Proofreaders and the paparazzi: getting headshots taken

Every two months, members of the South Warwickshire and Coventry local group of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (formerly the Society for Editors and Proofreaders) meet at a pub in Leamington Spa. Our discussions include all sorts of work-related topics, and I think we all find the meetings a very valuable resource – for sharing information about our proofreading and editing work and as social events too.

A different sort of meeting

Our recent meeting had a different flavour to it. Jenny Gibson, who co-organises the group with me, arranged for some headshots to be taken of any members of the group who were keen to have an updated one. Her husband Ian is a keen amateur photographer, and Jenny had chatted to a few members at a previous meeting about this, and they seemed keen. Jenny checked that the pub had no objections, and we were ready to go.

I’m not sure whether having an up-to-date headshot on your website and other places online helps when it comes to securing work. But it’s probably a good idea to keep updating it. Imagine if I’m about to meet a client for the first time and they’re on the lookout for the person in the first photo below, but in fact I look like the person in the second photo below. Enough said.

The proofreaders start posing

The next decision was what to wear to look professional and smart, even though only a very small area of clothing would be showing. It seemed to take me a ridiculously long time to decide on this, almost as if I thought my photo would be shown on news channels across the globe, with ‘Proofreaders have photo taken’ as the shocking and wildly exciting headline.

I arrived a bit earlier than usual at the pub, and Ian and Jenny were pretty much ready for their first victim: me. It was a bit odd to be staring down the lens of a camera being used by someone I’d met only a minute before, and I kept holding a cheesy grin for a while, only to realise that Ian was adjusting a setting on the camera. I’d then stop smiling, only to blink at the exact second he took the photo. I had warned him he’d have his work cut out with me. Ian’s lovely, and very patient, and by the end of my little session I was getting into it, even at one point subconsciously flicking my head and hair back, Hollywood-red-carpet style. Oh dear. Perhaps it was best that we ended the session there before I started getting ideas above my station.

Several other members of the group had their photos taken too, and I think we’ve now got great professional-level photos to replace our old ones on our websites and social media profile pages.

So on behalf of the group, I’d like to thank Jenny and Ian for organising this and being so calm and good-natured in surroundings that weren’t ideal. I think we all enjoyed the photo session, and I suspect in a couple of years we’ll be asking Ian if he’d like to come to the pub with us again – free burger and chips if he brings his camera!

What are the benefits for proofreaders of meeting clients face to face?

You might have read my last blog post about many proofreaders enjoying getting out of the office now and again, even if they love their job. So while the dominating features of many self-employed proofreaders are spending a lot of time alone working, doing admin and marketing, and generally running a business, another, for me at least, is rarely seeing a client face to face. Some proofreaders, though, for example those who work with local businesses, charities, and other organisations, will probably see clients regularly, and in-house proofreaders will have their colleagues for company. But I suspect it’s not uncommon for many proofreaders to work as I do most of the time: it’s just me and my computer. And to be honest, most of the time I enjoy this set-up.

Business trip to the Caribbean, anyone?

About 50% of my clients live outside the UK but in the EU, and I have several clients who live beyond Europe, in countries such as China, Mexico, and Canada. I don’t have any clients who live in my local area. It would be lovely to have business trips abroad to meet some of my clients (especially to glamorous, warm locations, preferably with a nearby beach!), but almost all of my communication is done by email. Most clients seem to prefer that anyway, and it’s rare that clients phone me. Emailing is quick and can be done any time, and my clients are usually busy people with pressing schedules.

I’ve worked for quite a lot of my clients for several years now and have got to know them fairly well through email. I’m lucky – they’re very nice people and I enjoy communicating with them. But a face-to-face meeting probably can’t be beaten as far as cementing a relationship is concerned.

The benefits of meeting face to face

A few months ago I was contacted by a Portuguese client whose book I had recently proofread. He said he was coming to England to visit his daughter (also a client) and would be staying in a nearby town. He asked if I’d like to meet up. A couple of months later, I met the client and his wife in a local café and had a really enjoyable morning chatting about work, families, and a whole list of other things. They’re lovely people and are interesting, easy to talk to, and a lot of fun (Carlos, I owe you a cup of tea and a scone next time you visit!).

