Editing – When Things Go Wrong
Most editors will get negative feedback on a document from time to time or may even go through a patch when their work just isn’t hitting the mark. Everyone hates it when this happens – you tried your hardest and thought you’d done a good job, only to find it wasn’t right after all. We asked our editors to tell us their experiences of this, what caused the problem and how they fixed it.
Taking On Too Much
“I have a tendency to take on too much, which I think is a big recipe for possible errors cropping up. Perhaps I misjudge the time I have or am just on autopilot and start ploughing through, without planning properly.”
What to Do:
Really think about whether you will have time to finish a document before accepting it. Assume the worst- case scenario – if it turns out to be a really horrible one, will you have plenty of time to spend on it? If not, just say no, even if you want to help admin out.
Be realistic about how long you want to work. Feeling resentful because a job is taking longer than you hoped or rushing because you’ve got something else planned WILL affect your work.
Once you’ve taken a doc, time yourself – exactly how long did it take to edit the first two pages (bearing in mind you will have edited each one twice, as part of your double-checking process)? Now you can gauge how long the job will take and, incidentally, you will know how long most jobs should take you.
With this information, you can manage your time responsibly so that you never take on more than you can get through. Having said that, if you do overstretch yourself on a doc, tell admin straight away.
“I try to take a step back and remember I have to leave enough time to double-check…”
Tiredness or Illness
“Accepting documents when I am operating at lower capacity often results in me missing things.”
What to Do
Try to be aware of how your body functions and when your brain is at its best.
Only take work when you are feeling 100%.
If you’re not sure how mentally alert or physically well you are, try a smaller document to get you into the groove and see how you are performing.
“I’ve had bad runs in the past, whether for a day or a few days, and those really get to me. It can become psychological if you get too stressed about it all and that will just turn into a cycle.”
What to Do:
Time out is the best solution – recognise that your body and brain need to focus on something else while you regain perspective. This might only take a day or a few days, or longer.
Understand that you’re not the only person this has ever happened to, by any means. Most editors experience it at some time. If you’ve performed well in the past, then you can do so again.
When you feel up to it, take a good, dispassionate look through your recent feedback and see if there are any patterns to the issues you’ve been having.
Check through the resources in your user area and any relevant style guides for particular customers.
Ease yourself back in slowly by taking a short doc or two and really taking your time over them.
“I take my time, check my feedback and remind myself of all the good docs I’ve done…”
Not Knowing Our Style
“I know I should look over all the resources on my dashboard more frequently, as I can’t always remember all the style requirements.”
What to Do:
If you’re doing things your way but keep being reminded in your feedback to check out resources such as Common Proofreading Pitfalls, then you’re doing things the wrong way – at least as far as Proofed is concerned!
Use our commenting tool to check on style issues while working, which is essentially our style guide and has links to helpful blogs that will guide you.
Keep a list of the issues we’ve pointed out in the past and try to keep checking through it until you have absorbed the correct way of doing those things.
If you work to a specific customer’s style guide, remember this can change, so make sure you’ve got the most up-to-date version.
“I keep a list of my most common and easily missed things, then correct them through Find and Replace as part of my final check. I add to the list whenever I get new feedback…”
“What generally causes me to leave errors is…a host of formulas and equations as part of sentences when I am unfamiliar with the subject…”
What to Do:
Being an expert in a particular subject is not the most important thing. Being an expert editor is!
Get used to replacing equations and formulas with another word or phrase in your mind, such as ‘blank’ or ‘geranium’, when reading sentences.
Some topics have subject-specific terms that look odd. Before changing these, do an online search to see if they are known terms in that field. If you can’t find anything, but don’t feel confident about making a change, it’s okay to add a comment saying you can’t find the term and asking the customer to clarify it.
“I actually love this type of document – the equations free my mine to focus on the words…”
‘Where the language is bad, reading and rereading desensitizes you to the content and you can’t spot mistakes. A fresh pair of eyes is needed…’
What to Do:
You can, and should, continually refresh your eyes and brain as you work – here are some tips for doing so.
Install an app such as Time Machine on your computer and set it to give you enforced breaks at regular intervals. These need only be about a minute every half hour or so to make a big difference.
Step away from your computer for that minute – jump around, look outside, sing, drink some water, do anything to use a different part of your brain.
If you’re seeing nothing but word soup, move away, then come back to your computer and read the text from a standing position (or sitting if you WERE standing!). It will look different and any errors should start to be visible.
If a passage makes no sense to you, use a ‘Meaning unclear’ comment for now and move on. When you come back to it later, you may see it more clearly.
Read the text aloud, or in an accent different from your own – sometimes this helps!
“I use my minute out to do a tiny bit of exercise – lift my kettle bells or run on the spot – it reduces both physical and mental stress and clears my mind…”
“Switching between US and UK English, especially if I have completed several in a row using either.”
What to Do:
If you know this is a problem for you, then it is worth keeping a list of the main differences between the two language settings and having a quick look at it when you switch.
At the start of a document, use Find and Replace to detect and fix any spellings in the wrong dialect, such as ‘iz’ to ‘is’ or ‘or’ to ‘our’.
Read through the resource on dialects in your user area.
“I can’t ever remember the Australian English rules. I always have to check, so I’ve got the resource on my desktop all the time…”
Whenever you proofread a document, it’s worth following our Proofreading Checklist, which you can find on your resources tab, or the checklist you’ve been given for a particular customer.
Be honest with yourself and with us about what you can manage. If you’re better on shorter documents, that’s totally fine.
Take your feedback on board and take responsibility for getting yourself back on track – if you’ve edited well in the past, you will again!