Lower Mainland editors have probably heard of the Vancouver Public Library’s Blue Pencil sessions but may not know what they involve. At January’s Editors BC meeting, moderator Wendy Barron and a panel of editors who’ve participated in them—Sarah Robins, Erin Parker, Meagan Dyer, and Nancy Tinari—set out to demystify the program and encourage other editors to volunteer. Continue reading “A behind-the-scenes look at the Blue Pencil (Editors BC meeting)”
Gael Spivak and Lisa Goodlet are both seasoned volunteers, for EAC and beyond. They shared some of their insights on the benefits of volunteering and tips to get the most out of your volunteering experiences.
Volunteering, said Spivak, is a good way to get training. She quoted the 70/20/10 formula for learning:
- 70% comes from real-life and on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem solving
- 20% comes from feedback and from working with role models
- 10% comes from formal training.
Getting professional development from volunteering is like getting it from a course, only you’re paying with your time rather than with your money.
Volunteering lets you try something new without having to worry about getting fired. Goodlet told us that one of her first introductions to editing was when she volunteered as a proofreader for Project Gutenberg. You can also use volunteering to test whether you’d be a good fit for a particular type of job or career. Both Spivak and Goodlet emphasized the importance of asking for feedback on your work, even when you’re volunteering.
If you work alone, volunteering can give you team experience and let you meet valuable contacts. If you work in an office and aren’t in a management position, volunteering can offer you the opportunity to gain experience that you can’t get at work (strategic planning, project management, etc.). You can branch out beyond your usual skill set and develop negotiating skills and flexibility (since volunteer-run groups can sometimes move slowly and have different or evolving hierarchies and reporting systems). Goodlet quoted an HR consultant in suggesting that you shouldn’t separate your paid work from your volunteer work on your CV—experience is experience.
Spivak told us that, as conference co-chair in 2012, she learned about marketing and communications; in her many other EAC volunteer positions (director of volunteer relations for EAC, EAC governance task force member, National Capital Region branch membership chair), she has gained experience that she couldn’t get at her job and at her current level, including coordination, strategic planning, and policy development, which are promising to open up new opportunities and roles for her at work. Beyond her volunteer work with EAC, Spivak also writes, edits, and serves as webmaster for Not Just Tourists—Ottawa.
Goodlet said that she got her first office experience through volunteering, which allowed her to get higher-paying summer jobs than she would have gotten otherwise. As NCR branch membership chair and 2012 conference speaker coordinator, she made a lot of valuable contacts and gained project management experience. By volunteering, Goodlet also learned about herself: she’s discovered that she’s better suited to in-house positions rather than freelancing. She also volunteers as a Girl Guide leader and Humane Society foster parent.
If you decide to volunteer, said Spivak and Goodlet,
approach it strategically
- Do you want to get better at something you know how to do or learn something different? Understand your goals before you plan how to achieve them.
- Do you want to gain or improve a specific skill (e.g., indexing, medical editing)? Look for organizations that deal with these areas and see if they have volunteer opportunities.
- Do you want to do something at the branch level or nationally? You can have input on how an organization is run by volunteering at the national level.
approach it consciously
- How much time do you want to spend? Don’t overcommit yourself.
- Do you want to volunteer long term or for a one-off project or event?
- Are you interested in the opportunity? Just because the opportunity is there doesn’t mean you have to take it.
Approach it creatively
- What are the secondary benefits of the volunteering opportunity? Making contacts, helping others, or simply getting out of the house are all good reasons to volunteer.
- Do you want to use your editing skills or branch out into other areas? Some people don’t want to do for a hobby what they do for a job.
Spivak added that EAC is developing a new volunteer directory that will connect people to volunteer opportunities at the branch and national levels. People can register in the directory and specify what kinds of opportunities (short- versus long-term, branch versus national) they might be interested in, and this information will be shared with committee chairs who are looking for help.
(A reminder that volunteering for EAC in an editorial capacity can earn you credential maintenance points for certification, precisely because volunteering can be enormously instructive professional development and make you a better editor.)
If you’ve picked up one or two clients from across the pond, you might be looking to brush up on your UK English. Katherine Fry and Rowena Kirton’s Grammar for Grown-ups: A Straightforward Guide to Good English (published by Square Peg) is a good place to start.