I came home from the meeting feeling lucky that I have such great clients and full of enthusiasm for proofreading more of their texts. A big part of my job satisfaction comes from maintaining good relationships with clients and making sure they’re happy with the work I do for them, and a face-to-face meeting, certainly in this case, confirmed that the client was delighted with the work I’d done and had already recommended me to a colleague, so I came home with a warm, fuzzy glow. I think it’s time to start planning another leisurely chat over tea and scones…

Why it’s good to escape from the office – the annual conference of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading 2017

The proofreader’s office

I wonder what people would say if they were asked to describe the sort of office a self-employed proofreader might work in? Would they describe an isolated, minimalist office overlooking a well-tended garden with an amazing view of distant hills? Or would they picture a dingy back bedroom cluttered with junk, piles of books, and cold cups of half-drunk tea? It would be interesting to find out, and I suspect most freelancers’ offices are somewhere in between these descriptions. I doubt many professionals would confess that their office fits the latter description! It’s probably true to say, though, that most of us spend a lot of time alone with our computers, which is fine but often means that it’s essential to socialise and mix with friends and colleagues when there’s time.

A proofreader’s escape

A week ago I spent a day at the annual conference of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (formerly the Society for Editors and Proofreaders). I’m a Professional Member of the institute, which offers a huge amount of support and guidance for members, works hard to maintain and improve editorial standards, and provides opportunities for editorial professionals to communicate with one another, among other things. I co-run the South Warwickshire and Coventry local CIEP group, which allows local members to meet face to face to discuss all sorts of work-related stuff, and I’ve found our meetings invaluable in many different ways.

My day at the conference was a great opportunity to spent time with other proofreaders and editors – to network and to learn new things. I attended workshops on different ways of pricing work, learned more about the software I use, and discovered, with relief, that we (that is, editorial professionals) will be able to prevent our jobs from being taken over by robots in the next thirty years or so. The talks and workshops certainly provided food for thought and were fun too. I met new people and learned quite a lot in just a few hours. I’ve come back even more enthusiastic about the work that I do and keen to try out some new ideas.

So it’s good to get out of the office now and again, and coming back raring to go and full of even more enthusiasm for proofreading can only be a good thing. I’m really grateful to all those who organised the conference, gave talks, and attended. It was a great event. Now back to the real world!

Theses and dissertations (part 2): How to avoid inconsistency of style


In part 1 of this post, I suggested an easy method to avoid being inconsistent in the use of tense in your thesis or dissertation. This post considers a quick and easy way to avoid inconsistency of style. Examples of such an inconsistency could be applying italics to only some instances of the same word or phrase, capitalising some terms but not all of the same ones, or starting off using double quotation marks but later in the text using single ones.

What a proofreader can do about inconsistency

When I’m proofreading for students, it’s my job to check and correct errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation and to check that a style that’s mostly consistently used throughout is checked and corrected. It’s not the job of a proofreader, though, to decide on certain style points and then implement them from scratch. I can of course point out what the inconsistencies are and give you information and advice to help you decide what to do. But this still means that if you haven’t decided on a style and tried to stick to it, the work on consistency will mostly need to be done by you at a later date. However, to save yourself time at this later stage, there are some decisions you could make when you start writing.

How to save yourself time

Before you start writing your thesis or dissertation, think about the sorts of inconsistency that you might easily introduce and start a list about the styles you’ll use. It might look something like this:

  • double quotation marks for authors’ quotes
  • single quotation marks for particular terms/labels
  • italics for unfamiliar foreign words but not for words like per se and faux pas that have become embedded in English and will be understood by all readers
  • capitalise Chapter 3, Figure 1, Table 1 and so on
  • lists – bullet points not numbered points; no punctuation after each item apart from the final one (full stop)
  • numbers – words for zero to nine, figures after that unless round hundreds or thousands
  • displayed quotes – no quotation marks. Source to appear in brackets after the full stop at the end of the quote
  • abbreviations and full names for them – initial lower case letters for the full names unless there is a special reason not to have these (so, for example, ‘FWST (foolproof way to save time)’.

There are lots of other style points you could add as you are writing. You can then refer to and continue adding to the list periodically. You’ll save a lot of time by doing this and will feel the benefit nearer to the date of submission, when you might be struggling to fit in all the work you need to do.

