Copy-editing for a publisher

I’ve been proofreading and copy-editing professionally since 2009, but almost all of my work has been for non-publishers. I’ve worked almost exclusively on non-fiction texts and a lot of my work involves copy-editing texts for clients whose first language isn’t English. On the whole, my clients have been happy for me to do whatever work I think is needed, and I’ve enjoyed the freedom of making texts read as though they’ve been written by a native speaker and ensuring that the style is consistent. So far, so good.

Copy-editing training

In 2012 I attended the classroom-based ‘Introduction to copy-editing’ course run by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders [https://www.sfep.org.uk/]. I realised that the only things that 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

A few months ago my friend and colleague Kate Haigh (www.kateproof.co.uk) 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 100% 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 job would be doing things that I routinely do. There was no valid reason to think this job was beyond me. The most it would do would be to 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.

The work arrived, and although it took me longer to complete than I’d hoped, I felt comfortable with most of it. The formatting and tagging work turned out to involve using a Word template and applying styles. I’d never done this before, but Kate described the easy two-step process and it proved to be straightforward to do. I also spent time making sure I understood the style guide, which involved raising some queries to clarify some of the instructions.

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 that she answered promptly and fully, and she made it plain that she was around to answer more if necessary.

A happy ending

The publisher was happy with my work, I’ve already done another report for them and am now one of their registered suppliers. Many of us can become anxious about moving beyond our comfort zones, but I’m hoping that now I’ve made one ‘leap’, I can make more.


Local CIEP meetings for editors and proofreaders – the benefits

Image by Gerd Altmann at Pixabay

We had our final CIEP local group (South Warwickshire and Coventry) meeting of the year in December 2020. As usual, it was great to see lots of familiar faces and to have a good chat and a laugh about all sorts of things, some work-related and some not.

Learning in a supportive environment

Our group is invaluable, I think, in terms of providing support for local members, providing a space for us to bounce ideas and questions off each other, and for reassurance that we’re not the only person who has a particular concern or blind spot, for example.

Before I wrote this post, I had a chat with a friend I made a couple of years ago via this group about why we think it’s successful, and we came up with various things. We both like the fact that the meetings are unstructured and informal, though it’s always useful to have a couple of things on a loose agenda to talk about to kick off our Zoom meetings. I think our meetings would be very different – not necessarily worse – if they involved an invited speaker or a more detailed and formal agenda.

Sharing ideas, information and advice

We’re very lucky because all of our members are generous in terms of sharing ideas and experiences. And no one is judgemental when someone confesses that they need advice or that they have found themselves in a tricky situation that they felt out of their depth with for a while. Or when someone admits that they have had no experience of a particular work-related topic we’re discussing. And that’s fine – gaining knowledge and even just little tips in this way is a brilliant way to learn. We all work in different areas and have different specialised areas too, so our knowledge is bound to differ a lot if among our members we have, say, a proofreader who always proofreads fiction, a copywriter with a background in marketing who works mostly on business documents, and a copy-editor and proofreader who specialises in working on academic texts, including for master’s and doctoral students (that’ll be me!). This often means that someone raises a topic and different people then contribute and add a slightly different perspective.

Strength in numbers?

A different type of advantage of our group is that we have about 12 or 13 members who come to most meetings. So even if several people cancel attending a meeting at the last minute, we still usually have at least 5 or 6 people coming along, and that’s fine for an informal dinner and chat at a restaurant or pub (in pre-Covid times) or a Zoom meeting. This smallish number might be a bit embarrassing if we had invited a speaker and hired out a room for 20 somewhere, though! Perhaps another reason to avoid that route.

It’s official – laughing is good for you

We always have a good laugh at our meetings, which I’m sure we’ve all needed more than ever since last March. I think we’re all pretty good at laughing at ourselves too – definitely something that’s needed when you’re self-employed and sometimes have to learn from your own mistakes (hopefully small ones).

So these were our conclusions about why the group seems successful and has had an enthusiastic and active membership for quite a while. Whatever the reasons, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it and being joint coordinator for the last 5 years or so. Long may it last, and let’s hope for a brighter 2021 for all of us.


