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!).
  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 ( 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



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




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.