Fry, a freelance editor, and Kirton, the managing editorial director at Random House, have written a light-hearted guide to English grammar, covering everything from the parts of speech and punctuation to commonly misspelled words and trickier issues, including usage and the subjunctive mood. Helpfully, the book also includes a chapter that compares UK English with English in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. I found this chapter the most interesting, as it offers a glimpse into how the UK views other parts of the English-speaking world. Fry and Kirton not only give a detailed explanation of differences in punctuation (e.g., single quotes in the UK versus double in the U.S.) but also list regional terms and their UK equivalents—all with a healthy dose of humour:
[South African term / UK term]
voetsek (pronounced ‘foot sack’) / bugger off
vrying (pronounced ‘fraying’) / snogging
vuvuzela / very annoying blowy thing
(I found disconcerting the section on Canadianisms, in which the authors define “beaver tail” and “double-double”—are those really our chief lexical exports?)
Grammar for Grown-ups closes with a chapter defining literary terms and devices (through which I learned about antonomasia, encomium, and synecdoche)—not grammar per se but probably useful to know nonetheless.
The book is a quick read, and the tone is authoritative but neither condescending nor overly prescriptive. In fact, what I most appreciate is that they acknowledge that “Language is constantly developing, and while some rules should remain hard and fast, some may be bent and once in a while even broken – when you know what you’re doing…” (p. x) Throughout the book are exercises—many of them taken from classic works of literature—that reinforce what the authors have just taught, and the answers to those are at the back of the book. Most editors will find Grammar for Grown-ups an entertaining refresher, and even seasoned veterans will probably learn a thing or two.
That said, the book isn’t a style guide. Meant as a primer for a general audience, Grammar for Grown-ups is unlikely to find a permanent place on the professional editor’s reference shelf. (For one thing, it lacks an index.) Consider it bubble gum: fun but nonessential. And as with any grammar guide that claims to be “the only book you need,” it has its share of problems. For instance:
Most general descriptive adjectives can come both before and after the noun – ‘the long book’, ‘the bad idea’, OR ‘the book is long’, ‘the idea is bad’. In the former examples, before the noun and with no linking verb, the adjective is called attributive. In the latter, after the noun and verb, the adjective is called predicative. The first modifies the noun; the second completes the meaning of the sentence.” (p. 19)
That’s all fine and good, but nowhere do the authors define “linking verb.” Later on, as they explain adverbs, they write:
And to confuse things even more: ‘I feel badly‘ and ‘I feel bad‘ are both adverbs, but the sense is rather different. In the first, I am feeling ill, or my sense of touch has gone up the spout; in the latter, I am feeling bad about something, such as dumping my boyfriend just after he lost his job. (p. 23)
Had they taken the opportunity earlier to define “linking verb,” the distinction between “I feel badly” and “I feel bad” would have been easier to explain. (And no, “bad” isn’t an adverb here—it’s an adjective, precisely because “feel” is a linking verb.)
In other places, the book is downright wrong. Some examples:
In the section “Singular and Plural”
Making things even more irregular are those which are the same in both singular and plural – like ‘food’, ‘sheep’, ‘money’, ‘series’, ‘deer’, ‘offspring’. (p. 4)
So “Cabbage, seaweed, and mushrooms are three food that fight cancer”?
In the section about adverbs
Some adjectives end in “ly’ anyway – ‘friendly’, ‘lonely’, ‘lovely’ – so when they are used as adverbs, they don’t need another ‘ly’ added (‘friendlyly’? no thanks). (p. 23)
So “She smiled friendly”? I don’t think so. And even the Oxford English Dictionary confirms that it’s friendlily, lonelily, lovelily. Mouthfuls, yes—but not wrong.
In the section “‘a’ or ‘an’?”
On the whole, ‘an’ goes with any noun starting with a vowel – ‘an apple’, ‘an egg’, ‘an ice cream’, ‘an olive’ – though not always with ‘u’ nouns (it depends on how the ‘u’ is pronounced – it’s not ‘an unicorn’ but it is ‘an umbrella’). (p. 28)
Nope. It’s the sound immediately following the article that dictates which of “a” or “an” you use; the noun has nothing to do with it. “An overbearing mother-in-law” takes “an” because the sound that follows is a vowel, even though “mother-in-law” is the noun. And “an MP3 player” takes “an” because you say “em”—even though “MP3” technically starts with a consonant.
