When Spellcheck won’t help you…and Autocorrect fails.

Spellcheck is many people’s favourite tool when writing; it’s great for picking out niggly spelling and grammatical errors. However, what it’s less good at is spotting words used out of context. If it’s in the dictionary, it’s deemed ‘acceptable’.

So you get odd things happening at times, such as articles where the writer has obviously become confused by two homonyms, and the results come out something like these (the below come from a Digital Tutors blog post about the game engines Unity and Unreal):

one engine might rain supreme

And this particularly poorly structured sentence – who are its ‘dominants’, exactly? The people who’ve been oppressing a game engine?

When it comes to mobile games that is where Unity really shows its dominants, with many popular mobile games created with it, it’s really become a mobile developers go-to game engine.

Finally, the penultimate paragraph has this recommendation:

‘We’re so krazy, we eschew dictionaries!’

First of all, apologies for not blogging last week. I’ve been simultaneously editing two books, and paid work took over a bit, culminating in me realising at midnight on Friday that it was probably a little late to be thinking about what to post twelve hours ago.

This week’s post/rant is called ‘Spell it however you like – it’s still wrong’.

Why, oh why do some companies give themselves a name that sounds perfectly reasonable, but is spelt in a ‘unique’ way? I know it’s easier to potentially trademark a name further down the line if no one else uses that spelling, and that people can still understand what’s meant, but we’re not back at primary school learning phonics.

I’m thinking here of pack leaders like Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Bratz dolls (I particularly dislike ‘Slurpee’, but that’s not so much a misspelling as a horrible word), although there are plenty of places out there who present a challenge to accepted orthographic standards.

Take ‘Krazy’, for example. I just googled the word and found one of the top hits to be a company named Krazy Kool Kastles, who hire out bouncy castles in Northern Ireland. I bet they don’t abbreviate their name very often. (Returning to Krispy Kreme for a moment, at least their Hull branch had the sense to drop its ‘KKK Wednesdays‘.)

Just the first three pages of Google bring up Krazy Playdays (soft play centre), Krazy Horse (motorcycle shop), Krazy Kat (theatre group), Krazy Kev’s (magician and balloon modeller), Krazy About Pizza (take a wild guess), Latin Krazy (dance teaching) and Krazy K9s (dog training). They’re so crazy that they shun the curly c!

It’s also interesting to me that when I just googled the name of a company that used to be known as ‘Wonderous Ink’ (and which used to have a list of FAQs on its website, one of which was a long explanation of how ‘wonderous’ was an older and well-established spelling of ‘wondrous’) that it has now changed its name to Wondrous Ink. I guess they got sick of all the Facebook and Twitter comments they were receiving about the company name, but they’ll never manage to erase the Google Images search results that clearly show the older (and incorrect) spelling (shown below). Which is a shame, because their books look lovely. The Internet elephant has a very long memory.

wonderous ink

I could probably go on for hours and trawl the Internet for more examples, but let me leave you with my favourite example, and the one which triggered the thought for this week: QwinnT’Sentiel Beauty. The name caught my eye when the company car was parked next door, and no matter how many times I reread it, I find it virtually impossible to commit the ‘correct’ name to memory. I know ‘quintessential’ is quite a tricky word to spell, but surely easier than ‘qwinnt’sentiel’? They may provide a fantastic service – I’m not doubting that for a moment – but I find the fact that I can’t spell their name really off-putting. And this company is a reseller of Younique cosmetic products, a name which really makes me cringe (although I guess that’s more a matter of personal taste, as spellegance no doubt is to some people)!

‘Til next week,

Sarah

A peek inside my ‘editor’s toolkit’: shaping the textual garden

The whole editing process is a bit like tending an overgrown garden: you start off faced with the unruly greenery (the text) which you first need to weed (remove obvious and repeated errors), then work out a design for (structuring and styling), and finally water and maintain (ensure textual flow, prune to remove unnecessary words and sentences, check that everything is still where it should be and not encroaching on another section).

