headers, and treatment of any other repeated content and design elements) are correct and consistent wherever they appear.

2 Focusing too much on certain types of error…

We all have our little bugbears: things that jump screaming out of the screen at us, begging to be corrected. One of mine is the missing parenthetical comma after the first ‘that’ in constructions such as ‘It’s a common fact that if a comma is missing after “that” in this sentence, many people won’t think it’s wrong.’ But, if you find yourself zealously correcting the same issue over and over again, consider querying it with your client. Maybe it’s been done intentionally, or maybe it will just be too much trouble to fix it at this stage and your client would rather it were left alone.

3 … to the exclusion of other errors

Sometimes I’ll find a proofreader has eliminated all instances of a particular error with ninja-like precision but missed other glaring errors in their vicinity. Worse, sometimes the missed errors are far more serious than the ones that were fixed. Beware of becoming blinkered by your own personal vexations or being distracted by recurring issues. If possible, do multiple passes through the proofs so that a distracting persistent niggle is removed in one fell swoop, freeing up your brain to focus on the more sporadic oddities.

4 Prioritising design over content or vice versa

Unless briefed to do otherwise, you should be checking both design/layout and content/language equally. If you have an eye for design, make sure you’re not getting distracted from reading each word carefully. Conversely, if you tend to get bogged down in seas of text, remind yourself to sit back and look at the design too. In both cases, multiple passes can be very effective, enabling you to only think about one aspect at once.

5 Introducing an error

Typos and other slips happen to all of us on occasion (we’re only human), but it never feels any less melt-into-a-puddle-of-mortification awful when we realise our mistake. There’s no fail-safe solution, but allowing enough time for a job so you’re not rushing, having a clear and methodical workflow, and quickly re-reading text you’ve marked for correction (if the budget allows) should help you to catch your own lapses.

6 Blind panic in the face of tables

Rather often, I find that proofreaders’ skills seem to desert them in the face of tables. Either they miss blatant layout issues or they just don’t seem to have checked the table properly, leaving errors in statistics, style, or consistency uncorrected. Tables need to be proofread just like all other aspects of the text. Sometimes they take a little unpicking to fully understand, but that’s part of your job as the proofreader.

7 Missing something on the brief

I wrote a bit about this back in 2015 in my post The seven deadly sins of freelance editors. Everyone misses something on a brief occasionally (some of my combined briefs and style sheets for encyclopedias stretch to over 20,000 words, which is a lot to take in!). But it’s a key part of proofreading to develop your own system for thoroughly absorbing and implementing a brief and style sheet, no matter the size and no matter how unfamiliar the content is to you.

8 Not leaving ‘good enough’ alone

One of the first things I learned when I began my training with the Publishing Training Centre way back as a fledgling proofreader was to ‘leave good enough alone’. This is a phrase that’s bandied around in the proofreading and editing community a lot. It applies at copy-editing stage too, but particularly at proofreading stage, where making corrections is more costly and time consuming and carries an increased chance of errors being introduced. What is ‘good enough’ will vary between publications and publishers. However, broadly it refers to only making changes if there is a strong justification (grounded in professional proofreading standards, which are different from copy-editing standards) to do so. This is a skill that can only really be learned through experience – both general proofreading experience and experience with specific clients’ practices and preferences – but it is crucial for a professional proofreader to get a feel for what it means and how to put it into practice.

9 Marking corrections in a way that makes life difficult for the client

Check in advance how your client wants you to mark corrections (PDF stamps? Adobe Reader’s tools? A hybrid system? Or even on paper?). As I found out talking to two major typesetters, designers and typesetters can have strong preferences on which system is used, and each project manager will have their preferences based on their proof-collation method too.

Once you know the system your client wants you to use, be clear and consistent, especially if you’re using a PDF reader’s tools (which have no generally agreed standard) rather than PDF stamps (which tend to mimic long-established proofreading systems, such as the BSI Marks for Copy Preparation and Proof Correction). Consider supplying a glossary or explanation of your mark-up practices.


Professional proofreading combines sound knowledge with a great deal of flexibility – what’s right for one set of proofs will not be right for all. Getting it ‘right’ can seem overwhelming, particularly early on in your career as a proofreader. However, with a methodical approach, the true complexities of a project will naturally rise to the surface, allowing you to deal with them appropriately.

What other pitfalls have you experienced in your career? How have you learned to handle them? Let me know in the comments.