Despite these problems, Fry and Kirton get a lot right, particularly in their motivation for producing such a book in the first place. Even with the prevalence of textspeak, good grammar and punctuation are still important: “In a fast-paced world, when communications jostle for attention, if your letter, email or website page is full of errors, a reader won’t waste his or her time trying to work out what you’re trying to say.” (p. ix) If you’re looking for a rigorous reference on English grammar and usage, you might want to look elsewhere. But take Grammar for Grown-ups for what it is—a tour-bus loop through UK English—and you won’t be disappointed.
As a member of the EAC’s Certification Steering Committee, I should publicize a couple of important certification-related items:
1) Pilot test takers needed
We’d like to recruit a few more EAC members to pilot the Proofreading and Structural Editing certification tests. If you’ve got at least five years’ editing experience and are willing to study for the test as if you were genuinely taking it, consider volunteering.
Pilot tests take place in Vancouver (at SFU Harbour Centre), Toronto (at the EAC National Office), and Ottawa (at the Travel Lodge Hotel on Carling Avenue) on Saturday, September 15. Proofreading runs from 10 am to 1 pm, and Structural Editing runs from 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm.
If you’re thinking about taking certification tests in the future, writing the pilot will give you a practice run, and you’ll get a free copy of the study guide (a $55 value) for whichever test you pilot. For those of you who are already certified but needing to maintain your credentials, studying for and writing a pilot test will count towards your credential maintenance points.
If you’re interested, please get in touch with Helena Aalto.
2) Registration open for proofreading and structural editing tests
The actual certification tests will be held Saturday, November 17, in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax. Proofreading runs from 10 am to 1 pm, and Structural Editing runs from 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm.
These tests are open to both EAC members and non-members. For more information about certification or to register online, visit the certification website.
It may be, but understanding grammatical rules can be enormously empowering to an editor. Knowing the parts of speech, the difference between clauses and phrases, the distinction between independent and dependent clauses, and so on helps an editor understand why something looks or sounds right or wrong. More important, it gives the editor tools with which to communicate knowledgeably and authoritatively with colleagues and authors.
So it was with interest that I read through Susan Thurman’s The Only Grammar and Style Workbook You’ll Ever Need (F+W Media, July 2012), a new companion exercise book to Thurman’s 2003 title, The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need. Each page in the workbook is devoted to a particular grammatical issue—dangling modifiers, say—and it asks the reader either to identify a grammatical construct or to solve a problem in each of ten sentences. Answers to the problems are listed at the bottom of the page. The book covers spelling, parts of speech, sentence structure, punctuation, and some stylistic matters such as eliminating wordy phrases and identifying redundancies.
Thurman’s workbook is just that—it contains exercises only. It assumes that you either have a grammar reference (preferably hers, of course) or that you already know your stuff, and it doesn’t define, for example, what a restrictive clause is. That said, if you don’t already know the terminology, much of it is easy enough to infer by referring to the answer key, so in general the workbook can function as a standalone tool. However, using the workbook on its own may leave you with a skewed impression of what Thurman is trying to convey. Because it uses a bare-bones format to cover basic grammar, it comes off as more simplistic and prescriptivist than I think it intends. For example, its page of exercises on hyphens makes no distinction between hyphens and en dashes; only if you look in The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need do you realize that Thurman does address the difference, noting that some word processing programs will automatically change hyphens to en dashes when they are used in number ranges. Further, although a few of the style exercises are prefaced “Answers may vary,” having a simple right-or-wrong answer key for most of the exercises means that readers aren’t given a chance to consider that language evolves and that register can dictate whether a certain usage is acceptable. For these reasons, I found it handy to have Thurman’s grammar book as a reference and for context as I worked through the exercise book.
