Follow the editor

Earlier this week my esteemed colleague Barbara Pulling forwarded me an article by Jeff Norton—“Follow the editor: a recommendation engine for readers”—which suggests that editors should be credited for their work on books just as producers are in music and film. He writes:

Pick up any paperback and the author’s name dominates the cover. Big authors are “brands” unto themselves, even though the final prose was a collaborative effort.  Flip the book over the cover designer and illustrator get credit (in quite small print) but search for the editor’s name and you’ll be lucky to find it in the acknowledgements (at the author’s discretion).  How are we to value the role of the professional editorial process if publishers themselves don’t even celebrate their most crucial contribution to a book’s creation?

I suppose I’m spoiled in that I’ve done the majority of my work for a company that does choose to acknowledge editors, though not to the extent that Norton would perhaps like to see. In fact, in Saeko Usukawa’s acceptance speech when she won the 2007 Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, she specifically thanked Douglas & McIntyre for being one of the few publishers to credit editors on the copyright page. It’s interesting that the practice isn’t more widespread, since giving an editor credit is one of the easiest ways to establish a strong publisher-editor relationship. Not only is the acknowledgement in itself extremely meaningful, but the credit allows an editor to confidently promote the work as part of his or her portfolio. It seems as though sometimes the publishing industry doesn’t want to admit that books get edited at all, perpetuating the myth that prose flows from the author’s brilliant mind onto the manuscript already perfect.

Norton’s assertion that editors are akin to music and movie producers, however, may be too narrow a focus, since only acquiring and developmental editors typically get the same level of creative control as producers would. When a substantive editor is assigned a finished manuscript, the process is often less about building and more about shaping with what’s there. Crediting only producer-like editing would also sell short the vast contributions of the copy editor and all other members of the publishing team that make a book happen.

Norton also talks about “the growing sentiment that in this era of digital books in general, and the rise of self-publishing specifically, that conventional publishers were no longer relevant or required.” He adds, “I believe the most important role that publishers perform is the one they are strangely reluctant to celebrate: the editor and the process of editing an author’s manuscript into a readable book.”

Traditional publishers may have reason to bemoan the rise of the ebook and self-publishing, but editors hardly do. At last year’s Vancouver launch of I Feel Great about My Hands, I had the opportunity to speak with David Mitchell, who I believe was quoting one of his friends at the Globe and Mail when he said that these days, “Anyone can be his own publisher, but very few people can be their own editor.” I know some successful freelancers who now deal almost exclusively with self-published authors. Although I’d be the first to acknowledge that there is a lot of rubbish out there, more and more self-publishing authors are beginning to see the value in having an editor’s expert eye pore over their text—and they’re willing to compensate that editor accordingly.

The thrust of Norton’s article, though, is that he feels books should be catalogued not only by author but also by editor, which “would give readers another recommendation engine, another way to discover new fiction: follow the editor.”

As a nonfiction editor—and as an editor who never acquired projects—I have no coherent theme in my list of work, and such a recommendation engine based on my projects wouldn’t be particularly enlightening. One aspect of my job that I love is that I can be a generalist, learning a little bit of something about everything. (Editors with a more specialized focus may yield more useful results to the general reader.) Still, I’d appreciate the built-in portfolio aspect to such searchability—it would certainly make it easier to show prospective clients and employers what I’m capable of.

Maps: citations, part 2

I finally managed to look through a copy of Cartographic Materials: A Manual of Interpretation for AACR2, mentioned in my last post. I could only find it through the UBC library’s Rare Books and Special Collections; I’d never had to access a library’s special collections before, and it was an experience. To protect the collection, the library imposes strict restrictions on what can be brought into the room. I had to check my bag and jacket, clean my hands, and take notes with pencil on paper they provided—no pens or outside papers were allowed.

When I began flipping through the binder of material, I confirmed my suspicion that it would be overkill for most authors and editors. AACR stands for the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, which is primarily a resource for librarians, and Cartographic Materials is an AACR publication with a particular focus on maps, so it’s even more esoteric. Still, looking through the book provided an interesting glimpse into the complex and disciplined world of the map librarian—especially one who works with what the AACR calls “early cartographic material” and has to figure out a way to meaningfully catalogue copies of old maps that may be disintegrating or missing pieces.