I know that making a list doesn’t appeal to everyone as a way of working, but I’m sure that for this particular purpose it will work really well.

Theses and dissertations (part 1): An easy way to make sure tense is consistent


How tense is used has been a problem area in nearly all of the theses and master’s dissertations I’ve proofread since I started my business in 2009. In addition to correcting spelling, grammar and punctuation and doing checks for consistency of style (use of italic, capitalisation, hyphenation, and so on), I check whether tense is used in a consistent way. I usually find inconsistencies.

What work is done on tense during proofreading?

Changing the use of tense across an entire thesis or dissertation isn’t within the remit of a proofreader when it comes to students’ work because such extensive changes could constitute collaboration or even collusion in the eyes of an academic institution, but I can highlight examples of inconsistency for you so that it’s clear what needs amending. I can also give some advice about which tense you could use for each purpose and give an opinion on which tense it would be easiest or best to use. The Oxford Dictionaries blog includes this useful blog post that gives a simple description of different tenses:

Once I’ve read through an entire thesis or dissertation and can see that the present tense is usually used to refer to what authors say, e.g. ‘Smith (2009) states that/argues that/points out that’, I can confirm this to you. You might then decide to take the most time-efficient option and make this tense consistent for this purpose. Sometimes, though, the tense is wildly inconsistent, and this means that you will have to spend tedious hours sorting this out.

How to save time when working on tense

No-one wants to spend any more time than is necessary on the nuts and bolts of a thesis or dissertation when the most important part of the writing is the content. It’s easy to save time at the outset in relation to tense if you have some sort of plan that you can refer to. Your plan could look something like this:

  • Present tense for what I say I am doing in this thesis as a whole, e.g. In this thesis I consider X/carry out a study of X/complete a literature review/explain my methodology …
  • Present tense for what I say occurs in each chapter, e.g. In this chapter I investigate …
  • Present tense for what authors say, e.g. Smith states that …
  • Present tense for what I draw from my research, e.g. This suggests that/the table illustrates that/the results show that …
  • Past tense for what I did during my research, e.g. I conducted data analyses of/I interviewed/I gathered information from …
  • Past tense for what interviewees said, e.g. She confirmed that/suggested that …
  • Past tense for comments regarding what I have done in the thesis, probably just in the concluding sections of a chapter and at the end of the thesis, e.g. In chapter 3 I looked at/in the thesis I illustrated that …
  • Future tense for what will be in the next chapter or a future chapter, e.g. In the next chapter/in chapter 4 I will discuss …

Not everyone likes lists, but a little bit of planning will save you a lot of time in the long run. In part 2 of this post, I will look at how to avoid inconsistency of style in your thesis or dissertation (i.e. things like capitalisation, the use of italic, using double or single quotation marks, and so on).


Grammar: the generation gap


Once a week for about the last five years, I’ve sneaked off to a two-hour Italian lesson at a language college in Birmingham. I’ve loved it, though it’s been a challenge. Strange though it may sound to some, I like learning Italian grammar rules.

I’ve recently stopped going to these lessons, but an email exchange with a client a few days ago about different people’s sometimes wildly varying opinions on the rules of grammar made me think about some of the discussions that went on in these Italian classes.

All of my classmates were at least ten years older than me, and some of them were probably at least twenty years older. That’s irrelevant in terms of learning together as a group, but when we talked about British English grammar, it was clear that we had different opinions.

Italian grammar

Our teacher was a big fan of grammar and liked nothing better than to spend a good forty minutes each lesson entertaining us with things like the joys of indirect and direct object placement, how to construct the imperfect subjunctive tense and why it’s OK to say ‘I don’t know nothing’ in Italian.

The generation gap

Sometimes our teacher wanted to compare Italian grammar with British English grammar and would ask us what the equivalent rule is in English. This was when classmates said things like, ‘No, you definitely can’t start a sentence with “and”’ or ‘You can’t split an infinitive’. I didn’t really want to get into an argument about this type of thing during the lesson, because it wasn’t usually important in terms of the Italian construction we were discussing. It was interesting, though, that the answers were usually given with certainty and seemed to be agreed on by everyone except me. This gave me the impression that when my classmates were at school, grammar was probably taught in terms of absolute rules that couldn’t be broken.