I did find myself looking at The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need to understand the motivation behind certain exercise problems. For example, page 14 of the workbook includes the following sentences:
3. Clara will (a) annoy (b) aggravate Clarence if she spends too much money.
4. Clarence will (a) annoy (b) aggravate the situation if he insists on watching every penny Clara spends.
The grammar book says, “If you mean pester or irritate, you want annoy. Aggravate means exaggerate or make worse.” (p. 7)
Although I agree with Thurman that annoy is probably the better choice in sentence 3, Webster’s does list as a definition of aggravate “to rouse to displeasure or anger by usually persistent and often petty goading,” and as an editor I wouldn’t necessarily have marked aggravate as incorrect.
To be fair, editors aren’t really the workbook’s target audience. Nor are professional writers, I’d go as far as to say. The grammar book and workbook would probably be most useful to students and those Robin Kilroy called “functional writers”—people who have to write for work, for example, but who aren’t writers by trade or title. However, the workbook does offer editors a quick refresher on topics like coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, gerunds, and linking verbs. If at one point you’d learned these concepts and just want to briefly pull them out of your memory bank and dust them off, this workbook will certainly do the trick. By contrast, if you’re starting from scratch, finding a solid grammar reference would be a more logical first step.
In addition to the grammar exercises, the pages on style—identifying misplaced modifiers, eliminating wordiness, and the like—are a very helpful reminder to editors about the kinds of problems they may encounter when working with an author’s text.
Much less useful are the sixty-eight pages Thurman devotes to commonly misspelled words. For example on page 66, the first sentence reads:
1. Recently, (a) guerilla (b) gerilla warfare has intensified in the dense jungle area.
Not only do I doubt that the misspelling “gerilla” is an actual problem (certainly it would be picked up by any spell checker), but the sentence also misses the obvious opportunity to teach readers about the difference between “guerilla” and “gorilla”—which is a frequently confused pair of words.
The sentences in the “Common Misspelled Words” chapter are also problematic in that some of them contain what I would mark up as grammatical or usage errors. Some examples include the following:
10. To avoid confusion, place angle (a) brackits (b) brackets around Internet addresses. (p. 40)
I would change avoid to prevent here; to avoid means to sidestep something, whereas to prevent means to stop something or make it impossible.
1. The marathon runner collapsed due to (a) exhaustion (b) exaustion. (p. 61)
“Due to” should be used only with the verb “to be” or to join two nouns (e.g., “smoke due to fire”) and not as a substitute for “because of” or “owing to.” Although this usage rule appears very much to be changing, sticking to it does prevent ambiguity in some cases.
6. While experiencing food poisoning, Joe’s face turned an (a) unatural (b) unnatural color. (p. 92)
Although Joe’s face was probably also experiencing food poisoning, I think most of us would agree that the intended subject of “experiencing” was Joe.
I have another—admittedly petty—issue with the book: its little bit of false advertising. The cover copy reads, “Never again end a sentence with a preposition” (a rule many grammarians would claim is a myth), yet there are no exercises in the book that directly address that rule.
For the book’s intended audience, the workbook may be perfectly adequate, although to those readers I would definitely recommend also having on hand a grammar reference that defines the terminology and explains the rules. For most editors, however, Thurman’s book will not be the only grammar and style workbook you’ll ever need. Certainly, editors preparing for certification will want more practice editing in context, which a book of single sentences simply won’t provide. That said, certified editors (who take this book’s prescriptivist bent with a grain of salt) may find it an easy way to earn credential maintenance points and restock their grammatical toolkit.
Now that I’m finally done summarizing my conference notes, I thought I’d share some of my own reflections on the experience, which ended up being much more invigorating than I had expected. Initially the conferences were just an excuse to catch up with two of my good friends—fellow Master of Publishing alumnae—one of whom lives in Ottawa and whom I hadn’t seen in three years. In the end I am so glad I went (not least because I was surprised by a Tom Fairley win!), even though coughing up over $700 in conference fees was a bit painful at first and the collision of deadlines I faced when I returned nearly destroyed me.