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Nope, that’s not a typo. A lot of digital ink is expended by freelance copy-editors and proofreaders on how many hours a day they spend working. Sometimes, this ends up being couched in rather restrictive language: at one extreme, there are people who are so beaten down with all the work they’ve been offered that they never get a weekend off, and, at the other, there are those who declare it’s impossible to edit more than a few hours a day without losing concentration and making mistakes. (Of course, there are many discussions too that buck this dichotomous trend – Sophie Playle’s recent post ‘How Many Hours a Day Does an Editor Work?’ is one example.)

So, to avoid any possibility it might look like I’m trying to say what I think editorial freelancers ‘should’ do, I’ve deliberately titled this post ‘a day in a life’ – just one life, with one set of personal and business goals, one personality, and one set of health circumstances, all of which are unique to this particular editor and project manager’s life.

That being said, I enjoy reading about how other freelancers pattern their work and I think we can all learn from these kinds of discussions, so I hope you find this example day illuminating in some way!

One day

Monday, 7:00 am        I begin the day by finishing off the edit of a 60,000-word book for an academic who wants a language polish before he sends the manuscript to his publisher. The book is highly complex and philosophical so, once I’ve reached the end and done a few global checks for slips and things I might have missed, I set it to one side to percolate in my head for a couple of days before I send my queries to the author.

09:30 am         Edit done, I cuddle a coffee while checking through the emails that have come in over the weekend. I owe the Society for Editors and Proofreaders short contributions to a couple of blog posts so I draft those out.

10:00 am         One of my current long-term projects is the management of a multi-million-word encyclopedia containing well over a thousand entries. I’m also copy-editing part of it and I have a number of authors’ replies to my copy-editing queries saved and ready to implement in my master files. The idea at this point is to be as thorough as possible resolving issues with the authors so that the next stage (proofreading) will go nice and smoothly. I make sure all of the authors’ changes adhere to the project’s style sheet – a document of 64 pages (and counting) that I’ve created and am maintaining with the other copy-editors. I have a couple of follow-up queries for the authors so I finish up by emailing those out.

11:00 am         That’s enough for now. I pop into town (the picturesque city of Wells, Somerset) to pick up some bits and pieces and then return for some lunch. I do intermittent fasting so this is the first time I’ve eaten today. Aside from the health benefits, I find it gives me a nice clear head when I’m working in the mornings.

12:30 pm         Back at my desk, I make my way through some emails and action some reminders in my database (a management system I designed in Microsoft Access to track my schedules and accounts). I also exchange a couple of emails with two fellow editors with whom I run the Mid-Somerset local group of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. We have an upcoming meeting on Thursday and need to let our members know what the theme for discussion will be.

1:00 pm           A bit of Twitter, then I’m on to an ongoing proofreading and collation job on a contributed volume (i.e., a book where each chapter is written by a different author). I had some queries for the client on how they’d like me to approach certain aspects of the proofreading and had put the work to one side. However, I now have answers, so I can move forward with the project, which includes liaising with authors about their corrections and incorporating them with my own.

1:30 pm           Catching up with another collation job, this time for a project I’m also managing. It’s a book of over 100 chapters (again, with different authors for each chapter) that’s already been through the copy-editing stage and is now being proofread and indexed. I’ve engaged a professional proofreader and indexer and they’re currently doing their respective things, and meanwhile I’m receiving corrections from the authors ready to add them to the proofreader’s amendments later on. I put a lot of hard work into editing the book, and I’m happy to see this has paid off in a clean set of proofs that requires very few corrections.

2:10 pm           A short break for more coffee and some porridge, then a quick phone call with my assistant to clarify some details about a filing task he’s doing for me (on these big projects, there’s a lot of admin to handle!).

2:45 pm           A new job! This is a big new title in the health and fitness world and I’m excited to be starting it. I checked it over and did some holistic clean-ups of the manuscript a little while back when it first arrived, so now I remind myself of what I’ve already done, re-read my brief from the client, and get stuck in.

4:00 pm           In some ways, beginning a job is the hardest part. However, in this brief period of time, I’ve added styles and typesetting codes to the skeleton elements of the book, started to put together a style sheet, and begun to get a sense of what issues I’m going to need to look out for as I work through the edit. That done, it’s a beautiful spring day here on the edge of the Mendip Hills and it’s time to take the dog out and get myself some free vitamin D. Then I’ll probably come back and do an hour more on the new job this evening after I’ve (temporarily) assuaged my current obsession with the exploits of Captain Jean-Luc Picard & Co.