Proofreading, copy-editing and dreaming about vegetables during lockdown: the sequel

Well, it’s three months since my blog post about how I’d been doing since the lockdown started in March. The subtitle to this blog post is deliberately tongue in cheek, because the update is that not a great deal has changed. I’m still doing virtually nothing in terms of socialising in person, apart from seeing one friend for a socially distanced walk once a week. Visiting my parents has become incredibly difficult since the weather turned autumnal and Solihull entered a tier 2 and then a tier 3 lockdown. This means that we’re not allowed to enter other people’s homes or socialise in their gardens, of course.

On a more positive note, the proofreading and copy-editing work has continued to flow in since the short-lived hiccup early in the first full lockdown, and until today I’ve been pretty busy. I’ve been working on a really good variety of things, which is one of the things I like about my proofreading work. Here’s a taste:

  • an article about setting research agendas in relation to oral healthcare
  • a dystopian thriller
  • an article about French women’s influence on British culture in the early twentieth century
  • a Regency romance
  • an article about Twitter and the Gezi Park movement
  • a PhD thesis about Margaret Atwood’s novels
  • news releases about new medical software manufactured in Switzerland

It’s been great getting my teeth into all of this work – apart from paying the bills, the work keeps me distracted to quite a large extent from all the worry and stress of the situation that we’re all having to deal with right now.

Vegetable news

My new hobby of vegetable growing has come on in leaps and bounds. I successfully grew lettuces and coriander over the summer, with successive planting so there were always leaves to pick for my sandwiches at lunchtime. I picked the final (admittedly bedraggled and a bit slug eaten) one today (11 December).

My autumn planting went well too. I’ve planted onion sets and garlic, which should be ready to pick next spring or summer. And I have 10 rows of spinach on the go. The spinach has suffered because of too much rain and some slug damage, but I enjoy picking a handful of leaves when I want to and adding them to what I’m cooking straightaway. And my kale plants are looking pretty healthy. The main issue with kale is being able to eat it quickly enough – how many recipes can one successfully cook with kale?! If I’m going to all this effort to grow vegetables, though, you can be sure I’ll do whatever it takes to eat them, even if we have to eat kale stew twice a week for the next six months! I’ve discovered a great recipe for making a very hearty pesto with kale, so that’s been a regular feature over the last couple of months.

Meetings with colleagues

I’ve continued to organise our local group Zoom meetings of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading with Jenny Gibson. These have been really great and it’s been so good to chat about work with familiar and new faces. We’ve had a couple of new members join over the last few months, which is always something we welcome. It’s good to share our experiences with people who are new to proofreading and editing and for them to share their previous work experiences with us. Editorial professionals are a pretty varied bunch who come from all sorts of work backgrounds, and it’s always interesting to hear about people’s journey to the freelance world.

After we changed the clocks in October and and we started drawing the curtains earlier and earlier, I decided I needed a new hobby. I decided to have a go at embroidery again, which is something I did when I was about 10 but haven’t touched since then. I’ve warned my friends that if they’re not nice to me I’ll inflict some clumsily embroidered gift on them at Christmas. I’m thinking probably something that I’ll frame and therefore expect to be on their living room wall the next time I visit (in some post-lockdown ideal world when I’m actually allowed in). I’ve really enjoyed the slow pace of sewing and have found it very therapeutic and relaxing.

So although there’s nothing revolutionary to report in my sequel blog post, all is well in my small world. The fact that I so enjoy my work is such a help and I’m aware that I’m fortunate to be in this position. I tackle each day’s grammar issues and comma tangles with great enthusiasm – weirdly, they really do brighten up my day (when I’ve sorted them out, that is!).

 

 


Libraries revisited via The Library Book by Susan Orleans

In March 2018, I wrote a blog post called Proofreaders, libraries and a love of reading. It was about my introduction to libraries from a very early age and my continued use of them, about the decline in the use of libraries and, sadly, about the closure of many of them across the UK.