At the last EAC-BC branch meeting of the season, a quick poll of the attendees revealed that only two of us in the room were heading to Ottawa to take in the conference. At that point, having just joined the programs committee, I realized that part of my responsibility would be to bring the conference back to B.C. for the members who couldn’t attend. My suggestions for meeting topics and speakers were partly inspired by what I’d seen and heard at the conference, but what we’ll be seeing this upcoming season will by no means be a rehash of the conference content. I look forward to hearing different perspectives on key issues in editing and building upon what I’ve learned.
Here are some of my main takeaways from this spring’s conferences:
I was blown away by what Jan Wright, David Ream, and other members of the American Society for Indexing’s Digital Trends Task Force had been able to accomplish. By participating in a working group at an international level, they helped shape what will be the new standard for ebooks and advanced the indexing profession in the eyes of a consortium of major players in e-publishing. I don’t think I can overstate how huge that is.
Learning about their work made me wonder what we’re doing—as individuals and as national organizations—and whether we’re doing enough to advocate on behalf of our profession. Are editors making an effort to try to talk to Adobe about how it can make PDF proofing tools more intuitive and useful for publishing professionals? Have editors’ interests been taken into consideration in the EPUB 3.0 standard? How do we get involved on the ground floor of a nascent technology to make sure we remain relevant? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’m motivated to find out and, if time and resources allow, to make more of a contribution. What is particularly inspiring is that editors outnumber indexers manyfold. If a small group of dedicated indexers can make a group of software engineers listen, then editors should be able to do it, too.
Brain sharing and collaboration
Peter Milliken’s keynote reinforced an undercurrent of both conferences: the importance of talking and learning from one another. Both Cheryl Landes and Jan Wright at the ISC conference noted that technical communicators have been dealing with the issues relating to single-sourcing that book publishers are now facing with p-books and e-books but that the two communities aren’t really talking to each other. Dominique Joseph’s EAC talk also made me wonder if the plain language/clear communication movement and the editing and indexing communities are exchanging ideas as much as they could be. (Noting that the new definition of clear communication includes finding information, I asked Joseph if using indexing and information science to guide retrieval was part of the plain language movement’s considerations; she believed that “finding” in the context of the definition referred to a more structural level, as in headings, for example.) What other opportunities for cross-pollination are we missing out on?
The lack of cross-pollination for in-house editors was a big reason I hosted my session at last year’s conference in Vancouver. Publishers often get together to discuss marketing or digital strategies but rarely ever talk about editing and production. When I was in house, I discovered that we ended up jury-rigging our own systems and reinventing the wheel at each of our respective houses. I wanted to give in-house editors an opportunity to share ideas about what works and what doesn’t and maybe develop some more concrete best practices.
A year later, in-house editors still aren’t getting many chances to sit together and brain share. Peter Moskos and Connie Vanderwaardt’s session at the EAC conference about managing editors certainly helped, but managing editors alone have enough considerations to fill a full-day retreat. Although I’m now a freelancer, I’m still committed to making the in-house editor’s life easier. A lot of the work I do as a publishing consultant centres on production efficiencies—streamlining workflow while minimizing errors—and would have more relevance and impact if I could get a group of managing editors and production managers together (in person or online) to exchange ideas. I see working with the EAC—first at the branch level but hopefully later at the national level—to develop programs and services to encourage more in-house participation in the association becoming a key mission of mine in the years to come.
The ISC conference offered another form of idea exchange: representatives from the society’s sister organizations in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia and New Zealand were invited to attend, and some of them gave presentations. I found it extremely interesting to hear international perspectives on issues common to all within the profession. One could argue that because editing is so much larger a community that there’s already a glut of articles online about editing and language from contributors around the world, but I wonder if reaching out to experts from abroad to speak at an EAC conference could help strengthen ties with editorial sister organizations and further promote advocacy of the profession at an international level.
I hate to flog a dead horse, but I want to advocate once again for proper credit for editors and indexers. In Max McMaster’s ISC talk, he noted that sometimes publishers will have a book reindexed because they simply don’t know who did the original. Having that information, in the form of a credit, could help them track down the indexer, who may still have the index archived, allowing the publisher to save money and to avoid any intellectual property issues. Further, adopting Christine Jacobs’s approach of including a credit line as an item on her invoice is an innovative and easy way we can organically but systematically work to give editors and indexers the recognition they deserve.
