Category Archives: For Editors

Practical posts relevant to editors, including tools and resources as well as the business of editing. Authors may be interested in this category as well, to learn tips that can help them self-edit their writing.

a red pen and edited paper with the PerfectIt logo

Editor Tool: PerfectIt

PerfectIt logoRecently I installed PerfectIt. I’d heard editors talk about PerfectIt as a time-saving tool, but until 2018 it was not available on Macs. Also, I have a general dread of new software, and I had no conception of how PerfectIt would work… but when I learned that PerfectIt was available, I signed up.

Initially I had some technical difficulties to the point where the support person at Intelligent Editing, the company that makes PerfectIt, gave up on me. A short time later, though, after a Microsoft Word update, I tried again, and the installation worked.

PerfectIt is called an “add-in” and works from inside Word. Now that I’ve used it and seen how it interacts with Word, I wanted to share the experience.

Overview of installation

I won’t give detailed instructions, as they probably vary with computer, operating system, and Word version, and probably change regularly. Also, because the process was not smooth for me, I don’t have good clean notes. So this description may not be perfect but is a basic overview of installing the PerfectIt software.

  1. Make sure Word is updated on your computer and note your version. (Note: PerfectIt does not work on .doc documents, only .docx documents.)
  2. Buy PerfectIt (at Microsoft’s app store—see the “Get it now” button) or start the free trial (at Intelligent Editing’s website), after checking that it is compatible with your version of Word. I’d use the free trial to make sure the software works, to avoid the potential hassle of asking for a refund. On the free trial page, you choose your version and are taken to the Microsoft app store page.
  3. You’ll be asked to sign in to your Microsoft account or to create one, so that Microsoft can keep track of your purchase. If you’ve purchased Word recently, you probably had to create an account to install it. I had some trouble logging in, even though I had written down my password.
  4. Follow whatever instructions you are given to download and install the software. For me, I opened Word and added the PerfectIt add-in from inside the program by clicking on Insert > Add-ins > My Add-ins, and selecting PerfectIt. This was the step where I encountered trouble; Microsoft kept asking me to log in, and then nothing would happen. You might have to wait or to close and reopen Word for it to work.

Once installed, PerfectIt will appear right in your Word ribbon (see picture).

screenshot of PerfectIt in the ribbon in Word

Using PerfectIt

Once you have the add-in installed, PerfectIt is simple to use. Click on the PerfectIt tab in the ribbon, and choose “Launch PerfectIt.” A panel will open on the right side. You may have to log in (my PerfectIt account information differs from my Microsoft account information).

Then, you choose from a dropdown menu which task you want PerfectIt to perform (the main one is “Check Consistency,” and the other options are to check if a document conforms to a certain style guide or spelling) and click a big “Start” button.

screenshot of PerfectIt in use

A spinning arrow will indicate that the program is working, and text will tell you what specific item it is working on.

screenshot of PerfectIt in use

If PerfectIt finds an inconsistency, it will present you with your options.*

screenshot of PerfectIt in use

You might need to click on the options a few times to understand what the program is asking: if you click on version 1, you see the places where version 2 appears in the document, and vice versa. You can choose to fix one or the other or both, or to skip the item.

screenshot of PerfectIt in use

It’s that simple!

Do you need PerfectIt?

So far, PerfectIt has caught one hyphen inconsistency for me. While I’m waiting for it to run, I think about the other editors calling it time-saving and ponder the irony of how using it adds time to my process. However, I edit mostly short academic papers, where it’s relatively easy for me to catch all the inconsistencies myself. I can see PerfectIt being useful with longer documents or book manuscripts. It also has a language feature that I plan to use if I ever have to change a document from US English to UK English.


Note: When I was taking screen captures for this post, I tried running PerfectIt on a document with only three lines, with an obvious inconsistency. PerfectIt showed a message that it performs best with documents over 300 words, and it did not find the inconsistency. I’m not sure what to make of that. I added a bunch of text to the document and ran PerfectIt again, to get the final image above.

old map with compass

Book Mapping

I recently learned about book mapping. While the class was intended for developmental editors, I found the tool helpful as a writer.

What Is Book Mapping?

Book mapping is a method of plotting out the action or themes of a story, to help keep track of them. This mapping can be done visually or with text in a spreadsheet. Developmental editors can use a book map to visualize an author’s manuscript and get insights into what help it might need. Authors can use it to keep track of threads in their story and to step back from their own writing and gain the same insights.

cat looking at scroll of paper on floor

Scruffy contemplates the timeline of my dystopian novel

Over the years, I’ve tried various methods of mapping out certain aspects of my projects. For example, when I was writing Somewhere and Nowhere, I wrote the contents of each chapter on index cards to chart the mood, with red ink for bad moods and green ink for good moods. Laying out the cards, I was able to see the large swaths of bad mood that might bog down readers, and the emotional roller coaster that persisted through the story and might exhaust readers. I used the cards to find red areas to reduce or merge. More recently, I used a long scroll of paper to plot the days of my dystopian fiction story, to keep track of weather patterns and days of the week, among other things.

