I had the pleasure of attending my first ACES (American Copy Editors Society) conference the past few days in Pittsburgh, PA. There were amazing presenters and fabulous energy, and I’m already hoping I’ll make it to next year’s meeting in Portland. Here are my impressions and takeaways from the sessions I attended:
Rookie Mistakes That Even Veterans Make (Bill Walsh)
Walsh’s humorous take on these common errors was a wonderful way to kickstart the conference. Subject-verb agreement and use of commas with multiple adjectives aren’t always straightforward. Editors need to keep up on the evolution of language but not always charge ahead with transformations before they become the norm. Balance clarity with not treating your reader like an idiot. If you can avoid stating the obvious, do so. Recognize when consistency can be sacrificed for readability.
The Latest Research on Editing (Alyssa Applebaum, Steve Bien-Aimé, Fred Vultee)
Does good editing actually affect readers’ perceptions of content and quality, reliability, recall, and professionalism? Applebaum’s research suggests no; Vultee’s research suggests yes. Their methodologies differ, though, and it’s a subject that could always merit more investigation. Takeaway: editing doesn’t make everything better for everyone, but it makes it better for some. Bien-Aimé’s qualitative work explores representations of gender and race in sports media. Topics differ, as stereotypes are both reflected in and perpetuated by coverage.
Top Ten Apps for Editors (Stephanie Yamkovenko)
The app I was most excited to learn about was presented last, as part of Yamkovenko’s “extras” section: Clips, which gives you a clipboard that “remembers” more than one discrete piece of text for copy-pasting (iOS; Copy Bubble is similar for Android). IFTTT—If This Then That—also sounded like it could be fun, as an app that makes your other apps talk to one another. I’ll probably look more closely into Google Voice, as well.
Libel-Proof Your Writing: The Importance of Accuracy and Attribution (Charles DeLaFuente, William Hickman)
This session was heavily oriented toward journalists producing primary source material about public figures, but I saw some interesting parallels with academic writing. In particular, being clear about who your source is for what information is important not just for avoiding accusations of plagiarism but because, as the speakers pointed out, you are responsible for the accuracy of any information you present but do not attribute. Passive voice also doesn’t make the source cease to exist.
Level Up!: How to Get More out of Your Freelance Business (Erin Brenner, Samantha Enslen, Adrienne Montgomerie, Laura Poole)
This session was packed with information, but my favorite point was that leveling up your business sometimes means saying “Yes” to new requests but also sometimes saying “No, but….” Referring clients and subcontracting work helps to build your network and puts you in mind for future clients and future projects on the type of work you want. Offering a range of services, as well, lets you expand business when you can while contextualizing your baseline services.
Deep Grammar (Lisa McLendon)
You know how sometimes you don’t know what a grammatical concept is called, but you know what sounds right or wrong when you see it? McLendon covered a bunch of these in this session. I now know hortatory subjunctives (the infinitive verb form used in a suggestion), double genitives (double possessive, like “You’re a friend of mine”), nominative absolutes (a noun+participle phrase that works like an adverb), and more. Also, don’t be afraid of grammatical change.
Disability and Mental Health: Editing for Clarity and Accuracy (Anya Weber)
We discussed using person-first language when writing and editing material about people with disabilities, as well as being aware of the metaphoric use of disability and mental illness-related terms in material that is not on these topics. The session covered the evolution of generally accepted terms, the lack of consensus among individuals and groups on what is “preferred,” being sensitive to and aware of the meanings behind different word choices, and of course knowing your audience.
Niggles, Nudges, and Uh-Oh Sensors: The Intuitive Art of Catching Errors (Laura Brown)
This session focused on information-based error-catching, rather than grammar or spelling. Not everyone can know everything, but being aware of the types of material that errors are most likely to creep into can help you know when to spend a little extra time double-checking a detail. Brown presented examples with varying levels of subtlety in the errors: Cross County might not be a county’s name; a full-length play is unlikely to be performed in a scenes competition.
Between You and Me (Mary Norris)
The New Yorker copyeditor (they spell it as two words, she says) and comma queen talked about the background leading up to her upcoming book, Between You & Me, and about working at the magazine. Since this was a room full of editing professionals, we heard a lot about the peculiarities of (and saw pages from) the New Yorker’s style sheet. “Why do you end words with ‘re’ that Americans usually spell with ‘er’?” “Because we’re pretentious.”
Optimizing for Search or Social: Is It Really a Trade-off? (Andy Hollandbeck)
I collected a few new trivia questions during the first half hour of this session, as Hollandbeck took us through a history of the internet, with a particular emphasis on search engines. The answer to the question in the title is, of course, “No.” “Real” search engine optimization is not about getting a lot of visitors to your site but the right ones. It’s about helping people find the services, resources, or information they’re looking for.
Getting It Right on Social Media (Rossilynne Skena Culgan, Mila Sanina)
The speakers gave an excellent presentation on representing your company or organization on social media. There was some attention to managing social media accounts among multiple employees and about handling a high-traffic site. The information highlighted how different the priorities of a freelancer are on social media compared to an employee at an organization or a business, however. Nonetheless, some tips were universal: ideas for engaging the audience and keeping a style sheet for your blog.
Proofreading: Catch Mistakes Before They Cause a Crisis (John Braun, Sherri Hildebrandt, Sherrie Voss Matthews)
Editing Fun and Games (Sue Burzynski Bullard)
Amid one of the funniest series of typos and other textual and visual errors I’ve seen (a South Carolina T-shirt with “NC” on the chest), the presenters talked about the types of copy that tend to attract mistakes. Geography and numbers are among the biggies, so check your maps, look up names, and get to know how to check math without going through every calculation individually. Braun applied this concept to the example of compound interest.
By the end of any conference, it’s normal to be getting a little antsy. Games that get you moving around but are still on-topic are a super way to cap off the weekend. We played Hot Potato, tossing a ball around until the music stopped. Whoever had the ball answered a question about AP style. There were also Twenty Questions coupled with basketball and a game where we flyswatted the right answer on the projection screen.
ACES was an absolutely brilliant conference. I met amazing people, learned so many things, and got energized to incorporate much of this material into my work. I was cautioned ahead of time that ACES was originally a journalistic copyeditors' organization, and the conference still betrays those roots. I found myself choosing sessions based on which ones were least likely to be specific to the newspaper experience. In some time slots, this was difficult to do. Nonetheless, we are all lovers of language and passionate editing professionals, and there was still plenty to learn from one another. I can't wait until the year there are Chicago panels alongside the AP ones!
I'm Lea, a freelance editor who specializes in academic and nonfiction materials. More info about my services is available throughout this site.