If you didn't catch them first time round, here is a round up of my word choice dilemma blogs – three of my posts to help clear up any confusion once and for all.
I've had great feedback on them, and requests for explanations of some more dilemmas that will be next on my hit list! Just click on the Read more ... buttons to have your dilemma demystified, complete with easy-to-remember examples.
I hope you find my explanations useful – my aim is to keep them as clear and simple as possible, so let me know in the comments if they did the trick!
If you have a word choice you always struggle with, or a spelling you're forever having to check, let me know in the comments and I'll see what I can do!
Glasgow University Cloisters, photo credit _skynet
12 tips for proofreading your dissertation
Your dissertation or thesis is the result of many, many hours of research, reading, revising and writing. It's the final piece of work towards your qualification, whether it's your first degree, master's or PhD.
It goes without saying that your finished dissertation should be the best it can possibly be, and that absolutely includes how it's presented.
I'm going to work on the assumption that your content is amazing: you've carried out thorough research and extensive, relevant reading; you've presented your data in a clear and logical way; and you've constructed an impressive argument based on these foundations.
The last thing you want, then, is for your examiner to be distracted from your brilliance by spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistencies of layout and formatting, and chaotic referencing.
It is definitely worth taking the time to proofread your dissertation - there are many ways of improving it. If writing isn't one of your strengths, using a professional proofreader can be a worthwhile investment, and if English isn't your first language, or you have a learning difference such as dyslexia, then your institution may require their input prior to submission.
Here's a rundown of 12 things you can look at to make sure your dissertation is the best it can possibly be.
1 Give yourself enough time
Once you've finished writing, try to give yourself a break from it for a few days before going back to proofread. This gives your brain a chance to 'forget' what you've been writing and reduces the risk of your anticipating what you expect to read, rather than what's actually on the page.
If you're using a professional proofreader, don't wait until the last minute to find one! Good proofreaders and editors can be booked up months ahead, so plan ahead and make contact in plenty of time so they can book you in. Remember that they won't read your work at a 'normal' pace; they will work through slowly to make sure they catch all the small errors that you skip over. Don't expect to get a good, professional job done if you want your 40,000 words to be turned round in 24 hours!
Expect to have a list of comments and queries to work through when your proofreader returns your work, so factor this in to your schedule. And don't forget to allow yourself time for printing and binding, if required.
2 Overall structure
Look at the overall structure of your work. Does it have an introduction which summarises what you've done? Is there a logical progression through the sections? Remember all that cutting and pasting you did when you decided to change things around? Make sure that it hasn't affected the flow of your argument. Check that you haven't mistakenly copied and pasted, rather than cut and pasted, and accidentally left behind a copy of the original paragraph where it no longer belongs or makes sense.
Check your headings and subheadings are all styled the same way - are you using title case or sentence case? If you don't know the difference, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a helpful blog post. APA is an author-date referencing system widely used in academic publishing.
Is the section numbering in order? This may sound basic, but it's another thing that can go wrong when you're moving chunks of text or data around.
Don't forget to check the captioning of figures and tables: Is the numbering logical and systematic? Are they in the correct order? Are they referred to by this number in the body of the text? Do the captions accurately reflect the contents?
Are you consistent in how you use capitals and hyphenation? Do you treat numbers in the same way throughout your work? Are you using British English or American English? Have you used italics correctly? (This is very important in Scientific, Technical, Engineering and Medical writing, where there are strict conventions about the use of italics; for example, in nomenclature.)
One way of ensuring consistency is to build a style sheet for your work as you go. This is a simple but effective way of recording your decisions about all these areas, which you can refer to as needed. Have a look at my blog post on What is a Style Sheet? for more information on how to create your own.
My colleague, Louise Harnby, has created a Student Proofreading Toolkit that contains useful Find and Replace strings and wildcards to help you easily tidy up things such as double spaces, removing unnecessary spaces before punctuation, and finding paragraphs without closing punctuation. This is an excellent resource which will make quick work of removing all the instances of these errors, and many others, in your work.
5 Spelling, punctuation and grammar
By all means run your spelling and grammar checker, but please don't rely on it. It will catch some obvious errors, but miss many, many others. And sometimes it's just plain wrong! Don't believe me? Here's one suggestion Word gave me recently. I couldn't resist tweeting about it:
Spell check won't pick up homophones – words that sound the same, but which are spelled differently – for example, bear/bare, site/sight or stationery/stationary. Nor will it catch a word that is just wrong – if you type form instead of from, or pacific instead of specific, it won't detect that as an error.
There are useful techniques that help you to look at your text differently and pick up errors you'd otherwise miss: printing it out onto paper, changing the font and reading aloud, for example. My blog on How to Proofread Your Own Writing has more information on this for you, so be sure to check it out.