Libraries during lockdown

My relationship with libraries was interrupted by the lockdown. At the start of the lockdown in March 2020, I had four library books that were waiting to be returned and would soon be overdue. Instead, they sat in a sad little stack in the hallway until I was able to return them at the end of September, as libraries were closed temporarily because of the pandemic. Many are now open (October 2020) for a ‘grab and go’ service, which means you have 30 minutes to choose your books. I’ve not done that yet, and it’s been weird not having my usual reliable supply of books for the last few months. I’ve bought a few (and feel very lucky I’ve had the money for such luxuries when times are so hard for so many) and had a stack given to me for a recent birthday.

The Library Book

 

My daughter is also an avid reader, and over the summer she kept reading out bits of a book she was reading, called The Library Book, by Susan Orleans. It’s about a devastating fire in 1986 that forced the Los Angeles (LA) Public Library to shut for seven years. Four hundred thousand books were completely destroyed and 700,000 more were badly damaged by fire and/or water. It was initially estimated that it would take three years to restore these books. The steady stream of amazing facts and figures that my daughter read out to me over the course of reading the book prompted me to read it too.

I rarely read non-fiction, but this book sounded really interesting and worth a go. It’s fascinating, and a real page-turner. The mystery at the centre of it is who started the fire and why? The book delves into the history of libraries and their role in our lives today and in the past. The descriptions are fascinating and really illuminating. The vital role that women played in libraries is focused on in parts, including a mention of the 18-year-old woman who was the head of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1880, when men almost completely dominated such roles (and most other areas of public and working life). Women were not even allowed to have their own library cards and were confined to a single room in the building.

The fact that libraries were and are so much more than lenders of books brings out really interesting snippets of information in the book. In the 1960s in the US, it was seen as critical to have a reference desk with a telephone service that allowed the caller to ask a question and the librarian would do the research and call back with the answer. A kind of early Google search, I suppose. Some of the questions could be pretty obscure, and you can imagine a librarian rolling their eyes and heaving a sigh of exasperation before walking miles up stairs and along stacks to answer queries like this: ‘Patron inquiring whether Perry Mason’s secretary Della Street is named after a street, and/or whether there is a real street named Della Street’ (p. 219).

One aspect of libraries today that I’d not given much thought to is the many people who seek refuge in them because they’re homeless. Many librarians today in the US have training in how to reach out to people in this predicament, such as by offering them the contact details of organisations that can help them get accommodation and money to live on.

A much-needed laugh out loud

One of the features I really liked was the list of books noted at the start of each chapter. These ranged from solid academic titles to the downright weird, eccentric and/or really funny but always had a link with what was discussed in the chapter. Some examples, as I flick through the book randomly, are Toward a Literate World, by Frank Charles Laubach (p. 185), Let’s Go Goldmining, by J. P. Hall (p. 123), and Drunk, Divorced & Covered in Cat Hair: The True-Life Misadventures of a 30-Something Who Learned to Knit After He Split, by Laurie Perry (p. 85).

Bits of the book made me laugh out loud, which is surely a good thing in the middle of a pandemic lockdown. The funniest bit for me was the description of how one of the heads of the LA library, Charles Lummis, was very concerned about the pseudo-science books that were becoming popular in the early twentieth century. He had a skull and crossbones sign added to the front page of these books. He wanted notes put inside them to say ‘This book is of the worst class that we can possibly make in the library. We are sorry that you have not any better sense than to read it’ but was persuaded to change this to ‘For Later and More Scientific Treatment of this Subject, Consult——‘. Librarians filled in the blanks with supposedly better books on that particular topic (p. 145). Not at all amusing, though, is the story behind Lummis’s appointment as head. The existing female head of the library, Mary Jones, was fired for no reason other than the (all male) board’s decision to appoint a male head, Lummis, despite his total lack of experience and training. A petition against this course of action was signed by 1,000 women, who then took part in a protest march. However, the city attorney later confirmed it was completely legal for Jones to be fired simply because it had been decided that a male head of the library would be preferable. Although she initially refused to hand in her keys and kept turning up to work, Jones eventually had to concede defeat and give up her post.