I’ve never had a system that worked easily, though, or for multiple aspects of the manuscript. Until now!

The class suggested an easy method of using a spreadsheet. Each row is a section of the story: a chapter, a scene, or a day in the story. Each column is something that needs to be tracked: a character’s development, a theme, an aspect like the weather, or something practical like what day of the week it is. After the map is filled in (chapter by chapter), the mapmaker can follow a thread by reading down a column.

My Book Map

I decided to practice with a romance novel that I’d put aside after the first round of revisions. I started by skimming through it and pulling out the items I would track (the column headings); the teacher called this “mind mapping.” My list included the development of the main characters (Rose and Dustan), each of the three villains (Rose’s father the king, the evil Prince Murkel, and the fairy queen), Rose and Dustan’s love story, Rose’s history, and Rose’s “memory loss” (i.e., after Rose loses her memory, I needed to keep track of what bits had come back to her as the story progressed).

Then I set up the spreadsheet and began reading the book chapter by chapter and filling in the rows. The first few rows looked like this:

chart showing the columns of a book map about a romance novel; some rows are full and some have a lot of white space

 

I immediately noticed that Dustan’s character quickly grew flat (note his empty column). The story is from Rose’s point of view, so there is plenty of opportunity to show her thoughts and growth, but I wanted the reader to see that Dustan’s original ill intentions change as he gets to know Rose. The teacher, without having read my manuscript, suggested working on the villain columns (could hints be given as to their various motivations?) and the Rose’s history column (adding history might give the story more depth).

As I progressed with adding rows, I tried to be my teacher-stepping back from the story I knew and looking at the spaces (or lack of) in the map. I noticed when Rose had four different feelings within one scene (did her feelings need to be clarified?) or when she immediately regained several memories within a few days of losing her memory (didn’t I want her to regain them slowly, for dramatic effect?) In addition to simply helping me keep track of the story, the map gave insight into how to improve it.

Learn More

glasses on book with maps insideBook mapping is a simple and free tool authors can use. If you want to get started with some guidance, I recommend the class I took, which seems to be offered periodically through the Editorial Freelancer’s Association (available to non-members as well). It’s called Book-Mapping for Developmental Editors, with teacher Heidi Fiedler. Look for it here: https://www.the-efa.org/product-category/active-courses/

clock and stacks of coins with trees growing out of them

The Cost of Editing

When I started freelance editing, the rates charged by other editors seemed pretty high to me—more than I made at my day job, certainly. I figured these rates indicated the editors’ level of experience. I’ve since realized that the rates are needed because of the nature of freelance work.

Freelance versus Salaried

hands holding phone, with coffee, calculator, newspaper, pen on desk nearbyMy day job was paying my health insurance; freelancers pay for their own. I had a company computer at my day job; freelancers supply their own equipment: not only the computer but the constantly updating software, the Internet service, the newest Chicagomanual, the Post-it notes, the coffee…. Freelancers have to fund their own time off, whether for sick days or vacation, and save for retirement. They have to spend time marketing their services and networking with potential clients. And they have to pay higher taxes (the “self-employment tax”), since no one else is contributing to social security for them. Their income from editing has to be enough to pay for all these business expenses.

Some estimates say that about half of a freelancer’s income goes to these expenses, leaving only half of the hourly rate as a true salary. Suddenly, those hourly rates didn’t seem outrageous. As I transitioned away from my day job (and gained experience editing), I increased my rates accordingly.

Editing Takes Time

I always do a sample edit so that I can make an accurate quote about how long the edit will take me. When I actually do the edit, however, there are a few additional steps.

2018 calendar on phone screenFor a copyedit, I read carefully, making corrections with the tracked changes visible. (If the manuscript is an academic paper, I also do a first read through to understand the material, before beginning to copyedit.) I pause to explain edits that the author might not understand. I often have to look up material: to understand the topic, to check the spelling, to find a better word, to fact check something that seems off, or to verify a style rule that I have not used in a while. I write queries to the author when there’s something I don’t understand, and suggest alternatives. Then, when I’ve gotten all the way through, I hide the changes and reread the entire manuscript. On the second pass, I make final copyedits (some are easier to see once the tracked changes are hidden) and reread all my comments to make sure they are as clear as possible.