What’s more, it did effectively answer my own questions regarding punctuation and titles in the citations of early maps. Here are some relevant excerpts:

Punctuation and spelling

Rule 1B1: Transcribe the title proper exactly as to wording, order, and spelling, but not necessarily as to punctuation and capitalization. Give accentuation and other diacritical marks that are present in the chief source of information. Capitalize according to AACR2 Appendix A. (Page 1-2)

In general, base the description on the copy in hand… If missing or obscured letters or words can be reconstructed with some certainty, include these in the transcription, enclosing them in square brackets. (Page 0-2)

Generally follow conventions of modern punctuation in transcribing information according to these rules. Common sense may be used in transcribing or omitting punctuation found in the source of information. (Page 0-10)

For early cartographic materials, do not correct words spelled according to older nonstandard orthographic conventions. (Page 0-12)

For works published before 1801, in general do not add accents and other diacritical markets that are not present in the source… In general, transcribe letters as they appear. Convert earlier forms of their letters and diacritical marks, however, to their modern form. [So this would include ligatures and characters like the eth, which was an alteration of the d, or the long s, which looks like an f without the crossbar.] (Page 0-13)

Identifying and truncating a title

Rule 0C2: Items lacking a chief source of information: If no part of the item supplies data that can be used as the basis of the description, take the necessary information from any available source, whether this be a reference work or the content of the item itself. (Page 0-2)

On cartographic items where the title information in the cartouche or title block is arranged decoratively and/or other elements of the description are interspersed with the title information, transcribe the title as it would logically be read. (Page 1-2)

Rule 1B4: Abridge a long title proper only if this can be done without the loss of essential information. Never omit any of the first five words of the title proper (excluding the alternative title). Indicate omissions by the mark of omission. (Page 1-5)

Rule 1D1: Transcribe parallel titles in the order indicated by their sequence on, or by the layout of, the chief source of information. (Page 1-17)

The capitalization rules in AACR2 Appendix A referred to in Rule 1B1 above don’t really apply to authors or editors (if you look at CiP data in a book, you’ll notice that cataloguers don’t use title case), so for citation styles in a book, using title case consistently, according to Cartographic Citations: A Style Guide (Kollen et al.), is likely the best bet.

Many of these “rules” may seem like common sense—but I’ve found it an enormously helpful exercise to pin down an authoritative source that confirms what I’ve been doing and telling my authors.

Maps: type style and citations

As a book editor, I’ve learned to rely pretty heavily on the dependable Chicago Manual of Style. Once in a while, though, I run into an esoteric subject that Chicago just doesn’t cover well. Maps—both in terms of working with a cartographer to create a map and in terms of citing old maps—are one such subject, and they deserve special attention because they have both visual and textual considerations and because they can serve a wide spectrum of functions: in some books they give geographical context by telling readers the locations of unfamiliar places, whereas in others, like guidebooks, they can be critical navigational tools.

In my early days at D&M, one of the more senior editors asked me to copy edit some map labels to be sent to a mapmaker. “So just make sure that the formatting is correct,” she told me. “For instance, bodies of water should be in italics—you know that, right?”

I didn’t, at the time, and a few years later, when I was putting together an editorial wiki for the company, which included our style guidelines, I wanted to add a section specifically about maps. I pored through Chicago and searched online but couldn’t find a particular authoritative source that stated the bodies of water = italics convention. I ended up listing it as a house style but never stopped wondering where that came from.

Recently I sent the question to the Canadian Cartographic Association, and the president, Gerald Stark, a cartographer for the Government of Alberta, not only wrote me an incredibly thorough response of his own but also forwarded my query to the CCA membership. Below is a summary of some of the members’ contributions to the discussion.

Type considerations on new maps

Writes David Forrest, senior lecturer at the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow:

In terms of map design generally, there are no definitive specifications that must be followed, except in a few specific cases such as hydrographic charts. Some map topics, such as topographic and geological maps, have developed “conventions” over the years, but these need not be slavishly followed, and topographic maps, even at the same scale, vary greatly around the world.

The use of italic for water names is such a convention, but you can find many maps which don’t. The main thing is that variations in letterform are used to enhance the classification of features on the map. Labelling everything in the same typeface is generally poor, but it does depend on the individual map, the number (and density) of names and what the map is for.