Editor walking dog in Mendip Hills

Walking the dog in the Mendip Hills


Days vary, and I’m perhaps a little unusual as I’m a project manager as well as a copy-editor and proofreader. I usually have between eight and fifteen projects in progress at any one time (wildly varying in size – from a few hundred words to a few million). Some days I focus intensively on editing one project; on others I do very little editing and flit between projects, managing issues and planning upcoming stages. Like other freelancers, I also have paperwork and marketing to do. So I get quite a bit of variety, which might partly be why I’m comfortable (at least for now) working fairly long days.

There’s a saying among a community of fitness vloggers on YouTube that I rather like: ‘You do you, and I’ll do me.’ So, to return to the point at the start of this post, while it’s great to listen to others’ experiences and learn from them where there are benefits in it for you, most importantly find a way of working that suits your circumstances and life goals. Focus on doing your freelance life in a way that suits you.

Posted in Editing, Freelancing, Project management | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Whether it’s done accidentally, unthinkingly or with malice aforethought, plagiarism is a perennial problem in publishing. Sometimes it might result from an author’s genuine ignorance of the rules and conventions surrounding the reproduction of others’ work; sometimes it might be a shortcut (for example, if an author is commissioned to write in a language other than their own and struggles to formulate their own words); and sometimes it is simply the deliberate theft of another author’s words.

Whatever the case, it is deemed ethically unacceptable and may lead to major legal and reputational damage for the plagiariser and the publisher.

Definition of plagiarism

Plagiarism is the reproduction without credit or permission of material (text or images) previously published elsewhere in such a way that the material appears to be one’s own. It applies to material of any length, even a few words, and it encompasses ideas as well as actual words.

Crucially, this definition includes ‘self-plagiarism’, or the reproduction of one’s own material.

It’s commonly said that it’s unlikely any two authors will write the same seven words in exactly the same order. So, if a sequence of seven words written by your author appears in another publication, it’s a strong clue that you might have a case of plagiarism on your hands.

How to avoid plagiarism

The basic rule is that, if an author wants to use text that has previously been published (even in a more informal format such as a blog post), it must be put within quote marks and credit must be given to the original author. Credit usually takes the form of a citation and reference (in a book or article) or perhaps a hyperlink to the original material (in online content).

Additionally, it is not acceptable to re-use text but change a few words here and there to make it different from the original.

If you want to cite or refer to your own material, it’s standard practice (particularly in academic writing) to quote yourself just as you would any other author. Alternatively, if you want to avoid doing that, rewrite the material afresh.

Another point to consider is that, even when text has been correctly placed in quote marks and credited to its original author, it may still be necessary to seek permission from the copyright holder. This is a separate issue. Gillian Davies’ book Copyright Law for Writers, Editors and Publishers (A & C Black, 2011) is a useful guide to the issues surrounding copyright (and has some helpful content on plagiarism too).

Is it the editor’s responsibility to find plagiarism?

In short, no.

Unless specifically contracted otherwise and provided with appropriate tools to do so, a copy-editor cannot generally be expected to identify plagiarism. It is often invisible and, short of laboriously running an entire book through a plagiarism checker (which could take many hours as they usually have word limits), it can be impossible to pick it out.

However, there are certain clues editors can look for to help them identify plagiarism. When they spot it, they should report it to their client immediately (or discuss it with the author, if the author is also the client).

How to spot plagiarism

All of the issues below can be and almost always are innocuous authorial errors that have nothing to do with plagiarism. However, particularly prominent or repeated issues, or several of these issues in combination, might mean it’s worth popping a sentence or two into Google and seeing what results come up.

From the prosaic to the sublime (or vice versa)

A sure clue is when an author’s writing style suddenly changes mid-way through an article. This might be a switch in tone (such as informal to formal), or it might be a jump from rather messy English to a more polished style. There are all sorts of possibilities, and they can be subtle. However, they can be spotted if the editor is paying attention. My post on authorial voice might give you some ideas on what to look out for.

Ambiguous nationality

Different languages and regions of the world have different spelling and punctuation conventions. If your author starts out by writing consistently in UK-style English and suddenly switches to US style (for example), it might be a sign part of the text has been copied from elsewhere.

Contrary referencing

If an author isn’t too hot on the subtleties of constructing reference lists, a paper will often quite naturally contain a variety of referencing styles. However, consistent inconsistencies – where, rather than a hodgepodge of styles, there are discrete groups of references each with their own perfectly implemented style – may be a sign to take a closer look.

Disjunctions in content

Paragraphs that appear to have been stuck together with little continuity of argument might contain content that’s been ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere.