The grammar gap continues – or does it?

I have two teenage children, and sometimes I’m surprised by how they use language in a different way to me. They use new words that I’ve never heard of, for a start. And they sometimes use constructions like ‘I’ll go do that’ (which I think of as more of a North American way of putting it) rather than ‘I’ll go and do that’, which is how I’d phrase it. On the whole, though, the gap between how I use written language and how they use it is very small, so perhaps it had already become acceptable to break the rules by the time I was at high school in the 1980s and has been so ever since. (And whether ‘the rules’ are in fact rules is probably best left for another day.)

A couple of weeks ago, though, I was proofreading a storybook written for children about to start school when the publisher contacted me to say that the teacher who was due to sign off the storybook had said that a sentence beginning with ‘But’ would have to be changed because children are now taught that it’s wrong to start a sentence this way. So perhaps what was taught twenty years before I started school is now being taught again and the grammar differences have come full circle since then.

Even if that’s the case, it seems that today there is a far bigger grey area than there used to be, even in formal writing. Is it right to stick to what you believe to be the rules even when this makes the sentence awkward or difficult to read? I don’t think so, but that’s a whole other story.

Editing a style guide – when is editing needed?


You may have read my last blog post, ‘A new experience: copy-editing for a publisher’. It was about working for a different type of client for the first time (a publisher) – I usually work for individuals. I mentioned in that post that parts of the style guide for this first copy-editing job I did for a publisher had been unclear and I’d had to ask the project manager to clarify them. I’d also thought that the guide was a bit lacking in content. When I was sent the second job to do for the same client, I was told that the style guide included minor amendments, one of which proved to be quite problematic.

Style guides are rarely perfect

The style guide was helpful but not comprehensive. There was one guideline in particular that just didn’t seem to make sense. I was sure it was incomplete or needed editing. When I’d been working on the first job and had asked whether a particular guideline was correct, I’d been told that it was and asked to stick to it. Unfortunately, this time the project manager was on holiday, so I had to use my own judgement to get the job done within the fairly tight timescale.

I interpreted the confusing guideline as best I could, applied it with exceptions that I thought were essential and explained in a note to the project manager what I’d done and why.

The project manager was pleased with the work I’d done and admitted that the style guide wasn’t perfect. She asked me if I was interested in editing the guideline I’d found so confusing so that it was unambiguous, which I did. I also mentioned a couple of other things that I thought it would be useful to include or change in the style guide. I drafted some minor changes and these have now been incorporated.

How long should a style guide be?

I was very grateful to have had a style guide at all, as I’m used to working without one and creating my own, but I found this editing exercise really useful in terms of thinking carefully about the minimal instruction needed to save the copy-editor and later the proofreader a lot of time.

I was tempted to suggest more changes, and ideally I think this particular style guide would benefit from having more detail, but, given that I’d only been asked to consider a couple of items, I decided to do what had been asked and no more. It’s possible to go on for ever with a style guide, and one that’s too long may be a hindrance rather than a help. I once had to check that a relatively short text was consistent with a 48-page style guide. I think it took almost as long to read and absorb the style guide as it did to copy-edit the text. So a style guide that is concise but covers the essentials is probably better than grappling with a monster like that.

Editing a client’s style guide was something I’d not done before, and this second move into doing something new was a good exercise in thinking and working in a slightly different way.

A new experience: copy-editing for a publisher


I’ve been proofreading and copy-editing professionally since 2009 and almost all of my work has been for non-publishers such as academics, researchers, postgraduates and businesses or other organisations. Although I send details to clients of what they can expect from my proofreading and copy-editing services, most of my clients have been happy for me to do whatever work I think is needed, and I’ve enjoyed improving the clarity, fluency and consistency of a text where that’s what’s required. So far, so good.

Copy-editing training

In 2012 I attended the classroom-based ‘Introduction to copy-editing’ course run by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (formerly the Society for Editors and Proofreaders). I realised that the only things my clients hadn’t wanted me to do when I was copy-editing for them were formatting, fact-checking (apart from pointing out incorrect facts that a lay reader would spot) and tagging.

