Course Review – CIEP Copyediting 2: Headway

After completing the PTC Basic Proofreading course last summer, I decided to enrol on Copyediting 2: Headway immediately. Why? Because I’ve been working as a line- and copyeditor full-time for 18 months, and part-time for several years. When I started the course, I thought I would sail through. And yes, I didn’t find the course materials too demanding. However, the exercises were challenging and they changed how I thought about my job. Read on to find out how in this course review…

First, who is the course for?

The CIEP CE2 copyediting course is for people who have some copyediting experience and who want to go over the basics with feedback on their work. It suits those starting out, those who are curious about copyediting, and those who have taken a significant career break (e.g. five years) and who want to get up to speed again.

If you have lots of experience, but are feeling rusty, CE3 Progress is probably for you.

If you are transitioning from another career and already have clients (but little training) then this course would be a good investment.

Other editors have already written an in-depth course review focused on the content, so I will direct you to their blog rather than repeat these observations here.

<h1>How this course may benefit you</h1>

The biggest benefit of the course was the feedback on the three tutor-assessed assignments. There are also two self-assessed assignments in which you compare your answer with a model answer. My tutor was really helpful and clarified any questions I had.

The feedback for each assignment was several pages long and the course helpfully divided up the feedback into sections. Here’s the main points I got out of the feedback:

First, I received feedback on ‘coding’, which is required by some publishers (see the subtitle above for an example). As I had little experience of coding, this was useful. I found my knowledge of HTML (a mark-up language used in designing webpages) useful here. However, it created interference occasionally as I was not sure whether character-level formatting e.g. italics needed to be coded. Learning about coding also made me much more curious about document formatting and the typesetting process.

Second, I learnt more about UK/US distinctions in publishing, e.g. towards/toward and south-east/southeast. This was useful to know, especially as my personal usage (but NOT my editorial eye) often mixes UK and US usages. I find US Englishes more commonplace in the academic fields I edit in.

Indeed, many editors work with various global Englishes. I’m used to working with the Chicago Manual of Style, for example. This course is based on norms in UK publishing and could be nicknamed ‘Getting to know New Hart’s Rules’. By learning one style guide well, it is much easier to switch to others.

A lesson learnt

The most important lesson I learnt was that the kind of editing I do is NOT what was being tested on this course. I edit academic texts, mostly by writers of English as a second language. The kind of copyediting required on this course requires a much lighter touch. Editing texts by speakers of English as a second language often requires much heavier interventions. In some texts you must even guess the meaning of sentences (with an author query, of course). Separating out these skills was incredibly useful. By distinguishing a heavy line edit from a traditional copyedit, I became more aware of nuance and learnt to adopt a lighter touch.

And then a realisation!

One big insight I gained from the course is that certain nuances are much more fine-grained in native-speaker texts than is often the case in ESL English texts. Therefore, it’s important to make much lighter interventions, as you may change the author’s meaning. For example, local usage patterns dictate that ‘the north of Scotland’ or ‘northern Scotland’ are acceptable, but ‘North Scotland’ is not. For ESL texts, especially in regions such as South East Europe where usage is fluid because of the mix of shifting empires etc., some ESL authors might write West Hungary, others Western Hungary. The level of subtlety in these kinds of conventions for writing in English is not as high. Despite this, the level of subtlety in ESL texts may be just as high for, say, disciplinary conventions.

A word of caution…

One more point is to remember that the assessed exercises here do not resemble texts you might receive from clients. The course designers have seeded these texts with errors, which means you must go through them very slowly, several times. This teaches you to ‘go slow’ and learn from your mistakes. However, it doesn’t create a realistic client situation, and you have to find a balance between intervening too much and leaving well alone.

For this reason, I think these kinds of courses sit best as a learning aid alongside paid work. I would be wary of a mindset where you complete these courses before ‘daring’ to take on paid work. Why? Because putting into practice the lessons learnt is an important part of learning, and second, if you score badly or mediocrely on the course, this could dent your confidence in later taking on paid work.

A final tip

I had a learning buddy for this course. This was a nice way to do it, as we could discuss the exercises as we went through them. We did not discuss the tutor-assessed exercises before submitting them, but it was nice to discuss the other exercises and compare battle wounds after receiving feedback too.

Course review – in summary…

This course has fine-tuned my knowledge of a UK style guide (New Hart’s Rules), given me more confidence (as a pass means I know my work is up to expectations in traditional publishing), and has improved the quality of my editing. My style sheets are much better organised now. I see a clearer separation between ESL line-editing and regular copyediting too. Even if the skills tested here are not what I get hired as a language editor for, the work I produce is now improved.

The next step for me will be the Copyediting 3 course and then more specialised training in line-editing and fiction editing.

Finally, here’s something that editors can relate to…

The editorial journey so far

Untrained, working as an academic researcher: Line-editing so a text reads idiomatically in English with the correct sub-disciplinary conventions.

Novice editor: As with untrained, but also aware of editorial conventions, applying the correct dashes, -ize or -ise endings etc., hyphens, use of that/which.

Intermediate editor: Aware of weaknesses and strengths through training. Intensively thinking through all the different prescriptivist bugbears and possible usage issues in each text (e.g. due to/because of, starting sentences with ‘With…’, ‘Because…’ etc., the position of certain adverbs, the use of dangling modifiers etc.)

Now: Doing the technical part of copyediting well. Starting to take a lighter touch that respects the author’s voice more rather than imposing my vision of the text, being savvier,* and developing my own views on what counts as a prescriptivist intervention and what doesn’t etc.

*Is this a word?

3 thoughts on “Course Review – CIEP Copyediting 2: Headway

  1. Andrew, this is a real help –– thank you. I’d like to delve into this course sometime this year, so to have it reviewed here is a bonus. Also enjoyed your Trevor McDonald-esque “And finally…”.

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