In a book the important thing would be to have a consistent approach throughout—much like most atlases do—but the choice of type styles may depend on whether one is trying to give the map a modern look or an historical look, for example.

On another point, in the caption for historical map illustrations, one thing really useful, but often absent, is a note of the size of the original, or the % reduction (e.g. shown 55% of original), as scale is one of the most critical factors in map design.

Henry Castner, author of Seeking New Horizons: A Perceptual Approach to Geographic Education and editor of A History of the Cartography of Russia up to 1800, writes:

In book editing, I suspect most of your maps are unique special-purpose and thematic maps for which the purpose of the map overrides some perceived need for design consistency. So depending on the purpose for labelling the water area(s), for example, it may be that large bold letters are required in one case, and small inconspicuous ones in another. In other words, an editor has much greater freedom in designing special-purpose and thematic maps as long as attention is given to the visual tasks involved and the role each map element plays in their execution. The worst sin in map designs in books, in my experience, are maps that don’t locate the places mentioned in the narrative.

So there you have it. Typographic considerations for a map depend on the map’s purpose in the book and the need for consistency within a book. If you are a publisher that works frequently with mapmakers, defining a house style for type on maps may be the way to go.

That said, if you need a place to start, check out the conventions used by national topographic mapping bodies. Gerald Stark writes:

Most national mapping programs have well-established standards for map design (e.g., United States Geological Survey; Natural Resources Canada—National Topographic Series; Ordnance Survey of the U.K.). Maps produced by these agencies do provide guidelines for producing topographic maps.

Of particular interest is a link Stark gave me to the Atlas of Canada discussing type design on maps.

For further information about map design in general, Stark recommended several books; since they’re not specific to type style on maps, I won’t include them here, but if you’re interested, get in touch with me, and I would be happy to pass along his list.

I don’t know that I agree with David Forrest’s assertion that a map’s scale of reduction is absolutely necessary to state in a citation—again, because maps serve different functions when reproduced in a book. If a map is included purely for illustration and not for navigation, an indication of a map’s reduction may be interesting to a cartographer but not needed for the general reader. Which segues beautifully to…

Citing maps

Another area that Chicago doesn’t discuss in detail is map citation. Although in many cases they can be considered art or photography and may be cited as such, their inherently informative nature usually demands more bibliographic detail, especially if the work in which they appear is meant to serve as a reference.

My query to the Canadian Cartographic Association and to the David Rumsey Historical Map Association about proper map citations brought back a number of online guides, all of which pretty well cover print and digital maps:

Alberta Wood of the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives also generously shared with me a draft of best practices in map citation; when her document has been formally approved, it will be posted on the ACMLA site.

The CCA members also recommended two print guides. The first is

Kollen, Christine, Wangyal Shawa, and Mary Larsgaard. Cartographic Citations: A Style Guide, Second edition. Chicago: Map and Geography Round Table, American Library Association, 2010.

It’s a thirty-two page handbook covering everything from manuscript maps, single-sheet maps, and atlases to remote-sensing imagery and computer spatial-data files. I found a copy at the UBC library; it’s comprehensive and easy to use, and it has a helpful glossary defining cartographic terms. Its raison d’être is clear from its introduction: “The majority of general citation guides and style manuals either do not include any information on cartographic materials or only provide guidance on how to cite a single stand-alone map or as figures in an article or book.” It is meant as a supplement to standard style and citation guides. You can buy it here for $20, but given its very specialized focus, I would say that it’s worth the investment only if you know you’ll be working with cartographic citation frequently. For most purposes, the online guides are as much information as you need.

The other recommended print guide is

Mangan, Elizabeth U., ed. Cartographic Materials: A Manual of Interpretation for AACR2, Second edition. Chicago, Ottawa, and London: Anglo-American Cataloguing Committee for Cartographic Materials, 2006.

This reference isn’t so easy to find: the only copy in the city that I could track down is in the UBC library’s reference staff area and hence unavailable for borrowing. In fact, when I went to look at it when I picked up Cartographic Citations, the reference staff was in a meeting, and I couldn’t even get access to it. Further, it’s pretty big, at 400 pages, and it carries a $138 price tag. Because Cartographic Citations is more than adequate for most editors’ purposes, I’d suggest going for that one, if you work often with maps, or leaning on the online sources.