This book paints a picture of the importance of libraries past and present and of the dedication of librarians to the service they provide. Towards the end, there’s a fascinating discussion about the techniques used to find out how fires are started and how they spread that has relevance for the mysterious fire that the book deals with. The style of the book is more like a novel than a traditional non-fiction book, and that’s probably why I found it so readable. It’s easy to immerse yourself in facts and figures when they are bound up in a fascinating mystery that’s steeped in history, personal journeys, well-rounded characters and … well, books.

Reference

Orleans, Susan. 2019. The Library Book. Atlantic Books.

 

 

 


Proofreading, copy-editing and dreaming about vegetables during lockdown

The early days – a proofreading shortage turns into busy weeks and months

So it’s 26 August 2020 and we’ve been in lockdown for five months. I’ve barely left the house, apart from a few trips to the supermarket early on and a walk every day. I’m very grateful to have a garden, which I’ve enjoyed working on even more this summer. I’ve even gone as far as to buy and put together a raised vegetable bed recently, and I’m ridiculously excited about planting a few things in the autumn and then planning for next spring.

I’m lucky that I work from home anyway, so my life hasn’t changed as much as many other people’s. My commute still consists of walking across the landing, and I spend quite a lot of the day on my own in my office. I’m missing my family and friends a lot. My social life is non-existent apart from meeting a friend once a week in a park and visiting my parents in their garden.

After a bit of a wobble on the work front early on in lockdown when my inbox went completely silent, I’ve been very busy copy-editing and proofreading since then. Working has been invaluable as a distraction from the incredibly stressful few months we’re going through (as well as helping to pay the bills!). We’re all worried about the virus, our family’s jobs and futures, and the situation that people around us and globally find themselves in. Empathy can be exhausting in this situation, when the extent of suffering of all kinds seems so overwhelming and there seems to be no end date.

Thank goodness for family, friends, and colleagues

Having colleagues that I’m in touch with, as well as family and friends, has been really beneficial. At the start of lockdown, I was reassured, though saddened, to hear that many colleagues were also finding that work had dried up when in normal times they would have expected to be pretty busy. Since then, they too have become as busy as they usually are, which is a relief.

We’ve been in touch a lot and have checked up on each other’s mental health and general well-being and asked about personal issues, like family members who are going through difficult times because of a ill health, or job-related problems, or a death in the family. I’ve felt very supported by these colleagues and know that they’re happy to chat if I feel I want to vent about this or that. We’ve had ongoing emails about work-related issues too, so that’s brought some feeling of normality to our daily email chats.

Familiar faces

I met all of these colleagues at my local proofreading and editing group in Leamington Spa around eight years ago. The group was then part of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, but in March this year the society gained chartered status after several years of hard work by the people who hold or used to hold official posts in the society. It’s now called the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

I have co-run the local group (called the South Warwickshire and Coventry local group) for over five years now and have found it a fantastic support group. Since lockdown began, we’ve had Zoom meetings every two months, and they’ve been really uplifting. The simplest pleasure of them, to be honest, is just seeing a group of people that are familiar and good company, and we’ve talked about all sorts of work-related stuff but have chatted a fair bit about other things. The meetings have been relaxed and a lot of fun, with plenty of laughing and empathy and a general feeling that no one’s being judged and we’re all happy to share our knowledge and experiences. It’s such a rewarding way to learn a few new tips and just get the brain cogs rolling a little bit when new ideas or suggestions come up.

Advice and support via CIEP meetings

During the last meeting, one member thought it might be useful to talk about things like whether we record our time and if so how we record it; at what point we start to treat someone or an organisation as a client and what information we record about them and the work they need doing; and how we organise our work schedule (time-recording software, spreadsheets or scrappy bits of paper, for example). It was such a useful chat, and it was really interesting to hear about others’ methods of working.