For a beta read, I can read more quickly, but I make notes constantly so that I’ll be able to see patterns and to find material again, to share as examples with the author. If I’m doing what I call a “beta read plus,” I pause to leave a comment each time a sentence or even a word stands out as awkward, as confusing, or as the author “telling” the reader something instead of showing it to the reader. I type my notes into a letter to the author. And then I skim through the manuscript a second time, rereading all my comments to make sure they are clear.


So yes, editing is expensive. But many editors will try to find ways to work within an author’s budget. For example, maybe the author isn’t in a hurry; if the editor could fit the work in around other assignments with tight deadlines, she might be willing to charge less. Or maybe the editor could point out a problem that repeats throughout the manuscript, but allow the author to find all the times it occurs. I often spend a lot of time explaining grammatical edits I’ve made; if the author is on a budget, we might agree that I will simply make the changes without explaining them.

Belinda Pollard elaborates on the cost of editing in two posts on her blog, Small Blue Dog: https://smallbluedog.com/why-are-book-editors-so-expensive.html. She also has promised a post on how to prepare your manuscript to make it easier (and therefore faster) for the editor to work on; as an author, I’m eagerly awaiting this information!

figurines of American and British soldiers in 1776

How to Deal with UK English

When I first started editing, I dreaded getting an assignment that specified UK English. (I hadn’t even known there was a different version of English until I became as editor.) I knew the basics, but was sure I would miss something.

I won’t give details here, as there are many websites that do (such as this one, or this one), but a few examples of the differences are the following:

  • Spellings (behavior/behaviour, analyze/analyse)
  • Diction (the hood of a car versus the bonnet of a car)
  • Punctuation (Americans write, “Hello,” while the British write, “Hello”.)

A recent paper that I edited in UK English had just about every “iz” word you could imagine: optimization, minimize, size, decentralize, realize, linearize. Were all of these supposed to change to “is”? I set the paper’s language to UK English, but many of the variants are correct in UK English, if not preferred.

The I made a discovery. The online Cambridge Dictionary has separate tabs for UK English (“English”) and US English (“American”)!

image from computer screen showing a page at a dictionary website

When I looked up “horizon,” I found it was the same in either language. However, when I searched “minimize” and clicked on the English tab I found that while the “iz” spelling is correct in UK English, “UK USUALLY minimise”:

image from computer screen showing a page at a dictionary website with word "minimize"

A few options showed up:

  • Some spellings are always used in one language or the other, in which case the spelling has its own dictionary entry (see behaviour)
  • Sometimes either spelling is acceptable, but on is preferred: UK USUALLY (see optimize, minimize)
  • Sometimes either spelling is acceptable, with no preference: UK ALSO (see centralize, minimization)
  • Sometimes one spelling is only preferred at times: FORMAL UK USUALLY (see utilize)

Word "English" with a flag that is half UK and half USI decided that if the “is” version was merely an alternative, not the usual spelling, I would not change it in the paper, but I changed the spellings when the “is” form was preferred.

Having the Cambridge Dictionary as a place to check spellings was reassuring.

random text

Libel, and Copyright, and Privacy, Oh My!

An important step in writing a book, particularly if you’re self-publishing without the guidance of a legal team, is securing permissions. There are three types of material to consider for permissions:

  • any material that might be copyrighted,
  • any material that might infringe on someone’s privacy, and
  • any material that might be considered libel.

judge's gavel atop keyboardEach of these areas is complicated. For example,

  • If you quote an email that someone sent you, the copyright of the material may belong to the person who wrote it.
  • If you take a photo of a sculpture, the sculpture (a work of art) might be copyrighted, and you’d need permission to use the photo, even though you took it.
  • With songs and poems that are relatively short, even a small quote might be too much. The music industry is known for being particularly strict about copyright.
  • If a living person can be identified, even with a name change, you might be infringing on the person’s privacy.
  • A fictional character that is obviously based on a real person, even with a different name, can get you in trouble.
  • In addition to the right to privacy, there is a “right to publicity”; you cannot use a famous person’s name or image to make money without permission.
  • Using “in my opinion” before a negative statement about another person is not enough to protect you from an accusation of libel.

And this is only a sample of the points to consider. The laws about copyright, such as the concept of fair use, can be vague and are often decided in court. Remember that in addition to doing the right thing, you don’t want to get sued, even if you think you’d win.*

Resources

stack of books mentioned in the textI read four books when I self-published Somewhere and Nowhere, the memoir of my cross-country bike trip. While I still hesitated over certain items in my book and what to do with them, I felt more certain that I had considered every problematic item, and was able to make more-educated decisions. The books were these:

  • Copyright and Permissions by Elsa Peterson: This is a quick read that focuses on copyright. If you want to deal with permissions yourself (see more below) it includes guidance, as well as sample letters.
  • Self-publisher’s Legal Handbook by Helen Sedwick: This is also a fairly approachable book. In addition to copyright, privacy, and libel issues, it covers setting up a business, understanding contracts, working with various types of self-publishing services, understanding taxes, and more.
  • The Copyright, Permission, and Libel Handbook by Lloyd Jassin and Steven Schechter: This is a very detailed book about copyright, privacy, and libel and the one I would read if you want to learn the most about all three issues.
  • The Writer’s Legal Guide by Kay Murray and Tad Crawford: This includes a wide range of information (contracts, taxes, agents, dispute resolution, how to register a copyright), but you can find copyright infringement information in Chapter 5 and privacy and libel information in Chapter 8.

