Tag Archives: house style

HSE in typo-ridden, grammer-challenged style guide shocker!

In-house style guides are there to keep publications clear, consistent and accurate so shouldn’t they be proofread for spelling, grammar and punctuation themselves?

You’d think so, but it seems the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland forgot to check its work (or it hired the worst proofreader in the world) when it published a Plain language style guide for documents.

You can see the pretty long list of the errors on the document in Stan Carey’s post: HSE – Who proofreads the proofreaders? There’s also a good discussion going on in the comments.

My experience is that this kind of work can easily fall between the cracks in a big organisation. It is often the comms people who create the copy and the illustrators who lay it out. Technical points or queries about sense will most likely be run past a subject matter expert.

But basic proofreading is often passed on to the person in the department considered to have a good grasp of English. This is like giving the company accounts to someone who likes numbers, or layout to someone who is good at drawing.

Big orgs seem unaware of (or unwilling to prioritise the budget for?) proofreaders. But proofreading is a skill. Not only does it keep spelling, grammar and style points on track but, through accuracy and better readability, it builds trust in the reader.

I’ve only worked for two public sector organisations and both had previously just done the proofing themselves. In some cases, they didn’t do a bad job. But when they saw the level of red pen marks of a qualified proofreader, then they realised the difference between a quick read-though and a proper markup.

Still, the HSE errors are particularly surprising – even an automatic spellcheck should have picked up many of the issues that Stan highlights.

But, yanno, whatevah! I’m sure HSE is not the only outfit in the land with a dodgy style guide. I remember a superbly accurately Radio Times style guide that was completely unusable because it was the size of a doorstep.

Anyway, enough finger-pointing. Here is a LOLcat to rebalance the universe.

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RIP Sub-editing: the rise of technology – pt 2

Continuing on from yesterday’s intro on a farewell to my former life in sub-editing, here’s a bit about who sub-editors are, what they do (did?) and how they do (did) them… with a particular look at the changing tools of the trade. But first a picture of my old kit, dredged out of the attic for your viewing pleasure.

typewriter typescale wheel proofmarks

A colon of sub-editors (or should that be a semi-colon?)
Most people don’t seem to know the copy editing role even exists beyond perhaps a cursory proofread. ‘What! You mean the press actually checks things?’ But I kid you not. Checking, revising, headling, captioning, styling and generally sorting out copy was my full-time job for around 20 years.

I’m assuming most of the people reading this blog are subs. But just in case, for those who don’t know what sub-editing or copy editing is, it essentially involves all those tasks that take place between the writer’s raw copy and the final publishing.

Most are corrections, amends or refinements of copy, some tasks involve fact-checking or legal queries. With online work there is the addition of SEO, metadata, hyperlinking, categorising, tagging and chunking copy.

Sub-editing is also called subbing in the UK and copy-editing in the US. Which makes for annoying SEO – in this blog anyway.

proofing marks

British Standard proofing marks - proofreading is sort of like sub-editing on galleys or page proofs. © Periodical Training Council training material

Dirigible submarines
For online work, I’m using the term ‘digi sub’, probably also because it crosses dirigible and submarine in my head. But mainly because it’s a faster, easier way to indicate a sub-editor with digital skills.

The trouble is, the universal language of job titles hasn’t caught up with technology. Maybe the job role doesn’t even exist anyway.

Traditional sub-editing (and proofreading, see pic left), for me anyway, has all but disappeared, shrunk into a task within a wider set of tasks, disappearing under the weight of new roles, new technologies and job titles like web editor, producer, content person, content strategist, email editor, SEO writer, etc.

It’s no wonder I have trouble answering the ‘what do you do’ question these days.

This next section makes me feel old
Since I started subbing in 1987, technology has advanced rapidly. I’ve gone from subbing on paper through the revolution of desk-top publishing and onto the Web. Feel free to skip the nostalgia trip… but the following were once the tools of my trade.

In 1986 I remember running around the many floors of the Elephant and Castle skyscraper that housed the London College of Printing (now Communication), trying to find a hugely heavy and ancient Imperial Corona 55 typewriter to produce an article to deadline on.

Val Clark, the fearsome feature-writing tutor, was a scary hack, famous for her slicked-back power ponytail and crimson lips. She wanted 200 words in 20 minutes – and she didn’t give a fig about providing you with the ‘technology’ to produce them. No excuses. No obstacles. If you failed, you missed the deadline and therefore were no journalist. Her best lesson was tenacity!

We learnt shorthand at 100 words a minute using a pen and reporter’s notebook.

I had a rubbish mini tape recorder that sped up progressively until my interviewees sounded like they were Pinky & Perky. I also had a Silver Reed typewriter (which I still have – see pic!) – my pride and joy – that cost £79.99 from WH Smith in 1987, and a wodge of carbon copy paper.

page scheme

Scheme of a layout from my Periodical Journalism training notes © Periodical Training Council.

Sub-editing and proofreading were carried out using red pen and printer’s proofing marks – brief hieroglyphic instructions that the printers used to amend copy. A typescale and photo wheel (aka ‘Reproduction computer’ – which always tickled me as it was essentially two bits of plastic stuck together) completed the kit if you were doing layout too, which I was. All of these can be seen along with my trusty (dusty) typewriter in the picture at the top of the post.