What Mangan’s Cartographic Materials may provide specific guidance on is historical maps. I’ve had the privilege of working for several years on Derek Hayes’s magnificent historical atlases, for each of which he has had to compile a detailed catalogue of all of the maps that appear in the book. We have the odd disagreements about the format of these citations, he being more inclined to preserve the style of the original and I being partial to clarity and consistency. We’ve found a compromise we seem to be comfortable with—matching the case of the title given on the map, unless it’s in all caps, in which case we use title case. We do add punctuation for clarity if punctuation is implied but not actually written at the end of a line (for example, adding a comma if the title of a map has “Vancouver” on one line and “British Columbia” on the next). However, there are lingering questions, like when, if ever, it’s acceptable to truncate the very long title of a historical map, and where. And if a historical map appears to have several titles, how to decisively identify the map’s “main” title.

Paige Andrew, maps cataloging librarian at Pennsylvania State University Libraries, refers me to Rule 1E3 and Appendix G, “Early Cartographic Material” in the second edition of Cartographic Materials. When I return Cartographic Citations, I’ll take another shot at checking if Cartographic Materials is available to see if we can settle these issues once and for all.


If it isn’t already clear, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of helpful responses from the Canadian Cartographic Association membership. Thanks to all of them, I’ve been able to clear up some of my confusion surrounding  editorial considerations in cartography.

Tweeting your way to job leads

Pamela Findling (@pfindling) gave a presentation at last evening’s EAC-BC monthly meeting about how to use Twitter to find writing and editing work. The key is to exploit the medium’s uniquely informal social atmosphere and its capacity for quick and far-reaching community building to network and find contacts.

She outlined seven tips as part of her Twitter strategy:

1. Know whom to follow

  • Start with people you know; search for colleagues and see who they’re following.
  • Start following potential clients. Pamela began following magazines and businesses that she was interesting in working for. What’s handy is that the person tweeting is usually the editor or the communications coordinator at a publication/organization, so Twitter allows you to build an immediate connection and a direct link to the editor. And Twitter’s casual, quick-response environment means that an editor is more likely to respond to a tweet than an email query. Further, Twitter is basically free, so organizations may opt to tweet about a job before paying a job-search site like Monster to advertise an opportunity.
  • Follow professional organizations; once in a while they will tweet about job postings. Branch out beyond the writing and editing organizations; follow designers’ groups, the Society for Technical Communication, the Board of Trade, Chamber of Commerce, etc.
  • Follow job-search sites. Jobsprout often posts writing- and editing-related jobs.

2. Chat people up

  • Don’t be afraid to jump into conversations, even with strangers. Twitter doesn’t carry the same kinds of social barriers to participation that other settings might.
  • Ask questions and try to give people a sense of who you are and what you’re interested in. Once you’ve started conversing with someone on Twitter, it becomes much easier to introduce yourself in person. (At networking events, Pamela often puts her Twitter ID on her name tag.)

3. Search for keywords

  • Search Twitter for key phrases, like “editing jobs” or “hire an editor.” Doing so will bring up opportunities all over the world, many of which will allow you to work remotely. (Pamela does caution that searching also brings up a lot of garbage, so you’ll have to sort judiciously.)

4. Use hashtags

  • Highlight particular subjects—your interests—with hashtags in your tweets. People interested in the same things will able to find your tweets just by clicking on a hashtag, so this is a way of getting your name out faster.

5. Post interesting content

  • Talk about projects you’re working on, emphasizing specific skills you’re using when you’re working on particular projects.
  • Post links to your work. Using an author’s or client’s ID in that tweet allows them to see that you’re actively promoting them.
  • Post about your area of expertise. For example, if you’re an editor, post grammar, spelling, or punctuation tips. Doing so establishes you as an expert in your field.
  • Post about events.
  • Post links to interesting articles.

Just be aware that Twitter is public—anyone can see your tweets. This presents a huge networking opportunity but also means that your tweets should reflect your professionalism and editorial standards.

6. Check in and post regularly

  • Check in at least once a day. Twitter moves really quickly, so job vacancies are often filled shortly after they’re posted.

7. Share the love

  • Twitter has Follow Fridays (hashtag #FF), where you list the IDs of other people and organizations you think your friends should follow. It’s essentially an informal referral, giving recognition to others, and it shows that you’re not just about you. Use this to build your network.
  • Use others’ Twitter IDs in your tweets.
  • Thank people for excellent service or for their help. Because of Twitter’s rapid and wide reach, a thank-you on Twitter goes far.
  • Retweet.