Because most freelancers are alone when we proofread, copy-edit, edit, write or project manage, or any combination of these, there is a danger that we get stuck in our ways, so chatting about methods of organising our work that might make us change our methods to better ones must be beneficial. Having said that, though, some of us are guilty of sticking to what we’ve been doing for the last ten years in relation to certain tasks, because … we just like doing it that way. For example, I’m not about to give up my beloved pen and notepad when I’m writing notes about the text I’m working on and swap to using a Word document instead. Using a pen and a pristine sheet of paper still gives me a huge amount of enjoyment, I’m not sure why. It’s a proofreader thing…


CIEP membership – what this means

CIEP accredited copy editor proofreader UKI am a Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). This is a professional UK-based organisation for editors and proofreaders that promotes excellence in English language editing (formerly called the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP)). I am proud to be a member of this organisation and abide by its code of practice:

The CIEP’s code of practice (CoP), Ensuring editorial excellence, is a really useful resource for editorial professionals. Its purpose is to ‘establish standards of best practice for CIEP members and help them maintain them and to encourage good professional relationships’.

The CIEP’s website introduces the CoP by saying that ‘Good communication between client/employer and freelance/employee is essential. Clear briefing and the agreement of terms are vital if high standards are to be maintained by both parties, and unsurprisingly they’re emphasised by the CoP.’

In addition, the CoP includes guidance on the professional behaviour of a freelance/employee and a client/employer and standards for proofreading, editing and project management. It also provides information on web editing, electronic file handling, email etiquette, confidentiality and computer security

Since the summer of 2016, I have been co-running the South Warwickshire and Coventry local CIEP group. You can download the code of practice here


Proofreading and copy-editing: enjoying good relationships with clients

 

Every week I meet up with a good friend who lives locally for a chat and a coffee. She’s self-employed too, so the conversation inevitably turns to work at some point. My proofreading business is very different from her cleaning business, but we encounter many of the same challenges and enjoy similar aspects of our work. A recent conversation turned to how much we enjoy the flexibility of our work hours. We compared this (probably rather smugly, I have to confess!) with the fixed hours of many of our friends. When I got home, I started to think about the other things that I like or love about my job.

(You may be wondering why there is a photo of old mailboxes at the start of this post. It would seem more obvious to have a photo of a computer screen showing an email inbox, perhaps, but I thought that might be a tad dull.)

Proofreading and copy-editing are the best bits

I love copy-editing and proofreading. There’s nothing more satisfying than feeling that I’ve hugely improved a text, and it’s great to get positive feedback from clients. But one of the other really enjoyable things is the relationships with clients that evolve over the years. I’ll write briefly in this post about some of the types of relationships that can develop over time.

Following clients’ careers: student clients can turn into lecturer clients

Several of my current clients are now academics whose PhD theses I proofread in the past, and it’s good to know that they’ve progressed in their chosen career. They now send me journal articles to copy-edit and proofread, and I’m always interested to see what their job title is and what university they’re working at. They often give me snippets of information about their current research or job role. My relationships with these clients are mainly on a professional level. We do exchange the occasional piece of personal news, though, so over the years it’s possible to build up a picture of each other. This means we can have relaxed and chatty ‘conversations’ among the nitty gritty of the work details in emails.

Professional relationships can be personal too

Sometimes a relationship with a client suddenly takes an unexpectedly personal turn. A client whose essays for a counselling diploma I’d been proofreading for a while wrote in one essay about something that I found particularly moving and that struck a chord with me, and I mentioned this to her in my email when I sent the completed work back. This led to a really lovely exchange in which we both openly discussed various things (I seem to recall it was mainly me harping on about ageing and how it’s making me think more deeply about the past and the future), and I really enjoyed the openness and personal nature of this.*

Star clients

I’ve been working for about five years for two clients who currently live in Canada.* They’re an academic couple who are friendly, upbeat, and relaxed and are generous in their approach. We’ve shared some personal news over the years, and although we’ve never met in person, I feel as though I know them a little bit and like them a lot.

I don’t think I’d ever said that I couldn’t do a piece of work either of them had sent, even though sometimes it needed doing urgently. But one day a few months ago, I had to apologise and explain that I couldn’t help because it was my birthday and I was having a day off to go out for lunch with a friend. Their response? They wrote ‘Happy Birthday, Bev!’ on a whiteboard and took a selfie with one of them standing on either side of the message, smiling away. Getting this picture was a really lovely surprise and a reflection of their generous approach that I mentioned earlier. Clients like these brighten up my day and make my work so much more enjoyable.

