Life’s better with a buddy

Laptop and paperI’m an introvert. I did an online test once and it said I am 3% extroverted and 97% introverted. That seems fair. (It was this test, if you are interested.) However, I still understand the isolation that can come with working from home or alone in an office. It can sap your confidence and make it hard to maintain your motivation.

In a quest to make sure that I still had some social skills, I joined the nearest Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) local group for a lunch meeting. I came away from that lunch with the feeling that I had finally found my people. It was great to be able to speak to people with a lot of the same concerns as me, and who had been through a lot of the same experiences on the journey to becoming a fully fledged editorial professional. Not only that but they were friendly and kind and welcoming.

I had colleagues to speak to now, but that was every other month. I still spent much of my working time with a feeling of having no connection to other people in my field. The SfEP forums are great, and Twitter fills some of the social void, but it was still easy to get caught up inside my own head.

There had been a discussion at one of the local SfEP meetings about accountability groups: a group of individuals who share their goals, report back to each other and keep each other on track. That felt a bit too big for me, so instead I sought out a buddy. I knew if I told someone I was going to do something, instead of keeping it to myself, I’d be much more likely to do it. Luckily, my new buddy felt the same way.

We send an email every morning with our goals for the day and then send another email in the evening to report on what we achieved. We’ve been doing that since March. In that time I have:

  • Passed the SfEP basic editorial test
  • Upgraded to professional membership of the SfEP
  • Become one of the coordinators for the West Surrey and North Hampshire local group
  • Worked on 16 projects – 12 of those books
  • Gained a new publisher client.

I wouldn’t have done all that if I didn’t have my buddy keeping me accountable, telling me I could do it (particularly in the case of the editorial test!), and sharing her knowledge. We were at the same level of training and experience when we started, and we have progressed together. We both have someone to support us and tell us when we are worrying for no reason. We both have someone we can ask questions we think might be silly. We both have someone to talk to who understands our work and our processes. We’ve become more than buddies; we are friends. Our emails are now just as much about our cats and what we are having for dinner as they are about work.

Our buddy arrangement has been one of the best decisions I have made since becoming a freelance proofreader. If you would like to give it a try, find someone and ask them. There’s a good chance they feel as isolated as you do.

(This blog post only exists because I told my buddy I would write a blog post today.)


Membership upgrade, part 2

In February 2016 I became an intermediate member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). Since then, I’ve done more training and gained more experience. I’ve worked with some lovely people and my confidence as an editorial professional has maintained its upward trajectory.

I’m delighted that this means I have been able to make another small amendment to my About page: I have achieved an upgrade to professional member of the SfEP. You can read more about the SfEP here.

In order for the admissions panel to grant professional status, I had to provide them with evidence of my training, details of my experience, and a reference from a satisfied client. I also took and passed the basic editorial test; this was necessary because many of my clients are non-publishers. The panel determined that I fulfilled their criteria – and that I am, in the SfEP’s words, a “professionally competent individual”. I now have voting rights within the organisation, and I am featured in the Directory of Editorial Services. I also get to use this membership logo:


It has been a hard but wonderful journey since my first tentative steps into the world of freelance proofreading. Thank you to my wonderful clients, my supportive editorial colleagues, and the delightful blogging community I try not to neglect.

I’m still here

“I’m so busy” is something I have been saying a lot over the last few months. It started out as a joke with my mum, because she knows I have had some months of little or no work. So when I say “I’m so busy”, it’s not a complaint – I am delighted that I seem, finally, to be attracting a decent amount work. But it is my excuse for the lack of recent blog posts. I am still here, although I am usually to be found on Twitter. I’ve been taking part in #HampshireHour every Tuesday (apart from the one evening I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2), which is fabulous for local networking. I’ve met some lovely people. I also attend my local SfEP meetings and they have been a brilliant source of motivation and encouragement.

OscarMost of my recent work has been on books for publishers, but I’ve also worked with an independent author and on online content for a local business. I love the variety. The books have included memoirs, children’s fiction and a short story collection. I started out by specialising in non-fiction, but my fiction titles are adding up now (five at the time of writing). I didn’t expect to branch into fiction so quickly, but I’m enjoying it.

I was joined by a new editorial assistant in February. He isn’t very helpful: he tries to chew my pens, he likes to sit on my laptop, and he knocks everything off my desk. But he’s a sweetheart and his paws are usually clean before he sits on the proofs. (Don’t worry – he only sits on my printouts and not the publisher’s copies.)

I hope, now I am adjusting to being “busy”, to be able to blog regularly again and to catch up on some of the wonderful blogs I follow.

All the best, and please feel free to say hi!

Reasons I provide a sign-off form

This post expands on something I wrote on the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) forum a while ago. It was in response to a fellow member’s query about how to get feedback from clients, and I’m sure anyone who works as a freelance or on a project-by-project basis will know how difficult this can be.

