Want to learn more about style sheets? Check out these old posts:
Inspired by Laura M. Browning.
What do you have to consider when editing copy for a major international sporting event? Sam Corea started off as the director of editorial services for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and later passed the reins to Andrew Tzembelicos, whose department of four editors and one graphic designer coordinated all official Olympic- and Paralympic-related publications up to and during the games. Corea is now preparing for the press coverage he’ll have to help facilitate as the head of Press Services for the upcoming Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in Toronto. He and Tzembelicos gave us a glimpse of the fast-paced, high-pressure editorial environment characteristic of these grand events.
Tzembelicos and his team made up the editorial services department, one of 53 VANOC departments. Their job was to write or oversee the writing of all VANOC publications to make sure that the copy was on tone, on voice, and on brand. For example, VANOC represented Canada as honest, unassuming, and humble. “We’d say we’d stage stellar games,” said Tzembelicos. “We won’t say ‘best games ever’ because that sounds arrogant.” His team tried to use accessible language to reach as wide an audience as possible and kept an eye out for context-specific terminology that might confuse non-Canadians (such as references to the Juno Awards). They reviewed copy for all games departments, CEO reports, sustainability reports, medals, postage stamps, and web content. They also reviewed copy for partners (for example, the four host First Nations on whose land the games took place) and for sponsors. The sheer volume of work meant that the editorial team had to prioritize public-facing documents.
Because Tzembelicos’s team had to rely on external writers and editors, he and his team developed a booklet of writing tips, The Writer’s Playbook, that was shared throughout VANOC to encourage writing that would require less editing.
Fact checking was paramount, because the games were so easily politicized. Inaccuracies or misinterpretations could be fuel for opposition parties to attack the government.
Major challenges Tzembelicos faced included a last-minute decision to publish a 96-page hockey magazine. He also had to contend with a lot of back-and-forth communication with people who fancied themselves writers but lacked an understanding of the publishing process, although The Writer’s Playbook helped mitigate this problem. At the other extreme were VANOC members who simply didn’t care about editorial quality, but “everything is amplified when you have big international events,” said Tzembelicos. “Typos and mistakes don’t just reflect poorly on the event organizers; they reflect poorly on Canada.”
Surprisingly, his work during the games themselves was relatively quiet, because the bulk of the work had been done in advance, although he and his team did have to produce a daily newspaper for the Athletes’ Village, as required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC didn’t enforce a particular style (although the games were always referred to as “the Olympic Winter Games” and never “the Olympics”), but the individual sports federations occasionally had specific requirements (for example, in the use of ladies versus women).
In July, athletes from across the American continents will descend on Toronto for the Pan Am Games. Unlike the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, which had to produce copy in French and English, Pan Am copy must be trilingual—in English, French, and Spanish. The event will feature 7,500 athletes, making it larger than the Olympic Games hosted by both Calgary and Vancouver. For many athletes, their performance at this event is what will determine whether they qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Despite the event’s size size, the Pan Am Games don’t come with the sponsorship that comes with the Olympics, meaning Corea must coordinate communications on a smaller budget.
Corea will oversee press operations‚ including media relations, broadcast relations, and press logistics. There will be 1,900 accredited members of the press covering the games, mostly from Canada, Brazil, and the United States. Part of Corea’s job will be to coordinate the Games News Service, an international wire service that will provide the media with quotes from the athletes seconds after they leave the field of play (known as “flash quotes”), games news, and press conference highlights. Corea is aiming to have flash quotes transcribed, edited, and posted within twenty minutes. Corea’s team has also researched and compiled athlete profiles for easy press access. Corea estimates that 1.11 million words will be produced over the course of the games, with more than 740,000 from flash quotes alone.
I’d heard only good things about PerfectIt, the consistency-checking software, but I work on a Mac and didn’t want to run Parallels, so I’ve resisted buying it. Still, I wanted to attend developer Daniel Heuman’s EAC conference talk about the software so that I could learn more about what it can and can’t do.