In any kind of writing, the same kind of errors tend to crop up again and again. Word’s ‘find and replace’ function is useful for finding a lot of these (I know creating macros can also be a big help, and this is something I still need to get to grips with and may well write about in future). By taking a few simple steps at the beginning of the copy-editing process I can save myself time and ensure consistency throughout the manuscript. Here are the steps I take when editing a text.

The pre-editing stage

I like to think of stages 1–6 as ‘pre-editing’ – removing surface errors before getting down to the ‘bones’ of the text, where I’m looking at each character in turn and the overall structure.

1. Style guides

Firstly, when I’m given a text I make sure I’m using the correct style guide for the publisher in question. I give this a quick read-through to refresh my memory, as they’re all a little different from each other. In the absence of a style guide, I check with the publisher or author what they prefer to use (my default would be Oxford, as it’s so widely used as a standard for writing and editing).

There might, for example, be a requirement in the style guide I’m using to write all numbers up to ten as words rather than numbers. (Oxford suggests all to one hundred. There are exceptions to this rule, but that’s one for another day.) So I might add this to my list of ‘things to check’ for this particular manuscript.

Some publishers have a preference for particular spellings of terms, so it’s worth doing a specific search for these as well. One company I work with which prefers to use ‘Quran’ (rather than ‘Qu’ran’ or ‘Koran’) for the Muslim holy book and ‘The Second World War’ (rather than ‘World War 2/II’, which is how you often see it written). I tend to put these on the end of my checklist (see below) to make sure they don’t slip through the net.

2. Using a template (not always applicable)

I then copy-paste the manuscript into the template provided by the publishing services company. (If I’m editing for one particular company I’ve been supplied with a template containing all the different styles I normally need. The template strips out extraneous formatting and makes the document easier to work with.)

3. Document styling

Once the document is in the correct template, I can format things like headings, chapters, body text, quotes, epigraphs and image references correctly. This makes it far easier to find my way around the text later on. It’s very difficult to edit several hundred pages of text with no formatting to provide a ‘map’ of the manuscript.

4. Using the paragraph mark button (¶) to spot additional errors

The next stage for me is to remove all tabs, extra spaces after full points, spaces at starts of lines (search for ‘^p’ to find these) and line breaks. I keep the paragraph mark button selected at this stage to see where these are. (Manual page/line breaks aren’t necessary if you modify your styles to include a page break before or after the style in question.) Likewise, you can set a requirement for ‘Normal’ text (the majority of the text) to inset the first line of a paragraph so it’s easier to see where one paragraph ends and the next starts after you’ve switched off the paragraph marks.

5. Spelling/grammar checks

Now I can run the manuscript through a spelling and grammar checker. It’s surprising just how many errors this can pick up. I have access to a spellcheck tool used by one of the companies I do regular work for (I appreciate that not everyone has this luxury) and I find this tool invaluable. As well as having all the functions of the Word spellchecker, it can check against the following different spelling standards:

  • British with Oxford -ize only;
  • British with -ise only;
  • American;
  • British -ize and -ise comparison;
  • American and British -ise difference; and
  • American and British -ize difference.

This won’t find everything, necessarily, but finding even one error is better than it getting missed in the editing process! Because it comes up with a list of all the mistakes in alphabetical order, it also makes it easy to spot where difficult-to-spell names have caused the writer to come unstuck.

6. ‘Common error’ checklist

I’ve created a table in Word of all the things I need to check before beginning on the main task at hand. This is a working document which I add to as and when additional issues crop up. It includes the points above, and also a list of common errors to check for. The ones currently in the toolkit are:

  • Ensure apostrophes are the right way round in date abbreviations (’30s).
  • Remove all bold text (File > Replace > ‘Find What’ > Ctrl + B > ‘Replace With’ > More > Format button > Font. Select ‘Regular’ under ‘Font style’).
  • Use ‘Find and Replace’ to weed out double spaces after punctuation, and to remove any spaces immediately before punctuation marks.
  • Check correct types of dashes are used (for example, en dashes (–), which are longer than a hyphen, are used in number spans). (Different style guides will have different types of dashes used to interrupt words, sentences, etc., so I make sure I know the guidance before I start.)
  • Ensure ellipses (…) are only ever 3 dots, and that they’re formatted correctly. (CTRL + ALT + . will do this.)
  • If document contains any references, ensure there is a space immediately after the full point following the ‘p’ or ‘pp’ (p. 6, not p.6).
  • Make sure all speech marks are the right way round, paying particular attention to quotes that have quotes within them. (Word often gets confused and tries to immediately follow opening quotation marks with a closing apostrophe, regardless of what’s written on the page.)

The ‘proper’ editing stage

Once all these fiddly technical bits are done, I can get down to reading through the text itself with ‘Track Changes’ highlighted so I can show the author/translator what I’ve done and add any queries using the ‘Comments’ function so they can reply and clear up any confusion or state their preferences.

Normally I’d send a sample of ten or twenty pages to the author with all errors highlighted to ensure they’re happy with the way I’m working and suggest that I only track changes where it’s a matter of preference or more clarity is needed in the text, rather than one of us having to approve changes that are amending outright errors. Once I have their approval, I can work my way through the manuscript and get the first edited draft to them for approval and for any questions to be addressed.

And that’s it, really. Once all the issues are addressed, the manuscript is ready to go off for typesetting and, after that, to be proofread.

You don’t have to be a copy-editor to take the steps above to create documents that are easier to navigate and more internally consistent. Establishing your own (or the organisation’s) preferences at the start for common words used, font type, etc. can give you a common ‘thread’ that runs through all your business documents, styling will help you and others navigate through your writing, it’s surprising how much the paragraph mark button can show up that you hadn’t noticed, and a ‘common error’ checklist could pick up quite a few things that are hard to spot when writing a document – particularly when you’re up against a tight deadline.

And with that, I’ll say goodbye for this week, and happy gardening!

Don’t leave your editing until the last minute!

In my past life in a communications department, one of the tasks I was regularly given was to do the final checks on magazines and leaflets before they went to press. This activity tended to follow a pattern:

  1. Document written by manager from one department or other (sometimes with input from team, sometimes not, often very last-minute).
  2. Document sent directly to design studio to put into magazine format and ‘prettify’.
  3. Document sent by print team to communications team to proofread before print run of several thousand. (Usually with an impending deadline.)
  4. Enormous email sent back to design studio containing all the corrections to be made before document was suitable to be sent to the public. (This was in the days when you couldn’t annotate Adobe Acrobat Reader PDFs electronically without buying the pro version.)
  5. Disgruntled email received by communications team from design studio, who’d spent a lot of time making the document look nice, asking why there were so many corrections needed. (A classic case of ‘shooting the messenger’?)
  6. Disgruntled email received by communications team from manager who’d originally written the document in question, asking why the design studio were stressing about the changes that needed to be made. (Messenger. Dead.)

My point is this:

Any document going out to the public – whether it be a beautifully printed and bound book, a four-page leaflet or a web page – is a sales pitch for the author, organisation or individual. However beautiful the finished product looks, glaring typos will make many readers question the quality of the service or work provided, as touched upon in my blog entry in November last year, Are spelling mistakes costing you money?

In the publishing world, you’d never get an author submitting their work directly to the typesetter to be laid out ready for print. There will, at the very least, be a diligent copy-editor checking the whole text for

  • correct formatting;
  • spelling and grammar;
  • factual accuracy;
  • internal consistency; and
  • adherence to the house style or style guide.

After the manuscript has been copy-edited it will be typeset (i.e. made to look like an actual book rather than a Word document) and then passed in its typeset form, usually as a PDF document, to a proofreader for a second read-through. The annotated (either on paper or electronically) PDF will then be returned for the typesetter to make the amendments before the book can be approved for print.