My approach

As well as concentrating on doing thorough and professional-level proofreading and copy-editing work for clients, which, let’s face it, is the most important thing, I also like to think I’m friendly, positive and helpful when I communicate with them. Building up relationships with clients is an aspect of my job that I really enjoy, and it’s very satisfying when certain clients come back year after year to ask me to work for them. I hope all of my clients feel valued and that they feel confident that my goal is to do the best possible work for them, because that’s always my aim.

* I have these clients’ permission to write about them.


How to check for repetition in your writing

When I’m copy-editing non-fiction, which I specialise in, one of the things I check for is whether any aspects of the writing are so repetitious that they’re likely to annoy the reader or look like a poor style of writing. I find repetition easy to spot and fix, but that’s partly because I’m looking at the text for the first time and this kind of thing often jumps out at me.

Why can it be difficult for you, the writer, to spot repetition?

You’ve been working on the text for weeks, months, or years, and it’s only natural that you become ‘blind’ to this sort of thing. But when you’re revising your text, there are some simple things you can do to check for repetition (although this isn’t an exhaustive list).

Five ways of checking for repetition

  1. Take a look at how you start sentences. Do you overuse words like ‘However’ or ‘Therefore’? If you’re writing a huge document over a number of years, such as a doctoral thesis, it’s easy not to notice this. But search for a few and you’ll probably be surprised at how many you find – sometimes several on the same page or even in the same paragraph. Skim through them, and when you think they’re so close together that they might seem repetitive or annoy the reader, change them. Use a thesaurus to help you choose alternatives. The free thesaurus that you can find at Oxford Dictionaries online shows lots of alternatives for ‘however’, such as ‘nonetheless’ and ‘even so’.
  2. Sometimes just moving a word is enough to avoid parts of your writing sounding repetitious. So if you almost always put ‘therefore’ at the start of a sentence, move it, e.g. ‘It will always be the case, therefore, that …’.
  3. Do you use certain wording or phrases too much? I see a lot of writing that overuses ‘as well as’, for example, and I end up changing some of them to ‘and’ or ‘also’, depending on what fits best with the structure of the rest of the sentence.
  4. Sometimes a sense of repetition can come about when sentence length is almost the same for each sentence. Check your sentence lengths and try to vary them a bit. Have some short ones. Have some that are joined with a semi-colon (if you know how to use one properly!). https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/semicolon
  5. Take a look at the verbs you use. Do you use the same one when you want to say a particular thing, e.g. ‘This shows …’? You can easily change this sort of repetition, e.g. ‘This illustrates’ or ‘This reveals’ or ‘This demonstrates’. Again, using a thesaurus can be really helpful.

Repetition revelation!

I imagine lots of you will be surprised at how much repetition you’ve found in your work. We all have favourite words and phrases we prefer over others, and we just don’t realise that we overuse them. But it’s not as hard as you think to root out this problem and solve it.

If you’re interested in what other things I check during the copy-editing process, take a look at this page on my website. If you’d like a quote for some work, just contact me, attaching your text, and I’ll take a look.

 


Proofreaders, libraries and a love of reading

During the last few months, various articles about beautiful libraries around the world have caught my eye, and I’ve posted some of them on my Facebook page and on Twitter. Something weird happens to me when I see pictures of shelves full of books. I feel happy and positive, as well as nostalgic, and generally feel a warm glow inside. I imagine many proofreaders and editors have a similar reaction. I’ve always loved reading and the physical feel of having a book in my hands and turning the pages, but it’s hard to explain why these images should have such a dramatic effect.

Reading from a young age

I’m sure it’s something to do with the fact that my mum introduced me and my sister to our local library when we were toddlers and we used to go once a week, pretty much without fail, until we were old enough to go on our own, which I continued to do until I left home. The library was pretty small, and by the time I was about twelve I’d read all the books I was interested in in the children’s section and graduated to the adults’ books. I read a lot of books I didn’t understand, but I loved reading new words. I don’t remember looking many of them up – I think I just enjoyed the process of reading them rather than understanding them at that stage.