The presentation was excellent—engaging and informative. I have to confess to being a social media hermit myself. I’m on neither Facebook nor Twitter, primarily because I realize that they can be time vacuums. Although I occasionally wonder what I’m missing out on, I must say that I rather appreciate the quiet. So for now, this site is probably as deep as I’ll get, though having Pamela’s tips may come in handy some day, if I find myself wanting to branch out.

Editing the editor: style sheets

It’s easy to understand how a book’s style sheet can fall off a copy editor’s priority list in the rush to meet a deadline—and how tempting it can be simply to alphabetize the word list and send it in. But I’d like to argue that editing a style sheet is just as important as creating it.

Indexers understand that up to half of the time spent indexing is devoted to editing the draft index—ensuring consistency in entry structure, eliminating wordiness and unnecessary entries and subentries, correcting spelling errors, etc.—to make the final product as useful as possible to the reader. An index and a book’s style sheet have a lot in common; in fact, the word list of a style sheet could almost be considered a most basic, preliminary proper noun index, without the page numbers, so it’s not surprising that a lot of the simple editing techniques for the index could also be applied to the style sheet to produce a more polished product.

But why bother? After all, doesn’t the style sheet have a very limited lifetime and an even more limited audience? To address this question, we’ll have to look at the style sheet’s end-users:

  • The author. I always include a copy of the style sheet when I send an edited manuscript to an author, because I feel that it’s foundational to good author relations. Not all authors will look at style sheets, but those that do read them carefully, and presenting a well-edited, consistent style sheet helps authors understand that you aren’t just making arbitrary changes to their text. Conversely, a poorly organized style sheet could potentially torpedo an attentive author’s confidence in his or her editor’s competence.
  • You—the copy editor. When the author returns the copy-edited manuscript, you’ll have to refer to and update the style sheet. Why not make it easier for yourself?
  • The proofreader. This person will undoubtedly use your style sheet the most. An inconsistent, disorganized, or contradictory style sheet can be an enormous source of frustration for a proofreader, as it leads to a lot of duplicated fact-checking work. Think about how a proofreader will use your word list, and refrain from the (indexing!) sin of overclassification: there’s no need to divide your lists into names of people, names of places, names of organizations, etc.; in such a case, the proofreader has to pause, decide what category a term falls under, then find it in an alphabetized sublist, whereas a single alphabetized list makes confirming a word or term simpler and easier. Even if you and perhaps the author find the classification helpful, a proofreader will probably prefer the single master list.
  • The indexer. As an indexer, I rarely import the style sheet directly into an index, but I do use it to double-check the spelling of my entries and confirm the style for the wording of headnotes and subentries. I’ll also look through the style sheet to ensure that I haven’t missed any important names or topics. (Importing the style sheet word list into an indexing program isn’t something I’m fundamentally opposed to—it’s just something I’ve never tried. For a proper noun index, doing something like this may significantly expedite the indexing process.)
  • Any member of the editorial team that may have to work on a new edition of the book, a spinoff, or a new book within the same series. Here is where a style sheet can have a much longer lifetime than just the production cycle of the book. Think about the editor who will have to use the style sheet when writing cover copy for a new format reprint or the editor who has to work on a revised edition. A well-organized style sheet can be a major time saver in these situations, where sometimes the fact that these books are “just revisions” means that they aren’t allotted much time in the schedule.

All of this is not to say that my style sheets are always (or ever) perfect. But I feel that at a minimum, a copy editor should do the following after alphabetizing the word list:

  • Go through the list and cull duplicate entries. This exercise not only eliminates redundancy, but it can also help identify missed inconsistencies and errors, particularly if you notice two distinct entries that you think ought to be the same.
  • Run a spell check. This process can be slow, since a style sheet is typically loaded with names that don’t appear in a word processor’s dictionary, but it’s helpful in identifying not only spelling errors within the style sheet itself but also in the manuscript, essentially forcing you to pause and double-check your fact checking.
  • Spot check a handful of entries against the manuscript. Using judgment, do global searches for a selection of style decisions, especially those that can have variants in spelling, hyphenation, or capitalization—and those entries that just look kind of funny and that you’d like to confirm.