Erratic styles

In addition to editing the actual text, editors are often asked to standardise the styles in a piece of work (a ‘style’ in MS Word is a set of characteristics, such as font, size and colour, that is applied to text). Sometimes, the process of applying styles reveals that what initially appeared to be all one underlying style of text actually contains multiple styles. This may be a sign that text has been copy-pasted from another digital source (bringing with it the original source’s style).

Plagiarism checkers and tools

If I suspect something dodgy is going on in a document, I always start by simply pasting a sentence or two into Google. I put quotes around the text so that Google looks for that exact string of words.

Alternatively, when I need to check a longer body of text all at once, a tool I’ve found useful is Quetext. Quetext is free to use and claims to compare text with ‘the entire internet and other databases’. It will check up to 10,000 characters at once and then displays instances of possible plagiarism. However, there is a whole host of other tools that can be used, all with slightly different focuses and designs. (And, in case you were wondering, I am not in any way affiliated with Quetext.)

If I suspect plagiarism, I tend to use one or both of these methods to perform quick-and-dirty checks. If I find anything, I then send the material back to my client for them to investigate further, or, if the author is my client, I tactfully broach the subject with them.

A word of caution

One final – and vital – point is that editors and proofreaders should always be extremely careful raising issues surrounding plagiarism. Especially in academia, it is taken very seriously, and it can affect authors’ whole careers. Even when you have a case of plagiarism so obvious the author may as well have tied a red bow around it, raise the issue with great care. The author may be genuinely ignorant that what they have done is not acceptable (I have identified several instances of plagiarism where this was the case).

I start by picking the most appropriate person to contact (not the author, unless the author is also the client) and asking them to verify my suspicions. Never fire off a round robin to the whole project team (and the author). Doing so may only lead to unnecessary embarrassment for the author (or you, if your suspicions turn out to be incorrect – for example, if the ‘plagiarism’ is an authorised reproduction but your contact forgot to let you know about it).


I’ve seen my fair share of problems arising from both unwitting and more malicious plagiarism: projects delayed, time wasted, authors upset, even entire chapters pulled. Ideally all authors would know about and avoid such issues right from the beginning of their writing process. However, failing this unlikely eventuality, eagle-eyed editors can save their clients and authors much hassle and heartache by learning the signs of plagiarism and reporting it whenever they find it.


What other methods have you found to help you spot plagiarism? Do you have any horror stories to share, or any ‘whoop!’ moments where you saved a client from disaster? Let us know in the comments!

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Monetising feedback and embracing fragilityNot long ago, I met up with three old university friends who are all employed by (or have been employed by) large public-sector organisations. Their work environments (the support and demands of a corporate structure; the necessity of wearing shoes with rigid soles) couldn’t be more different from mine (the freedom to improve or damage my business unchecked by rules set by others; an office six metres from my bed). Yet I always learn things from our work-related chats, whether in the form of direct tips to apply to my business or reflections that give me an altered viewpoint on how I exist as a small business owner. I’d like to share two of those reflections with you.

Next to money, feedback is the most valuable commodity we get from our clients

Whether through direct reporting, receipt of career mentoring, performance evaluations or 360-degree reviews, my employed friends receive a vast amount more feedback on their work than I do as a self-employed person. And that makes me a bit jealous because, for me as a small business owner, feedback on the service I provide is a vital determinant of how well I am able to respond to what my clients want. Receiving feedback – and reacting to it well – is therefore crucial to the success of my business.

Realising how precious a commodity feedback is can help us to react positively when we receive it – whether it’s good or bad. When you’ve done everything right and the client is falling over themselves to say so, taking a bit of time to bask in your own brilliance is perfectly justified (after all, when you’re self-employed, nobody is going to do it for you). But, once you’ve basked to an appropriate degree, reflect on why the project went well. Did you have a particularly good working relationship with the author or client and, if so, how can you work on fostering such relationships with your other contacts? Did you use a new process or piece of software and, if so, how can you use it to benefit your other clients? Did you come up with a brilliant solution to a problem and, if so, how can you use it in other projects or avoid the difficulty ever happening again?

Likewise, we all sometimes get the sinking feeling that comes from learning that a client is less than thrilled with our work. Whether they are actually complaining or just unenthusiastically satisfied, this is a cue to think about what you could do differently. How can you eliminate the possibility of repeating any mistakes or misunderstandings? Or, if everything went smoothly but your client gives the impression of being distinctly underwhelmed, what can you do to wow them in future and thus make them more likely to return to you?