PerfectIt, by Intelligent Editing, is an add-on to Microsoft Word for PCs, and it runs from the toolbar or ribbon. It’s a consistency checker that alerts you to inconsistencies in your text. These alerts don’t prescribe—it’s quite possible that what PerfectIt flags is all correct. “There are exceptions to every rule,” said Heuman, “so PerfectIt does make you slow down and evaluate each situation.”
PerfectIt will find inconsistencies in:
For each potential error that PerfectIt finds, a dialog box pops up that describes the inconsistency; shows you how many cases of each form you have in the document and allows you to choose your preferred form; shows an excerpt of text around each instance of the error, letting you fix each case individually or all of them at once; and states any exceptions to the rule or special considerations in a note box at the bottom.
I asked if PerfectIt could be told to ignore block quotes or text style as quotations. Heuman told me that it will respect the “Do not check spelling and grammar” checkbox, but only after you’ve gone into the advanced settings and told it to, specifically.
PerfectIt will not check grammar, nor will it check references.
One feature that makes the software particularly powerful is the ability to create a style sheet for each client or to import an existing style guide, such as ones from the WHO, UN, EU, or The Economist. PerfectIt can then check your text against the selected style sheet and flag any deviations from it. If you’ve created a style sheet and would like to share it with a client or colleague, it’s easy to export it and send it along.
For those of us who don’t have a PC and aren’t using Parallels, Intelligent Editing does offer an online consistency checker, but it is a “shadow of the full suite.” My fingers are crossed that one day, PerfectIt will be available for Mac users. It does seem to be a powerful time saver, and I imagine that future tweaks to its functionality will only make it better.
We kicked off the 2013–2014 EAC-BC meeting season last evening with a packed house and an editors’ show and tell of some of our favourite time-savers. Here’s a summary*:
The trick to all of these programs, though, is that you would have had to work with your client or author early enough in the writing process for them to have used them from the outset. Nobody knew of any specific tricks for streamlining the editing of notes and bibliographies, although Margaret Shaw later mentioned a guest article on Louise Harnby’s blog by the developer of EditTools, Richard Adin, in which he writes:
The books I work on often have reference lists of several hundred entries. Using the Journals macro, I can check and correct most of the entries in the list automatically. I once timed it and found that I can check about 600 references in approximately 15 minutes; it used to take me hours, especially if I had to look up obscure and rarely cited journal names. Now I look them up once, enter them in the dataset, and move on.
Thanks to everyone who came out to the meeting and especially those who shared their tips and tricks!
*Although I knew some names at the meeting, I didn’t catch all of the names of the contributors (or I’d forgotten who’d said what). If you see an entry here and thought, “Hey—that’s me!” please send me a note, and I’ll be happy to add your name.
Checking facts in the realm of general knowledge is a part of a copy editor’s job, and for some genres, like history or biography, it can be one of the most time consuming. Fortunately, a couple of really simple tools can help make the fact-checking process a little less tedious.
I used to fact check as I worked through a manuscript, interrupting my own reading to plug a name into Google. This practice was probably a relic of working on hard-copy manuscripts, and it took me much longer than it reasonably should have to realize how dumb I was being. Instead, I now copy the terms into a separate document and deal with them all at once in a focused fact-checking session, then I go back to the manuscript and fix any discrepancies. Handily, the list of terms you create in this process can also serve as the basis of the word list in your style sheet.
To cut down on the number of keystrokes you have to input to make your word list, record a simple macro in Microsoft Word. (If you’ve got Word 2008, you’re out of luck here, but you can still copy and paste manually and use the tool in the next section to save you time.)
On a Mac
On a PC
Now anytime you want to copy a term into your word list, all you have to do is highlight it in your manuscript document and press your macro’s shortcut key combination.
Note that your word list doesn’t have to be limited to names; it can include any search terms you’d plug into Google (e.g., Indian Act 1876)
Once you’ve got all of the terms copied out of the manuscript, you may want to scan the list and tweak it a bit so that a Google search will return meaningful results. For example, very common names (e.g., John Smith) may need more specific context (e.g., John Smith Jamestown), or you may have to put quotation marks around terms you want to search exactly.
Plug your word list into SearchOpener and click Submit. Then click Open All to have each search open in a separate tab. Now you can go through each of the tabs to confirm your list of terms, refining your searches as needed.