So why do people cut corners so often? The case discussed at the beginning of this post was a cash-strapped public body, so perhaps they’d be reluctant to hire a copy-editor or proofreader separately, but all it needed was for the writer of each document in question to send the original, in Word, to the communications team before it went to the design team. That way the errors in the original would have been removed at a sensible point in the process, everyone would have been happier, and a lot of time would have been saved.

Next time you’re writing a document for print or a web page to go on your site, think of this post… (And think of me!)

Sarah

P.S. As a footnote to the story above, shortly after I left the department, the communications toolkit we’d developed was due to be rolled out to all staff. One of the guidelines was to send all printed publications to somebody in communications to be correctly formatted, edited and proofread before the design stage, and mentioned that perhaps using the style guide set by the organisation (‘conveniently’ located about six mouse clicks away on the Intranet site) would be useful. Hopefully this would also be applied to the website (although I had more doubts about this as it was based on a content management system and the people allowed to write for it varied vastly in their abilities). I wonder if anything has changed in the last four years?

Busy, busy, busy!

After a few days off over Christmas, I’m back on the work wagon with a vengeance: there’s a short novel to copy-edit by the end of the month, a medium-sized one due in early February, and a book on feminism to put the finishing touches to before 27 January. I’ve been told to expect some transcripts of interviews to edit during February, too, and I have a couple of ideas for generating extra work that I plan to chase up once things quieten down a little.

A certain husband is also turning 40 towards the end of the month, so there are things to be organised on that front as well. I didn’t say it wasn’t going to be challenging achieving the resolutions I set a couple of weeks ago! (If anyone has discovered the secret of making time magically expand, please let me know. I’m serious.)

Getting fitter and healthier – so far, so good…

So far (I know it’s early days, but if I write it here it will hopefully make me feel guilty if I’m tempted to slack) I’m managing to keep my resolution about getting fitter and healthier in 2015. I’ve been swimming a few times and attended two TRX suspension training classes so far (plus a taster just before Christmas). Although I feel stiff and creaky at the moment, I love the variety within the classes, and it also gives me more incentive to avoid eating loads of chocolate as I know it’ll negate the workout I’ve paid for (in cash and in hard graft).

I’ve also got a grand plan to involve the children in my exercise plan – basically, they can join me after school in learning all about burpees and planks. Of course, they’ll think it’s fun and easy while I collapse crying in a heap on the floor, but once I’m fitter I’ll be the one laughing…I think.

On a blog topic-related note, I’ll leave you with a link to Allie Brosh’s brilliant rant on her site Hyperbole and a Half about the common usage of the non-word ‘alot’. I may have shared this before – apologies to those who’ve seen it before – but it’s such a classic I feel it’s worth mentioning again.

My Christmas present to you: proofreading tips (and my year in summary)

With the flurry of activity in the Spellegance family household this morning, it’ll be a short one from me this week!

I thought I’d start with my Christmas gifts to you – firstly, a link to a blog from 9 December, 11 Proofreading Tips to Help You Write with Confidence, which contains handy tips for non-proofreaders to write with confidence, in instances where they don’t have a proofreader on hand.*

Secondly, for all you other bloggers out there, I found this post (admittedly from August 2011, but still relevant) entitled 11 Blog Proofreading Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore.

As the end of the year is rapidly approaching, I thought I’d finish with a quick summary of this year’s happenings, and hopefully illustrate in the process why I love my job…

Since January, I’ve proofread or edited 15 different books – not bad considering I’ve only been working very part-time and have only increased my hours recently. These have ranged from an acclaimed novel written in Brazil and published in the UK for the first time this year to a philosophical look at the nature of belief.

I’ve had a varied and interesting year in factual titles, reading about science fiction films, the philosophy of belief, a massacre in Angola, the state of arts funding in Britain, the Royal Navy during World War I, Aneurin Bevan (the founder of the NHS) and the current situation in and history of Ukraine. I’m finishing off the year in style, with a look at the world of beauty, burlesque and feminism, which seems appropriate given the pressure women’s magazines place on us to be glamorous over the party season!