Many, many publishers and clients won’t bother giving feedback and will simply move on to someone else if they’re unhappy with your work. If you’re lucky enough to have someone take the time to tell you why they’re unhappy with your service, embrace that feedback with open arms and squeeze every last bit of value out of it. It’s a cliché but, when your livelihood is at stake, such feedback truly is a gift.

For the self-employed, fragility can be inspiring

Don’t get me wrong: workers’ rights and employment laws are excellent and necessary things. However, when I chose to become self-employed, I left all of those protections behind me. As a consequence, I probably view my situation as a worker rather differently from how an employed person views theirs. Essentially, my position in relation to each of my clients is much more fragile.

A major difference is that a client can ‘sack’ me at a moment’s notice (as long as we’re not in the middle of a specific contracted project). Heck, I can be sacked without my clients even telling me I’ve been sacked. All they have to do is not give me more work. This might not even be because I’ve done something wrong – the client might have undergone internal restructuring that means my services are no longer required, or they might simply have found someone else who’s a stunningly good match for their needs. They have absolutely zero legal responsibility to tell me if this happens, or even to remember I exist.

On the face of it, this can be terrifying, and of course it’s why most self-employed people have more than one client (in case one of them suddenly sails off into the sunset). But I would so much rather live and work in this way, as it makes me utterly accountable for how I run my business. Because I can be sacked at a moment’s notice, I can never be complacent. It’s my responsibility to make sure my business works well but (on the upside) it’s my responsibility to make sure my business runs well (yes, I did mean to repeat myself there). Nobody is going to pick up the slack, and personally I find that invigorating and inspiring.

The feedback–fragility connection

I’ve used the word ‘commodity’ in this post deliberately, as I firmly believe that feedback is a monetisable quantity for a small business. Whether you’re taking steps to ensure you sustain activities your clients have praised or are working on eliminating practices that weren’t so helpful, how you respond to feedback will have a direct effect on your future earnings and your client retention – and, thus, allow you to embrace and enjoy the fragility of your business rather than fearing it.


Wishing you an invigorating and enriching 2017!

Posted in Client relations, Editing, Getting work, Professional development, Proofreading | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute to three other blogs this year. This is a roundup of those posts and also serves to introduce my rewritten and redesigned website, now at a new home at I’d love to know what you think of the new design – please comment and let me know!

Macros and wildcards: essentials or added extras?

Back in April, I wrote a post for the Indian Copyeditors Forum introducing macros and wildcards. I suggested some reasons to give them a go and some ways to start getting acquainted with them. Here’s an extract:

On certain editing forums, few topics are more likely to inspire passionate debate than the use of macros and wildcards. For many years they have gradually been seeping into our editing practices, and they are now essentials for some editors while for others they remain irrelevant complications – perhaps even distractions from the ‘true’ business of editing: engaging with a text.

You can read the whole post on the Indian Copyeditors Forum here.

Editorial project management: what, who, how?

If you’ve ever wanted to know more about editorial project management, take a look at my post on the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) blog in June. Based on my experience managing projects totalling over 5 million words per year, I look at what editorial project managers do, who undertakes the various project management tasks and how to get started as a project manager.

Becoming a PM requires a lot of experience and knowledge, and excellent organisational skills. While publishers who hire PMs will almost certainly have their own comprehensive workflow documents for you to follow, it’s still important to have sufficiently broad experience and training to enable you to properly plan a project and manage issues as they arise; as the above list of tasks implies, project management is a lot more than following a checklist.

Read the whole post on the SfEP blog here.

Wise owls

Earlier in September, the SfEP posted the first hoots (or screeches?) from its ‘wise owls’ . This is a series that offers advice from a panel of SfEP Advanced and Advanced Professional members. The first topic was ‘one piece of getting started advice’ and you can read my snippet here alongside words of wisdom from three other owls: Liz Jones, Sue Littleford and John Espirian.

Our second post, in November, gave some topical musings on how to take time off at Christmas. You can find invaluable words of wisdom from eight wise owls here.

Most recently, we offered our thoughts on what editors with plenty of experience and qualifications can do to further develop their skills. Get inspired by clicking here.

Keep checking the SfEP blog for more posts in the new year!

New design

I hadn’t changed my website’s design since I launched it in 2012. A freshen-up seemed to be in order! So I now have a new logo, a new site design, new text across the whole website and a new home: Just for fun, here are before and after screenshots. I hope you like it!


Before updating my website


After updating my website

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