If your list of search terms is long, you may want to do this process in batches, but the approach will still save you time, and it certainly beats copying and pasting each term separately into Google.
A style sheet is distinct from a publisher’s style guide (which applies to all of the publisher’s books) and is a list of words, terms, usages, etc., that the copy editor creates when working through a particular document. Ruth encourages editors to create a style sheet for every document they work on, no matter how short. Even a two-page pamphlet requires decisions about the serial comma, capitalization, and so on. We freelancers especially must rely on style sheets to keep ourselves organized, since we’re often working on several projects at once, each with its own set of style decisions.
Ruth suggests that as you put together your style sheet, keep in mind that it’s a form of communication with others in the editorial and production process. The proofreader will certainly use it, and the author, designer, and indexer may also look at it.
Style sheets can be an invaluable piece of archival material; it means that you, or another editor, won’t have to start from scratch if the document you’re working on has to be revised. As a freelancer, Ruth says, she keeps all of her style sheets. In corporate world, she’s often the one introducing all of the styles. Style sheets can serve as a building block for the organization to start developing its own style guide.
So what should a style sheet include? Two mandatory elements are (1) which dictionary you’re using and (2) which style manual you’re using—editions are important. Whether or not to use the serial comma is also almost always on the style sheet. Even if it’s in the organization’s style guide, it’s helpful to repeat that information, particularly if those who will be working with the document after you is not in house or is not focused on editorial issues.
The style sheet is basically a record of everything you’ve had to look up—proper nouns, titles of books, acronyms, and the like—and everything for which you’ve had to make a decision about
Style sheets often include how numbers should be treated. When should they be spelled out and when should numerals be used? What date format is used? What units of measurement? Cookbook style sheets may also have a list of measurement abbreviations, conversions, and even standard sizes for pans and other kitchen equipment.
If the book has back matter, it’s often helpful for both you and the proofreader to include on the style sheet not just a description but a sample of a typical note and bibliographic entry to show how these should look.
Finally, any deviations from the norm or from the organization’s house style should be noted. An author may have a strong preference to spell or format a term a certain way that may not be what the dictionary or style manual recommends.
Once you put your style sheet together, proofread it. Make sure the word processor hasn’t autocorrected or autocapped your terms, and run a spell check. Date the style sheet, archive it for yourself, and pass it on.
What shouldn’t go on the style sheet? If there’s only one way to spell a word, don’t include it. “You don’t want to display your ignorance on a style sheet,” Ruth says. “It’s your job as copy editor to fix the spelling errors and typos.” She will usually list place names with difficult spellings but not, say, Paris or London—names that everyone knows how to spell. Also, says Ruth, list just the words and terms—there’s no need to write a story or justify the style decision you’ve made.
The sample style sheets that Ruth brought prompted some discussion about categorization. She referenced one of my earlier posts about style sheets, where I noted that proofreaders generally prefer an uncategorized word list. Eve Rickert chimed in to say that as a proofreader, she often finds that she’ll look for a term in one category on a style sheet, not find it, and look it up in anther source, only to discover that it had be listed under another category all along. When she receives a categorized style sheet, she simply removes the headings and consolidates the word list. Ruth explained that while editing, she finds it can be helpful to compartmentalize. I wondered if the preference had to do with workflow and where you choose to check your facts. If you have to check a list of place names, for example, against a specific authority (like the B.C. Geographical Names database), then it may help to separate out the terms into categories, but if you’re plugging everything—people’s names, place names, organization names, titles, etc.—into Google, then that kind of compartmentalization may not be necessary. Ultimately, Ruth says, it’s prudent to simply ask the publisher or client what they prefer.
An audience member asked if made-up words in a science fiction book, for example, should show up on a style sheet. To ensure consistency in spelling, says Ruth, absolutely. Another audience member asked if words deliberately misspelled to convey a character’s accent should be included. Ruth replied that, as a proofreader, she would certainly find that helpful, but the question morphed into a discussion about whether such misspellings were derogatory. Is it better to describe the accent but not misspell the dialogue? Would that be telling rather than showing? Not being a specialist in fiction, Ruth didn’t have a definitive answer, but it was interesting to hear the diversity of opinions on the issue.