In fiction I’ve travelled on a road trip round Africa, met a Brazilian girl living by the roadside and her older lover, followed a young Libyan boy on his journey of self-discovery, investigated Finnish murders, had a taste of life in South Africa, experienced life in Ukraine during World War II through the eyes of a German major, and got to know a Maori detective a little better after my previous meeting with him two years ago.

And I’ve become a writer as well as a reader/editor since starting this blog…

This is all in addition to the less exciting elements of my work: business planning, attending training, researching websites and logos, record-keeping and trying to keep on top of Twitter and social media in general.

(And of course there’s the non-work stuff of family and hobbies, but that would be another blog in itself. No wonder I feel tired!)

Things to do, places to be…so I’ll end by raising a goblet of mulled wine to you all! Have a very Happy Christmas, and I’ll see you all in 2015!

Merry Christmas!

Sarah

* Please note that this is not a substitute for hiring a professional!

The pleasure of beautiful writing – an appreciation of some lesser-known titles

Just a quick one from me this week after the whirlwind of school Christmas events, editing work and endless list-making…

It’s all too easy to focus on things that are ‘wrong’ or pick out amusing typos (I still snigger like a child when I see ‘pubic’ in place of ‘public’, and could barely contain my mirth when my husband recounted the tale of an e-book where OCR software had converted the printed ‘burn’ to ‘bum’), but I think it’s also important to celebrate what’s being done well.

Following on from Buzzfeed’s ’51 Of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature’ and their ‘6 Perfect Sentences’ last December, I thought I’d share a selection of my favourite excerpts taken from books I’ve edited or proofread this year. (Please note that I can’t provide the source for some of these, as some won’t be published until 2015.) In no particular order, here they are:

From Nowhere People, Paulo Scott:

In the story she told him there was a colourless girl who very much liked being kissed. One day ‘the colourless girl was by the side of the road when a squad of bikers passed her and one of them threw an apple at her back. She almost fell over, she was hurt. They stopped a few metres on, took off their helmets, laughedat her. The day, which had been lovely and sunny, clouded over. Hurt, the apple looked sad, sadder even than the girl,’ that’s how he wrote it down. And she will watch the leaves on the trees and she won’t know when his leg has gone to sleep and the time has come for them to go.

From a book due to be published in April 2015:

He travelled along a dirt lane, straight and white like a parting in the hair, between fields of new grass where larks sang and quails called out with their three notes, clear like water drops.

Due to be published in January 2015:

The thunderstorm was right overhead now. It was like the sky was pummelling the city in its ribs.

Due for publication in March 2015, this description of the prelude to the protagonist settling down to watch a rugby match on TV:

All was in readiness. The highly decorated (and priced) bottle of Pinot Noir had been breathing for a couple of hours. The fire, craftily tended and force-fed, had worked itself into a yellow-orange fury generating so much heat that the room had been opened up and outer layers discarded. The lamb shanks had been slow-cooked into submission. The panel of pundits had squeezed every last drop out of the bleeding obvious and hedged their bets. The players were about to take the field.

Another book due out in January 2015:

There were fiery and unknowable impulses just below the smooth skin. A frail bravado, an unsettling unpredictability. Above all, he possessed a hungry kind of beauty.

Under the Tripoli Sky, Kamal Ben Hameda:

And, as often happens when the night decides to divulge its secrets, the darkness was vast, like a confession of love. The stars looked on calmly as they busily wove the sky’s face. They were there in their groups, jostling for position as if wanting to console me with an initial burst of chaotic movement, for once forgetting their place in the heavenly hierarchy so that I could touch them with my hand.

And my personal favourite, from the book mentioned above due out in April 2015:

The crickets outside were like steel nibs scratching the dark.

I love the fact that however tedious an editing task may be (I’m sure all editors must hate proofreading footnotes and bibliography sections as much as I do!), I also sometimes stumble across sentences of unexpected beauty and poetry like the ones above.

And with that, I’ll have to love you and leave you, as I have another Christmas concert to attend! Until next week…