The Language Portal of Canada
Few people outside of Ottawa (or perhaps Ontario?) seem to know about the Language Portal; many of those who do believe it’s a resource for translators only. In fact it seems as though it could be quite a handy site for editors, what with free access to an updated edition of The Canadian Style, not to mention Peck’s English Pointers. For newly certified editors, the site’s quizzes and articles provide easy-access credential maintenance opportunities.
Last evening’s EAC-BC meeting featured a presentation by my fellow Certification Steering Committee members Ann-Marie Metten, Lana Okerlund, and Anne Brennan about dispelling the myths surrounding EAC’s certification program. I started off trying to take some notes so that I could post them here but found that I wasn’t engaged in the same way as I was for some past sessions, because I wasn’t hearing anything I hadn’t heard before and, of course, I’d already been through the process. So perhaps the best way I can contribute to the discussion is to say a few things about my experience and offer some (unabashedly biased) thoughts about the certification program.
When I began working in book publishing, my mentors at D&M Publishers were Nancy Flight and Lucy Kenward—unquestionably two of the best editors in the country. That position gave me extraordinary training and a deep respect for high editorial standards. But it was also enough to give me a serious case of impostor syndrome. A few years in, I wanted to prove—mostly to myself but also to my employer—that I was worth my salt as an editor, and the certification program provided a terrific opportunity to validate my skills.
I feel fortunate that I had experience working in an intense in-house environment in book publishing: I did all of my proofreading and much of my copy editing on paper, meaning I was very familiar with markup, and I dealt day to day with other members of the publishing team and so felt I had a solid grounding in the publishing process. I hear from other certified editors who had never worked in a publishing house that those were two of the most challenging aspects of the certification tests for them.
So I signed up for the knowledge of publishing process and the copy-editing tests (when they were divided that way) in 2008. I worked through the copy-editing study guide, reviewed the Professional Editorial Standards, read through Editing Canadian English, and over a few weeks ended up reading Chicago cover to cover (and in the process discovered stuff I’d been doing wrong for years!).
That year was the first time the certification program offered the structural and stylistic test, and I didn’t feel up to it quite yet. In 2009, knowing that only five candidates had passed that exam the previous year, I registered for it (along with the proofreading test) but mentally prepared myself to write it twice if I needed to; I was fully expecting to fail the first time and was going to use that as a learning experience in preparing for my second kick at the can. As luck would have it, I didn’t need one, and I attained my Certified Professional Editor designation in spring 2010.
To prepare for my last two tests, I again worked through the respective study guides and reread the Professional Editorial Standards. Nervous about the structural and stylistic test, I also dedicated time to doing the substantive editing exercises in Meeting Editorial Standards (now Meeting Professional Editorial Standards) and, on Nancy Flight’s recommendation, read Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams—an extraordinarily lucid read that I would highly recommend. If I had to offer any advice to prospective certification candidates, it would be:
- to know the Professional Editorial Standards. This is key, as the exams are made to test those specific competencies.
- to work through the study guides, which are very good exemplars of the tests. In each of them you get not only a practice test and a marking guide but also a sample test of a candidate that had passed the test and another that had failed, allowing you to get a good sense of what to prioritize.
I wish I’d internalized more from the experience (particularly the reading of Chicago, for example), but I can say that the process of studying for certification certainly made me a more conscientious, attentive editor. One of my colleagues asked me why, as an in-house editor, I decided to become certified, since I couldn’t really capitalize on the marketing advantage of being a CPE. At that point, my role in the company had grown from simply editing to developing editorial systems and communicating with freelancers. Being certified gave me the confidence to talk to our freelance editors—some of them veterans of the profession—as their equal. And now that I’ve gone freelance, I am that much more grateful that I’ve gone through the process and can easily prove to prospective clients that I am offering good value.
My commitment to the certification program runs deep; I have a vested interest in seeing my designation retain its value. I was involved in developing the framework for credential maintenance, and I’m now a member of the Certification Steering Committee. Although I’m not required to do any credential maintenance activities, I will anyway, because certification, to me, is not an end-point—it’s an extra motivator to keep learning.
If you’re considering certification and have any questions about my experiences or about the program, feel free to get in touch with me, and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my abilities.