A sign-off form is a relatively new addition to my documentation process, but it has proved to be an effective tool for gaining feedback. Previously, I was worried about asking for my client’s opinion of my work. (My thought stream sounded something like this: what if they hate my work? What if they hate me? What if they tell everyone I’m useless and I never get any work again and I starve to death and am eaten by my cats? Or worse, I have to go back to working in admin. Or retail.) But over time I have realised that isn’t very conducive to personal and professional progression. And, actually, most people are nice and want to say nice things. The client sign-off form has facilitated a significant boost to my confidence.

feedbackI first started using the sign-off form as a condition of my professional indemnity insurance (my insurer prefers that there is a documented sign-off where the client accepts the work I have done). The form simply asks the client to confirm that they have received the project and that it has been completed according to the brief and any terms and conditions. I have then added space (a comment box) for the client to use to leave any feedback they might want to give. There are two main reasons I added that box:

  1. It’s an easy way to get a testimonial. I find it awkward to ask directly, and it doesn’t put any pressure on the client to provide one. They simply can if they wish. (But I make it clear on the form that I might use their feedback for promotional purposes unless they tell me they would prefer otherwise.)
  2. I want to know if the way I have the approached the project is the best way for them. This is particularly important for clients I hope to develop a long-lasting relationship with. Some publishers like things done slightly differently to others, which might not have been mentioned in the brief. If I know what the client likes, I can do it. The form signals to the client that I want, and am prepared for, constructive feedback.

Nearly every client I have sent a sign-off form to has returned it, and returned it with positive feedback. I’ve had positive comments about the use of the form itself, so I’m reassured that it comes across as a thoughtful and professional document. This has led me to consider, so far, that the sign-off form has been a success. Once you have the template ready to go, it takes hardly any time at all to produce, and it is quick for the client to complete while still allowing for more specific detail than tick-boxes or similar.

Any fellow freelancers have suggestions for effective ways to get useful feedback? I’d love to know.

Royal Holloway update

There have been some changes to Royal Holloway’s proofreading scheme since I became an approved proofreader in 2015.


Founder’s Building in spring

Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL) is one of the UK’s leading universities and my alma mater. It is located in Egham, Surrey and is famous for the beautiful Founder’s Building. You might recognise Founder’s from its fleeting appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron (it was really weird to see Thor outside somewhere I know so well).

The proofreading scheme is open to postgraduates and only allows the identification of errors. Undergraduates looking to improve their writing are encouraged to attend workshops and meetings organised by the Centre for the Development of Academic Skills (CeDAS) and are not currently allowed to use the proofreading scheme.

The identification code and proofreading policy remain the same, but the method of arranging the proofreading work has changed. This is what happens:

  1. The student’s supervisor completes a proofreading consent form and the supervisor sends the completed form to CeDAS.
  2. The student uses CeDAS’s online booking form to request the service of a proofreader from the approved list.
  3. CeDAS send the booking request to the proofreader. The proofreader contacts the student with a quote and timeframe for the work.
  4. The student sends the proofreader the final draft and the style guide.
  5. The proofreader returns the work and receives payment. The student makes corrections and then submits the work, making sure to acknowledge the use of a proofreader.

I’m happy to discuss my availability with RHUL students before they complete the booking request, but I can’t make any guarantees until I receive the official form from CeDAS. It is also important that students familiarise themselves with the level of intervention they can expect. You can read more about the scheme here.

Working with Raynaud’s

I’ve mentioned before that I have Raynaud’s syndrome. It’s a fairly common condition that affects the supply of blood to parts of the body, usually the hands and feet.

The temperature has recently dipped into the minus figures and managing Raynaud’s has become a significant part of my work routine. I need to be able to use my hands to type and to mark up accurately on hard copy, so keeping warm is extremely important. You might think that I could just whack the heating up and be done with it, but it doesn’t seem to work like that (and I wear contact lenses – the central heating dries them up into tiny plastic shards of agony). Also, all-day heating is really expensive.

I start each day with a brisk walk to get the blood pumping. I find it an effective way to mentally set myself up for the day and the dog is delightful company. It is, of course, important to wrap up warmly (including a hat because so much warmth escapes from the top of your head) and wear proper walking shoes – I recently changed mine because they had started to leak and that’s a sure-fire way to turn your feet into ice blocks.


I then do the following during the day:

  • Wear warm and comfortable clothes. Anything that feels restrictive is a no-no. Socks and multiple layers are musts.
  • Wear fingerless gloves. I have several pairs and some of them contain silver, which is supposed to minimise heat loss (and it does in my experience).
  • Put a hot water bottle under my desk to rest my feet on. I find warming my feet helps to warm the rest of me quicker.
  • Keep a blanket over the back of my chair so I can put it over my legs if I need to.
  • Make sure I keep moving. I try to move my feet around when I’m sitting at my desk and I get up and walk around at least once every hour to stimulate my circulation.
  • Have a hot drink in the morning and the afternoon between meals. I find just holding a warm mug soothes and loosens my hands.
  • Have a hot meal at lunch. The body needs fuel to keep warm and the warmth of the food will also help. I like soup and pasta (I probably like pasta too much).