Having access to hundreds of books was a luxury and amazing, and although I was bought books for Christmas and birthdays, I wouldn’t have read the several books a week I often got through had it not been for the library. I still feel a rising sense of anticipation when I go into my local library and see rows of books, there for the taking.

I’ll always be grateful to my mum for starting my love of libraries and reading – which has continued throughout my adult life. It’s led me to a career that I love and I feel that I have the right skills for.

Library closures and a decline in users

Sadly, there have been dramatic cuts to libraries’ budgets over the last few years, and about 105 libraries have closed in the last twelve months. By October of last year about 500 libraries (of the then total of 3,745) were run by volunteers because the only other option was closing them. These community-run libraries often have no professional librarian and tiny budgets. Of course the problem is complicated, and I don’t have room to discuss or even mention all the issues here. The number of library visits has been declining for at least 25 years, though, and fell by almost a third between 2006 and 2016. It is continuing to decline by 3% each year.

There’s been a lot of debate about why this has happened, and it was hoped that the Carnegie UK Trust Report on Public Libraries of April 2017 would make it clear what was needed to get library user numbers up. But the report received heavy criticism, most notably from Tim Coates, former head of Waterstones, publisher, and campaigner for the improvement of public libraries. You can see some of his criticisms here. The parts that I found most interesting are from the ‘Complaint’ section of the article:

  1. The second piece of evidence is the finding that is not sufficiently emphasised is that only 6% of library use is of computers and 70-80% is dependent on the quality of available printed reading material in the library. Public Library User Surveys of 10 years ago show that the figure for computer use was then was about 15-20%: it has declined dramatically in ten years
  2. The third piece of information in the report that is not given sufficient weight is that among library users the single improvement they seek most is an improvement in the range of books available when they visit and online
  3. In simple terms the significance of these findings is that the comments we so often hear from local councillors, library professionals and government officers that ‘library use is changing’ and that ‘we need to emphasise that libraries are not just about books’ are misleading for both the public and for library managers. Those officials imply that increasingly the public use libraries to access the computers and reading in digital forms that are available and that libraries should concentrate less on their book collections and pursue other activities than book reading. This research shows that the opposite is true. Use of computers in public libraries is less than half what it was a decade ago. It is a very small part of library use. What matters to users are the collections of available printed material when they visit and their ability to obtain quickly what they need. Improving these features is the key to increasing use. That is a really important management finding that the report fails to highlight or even mention.

Just. More. Books.

So it seems that one of the simple answers to this complicated problem might be to have more books in libraries that users want to read. But surely if that’s the answer then that would have been sorted out years ago as soon as the number of users started declining? Obviously not.

I’m not suggesting that my life would have been completely different if I’d never been to a library, but I know that my local library was a hugely important part of my childhood and was essential for the development of my reading skills and my lifelong interest in reading and words. I’m very grateful to have had access to a local library all my life, and I hope that in the future all children and young people will have access to and will want to use this fabulous and invaluable resource.


The ellipsis – how to use it in non-fiction

The ellipsis

You wouldn’t think three innocuous little dots would cause too many problems, but it’s clear from some of the texts I work on that some clients find that using the ellipsis properly and consistently can be a headache. Does it need a space before and after it? Should there be a space after the first and second dots? Should the ellipsis be in square brackets? Is it even needed at all? (And, yes, I know the picture above isn’t of an ellipsis, but there’s a bit of a reference there, and I’m getting into the Christmas spirit, so … just humour me, please.)

I’ll focus in this post on using the ellipsis (also called ellipsis points) in non-fiction writing such as journal articles, books, reports, and dissertations and theses. It’s impossible to cover all aspects of its use here, but my aim is to cover some problem areas that I come across all the time when I’m proofreading and copy-editing.