Ruth ended the evening by showing us an example of a style sheet (created by Ann-Marie Metten) for a novel because she’d been asked what the difference was between fiction and nonfiction style sheets. The answer? Not much. You still have to make the same kinds of decisions.
The evening’s presentation and discussions showed that although all style sheets have some common elements, there is no one right way to compose them. However, as with all facets of editing, using your judgment is key to ensuring that the style sheets will be useful to you and everyone who will use them after you.
At last evening’s EAC-BC meeting, David Harrison spoke about academic editing. His perspective was quite a bit different from mine—he seems to have gained most of his experience working directly with academic authors, often helping them prepare a manuscript for submission to a publisher, whereas I’ve worked on the other end, editing text that a publisher has already accepted.
Harrison has worked with authors as diverse as literary biographers, CGA systems analysts, expert witnesses, and public policy specialists. One client had initially hired Harrison to edit a grant proposal, so, Harrison emphasizes, academic editors can do more than work on just journal articles and books.
He says that, as with other editing, it’s important to understand the author’s purpose. Academic editors may wish to
We must also not forget that they may also have some more practical motivations; “publish or perish” still very much persists:
An academic editor must also have a good handle on what the final product will look like. Fortunately, says Harrison, academic papers generally have a very predictable structure. The first time you work with a particular author or in a particular genre, look online or in a local university library for samples of the type of publication the author wants to create. Alternatively, have the author send you a sample.
Academic publishers may have very specific guidelines that they expect authors to follow—these dictate everything from article or abstract length to preferred spellings to formatting. It’s the author’s responsibility to make sure he or she adheres to these, but it’s helpful for the editor to know about them. If a particular publisher doesn’t have such a “Guide to Authors,” follow some exemplars of that publisher’s existing publications or follow an established style guide, such as Chicago or APA, but be sure to communicate your decision to the author. Keep a style sheet for each project. In fact, archive those style sheets; if you ever have repeat work with that author, the existing style sheet will save you a lot of time.
The contract, says Harrison, is very important; make sure you get the deal in writing. Share your expectations. Is the bibliography included in the cost? Is fact checking? Build in some milestones at which you can be paid. Professionalism is key. Stay within your area of competence.
Harrison could find only a handful of books relating to academic writing and editing, but he mentioned Writing for Scholarly Publication by Anne Sigismund Huff, who encourages authors to think of writing as conversation. She, in turn, suggested Making Sense of the Organization by Karl Weick, who elucidated the cycle of writing as it related to clarifying thought. If thinking is writing and writing is thinking, Harrison says, the editor’s role is to mediate that cycle.
Harrison’s presentation sparked some lively discussion about contracts—whether to charge a project rate or hourly rate; how to educate clients about the difference between an estimate and a bid; how to clearly delineate the scope of the work (e.g., specifying the number of revisions). Harrison himself quotes a project fee, saying that an hourly rate can be intimidating to clients. “Think about it from the author’s perspective,” he advised. “How would you react to someone saying, ‘I charge this much per hour but can’t tell you definitively how long it will take me?'” But what Harrison does is charge an up-front fee of commitment and then use an instalment plan for when certain milestones have been attained (e.g., first three chapters finished, halfway mark, initial edit, final revision, etc.).
The audience also asked about what to do in instances of plagiarism. Harrison doesn’t check for plagiarism as a matter of course but encourages editors to make use of the Editors’ Association of Canada’s “Guidelines for Editing Theses” as a tool to educate authors about an editor’s limitations, especially when it comes to dissertations. Jean Lawrence suggested a helpful strategy for diplomatically flagging instances of plagiarism: give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume that he or she has simply left out a citation.
I asked how polished the final product would have to be in such an author-editor relationship given that the paper or book would then go through the publisher’s own editorial process. Harrison said he’s found that less editing is happening at the level of the publisher. In fact, some publishers’ “Guide to Authors” explicitly mentions that if English isn’t your first language, you should strongly consider having your work looked at by an editor prior to submission, and he’s gotten a lot of work that way. He added that he works under the assumption that he’ll be the last person to touch the manuscript from a language point of view.
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:
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:
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.