Nothing to lose

I enjoy the type of work I do and wasn’t particularly looking to move in even a slightly new direction when I was contacted by my friend and colleague Kate Haigh ( She asked if I would be interested in copy-editing for a publisher, as she hadn’t the time for this specific project. My first thought was, ‘Nope. I don’t feel completely comfortable with that.’ I then told myself not to be so ridiculous. I have a lot of happy clients and the core elements of this potential job would be doing things that I routinely do. There was no valid reason to think this job was beyond me. At worst it would challenge me a bit. So I found myself saying, ‘Oh, go on, then!’ and immediately feeling a positive sense of anticipation alongside a little apprehension.

A happy ending

The client sent the text and I completed the work.  The only thing that was new to me was the formatting work that needed doing. This involved using a Word template and applying styles. Kate had described the two-step process and it proved to be very straightforward. Making sure I did this task properly took a little longer than I’d anticipated, and I also spent time making sure I understood the style guide, which involved raising some queries to clarify some of the instructions. I tried to see this as a positive learning opportunity, and I was happy to spend the extra time needed to make sure the job was done properly.

The lovely project manager made the job so much easier than it could have been. I did have some questions while working on the text, and she answered them promptly and fully and made it plain that she was around to answer more if necessary.

The publisher was happy with my work, I’ve already done another report for them and have another booked in and am now one of their registered suppliers. What’s not to like?

Welcome to my new proofreading blog

‘Write a proofreading blog’ has been on my to-do list for a long time. I’m finally dragging myself into the twenty-first century and starting it today. I’ve always managed to find an excuse not to start that first draft. I suddenly find jobs that apparently need doing immediately, such as filing emails or mopping the kitchen floor. However, given that I’ve been planning to update my website for ages and have finally got round to that (many thanks to the ever-patient and hugely knowledgeable Dave Stapenell of A9 Creative and SEO), I thought it was a good time to start. Well, I’m finally taking the plunge, so here goes…

I plan to write about the positive and negative sides of being a proofreader and about issues and solutions that I come across along the way. I’m also aiming to include posts that might interest people who have previously employed a proofreader or copy-editor or who are thinking of doing so.

I’m not aiming to be a prize-winning writer, but I’m aiming to write some insightful content that’s easy to read and fairly light-hearted. I might even throw in a few jokes along the way. I’ll try not to include any that are too corny, though, so fear not. The next post will be cobbled together – I mean carefully structured – very soon.

Proofreading for self-publishers of fiction


If you are a self-publishing author looking for someone to proofread your novel or short story, you can simply send me your final draft and I’ll let you know whether I can help you. If I can, I’ll give you a quote.

Proofreading fiction is of course a little different to proofreading other sorts of texts. As you probably already know, in the publishing industry proofreading is the last task in a long list of work that is done on a manuscript by editorial professionals. It is the final check on a text that has ideally been edited and then copy-edited.

I’m aware, however, that many self-publishers won’t have the resources to have gone through all the traditional stages. But I would expect that your manuscript has at least been copy-edited. If you are unsure of the differences between copy-editing and proofreading, have a look at the CIEP’s FAQs page, which you’ll find here:

Any quote I give you would include doing the following:CIEP accredited editor proofreader membership

  • Checking spelling, punctuation and grammar
  • Checking that the syntax of sentences seems to work and that sentences make sense in context
  • Checking that your writing is clear and reads fluently
  • Checking that the style you have used is consistent, e.g. double or single quotation marks and that things like italics are used consistently
  • Ensuring that any ambiguity or monotonous repetition is highlighted and possible solutions are suggested
  • With regard to all of the above, being sensitive to your style of writing and bearing in mind that with fiction, standard grammar and/or punctuation rules can be broken if it seems to make sense in context to do so (I’d make a note about this to make you aware of your options)
  • Noting formatting issues such as inconsistent paragraph spacing/margins (but not correcting those).

Ideally, as many people as possible should read your manuscript before you finalise it (it’s best to have a number of beta-readers read your work so that you can get useful feedback, but any friends or family who have analytical and crticital skills can provide useful feedback and spot errors too). I suggest you consider this even after my proofread, because you will be doing work on the text after that, and errors can creep in.

You can see testimonials from some of the clients who’ve been happy with my work. I have a love for fiction, a feel for language and an eye for detail, and I would do my best to substantially improve the quality of your text. Please get in touch with me here.