There are also many online articles (like this one), and the US Copyright Office has material online. Writers conferences frequently include a session on copyright or other legal issues, and groups like the Authors Guild sponsor online webinars.

What To Do

words illegal and legal on slips of paper, fingers are choosing legalSo, if you have a manuscript written, what’s your next step?

If you want to use copyrighted material and there’s a lot of it, you might work with a permissions editor, who will hunt down the copyright owners, send permission letters, and pay the necessary fees (using your money, of course) or let you know if a fee seems out of your budget. Note that a permissions editor might not work on material that infringes on privacy or could be libelous.

If you want to handle permissions yourself, go through your manuscript line by line and make a spreadsheet with every possible problem. Don’t skip over passages that seem problem-free, because all kinds of things will pop out that you never thought of as problematic when you wrote them (this might be more true for certain types of nonfiction, like memoir). Even if you suspect it’s not really a problem, include it in the spreadsheet so that you feel like you have not missed anything.

Lego police arrest Lego office man

Don’t let it come to this

Then, solve each problem. Some will be easy to check off your list. For example, maybe you’ve included the title of a book; then you read that titles cannot be copyrighted, and so you check off that item. In some cases, you might decide to seek permission. In others, you might decide to cut material to avoid a problem.

What if you don’t have a budget to pay for permissions, or someone just says “No”? Then it is time to rewrite. I know this might seem like a tragedy at first. I struggled with the simple task of changing people’s names, thinking, “It won’t be true anymore!” But then I realized that readers won’t know; they won’t be thinking about whether or not the names are accurate, and ultimately, it won’t affect their experience with my book.

woman standing with two bikes at the border of Wyoming, with a sign overhead

Mary at the Wyoming border on the bike trip

In some cases, the rewrites made the book better. For example, while on the bike trip, Mary and I often sang to pass the time. “Blowin’ in the Wind” became a favorite because of the difficulty of biking into the wind. I was pretty sure I could not afford permission to use the lyrics, however. Then I realized that I hadn’t actually known the lyrics when biking—I’d been making them up. It was only once I got home that I searched online and found them, and pasted them into my manuscript. So I changed the passage to have me singing, “How, are the times, of a man, um-de-ahhh, … before he’s asleep on the sand? How many laaa, da-da, white dog ale, before it’s for contraband?” This version actually better captured what happened, and didn’t require permission to use. In another instance, I had to remove a scene to protect someone’s privacy, but the scene was important. I ended up writing a new scene, and as I wrote it, I felt the spirit of the book coming through, and really felt okay about making the change.


Issues of copyright, privacy, and libel can be intimidating. It’s tempting to keep your head in the sand and ignore them. But you will feel better if you learn about them and try to do things right.

* It just seems like I should have a disclaimer on this post, saying I’m not a lawyer and that this isn’t legal advice. I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

hands holding book

What Is Hybrid Publishing?

hands holding book, with text that reads "Hybrid: something heterogeneous in origin or composition"Hybrid publishing is a new model of publishing in which an author works with a publishing company but pays to publish in exchange for higher royalties. Some in the publishing industry disregard this new category because the idea of paying to publish suggests (to them) poor quality, like the books that vanity presses produced years ago. However, hybrid publishing is not vanity publishing. The hybrid press vets books before agreeing to publish them and offers active distribution.

The new model is a win-win: presses can afford to put out more books, contributing their knowledge and clout, and authors have additional venues to approach and the opportunity to make larger royalties—over 50 percent, compared with about 10 percent with traditional publishers.

Unfortunately, the publishing world is cluttered with scam artists, and the various publishing models that now exist create confusion and enable these scammers to take advantage of authors. Many companies have started using the word “hybrid” since hybrid publishing has gained some acceptance.

