Post by Chris Bryce
You don't ever know what’s coming next, do you? That’s one of the things I enjoy most about being a working word geek. And, work can, of course, be like political scandals; nothing for a couple of weeks then three turn up, jostling for attention.
So, what stood out in 2017? Well, one of Scotland’s specialist construction companies needed a new website and invited me to provide the wording (web copy) for it. The guys were great to work for and were delighted with the friendly yet professional tone of their new site. Their web designers told me they couldn’t remember the last time a new website build had gone so smoothly. Normally it’s a lack of web copy that slows the whole thing up. Everyone felt relieved, including me.
OK, job done, what was next?
Opening my inbox, I found a request from a PhD student who was looking for help with their thesis. It was evident, from a sample of text, that English was not their first language. Their methodology, research and conclusions were all strong, but their lack of experience of writing in English was reducing the impact of their hard work.
After agreeing on a fee, I sorted out a range of issues: grammar, punctuation, format and some egregious typos. The research explored the effects of the Civil War in Uganda on the Acholi people, following decades spent in refugee camps. I learned a great deal about Uganda and its Civil War and was particularly moved by the Acholi people’s plight, which continued even after their return to their homelands. Knowing that his work was in safe hands and being attended to by a thoughtful brain, the PhD student stopped worrying. I felt happy to have helped.
Then something completely different appeared; I received a poem.
Not just any old four-line poem, but a poem for a gravestone, to mark the passing of a dearly-loved father and husband, a man who had admired the works of Robert Burns and hailed from Dumfriesshire. I will probably not connect so strongly with a piece of work for a long time.
The task was to convert the poem, composed by the deceased’s daughter, into the language of Burns. When you know your work will be carved in stone, it has to be right. Throughout my time working on this, it was as though the gentleman was by my shoulder and from time to time I’d find myself reassuring him that I’d do a good job for both him and his daughter.
After a time, I reached what I thought was the final draft, but something niggled away at me. Following some contemplation, I found the addition of ‘aye’ in the last line made it considerably more meaningful.
As I sent my final version on, I felt a lump rise in my throat.
Faither, husband, man o’th shaw;
Noo ye’v returned whaur frae ye cam,
Swith wild wi maukin, burn and sea;
Oh, what wildness aye bides in ye.
Whoever would imagine that editing and proofreading tasks could generate so many different feelings?
Right, 2018, what’s next?!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: An experienced copywriter, copy-editor, proofreader and all-round friendly word geek, Chris Bryce of Spotlight Editorial also co-ordinates the local Glasgow SfEP group. You can follow Chris on Twitter @Spotlight_Ed
The halo effect: it's something that's working on us all the time. Curious? You should be. It can make all the difference between getting a job, closing a sale or getting a new customer. You've probably heard of it before, so how does it work?
Edward Thorndyke come up with the catchy name. He was a psychologist who used it in a study during 1920. He looked at how army officers rated the soldiers serving with them. The halo effect describes his findings: officers normally assessed their men as being either good, or bad, right across the board. If the officer had a good experience of a soldier in one area then the assumption was made that the soldier would be good at other tasks too.
Obviously, this is good news for anyone who takes the time to make a good first impression. Whether people are looking at your hair, your manners or your website wording they will be making judgements in line with the halo effect. If they perceive that you are able to take good care of your stuff at this level, the halo effect leads them to cast the same favourable glow over the rest of you and all you do.
Unfortunately, there is a forked tail just around the corner. If people perceive you as not performing well in one area, then they will spread this poor rating across your life just as quickly as they would spread the glow. Bucking a negative halo effect judgement takes time and energy. Let's face it, few of us have spare amounts of either to turn someone's opinion around once it's been established.
So, the best thing we can do is to hop on board the concept and aim for a shiny halo from the get go. When it comes to how you communicate, you can do this in several ways:
Want to make sure your website wording gives you the halo effect?
Contact me on 07795 109235 or fill in the form below.
Well, are your words tasty?
“If only I hadn’t said that,” is often wailed by the broken-hearted, following a miserable row, or muttered by a regretful employee during the office Christmas party. What would the miserable lover or the tipsy party-goer have given for a filter on their spoken words? Given half a chance, they would have spotted their errors, stopped the conversation, cut out the offending sections of dialogue, reformatted the chat and started again where they left off.
Luckily, it’s different for the written word, that is as long as the writer chooses to get a fresh pair of eyes to act as that filter. If those eyes are inside the head of a professional editor, who understands exactly where and why writers make mistakes, then the writer will never have the unpleasant task of trying to eat the words they’ve put on paper.
What do editors do?
Copy-editors know how to make words work well and deal with a wide variety of text, from tee-shirt slogans, website wording and department store marketing materials to academic papers, technical manuals and published books. Whatever the text, the copy-editor’s aim is always to improve the wording and format. Often referred to as the seven Cs of editing, an editor’s focus is to make the text: clear, correct, coherent, complete, concise, consistent and credible.
The human brain is hard-wired to fill in the blanks as we read. This gives us the ability to speed-read or scan our eyes over text. It’s a useful skill when we want to take in lots of information quickly, but it can also lead to us skipping over some outrageous errors without seeing them. Here’s an example of what can go wrong. A healthcare provider had thousands of flyers printed to invite people in the local community to a “Pubic Health Day”. Of course, the flyers were meant to read “Public”. It’s a funny mistake, but the money wasted on printing the useless flyers meant the Chief Executive wasn’t laughing. Involving an editor or proofreader in the process would have saved a lot of time, money and embarrassment.
Who edits the editors?
It’s amazing how often good writers develop blind spots and fail to notice clanging typos and clichéd or overused words or terms. Mismatched images and captions are another common area for mistakes, along with wonky formatting, punctuation and grammar. Text can have too few or too many headings, a variety of fonts and a host of other issues. Even copy-editors benefit from help with their own text and regularly seek the assistance of proofreaders to pick up on the willful typos and grammatical slips that can plague even the most elegant writing. Proof-editing (a combination of copy-editing and proofreading) is a comprehensive way to capture all of the problems with a piece of text and turns good writing into excellent writing.
Less mistakes, more mistletoe
The lonely-hearted can only hope their harsh words didn’t linger in their beloved’s mind and the employee may sigh with relief when they learn a rude colleague upset the boss more than they had. With a little luck they may get away with their mistakes after all. Even though written words generally stay with us for longer than the spoken ones, you can make sure you never live to regret your words. Your editor’s job is to help you make the most of your writing and keep your reputation intact. Most importantly, your editor will make sure any written mistakes are never made public, or should that be pubic?
So, what about a verbal filter this party season? Well, I wish I had some advice for you. Drop me a line if you find the answer to that one, and meantime, have fun at the office party.
HAPPY BODHI DAY, MERRY CHRISTMAS, JOYOUS SOLSTICE, HAPPY HANUKKA AND A PEACEFUL YULETIDE TO ALL
"Enough monitors to launch a rocket ship," at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Conference 2016
I'm Chris Bryce, writer, editor and proofreader. Do you think the difference between breathing and not breathing is the most important one there is? I do. I'm a big fan of breathing, smiling and meaningful communication in all its forms,