These are very simple things that make a big difference, and the time I lose due to an attack has drastically reduced.

Do you have Raynaud’s? Does it affect you when you’re working?  Do you have any tips for keeping warm? I’d love to read your experiences.

Further reading:

‘Less than ten items’ is not wrong

I have already written about when to use fewer and less but I would like to address this phrase specifically:

supermarketLess than ten items.

Many people don’t like it – they insist that it should be fewer than ten items. Arguments rage all over the internet and people mutter angrily at signs above supermarket checkouts.

This is my take on the debate:

The use of less in this phrase is fine. Everyone should calm down.

Less is correct in this phrase because we are thinking of a total amount rather than individual units. It’s the same reason we would say less than five days or less than £10,000. We wouldn’t say fewer than 18 years old or fewer than 50 miles. This reasoning applies when the phrase takes a slightly different form, such as ten items or less.

This is how Pocket Fowler’s explains it:

Supermarket checkouts are correct when the signs they display read 5 items or less (which refers to a total amount), and are misguidedly pedantic when they read 5 items or fewer (which emphasizes individuality, surely not the intention).

And to be technical about it, the full-size Fowler’s adds:

In phrases like the above, less is a pronoun, not an adjective.

If you have trouble determining when to use less or fewer, the best thing to do is remember that fewer refers to number and less refers to quantity.


  • Oxford Dictionaries Blog
  • Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2015
  • Pocket Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Online


Opinion: quotation marks

Last week we discussed preferred styles of parenthetical dash. You might be interested to know that the use of spaced en rules is currently winning (at 58% of votes). The poll is still open if you would like to join in!

Quote marksThis week I would like to ask you the following:

Do you prefer single or double quotation marks for ordinary use?

This might be a difficult question to choose one answer for, so please let me know your thoughts in the comments. It’s also worth recognising that we have to use single and double when quotations within quotations occur.

Single with double inside is usually the preferred British style:

‘Do you know what a “stickleback” is?’

While double with single inside is usually the preferred American style:

“Do you know what a ‘stickleback’ is?”

I believe Canadians and Australians tend to prefer doubles and South Africans tend to prefer singles – is that your experience?

I am British but I prefer double quotation marks, particularly because they help to avoid any confusion if the quoted matter contains an apostrophe. However, single quotation marks are typically regarded as easier to read on a screen. As usual, I’d love to know what you think!


  • New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide
  • The Penguin Guide to Punctuation
  • Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage

Opinion: parenthetical dashes

Last week we discussed the use of serial commas. I was slightly surprised to find the poll currently shows that 60% of respondents agree with my stance – I thought the ‘always use serial commas’ camp would win it. The poll is still open if you would like to join in.

Dash2My blog’s style sheet is beginning to take shape, but I have another style decision to put to you:

Do you prefer parenthetical content to be marked by en rules or em rules? (If you have opted for dashes instead of commas or brackets.)

My preference is to mark it with spaced en rules like this:

The paint – a horrible shade of green – dripped on the carpet.

But it is also common to mark it with closed up em rules like this:

The paint—a horrible shade of green—dripped on the carpet.

I think spaced en rules look cleaner, and many British publishers use them. However, most US publishers use closed up em rules.

What do you think? It’s poll time! (Please vote – it makes me happy.)


  • New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide

Blog anniversary

Today marks the first anniversary of the creation of I almost can’t believe it has been one year already.Office

I don’t think I would have managed to produce 113 posts in that time if it wasn’t for the support of those who read this blog. Thank you. I really appreciate your contributions.

I published a list of 2015’s most popular posts, but for this milestone I would like to highlight some of my favourite posts:

  1. Irregular verbs. Lots of people struggle with verb forms and I put together a 6-page PDF to help. It includes notes on usage differences around the world.
  2. Taradiddle. The interesting word with an origin story that illustrates its meaning. Managing to incorporate Harry Potter into the post was a bonus.
  3. Sample style sheet. A style sheet for an imaginary novel. Style sheets are an excellent tool and this is an example for any authors who want to know where to start.
  4. ‘Affect’ and effect’. I like this mostly because the comments took me from Pirates of the Caribbean to Pokémon.
  5. Punctuation..? by User Design. I was thrilled that an author asked me to review their work, but I had to be honest with my readers.
  6. Split infinitives. I really stuck it to the man with my support of split infinitives (and ending a sentence with a preposition).
  7. The Penguin Guide to Punctuation, R. L. Trask. Because no one should be afraid of punctuation. I think people actually bought this book after I recommended it. If that was you, I hope you are still finding it useful.
  8. ‘I.e’ and ‘e.g.’ are not interchangeable. A short, simple and effective post.
  9. Noel. I enjoyed writing Christmas-related posts, and I am already thinking of words to discuss this year!
  10. Proofreading advice: take a break. I wrote a series of posts on proofreading advice and I think this is the best one. It isn’t often that doing nothing is the best thing to do.

And now I’m going to have a cup of tea and some chocolate biscuits to celebrate properly.