6 Acronyms and abbreviations
If you use acronyms, initialisms or abbreviations in your work, the sensible thing to do is write them out in full at their first use and use the acronym after that.
For example, you might first refer to the World Health Organization (WHO) but then use WHO whenever you next mention it.
If you're writing a thesis of book length, you may want to define an acronym in full the first time it's used in each chapter, especially if it's only mentioned in Chapters 2 and 12 – your reader may not remember what it means by the time they reach Chapter 12!
You may want to provide a list of acronyms at the front of your thesis if there are a lot of them. This shouldn't be included in your word count.
If you use other people's work in your dissertation but don't give them full acknowledgement, this is plagiarism. This includes lifting text from the internet – just because something is available on a webpage doesn't mean you're free to use it without crediting the author. In effect, you're passing it off as your own original work.
Plagiarism isn't limited to uncredited use of text – it also applies to images, tables, charts, graphs and websites. And the information needn't have been published; if you are using unpublished data – for example from another student's unpublished thesis or from a lecture – it must still be fully credited and referenced.
Universities check for plagiarism by using software such as Turnitin. Examiners are also skilled at recognising signs that will make them take a closer look at your sources, or lack of them; for example, where the writing style or language use abruptly changes.
In short, plagiarism is taken very seriously and can be a disciplinary offence. Don't risk it.
8 Referencing system
Make sure you know which referencing system you are expected to use. This varies between institutions, and also between schools withing the same institution, so check you're using the correct one.
The above systems are explained in detail in the Society for Editors and Proofreaders online References course, which will help you learn how to deal with reference systems, explore unfamiliar systems and understand how to correctly reference less typical sources.
9 Make several passes
Be methodical when you approach reviewing your dissertation. Rather than trying to catch every different type of error in one read through, make several passes and focus on one particular aspect each time. Here's an example of how you could tackle this process:
10 Get outside help
It always helps to have someone objective read your dissertation. They'll pick up on the spelling mistakes and other errors which you miss because you've read it so often that your brain sees what it expects to see, rather than what's actually on the page.
But what if your friends and colleagues are also working on their dissertations, or busy with their own lives – will they be able to give your work the time it deserves for that final polish? Are they actually good at spotting errors and inconsistencies? Not everybody is, and this isn't a job that can be done thoroughly with only a quick skim read.
This may be the point where you decide that you need some professional help in the form of a proofreader. That can be an excellent choice, as it ticks all the boxes you need: someone who is objective, methodical and knowledgeable about punctuation, spelling, grammar and language, generally. You may feel they should have some knowledge of your subject, but that isn't always necessary.
Your proofreader will tell you how long it will take them, based on your word count, and they will usually also ask to see a sample of your writing to help calculate the time needed and how much it will cost you.
But deciding to ask a professional to work on your thesis raises a very important point, which just happens to be next on this list.
11 Know what your institution allows
Whether or not proofreading of your dissertation is permitted is something you must clarify before any work is done.
You should have the permission of your supervisor before employing a professional proofreader. Many proofreaders will require written confirmation of this, and your supervisor's contact details, before they will agree to work with you.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about employing a proofreader – it varies between institutions, and within schools: some do not permit any form of third-party assistance; some will allow the use of peer proofreaders only and have a list you can refer to; some have no guidelines at all – so you must consult your supervisor. Failure to check what is permitted could leave you open to an accusation of collusion, so be very clear about what your particular course allows.
12 University language centres
Your university language centre or student support centre can help you if:
These centres provide pre-sessional and in-session courses and workshops on English for Academic Purposes or improving your academic writing skills, and they may also keep a list of peer proofreaders who can review your dissertation.
So there you are – twelve tips to help you submit your dissertation in the best shape possible. I hope this has been useful, and that you have a clearer idea of what proofreading a dissertation involves and how to go about it.
If you would like more details of my services for students and academics, see my student webpage for more information.
Who are the best fiction editors in Scotland?
I've said it before and I'll say it again – finding the right editor for your writing can be tough work.
There are so many to choose from, and it's definitely not just a case of finding the cheapest and going with them. Choosing your editor is the start of a relationship – whether it's for one short story or a series of fantasy adventures – so you want to get it right first time and avoid the tears of regret (and the expense) that a bad choice could bring.
Your work is your baby. You've spent months, possibly years, crafting your characters and plotting your, er ... plot.
Can you tell that I don't edit fiction?
(Although I don't edit fiction, I do proofread it – if you're not sure of the difference, check out my blog post Do I need a proofreader or a copy-editor?)