Standards for Hybrid Publishers

To help legitimate hybrid presses and authors continue to connect, this month the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) announced a set of criteria for hybrid publishers. If you’re an author interested in working with a hybrid publisher, the criteria can help you filter your options.

poster that says "When is a hybrid publisher not a hybrid publisher?" with stack of booksHere’s a summary of the criteria:

  1. A hybrid publisher has a mission and a vision, and doesn’t just publish a mishmash of books.
  2. A hybrid publisher vets submissions, rather than publishing anything it can.
  3. A hybrid publisher has a knowledgeable person or team producing books under the publisher’s imprint, with the publisher’s ISBNs.
  4. A hybrid publisher’s books meet industry quality standards; readers should not be able to tell them apart from traditionally published books.
  5. A hybrid publisher uses approved editors and designers to produce professional books.
  6. A hybrid publisher manages a variety of rights for the book (print, digital, and possibly others like audio and foreign-language) or negotiates with authors who want to keep some rights.
  7. A hybrid publisher provides distribution beyond simply making the book available online. This can involve sales reps who actively market the book or targeted outreach, and also involves listing the book with wholesalers. The publisher should have a marketing strategy for each book and assist the author in carrying it out.
  8. A hybrid publisher should have several books that show respectable sales.
  9. A hybrid publisher pays higher royalties than is standard in the industry, usually greater than 50 percent of net on both print and digital books.

You can view the IBPA’s full criteria here: http://www.ibpa-online.org/page/hybridpublisher(click on the “expanded details here” link to see the detailed version).

Tips for Authors

In a webinar last month, the IBPA’s Brooke Warner shared these tips for authors investigating hybrid publishers:

  • poster with woman reading, says "Does your hybrid publishing company pass the test?"Ask about the criteria listed above: does the publisher vet submissions, partner with authors on marketing, and have some form of active distribution?
  • Get physical copies of books from the publisher, to make sure they look and feel like “normal” books
  • Demand transparency: ask about any additional costs beyond what’s covered in the publishing package and about royalty rates
  • Talk to the publisher’s authors; asking for referrals is normal, so it’s a warning sign if the publisher won’t share author names
  • Ask if the publisher qualifies for traditional reviews; some companies still suffer from the stigma of being an author-subsidized press
  • Check the publisher’s website to see if it looks professional
  • See what kind of response you get after contacting the publisher, and trust your instincts if the response seems lacking

She also shared these best practices for authors considering hybrid publishing in general:

  • Educate yourself about publishing and the hybrid experience
  • Read about different hybrid models and see if one press’s model feels better than others
  • Only approach a hybrid publisher if you are ready to go the hybrid route—don’t do it while your agent is still trying to sell your book to traditional publishers
  • Before approaching, consider your publicity ideas; most hybrid contracts do not include publicity

Hybrid publishing is an exciting new option for today’s authors, and will contribute more good books to the world!


(Note: a hybrid author is someone who publishes traditionally and non-traditionally and is not related to a hybrid publisher.)

metal type laid out to print

How to Reduce the Word Count

This week, I edited a paper that had a word limit of 8000. When I received it, the paper had 8905 words. The client asked me to cut as much as possible and to suggest sections that might be reduced. I was determined to return the paper with less than 8000 words—making writing more concise is one of my favorite things to do!

old fashioned computer keysThere were many ways I reduced the word count to 7964. When I’d finished, not only was the word count below the limit, but also the paper was much easier to read. While we hope papers are published for their academic merit, being readable can’t hurt.

Here are some of the ways I reduced the word count. To protect the author’s confidentiality, I’ll invent a paper topic: Let’s pretend the paper studied the effect of growing multiple varieties of pumpkin on farm profits in the fall season.


Replace groups of words with a better word

  • “growing large amounts of pumpkins” → “growing many pumpkins”
  • “in the farm environment” → “in farming” or “on the farm”
  • “the pumpkins appearing in the photos” → “the pumpkins pictured”

Remove lengthy introductions

  • “As can be illustrated with the color of pumpkins, there are many options” → “As seen with the color of pumpkins, there are many options” or possibly “Consider the color of pumpkins: there are many options”

Rearrange “of” phrases if possible

  • “the color of pumpkins” → “pumpkin color”
  • “the use of hoses” → “hose use”

Remove “in order” from “in order to”

Remove “furthermore,” “additionally,” “moreover,” and other such words; one or two might aid readability, but they are often overused—not every item in a paragraph needs such an introduction

Replace long noun-filled phrases with a verb

  • “pumpkins are the possessors of nutrients” → “pumpkins possess nutrients”
  • “pumpkin color has an impact on sales” → “pumpkin color impacts sales”
  • “our hypothesis suggests that” → “we hypothesize that”
  • “to obtain a better understanding of the colors” → “to better understand the colors”

Remove passive voice, which often adds words

  • “Increased pumpkin growth has been seen by farmers” → “Farmers have seen increased pumpkin growth”
  • “Similar results were found by Smith et al.” → “Smith et al. found similar results”
  • “Farming has come to be regarded as” → “Many now regard farming as”