Another strategy, given the similarities between style sheet word lists and indexes, that I haven’t yet attempted (and that non-indexer editors will probably not want to try), is to use indexing software to create and maintain the style sheet. In theory doing so would eliminate the duplicate-entry problem; facilitate cross-references within the word list; allow for special glyphs, such as initial punctuation, without throwing off the alphabetization; and may allow errors to be identified earlier on, since the word list can be sorted and resorted in a number of ways, including alphabetically and by order of entry, that may highlight inconsistencies. I’ll post about the experience if I ever have the chance to try this.

Top 10 controversies surrounding cattle

I’m an (extremely) occasional contributor to Listverse. Its quality has been hit or miss as of late, but I usually see one or two lists a week that I find interesting and learn something from. This morning my most recent list, inspired by Florian Werner’s Cow: A Bovine Biography, and a David Rotsztain cheese workshop I attended a couple of months ago, was published.

A hindering hierarchy?

All editors aspiring to work in book publishing know what it takes to climb up the ladder: start off checking inputting and possibly proofreading, and once you’ve proven yourself, you can progress to copy editing. Only after mastering that will more substantive work come and then, if so desired, experience with acquisition.

The advantages of this system are many. First, you get a well-rounded understanding of all steps in the editorial process. Second, by checking corrections and inputting, you get into the heads of more senior editors and learn the tricks of the trade. Third, you develop an appreciation for the roles of all editorial, design, and production team members—an empathy that will serve you well as a mentor or project manager overseeing the copy editing or proofreading work of a more junior editor.

But how valid is this tacit hierarchy? It implies that acquiring and substantive editors are somehow better than copy editors, who themselves have a leg up on proofreaders. This stratification has real consequences: freelance proofreaders typically charge lower rates than copy editors, and substantive editors command the most. Editorial recognition like the Editors’ Association of Canada’s annual Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence generally (by which I mean the overwhelming majority of the time) goes to a substantive editor rather than a copy editor or proofreader.

Although I would agree that no amount of proofreading will ever salvage a poorly structured and awkwardly written piece, I am concerned about the limitations of this rather firmly entrenched paradigm. The fact is that proofreading, copy editing, and substantive editing (the EAC goes as far as to split up the latter into stylistic editing and structural editing) each requires its own unique skill set. Whereas some editors work well with the big-picture stuff, others are adept at the details, and it’s time to stop seeing those editors who devote themselves to copy editing as failed substantive editors. And publishers that adopt this classic “substantive reigns supreme” model may miss out on hiring someone who hasn’t yet “proven herself” at copy editing but may be an astute developmental and structural editor.

One could argue that those who wish to focus on a specific skill would be better off as freelancers and that in-house positions are better suited to generalists who are willing to learn all facets of the editorial—and publishing—process. Many freelancers eschew the hierarchy by charging a flat rate regardless of the type of work they do. And those who hope to do substantive work without having to first perfect proofreading may have better luck finding opportunities at smaller presses, where, owing to a lack of human resources, structural and stylistic editing can often be assigned to whomever is available.

I, for one, am grateful that I did get the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of editing from the ground up. But to me, the ground doesn’t correspond to checking inputting or proofreading—it corresponds to a solid foundation of amazing mentors, high standards, and a drive to keep learning and improving, no matter what kind of editing I’m doing.

Stopping amnesia

Volunteer-run organizations like the Editors’ Association of Canada, the Society for Technical Communication, and the Indexing Society of Canada provide tremendous opportunities to connect with fellow professionals, find work, and develop professionally. But one particular affliction seems to plague these kinds of groups: a lack of memory.

Given that these organizations exist largely because of donated time and energy, it really is amazing that they, for the most part, function so well. But with an executive that changes every year and demanding committee work that sees volunteers drift in and out according to their fluctuating time constraints, it’s no wonder that there can sometimes be a lack in continuity in their programs. Add in complexities like nation- or continent-wide chapters and, without a robust, well-thought-out system to transmit information to a central archive, legacies can be easily lost.