Oh look! A page! On the screen!
Around 1988, computers were creeping into the magazine and newspaper production process. You produced your own galleys of body copy. How exciting! Seeing actual print pasted onto the layout (the design was still done by pencil and typescale ruler).

PageMaker and QuarkXpress page layout software arrived around 1990 and, with them, design by mouse. No more casting off characters or guess work for the sub; a headline was now WYSIWYG and a little red X icon signalled overmatter to cut

As time and software moved on, those with Quark skills got the work, while PageMaker subs began to languish. I learnt the lesson – you had to keep up with technology.

Desktop publishing = copy fiddling = repetitive strain injury
Discovering kerning and tracking was a satisfying moment. How neat we could now make the copy look – without squeezing a line beyond ‘-3’, of course (whatever that meant).

All the tweaking and endless opportunities for correction, as well as the lack of knowledge about ergonomics and how to sit and compute for 8 hours, gave me the modern version of Scrivener’s Palsy: RSI, repetitive strain injury. I was 22 and unable to work for a year.

Still, it was a boom time for subs. Throughout the 90s, there seemed to be new mag and newspaper launches every other month. The software was further refined and delineated: subs needed Word and Quark; designers Quark, PhotoShop and Illustrator.

Next (bear with me, it’s an epic but I promise LOLcats): The internet arrives and changes everything.

LOLcat

LOLcats changes evryfing. © Kitty de Medici/Flickr

Style guide wiki now up for online copy editors

After calling for a universal style guide in a recent post, well, here it is:

Style guide for online sub-editors 

Thanks to journalism.co.uk for the set-up. It’s editable for your learning pleasure and is full of tips, links and explanations for print subs moving over to online. Would be great to hear the input and suggestions of subs and copy editors, or go to the wiki and add your tuppence worth there.

There’s loads of things I haven’t covered, or haven’t covered enough. Please help and make this work-in-progress a useful resource.

Let’s create a universal style guide for web subs

Get your red pen out, or should that be grey mouse? The first steps towards a style guide for subs and copy editors working online are being taken by Martin Stabe, online editor at Retail Week. Huzzah!

This follows The Times finally changing its style for Bombay to Mumbai. Because even though the city officially changed its name in 1995, the recent attacks have zoomed Mumbai up the Google search rankings, so much so that it has now become the preferred search term of UK users. It seems The Times is playing the SEO game – and rightly so.

Martin says he’ll be posting a public Google Docs soon for subs to contribute to. But I wonder if a wiki might allow for a wider take on this, encompassing a central place to house preferred search terms across a multitude of topics. Think of all the online women’s sites, for example, that would like to know that ‘lose weight’ is the search term to write in over ‘diet’ (according to Google Trends).

Anyone up for it?

Also, since ‘fall’ scores higher than ‘autumn’ and ‘copy editors’ beats ‘subs’, should we also start brushing up on our American English?

Chief, what’s our style on f*ck?

Interested to see the Guardian’s readers’ editor pointing out how swear-happy the paper is becoming – to the moral outrage of middle-class parents everywhere. Siobhain Butterworth this week said:

Is the Guardian getting ruder? It seems so. The paper published the f-word 33 times in 1985, 495 times in 2000 and 843 times in 2007. The incidence is higher if web content is taken into account.

Now I can’t remember if I’ve ever had to sub out a swear word. It certainly hasn’t appeared in any style guide I’ve come across – although the 1990s’ fuck-off ringbinder that was the Radio Times style guide probably had a section in there somewhere on how to style with replacement asterisk gobbledygook.

Mostly, though, the F-word appears in direct quotes – so whaddyagonnado? Where it’s real-life speech it reflects that person and subs don’t tend to mess with it, even when there’s some temptingly bad grammar, innit. But maybe this is a style clash. The Guardian wants to be seen as edgy. But I can’t imagine most of the mags or websites I work for letting the F-word go through.

So I thought… I know! Cuh! Sheer brilliance (okay, well, blindingly obvious.) I’ll look up how the media deals with that doyen of profanity, Gordon Ramsay.

On Female First, they open up an interview with the F-Word king like this:

Accepted journalistic practice dictates that changing the quotes in a celebrity interview is entirely unacceptable; the fast track to career suicide.

Nevertheless, in all honesty, almost every quote you are about to read has been doctored, for the simple reason that the interviewee is Gordon Ramsay, a walking, talking swearbox in a chef’s hat.

At The Independent, they’ve left more than the F-word in but with a caveat headline:

The gospel according to Gordon Ramsey (Warning: it may be enough to put you off your breakfast)

While on a 2002 BBC transcipt of his Desert Island Discs session, he appears not to have sworn once. Did he keep it clean for radio – or was he edited?

If the Guardian is getting ruder, and swearing is being devalued as shock currency, then perhaps house style guides should introduce a policy. As for me, I’m sticking an asterisk in there – because it’s big, funny, clever and quaintly British, what with us being such a nation of virulent potty-mouths.

Anyone subs out there with a take on this, or am I just talking a load of old Charlie Oscar Charlie Kilo?