Remove use of “there”

  • “There has been increased use of drip irrigation” → “Use of drip irrigation has increased” or “Drip irrigating has become more common”

Remove unnecessary references to studies: it’s not necessary to preface every intention or result with a reference to the current study or other studies; the reader will assume results are yours or others’, depending on the location in the paper (i.e., a section about the current study versus a section about the literature)

  • “It was found that orange pumpkins are most popular” → “Orange pumpkins are most popular”
  • “Growing a variety of vegetables has been found to significantly help farm profits, as shown in Table 1” → “Growing a variety of vegetables significantly helps farm profits (see Table 1)”

Own your results: if you found a result, you can state that

  • “The current study aims to further expand our knowledge of” → “This study expands our knowledge of”

But, don’t repeat the importance of your results ad nauseam

  • “Another important result is the benefit of displaying large pumpkins on the farm” → “Another result is the benefit of displaying large pumpkins on the farm” or better, “Displaying large pumpkins benefits the farm”
  • “It significantly helps farm profits” might become “It helps farm profits” if nearby data shows that the difference is significant and if the significance is discussed elsewhere
  • Sentences such as “our important results will be of great benefit to the farming industry” can often be removed—the data will illustrate this point to the reader, and trying to draw additional attention to it comes across as phony

Don’t describe what the reader can see for himself: if you list items, you don’t need to describe the number of items to the reader

  • “A handful of studies have looked at pumpkin color (Jones, 2013; Smith, 2017)” → “Studies have looked at pumpkin color (Jones, 2013; Smith, 2017)”

Combine sentences

  • “Recent studies have demonstrated that orange pumpkins are more popular. This effect was seen at farmers markets but not in grocery stores.” → “Recent studies have demonstrated that orange pumpkins are more popular at farmers markets but not in grocery stores.”
  • “We examined several factors. These include color, size, and shape” → ““We examined several factors, including color, size, and shape” or better, “We examined several factors: color, size, and shape”

Avoid repeating a lengthy phrase throughout the paper, simply because it was needed in the introduction and conclusions. For example, if the study examined the effect of growing other varieties of decorative winter vegetable in addition to pumpkins, such as gourds, squashes, and corn stalks, you don’t have to list these other varieties, such as gourds, squashes, and corn stalks, every time you mention them. You can simply write “other varieties of decorative winter vegetable” or even “other varieties” after the first one or two mentions of the list.

Avoid repeating the obvious. If your study looks at growing pumpkins on farms, you will let the reader know that. But you don’t have to repeat “growing pumpkins on farms” throughout the paper. Once the reader knows that you studied growing pumpkins on farms, you can reduce the phrase to “growing pumpkins.”


Authors can reduce word count using these tips, or hire an editor to do it. Ask specifically for the editor to make the writing more concise. While I prefer this type of writing, I also respect the author’s voice and might not have made as many cuts without the directive to shorten the paper.

colorful hashtag symbols

Understanding Hashtags

At one of my jobs, they told me to Use More Hashtags! I know this might come naturally to some folks, but I began using social media later in life and decided to research a bit. I read a lot of articles that repeated each other, but the information organized in my head in a different way. Here’s how I see hashtags.

Hashtags in General

The general advice can be summed up as follows:

  • Keep hashtags short, memorable, unique, relevant, and specific
  • Don’t overdo hashtag use
  • Use hashtags to add to a conversations (e.g., don’t use #NationalCoffeeDay just because it is National Coffee Day if you’re not writing something relevant to #NationalCoffeeDay)
  • Don’t use spam hashtags (e.g., don’t use #NationalCoffeeDay for a random photo of your cat, just to get viewers to see your post on National Coffee Day)

I found this advice for using hashtags on specific platforms:

  • Twitter: Hashtags are used to categorize posts or to focus a conversation; one or two per post is best
  • Facebook: Hashtags do not boost engagement and might even hurt it; use one or two at most, but maybe none
  • Instagram: Hashtags are used to describe the photo and to build community, and should be unique and detailed; some say to use eleven or more, while others say five or six maximizes engagement

Branded versus Unbranded

An area of confusion among my coworkers was what kind of hashtags to use. Should the hashtags contain our company name (i.e., branded), to stay unique to our events? Or should they be general hashtags (i.e., unbranded) that others might already use, resulting in more people finding us? The confusion resulted from confusion about the goals of using hashtags.

