Tag Archives: punctuation

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

‘What will you miss when newspapers are gone?’

Will you miss me, Seth Godin? You don’t seem to mention copy editors, concentrating as you have in your post on the loss of  ‘local news, investigative journalism and intelligent coverage of national news’.

I am/was a sub-editor who is having to check less and less as life moves online and into endless opinion. My job has all but disappeared. The ‘invisible’ skill – to the readers anyway – of copy editing, checking and proofreading may be missed as reputations fall, libel and copyright court cases soar, stocks crash on the back of incorrect tagging and anal grammar pundits click away in annoyance.

While you’ve obviously done a spell-check on your column, I did have to laugh at:

I worry about the quality of a democracy when the the state government …

And I worry about the quality of ‘the the’ content, and where I will be able to find checked content. I’m not meaning to nitpick. It’s a small example, nothing to bother about. But it’s the trustworthiness, I will miss; the knowing that what I’m reading has been via the lawyers, a copy editor and/or a chief sub-editor.

We can all live with a  few spelling/grammar stuff -ups. But it’s kind of like airlines and maintenance. If the seatbacks don’t work and the carpets are worn, then you don’t care but you do worry about the engine. The trust has gone. 

So I think the ‘invisible’ sub-editor may finally become visible when newspapers are gone – and, even with the tabloid spin, it’s them who I’ll miss. And in case you think I’m feeling sorry for myself, I don’t think that’s it. My job’s already moved on. The sub-editing element has sunk to less than 20%. I’m just another opinionated media outlet now!

Not so hot sub-editing from The Star

Subs, get your woolly bras and panties on. The Daily Star appears to have been concentrating a little too hard on the snow-covered mounds of their busty Santa lady pic today for they have the UK facing a ‘Day After Tomorrow’ weather catastrophe:

BRITS should brrrrace themselves for a big chill in the New Year with weathermen warning temperatures could plunge as low as minus 130C.

Don’t worry though, they’ve then given us a tropical heatwave by day with ‘maximum daytime temperatures… between 20C and 40C’.

Positively balmy. Thanks to @bobbiejohnson for the Twitter tip-off.

Extra zeroes anyone? Subs? Anyone?

PS The degree symbol is under ‘insert symbol’ in Word on PC and something like shift alt 9 on Macs.

Subs are still sexy

Feeling all aglow in the knowledge that the majority of people do still care about me and my life correct spelling, grammar and punctuation – even on the easy-going internet. After posting a poll on my new e-ddiction Ask500people.com, 82% said they do still care about getting such pernicketty things as punctuation right.

Not only that but 49% said they cared about proper spelling full stop, while only 20% took a more lax view on the internet and 13% only stepped up their game at work and school.

Of course, the mindset of poll clickers means they only tend to vote if they are interested in the subject already, but still… as long as so many people get riled up by the subject, the sub’s role is set to continue.

One of the things I like about ask500people is the global pinpointing… with grammar addicts and spelling bees clicking from as far afield as Colombia, the Philippines, Iran, Ukraine, Senegal, Bolivia and more.

Watching the location pins pop up as people vote is like seeing a graphic version of Bowie/Jagger’s ‘Dancing in the Streets’. Okay, Tokyo, South America, Australia, France, Germany, U.K, Africa… All we need is subbing, sweet subbing, cos there’s typos everywhere… Forgive me, under wordplay restrictions right now so in dire need of an outlet, sob.

Who cares about spelling and grammar?

Do YOU care about correct spelling, punctuation and grammar any more? Find out who does and in what circumstances as 500 people around the world give their view.