I recently volunteered for a task force to research and develop a specific document; at one of the early conference calls, it became clear that a similar task force had been struck only three years earlier, with exactly the same objective. Who were these people? What did they discuss? Why did they disband? Nobody knew. In another case, one group working on a procedural document knew that a related policy document had been created at some point in the past, but nobody had access to it. This kind of inefficiency does little to serve the organization’s members, not to mention the volunteers offering their time. What’s more damaging in the long term than having a new group reinvent the wheel is that members could feel less inclined to volunteer in the future, no matter how well-intentioned the organization’s mandate. What’s the point, when hard work just gets funnelled into some sink hole?

The saviour is none other than the superhero from last week’s post: the information scientist. I think that all volunteer-run nonprofits with high volunteer and staff turnover—not only those in editing and communication professions—would benefit from soliciting the services of a trained information specialist to

  • digitize all archives in a way that allows them all to be searchable
  • develop a method of indexing the archived material for efficient retrieval (because often it’s not that the information doesn’t exist—it just can’t be found)
  • identify circumstances under which new documents should be created and/or regularly revised (e.g., procedural documents for regularly occurring activities)
  • implement a system for archiving and indexing newly created material

With the ready availability of open-source content management systems today, the excuses not to make these changes just don’t hold water.

If an accredited consultant is too much for the nonprofit to afford, maybe it could consider contacting one of the many schools offering a Master of Library and Information Science program. My understanding is that all students in that program have to complete several units of experiential learning, and partnering with a student who is familiar with the theory of information organization and retrieval could be beneficial to both parties.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of working on the fifiteth-anniversary edition of the Varsity Outdoor Club‘s annual journal, which documents, in text and photos, members’ activities of the past year. Because it was a landmark issue, we devoted half of the almost six-hundred pages to submissions from alumni, as well as notable images and articles from the club’s archives. Discovering the truly fascinating, often hilarious, stories from past members was one of the highlights of the project and gave me a new perspective on the club as a whole—it had depth, history, purpose. (Part of why we were able to find so many high-quality pieces was that the organization recognized early on the importance of keeping records—”archivist” is one of the club’s executive positions—and recent archivists were forward-thinking in their initiatives to index all past issues of the journal.) So for organizations like the EAC, STC, and ISC, it’s not just that a solid archival system and comprehensive records will help volunteers accomplish more and better serve the membership—it’s also that the organization’s very history can be brought forth for current and future members to understand and appreciate.

Indexing—for your information

Last year, when I was taking technical communications courses, one of my required readings was this article by Seth A. Maislin, published in the Society for Technical Communication’s Intercom magazine. Two sentences near the end of the article caught my attention:

So far, indexing is a phenomenon dominant in only the English language, although I don’t know why. (Many French textbooks, for example, have simple tables of contents in the front and deep tables of contents in the back.)

I haven’t had that much experience working with nonfiction publications in languages other than English, so I suppose I just took it for granted that of course those publications must have indexes, too, and I was genuinely surprised to discover otherwise. There’s nothing inherently special about English that makes it more conducive to the process of indexing, and indexes are just so useful that they would add to a reference book or technical manual in any language. (Since reading Maislin’s article I like to imagine that indexes catalyzed English’s becoming the world’s lingua franca. Oh sure, a few centuries of British imperialism followed by American hegemony probably had something to do with that, too, but the ease of information retrieval through indexes just may have played a [tiny] role in the efficient knowledge transfer that spurred so much innovation.)

Within the last decade, though, it seems as though other languages have caught on to the power of indexing. The Deutsches Netzwerk der Indexer/German Network of Indexers formed in 2004, and in 2006, Robert Fugmann wrote Das Buchregister. Methodische Grundlagen und praktische Anwendungen (The book index: methodological foundations and practical applications), what appears to be one of the first rigorous guides to creating back-of-the-book indexes—akin to Nancy Mulvany’s Indexing Books.

The Netherlands Indexing Network began meeting in 2005, and the indexing program TExtract, developed in the Netherlands and useful for creating indexes in both Dutch and English, is gaining ground on the established CINDEX, SKY Index, and Macrex software.

In my poking around for French resources, I found this title—Concevoir l’index d’un livre: histoire, actualité, perspectives (Conceiving the index of a book: history, current practices, perspectives) by Jacques Maniez and Dominique Maniez—which looks fascinating, not only because it is, for French, much like the Fugmann title was for German, one of the first major resources to address the practice and process of indexing but also because half of the book is dedicated to indexing history.