Branded hashtags are used for the following:

  • Group together viewer-generated content, posts about a campaign, or contest entries
  • Raise awareness of a campaign
  • Organize posts relevant to a certain topic
  • Drive participation and engagement within your community (for a local business, this would be the local community)

Unbranded hashtags have the following characteristics:

  • You can use them to join a trend
  • You can get people to notice you, thus increasing participation and engagement from newcomers to your community
  • They are usually global but can be local (e.g., #firstworldproblems versus #carrboroproblems)
  • You should use hashtags that fit your brand
  • You should make sure you understand the hashtag before using it (e.g., #instabuns is about bunnies, not bread buns)
  • You should use the hashtag only to add to the ongoing conversation, to avoid looking like a spammer

hands holding smartphone with laptop nearbyA key point to me was the global versus local nature of unbranded and branded hashtags, respectively. It might benefit a nationwide company to use an unbranded hashtag and have people all over the world discover the company. As a small business without online sales, we would do better to engage with people living nearby who might come into our store.

So, we would create our own, clever, branded hashtags to have an official hashtag for each event; use them on our posts; and include them on event banners and materials to encourage others to use them. On Instagram, where there is enough space, we could use both the official branded hashtag and other unbranded hashtags; it wouldn’t hurt to have engagement from people who might never visit our store. (As a final note, any engagement on Facebook at the moment helps a post gain traction, but since hashtag use doesn’t help on Facebook, and might even hurt engagement rates, it’s a moot point. As far as I know, engagement on other platforms does not increase a post’s visibility.)

people reading at computers in a library

Tips from the Top for Would-Be Science Authors… and Editors

Last month, UNC–Chapel Hill hosted Marc Lavine, a senior editor at Science magazine, to talk on “Communicating Science, Communicating in Science: An Insider’s View.” Most of the audience seemed to be students who might someday seek to publish a paper in Science, and I suspected that most of the talk would be tips for authors. I hoped the topic of editing would come up.

Tips for authors

Lavine talked about what has changed in science journals since 2001, when he began at Science, including all the new journals available to scientists, the ability to include supplementary materials with papers, altmetrics, open access, and predatory journals. In 2000, Science rejected 70% of the papers submitted after an initial screening; 20% more were rejected after an in-depth review. And the numbers have only gotten worse. One thing hasn’t changed, though: Science still publishes the best science.

Wilson Library with a dome and columns and steps

Wilson Library on the UNC–Chapel Hill campus

One problem that earns a paper an immediate rejection is the topic or length of the paper not meeting requirements. Many papers fall into a gray area. What determines the fate of these papers?

Missing data or an unclear point might cause the paper to be rejected. An author immersed in research might forget to include initial steps in the paper, or an author might rush to finish the paper instead of allowing a deeper writing process to occur. Lavine also said, “The difference may be the quality of the writing.” The Science editors can’t send all the gray-area papers out for review. If the writing is of poor quality, they might decide not to bother with the paper. In addition, a well-written cover letter can only help. Lavine summed up the secret to being published in Science as (1) doing good science and (2) writing it up well.

Lavine shared the steps that a paper goes through on its way to publication:

  • The author submits the paper.
  • An editor takes on the paper.
  • A board of reviewers performs a quick assessment and suggests referees.
  • The Science team discusses the paper and decides whether it passes.
  • The editor finds two or more referees for the paper.
  • The referees perform a cross review—they comment on the paper and also on each other’s comments.
  • The Science team discusses the paper further and decides whether it passes.
  • The paper enters the cycle of revision and re-review.
  • Science accepts the paper.

He added that it’s best to write the paper well the first time, to avoid a cycle of rewrites. The paper should include the “big picture” behind the research, figures should be in a logical order, data should support claims made, results should be presented honestly (not cherry-picked or hidden), and all possible relevant research techniques should be included.

reprint of science article published in Science magazine

My own article in Science from waaaaay back when

People read Science not for in-depth studies in their own discipline, but to gather ideas from other disciplines. Articles published in Science should have a good story that encourages readers to keep reading. (That said, Lavine also pointed out that it’s better to bore your readers than to lose them to confusion.) Metaphors that any reader can understand are helpful to illustrate scientific concepts. Readers should understand why the work is important now, without the author resorting to hype. The paper should also explain why the results are outside the norm; control data and baselines should be given.

Authors should not submit every paper they write to Science. When considering it, authors should ask themselves, Will the research have a big impact? Will it interest researchers outside its field? Does it overturn any established ideas? Is it my best work?

Lavine shared two online resources:

Lavine gave these additional tips:

  • Write your abstract last, and clarify the importance of your work, without trying to hype it.
  • Have a colleague, particularly someone outside your field, provide feedback on the paper.
  • While you might hope to advance your career by publishing in Science, the editors who are assessing your work do not consider this a reason to publish you, so don’t push this point in your letter to them.
  • Referee comments are intended to benefit the author, not attack.