Definition of ellipsis

Oxford Dictionaries online defines an ellipsis as follows:

1. The omission from speech or writing of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues

1.1 A set of dots (…) indicating an ellipsis

The main use for the ellipsis in the non-fiction work that I proofread and copy-edit is to indicate that words have been omitted from a quotation, and that’s what I’ll concentrate on below.

How do you type an ellipsis?

It’s important that the full stops that make up the ellipsis don’t get separated – you don’t want two dots appearing at the end of one line and then one dot at the start of the next. There are two ways of avoiding this.

The first is to type the following: a space, a full stop, a non-breaking space, a full stop, a non-breaking space, a full stop, and finally a normal space. A keyboard shortcut for a non-breaking space is Ctrl+Shift+Space Bar. Another thing to consider is that your preferred style might be to allow a new line to start after the ellipsis but not before it, in which case you’ll also need to insert a non-breaking space before the first full stop.

The second way to avoid having a line break in the middle of an ellipsis is to use the ellipsis character, which can be found via the Insert tab (go to the Symbol option and click More Symbols and then Special Characters, or click on More Symbols and then enter Unicode 2026) or can be inserted using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Alt+. (just to clarify, that last bit means ‘plus a full stop’). This character has no spaces between the dots, so if you have a publisher, it’s best to check whether they want you to use the ellipsis character.

When do you use an ellipsis?

An ellipsis is used to indicate that you have omitted a word or words, a sentence, or even a paragraph from words that you have quoted. It’s standard in non-fiction texts to have a space before and after the ellipsis when you’re showing an omission that is somewhere other than the beginning or end of a quotation (but always check any style guide you’re following), for example

Smith, in her critique on the ellipsis from 1972, writes, ‘Those wretched little dots … are the cause of many a sleepless night for the conscientious author.’

But what if you want to omit at least one sentence? This is where the use of a full stop followed by an ellipsis comes in. The standard British English style guide that lots of professional editors use, New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide, says that omission of one or more sentences can be shown in the following way:

Smith concludes, ‘I am determined to use the ellipsis correctly. … I’m sure it’s not as difficult as it sounds.’

New Hart’s Rules suggests that when using four points like this, the words before and after them should function as complete sentences.

Do you need an ellipsis at the start and/or end of a quotation?

I’m talking here about when you are only quoting part of a sentence so the quotation starts with a lower-case letter. Both New Hart’s Rules and The Chicago Manual of Style (a standard style guide used for US English) say that it’s not necessary to have an ellipsis at the start or the end of such a quotation. However, if you plan to publish your work, it’s best to check what your publisher’s preferred style is in this respect (as it is for all style issues if the style guide is silent about a particular aspect). If you’re a student and your university doesn’t provide a style guide, it’s likely that your university will simply want your style to be consistent, but it’s best to check with your supervisor if in doubt. I proofread one thesis this year that had lots of quotations from interviewees in it and the student had been told that the preferred style was to have an ellipsis at the start and end of the interviewees’ words where only part of a sentence was being quoted.

Do you need square brackets round an ellipsis?

The short answer is no, unless the style guide you’re following requires them or the original quote itself contains an ellipsis. The Modern Humanities Research Association style guide, for example, requires them (https://www.mhra.org.uk/style/5.7). If the original quote includes an ellipsis, you’d put square brackets round the ellipsis that you as the author have inserted. This is so that it’s immediately clear which of the two ellipses appears in the original quotation. Here’s an example:

Smith’s final paragraph ends with the following description: ‘The discussion about whether a space was needed before the ellipsis went on all afternoon … and even continued the next morning. It was […] a very heated debate.’

This post has covered some basic points about how to use the ellipsis, with particular reference to its use in quotations. I hope you’ve found it helpful.

 

If you have a text that needs copy-editing or proofreading, just send me your text by email via [email protected] and I’ll take a look and give you a quote

 

References

The Chicago Manual of Style (2010), 16th edition. The University of Chicago Press, pp. 637–641 (sections 13.48 to 13.56 inclusive).

New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide (2014), 2nd edition, edited by Anne Waddingham. Oxford University Press, pp. 81 and 82 (section 4.7), p. 167 (section 9.3.3).

Oxford Dictionaries online https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/ellipsis