The Maniez title was published by L’association des professionnels de l’information et de la documentation—the Association of Information and Documentation Professionals—which really drives home the point that indexing is information science. Most of the indexers I know also have an editing background; in fact, the Indexing Society of Canada frequently coordinates with the Editors’ Association of Canada to hold its annual conference at around the same time, and the Chicago Manual of Style’s indexing chapter is one of its major components. This close association makes sense logistically—often publishers will ask the proofreader to compile an index concurrently—but it doesn’t really make sense logically. Editing and indexing require incredibly different skill sets, involving different parts of the brain. Indexing is all about organizing information for efficient retrieval, and it would really make more sense for an information science specialist to be doing it. After all, an indexer does with a book’s terms and ideas on a micro level what librarians do with archives and publications on a macro level. Yet, despite the fact that indexing appears to be a core course in most Master of Library and Information Science curricula, I rarely hear of people going into an MLIS degree wanting to be a librarian but emerging a back-of-the-book indexer.

So what can we learn from other branches of information science, in English and in other languages, that could help us shape better indexes? If other languages aren’t accustomed to using indexes, what book-level information retrieval systems do they use, and how can this knowledge inform our indexing practices? Is there a more effective system out there—perhaps one that looks completely different—that those of us working in English simply haven’t discovered yet?

Selling your services to the federal government

Last evening the Editors’ Association of Canada’s B.C. Branch meeting featured speaker Walker Pautz from Public Works and Government Services Canada’s Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME), who gave us some resources to sell our services to the Government of Canada. OSME also gives these presentations monthly at Small Business B.C.

I was at the EAC pre-conference workshop about bidding on government contracts, presented by three EAC members, and I was wondering if the branch meeting’s presentation would essentially be a rehash of that information, but came away from last evening with some information I didn’t know.


PWGSC buys goods and services for all other government departments; individual departments can buy up to $25,000 themselves without going through PWGSC. (I didn’t know about that last part; for individual freelancers who are looking for small contracts, going directly to the departments may be a better strategy than bidding through MERX.)

Finding opportunities

To do business with the federal government, register on the Supplier Registration Information system. This process gives you a Procurement Business Number (PBN), which allows you to register in other databases, bid on contracts, and get paid; a PBN is mandatory for doing business with PWGSC.

Seek out bid opportunities—Requests for Proposals or Requests for Standing Offer, usually—on MERX or Professional Services Online (for contracts up to $76,600). Each good or service is assigned a commodity code, otherwise known as a Good and Service Identification Number (GSIN). You can search the databases by keywords or GSINs.

On MERX, you can sign up for email alerts of relevant opportunities. You can also view who else has downloaded a particular bid opportunity; this allows you to scope out your competition but may also create some opportunities for subcontracting or partnering.

Some government sites like the Translation Bureau will allow you to sign up as a supplier directly.

B.C. doesn’t post on MERX; it uses B.C. Bid, so check there as well.


When putting together a proposal, follow the instructions on the RFP or RFSO, keep your pitch clear and simple, and have your proposal edited and/or proofread. Make sure you meet the minimum mandatory requirements, and check the closing dates to make sure you have time to get your bid in. (You are allowed to submit revisions to your bid before the closing date—something I didn’t know.) Don’t assume that evaluators know who you are even if you’ve done business with them in the past.

Each bid will have a single contact to which you can send questions. That person will compile all questions into an amendment to the initial RFP/RFSO.

Some RFPs and RFSOs will leave out some of their legal language and instead refer you to the Standard Acquisition Clauses and Conditions (SACC) Manual.

Most RFPs/RFSOs will ask you to keep your technical and financial proposals separate. Some will require security clearance; you don’t need to get this ahead of time, but you will have to get it if your bid is successful. Once you have it, though, you can use it for other opportunities over a set number of years.

After closing

If your bid isn’t successful, you can request a debriefing from a contracting authority within three weeks of the closing date; the contracting authority will tell you the strengths and weaknesses of your bid.

If you have issues and concerns, you can contact the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman.

Smaller contracts

To get contracts under $25,000, the best thing to do is to market directly to individual departments, the same way you would market to a private client. To find contacts,

On each department’s site, you can see past contracts that have been awarded

Even if you become a prequalified supplier by successfully bidding for an RFSO, you still have to market yourself, because the contract authority is probably not the end user of your services. Mentioning that you’re a prequalified supplier can help things along.