Thoughts for Editors

While Lavine mentioned the quality of writing several times, I did not hear him advise students on how to achieve this quality. I had prepared a few possible questions on the topic of editing—maybe, “What do you think of an author working with an editor to improve the writing?” or “Do you have an opinion on working with an academic editing company versus an author working directly with a freelance editor?”

man holding book with bag on his shoulder, in front of chalkboard with math equationsPreparing questions led me to think how I’d respond if asked. Many freelance editors believe that editing companies pay poorly and wish that authors would work directly with editors. But some journals recommend these companies to authors whose papers need help. I tried to see the situation from the author and journal perspective: why do journals recommend those companies and not us freelancers?

I would argue that direct contact between the author and editor can foster a better result, since a back-and-forth dialogue can best resolve queries; that the low rates paid by companies encourage editors to work as quickly as possible, producing a lower quality edit; and that, as I have witnessed, the second edit provided by a company’s managing editor can result in inadvertent changes in meaning.

From the author and journal perspective, however, the companies use vetted editors and have quality control; they have standard prices and sometimes offer guarantees of satisfaction or a refund; they work on standard deadlines; and they may seem less financially risky, being well-known companies.

This led me to think that, to start recommending freelance editors to authors, journals need (1) a database of freelance editors and (2) vetting for those editors, such as a certification program. It would be nice if the certification program were relatively accessible, regarding cost and who is allowed to apply for it. I’d also appreciate (3) a system that holds payment and transfers it when the product is delivered. If these items existed, would journals start recommending freelance editors instead of the large editing companies?

woman reading book in shelves of booksDuring the Q&A, someone asked if he should hire an editor: would it help his paper be accepted by making his writing better, or would the journal frown upon it because he did not create the entire paper himself?

Lavine responded that he’d be concerned about an editor changing the author’s voice. The problem with editing services, he said, is that while they might be experts in journal submission, they are not teaching authors how to write. Using a service “games the system,” giving the author an advantage, but he encouraged the student to have a colleague edit the paper instead, which, he said, would gain more for the student. He did concede that he does not know if papers submitted to Science have been edited, so he is not sure if editing helps papers be accepted.

My impression was that editors who work directly with authors had not even crossed his mind, and that the authors in the room might benefit from some encouragement toward not only editing but editing directly with a freelance editor.

I also had not considered the role of academic paper editors in helping authors become better writers, although I’d always considered this part of fiction editing. When I was a TA, I spent hours grading papers because I could not resist writing comments to the students about every lost point, hoping they would follow up and learn about their mistakes. So it seems a logical next step to aid authors not just by correcting their papers but by making them better writers.

stacks of colorful post-it notes

Organizing with Post-its

I’d like to share my system of organizing tasks and deadlines. It involves a physical calendar and a lot of Post-it notes.

I’m a paper person. I’m not a luddite, and I’m all for “going green” to avoid waste, but I actually enjoy writing and reading on paper. I don’t want another task that requires checking a device, especially not multiple times per day. I use a paper weekly planner for my personal life,* and I needed a system for my writing and editing business. Here’s what I eventually came up with.

calendar covered with post-it notesI hung a calendar near my desk. (I picked from the dozen or so free calendars my parents get from wildlife and veterans organizations; I went for nice photos but also large squares.) Each time I have a new task to do, whether it is an assignment or simply something I want to look into, I write it on a Post-it note and stick it to the calendar, like this:

  • Items with a deadline go on the date of the deadline
  • Items I’d like to do soon go in the borders of the current month
  • Items I’d like to do in the near future go on an upcoming month
  • Items that must be done in a certain month go on that month
  • Items for someday go on the wall near the calendar

When I finish a task, I move the note to the top page of the calendar. (I’m working on color-coding the tasks. I just have so many colors of Post-it!) (UPDATE: I now use pink for writing and editing, blue for education, and yellow for business and marketing.)

This system works for me because I can move the notes around if dates change, if I don’t accomplish something when expected, and when I finish a task. I hate a messy calendar; the Post-its enable me to keep it neat. I like the “reward” of moving a note to the finished pile, and often push to finish a bunch of items toward the end of the month. Then I flip to the new month and leave them behind. Sometimes, when I get overwhelmed, I’ll postpone an item, moving it a month or two ahead and then easily forgetting about it. As an added bonus, I also use the calendar to write down the tasks I work on each day, which makes me feel good.


*Several years ago, I decided to look for a more sustainable planner—recyclable and made from recycled materials. I stumbled upon Little Otsu, a company in Portland, Oregon. In addition to being sustainably produced, their planners are designed by independent artists, and they are a small company I feel good about. The planners are actually cheaper than what I was getting at my big office supply store. They are not dated, so you have to spend some time filling in the dates when the planner arrives; I actually kind of love doing this each year.