Of course, in the age of the internet your editor can be based anywhere in the world, and you can still have a fantastic working relationship without ever meeting them in the flesh.
But you may have very valid reasons for preferring to work with someone more local:
So where do you find a great fiction editor in Scotland? You could trawl the internet, but to save you that time I've put together a list of five great fiction editors based here.
Why do I say these are the best fiction editors?
Without going through an editor's work, looking at before and after examples of what they have done, how can I tell if an editor is good, or even the best?
I've based my list on a variety of factors. Each individual may not tick all the boxes, but will have at least three of the following five criteria:
So here they are, five great fiction editors based in Scotland – in alphabetical order by location – ready and willing to help you bring your writing to life.
Katherine Trail, KT Editing, Aberdeen
Kat specialises entirely in fiction, and particularly enjoys crime and romance. She has an editorial assistant in the form of Daisy, the Editing Spaniel. Kat offers manuscript critique and line and copy-editing, and she can also help you with formatting for ebook publication. She has a background in journalism, having been the chief sub-editor at the Press and Journal in Aberdeen before focusing on fiction editing.
Gale Winskill, Winskill Editorial, Aberdour, Fife
Gale is an experienced fiction editor, having worked as a freelance editor overseas and then in-house with a publisher before starting her own business in Scotland in 2008. She specialises in general adult fiction as well as children's fiction and picture books. Gale recently project-managed and contributed to the Introduction to Editing Fiction online course by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and taught a pre-conference course of the same name in 2015.
Maria Hampshire-Carter, Auchtermuchty, Fife
Maria has an extensive background in all aspects of editing and publishing. Her focus with literary fiction is in nurturing both the text and the author. From critiquing structure, plot and characterisation to editing, proofreading and formatting for self-publishing, Maria's aim is to provide a seamless service for an author throughout the entire publishing process.
Stephen Cashmore, Cashmore Editorial, Ayr
Stephen has a background in accounting, and is just as at home working with complex narratives in fiction as he is with the complex financial systems of his former career! He works on all genres of fiction and offers reviews of style, characterisation, pacing and plot as well as editing, proofreading and formatting for submission to an agent or for self-publishing. Stephen is currently the Training Director for the SfEP, and taught on their pre-conference training course, Introduction to Fiction Editing, in 2015.
Sara Donaldson, Northern Editorial, Wick
I'm pretty sure Sara is the most northern editor on the British mainland! She specialises in historical fiction and non-fiction, as befits her background as a professional genealogist. Sara offers manuscript critique, developmental editing, copy-editing and proofreading, and she is also a trained indexer. She writes a popular blog and has recently completed a course in creative writing with the Open University.
What do you think? Would you use the same criteria when looking for a fiction editor? If not, how would you go about finding the best editor for your writing? Or maybe you already have a fantastic fiction editor – how did you go about finding them? Was it an easy process? Let me know in the comments – I'd love to hear your thoughts.
The spelling error that went all over social media
Did you see The Apprentice on BBC1 this week?
Apart from all the usual misplaced confidence, disastrous decision making and Machiavellian manoeuvring from the candidates, one thing stood out for me.
Can you guess what it was? Of course you can!
One of the teams misspelled their product name.
That's right. They got the name of their product wrong.
I get that the whole premise of the programme is putting the candidates under the most ridiculous pressure to see how they perform, but this is pretty important, don't you think?
Team TITANS blithely spelled gilet as gillet all the way through their task. So, instead of advertising a sleeveless jacket, according to the Collins English Dictionary they were actually promoting a flighty young woman.
What made matters worse was that they had actually got the spelling right first time, but one of the team insisted it should be spelled with two Ls, and that was that. Nobody thought to double check, and the damage was done.
By the time the error was pointed out to them by Claude Littner, Lord Sugar's right-hand man, it was already on their website and all over social media.
You're NOT going to create a positive impression of your business if you can't get the spelling of your product right.
It doesn't matter if you're a multinational corporation or a solo business owner. Make spelling or grammar mistakes on any of your company materials - whether it's your website, or a flyer, or the side of your van - and people will be put off from doing business with you.
You won't even know that the potential customer existed, and that the opportunity to start a new business relationship has been missed.
How to avoid spelling mistakes in your marketing copy
So don't make the same mistake with your marketing materials. Check your copy. Then check it again. Use my 10 tips for proofreading your own writing to help you.
Better still, get someone else to check it.
And the best solution? Ask a professional to help you. But you knew I was going to say that. Right?
If you're not sure where to find a proofreader, my blog posts on how to find a professional proofreader, part one and part two, can help you.
What do you think about errors in marketing copy? Do spelling mistakes on websites or blogs or flyers put you off doing business with a company? Drop me a message in the comments and share your thoughts.