IPEd Editors Conference

The 10th IPEd Editors Conference will be hosted online on Monday 28 June 2021 to Wednesday 30 June 2021.

IPEd Strategic Plan

IPEd Strategic Plan July 2020 to June 2023.

Branch Events

The branches of IPEd host workshops, seminars, member meetings and other events that are open to all IPEd members and non-members. Information and booking details are listed on the Events page of this website.

From the committee

by Susie Pilkington and Julie Ganner

Our first Zoom committee meeting went swimmingly well. What a timely app this is in 2020 and it works a treat, though we can all see the state of our offices in the background and at one stage Susie’s cat joined the meeting. 

New committee member Sara Kitaoji was thrown in at the deep end to ‘host’ the meeting as our professional development coordinator Robert Rowe, technical guru for all our Zoom requirements, was winging his way back to his hometown of Melbourne. Although we will miss seeing him in Sydney, Rob will continue to be a vital part of the committee, participating via Zoom from now on. 

Much of our discussion this month revolved around the other ‘first'—our first full Zoom speaker meeting, with Mark Ragg. Participants included members from other IPEd branches, both in Australia and New Zealand, and we were delighted to see how this format offers all IPEd members the opportunity to hear the speakers Editors NSW secures for these events. The presentation is transcribed and published in this newsletter in the same way it was previously presented in Blue Pencil each month. 

Until we can get back to gathering in person, we shall strive to present as many Zoom meetings as possible. It was important, then, to analyse the feedback not only from participants, but also our volunteers running the Zoom meeting. There are many variables to wrangle and it is a huge task to undertake these online presentations from a volunteer team. A big thanks to Robert Rowe, Sara Kitaoji and Caroline Hunter for many, many hours dedicated to making this first meeting a reality at impossibly short notice. 

We are optimistic, though, that we might still hold our winter dinner in July. Should the lockdown finish in June, as is anticipated, we will steam ahead with the dinner plans, potentially for later in July than usual, but a chance to meet up in person, again, we hope.  

The Accreditation Board is closely monitoring when there will be a chance to meet in person, too, and will put the accreditation exam back on track as soon as it is feasible and safe to do so. At Editors NSW we are monitoring the situation and currently exploring how the accreditation preparation workshop, originally scheduled for May, can be delivered online. As with all plans, stay tuned for updates. 

Elisabeth Thomas gave us an update on the IPEd newsletter, the first issue of which IPEd members received in their inbox on 9 April. The IPEd-wide newsletter is a result of much consultation between newsletter editors at each branch, to create a platform they think will suit IPEd members generally. There will be both local and IPEd-wide news and all members can click into articles of interest from their own branch and others. The newsletter just needed a name and the winner from what members suggested has been revealed.

Overall, many changes were key to our discussions in April and we embrace them with gusto to keep branch members up to date and up to speed.

Member meetings

Given the COVID-9 pandemic, when possible member meetings will be held via videoconference using the Zoom application. Members are urged to check their email for the latest information on any event.

Past events:

Editors’ lunch

by Olivia Wroth

On 28 February, Central Coast editors held a well-timed ‘last supper’-style lunch in Woy Woy, although we did not know at the time it would likely turn out to be the last NSW editors’ lunch to be held for many months to come. Eight editors ate, drank and made merry outside in the shade at the pleasant Gnostic Mana café. It was great to get together and meet new friends. We look forward to when such groups can safely gather again.

Left to right: Rebecca Harcourt, Carolyn Uyeda, Lindy Ferris, host Olivia Wroth, 
Sally Asnicar, Katherine Cumming, Denise Smith
Photo credit: Olivia Wroth

Health and medical writing and editing: opportunities and pitfalls by Dr Mark Ragg MBBS BA

Transcribed and edited by Dr Catherine Heath AE and Dr Pam Faulks AE. Additional text by Catherine Heath.

At the April Editors NSW meeting, Mark Ragg spoke about the skills and attributes needed in health and medical writing and editing, and opportunities for work, the benefits and perils of specialisation, and the need to constantly look ahead. Mark draws on earlier careers as a doctor in emergency medicine and in journalism (The Sydney Morning Herald) to inform his work in health and medical writing, editing, researching and consulting. He has worked in print and online with government, academia and non-government organisations (NGOs) on information for the public and professionals. He has learnt along the way about extensions to his core skills—research, publishing and consultancy. Mark is an Adjunct Fellow in Indigenous Health in the Graduate School of Health at University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and an editor with Croakey, and he sits on the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network.

Acknowledgment of country

I am on Gadigal land and I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and the Elders past, present and future.

On the agenda …

Here is the plan for tonight. I’ll talk about:

the skills and attributes I think you need as a health/medical writer and editor
the benefits and pitfalls of specialisation
how you can add value
opportunities for work
looking behind and looking ahead.

There are going to be people with an enormous range of experience here. I have pitched [my presentation] for people who are fairly new, so I am sure a lot of you will know what I am talking about, but we just need to go through it all in case.

Skills and attributes needed

Now, the skills you need – I think there are three different types you need:

skills as an editor
skills in business
skills as a human being (because it is a very personal sort of work).

Skills as an editor

So, one of the most important skills as an editor is knowing everything about the piece of work you are working on, right from the start: Where did the idea come from? Is it part of a strategy; is it a single idea? Who is going to be writing it? How is it going to be illustrated? How is it going to be distributed? What are they trying to get across? Who is the audience for it? Is it something that has a short lifespan or is it still going to be around and current in five years’ time? All those questions make a difference to the work you undertake.

It is important to know the scope of your work. If, say, you are editing on a newspaper, or editing a book, then it is someone else’s name on it and their voice needs to be maintained, but editing for government websites and things like that, there is no authorial voice of the actual writer, so you have more freedom to move. So, I think that is a part of it, to know: Whose voice are you working with? Are you allowed to bring your own into it? Is the aim simply to make it as good as you can in the voice of the client or in the voice of the author?

I think it is important to be able to be somebody else for a while and, unfortunately, there are lots of those someone elses. There is the person who has contacted you and asked you to do the work. There is the author who may have very different ideas. Maybe you have been asked to do the work because the author has done such a good job that it just needs a little bit of dressing, or maybe because the client thinks the author has done a terrible job and they need you to start from scratch. It can be tricky to work that out sometimes and sort through exactly who is this for, who gets priority among the people you are dealing with.

You also need to be able to be the reader and put yourself in their shoes and think through how, where and when someone will be reading it. As an example, I once had a chat to the editor of the BMJ [British Medical Journal]. He had come to Australia and he was saying that the first few lines were so important in any submission to him because he had got on a plane with a hundred things to read, and if they did not grab him within a few words or a few sentences, then they were gone. So, knowing how people are going to read something—grant applications—NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) grant applications are usually read close to midnight, at the end of a very long day—so understanding that can be an important part of things.

I think it is important to have a respect for deadlines, as everyone would know.

A few more things: language skills, obviously; numeracy skills—more and more of our work is being digitalised and so you need to be able to—if not do that data visualisation yourself—then work with it; and obviously technical skills in Word and Excel, and either taking photographs or sourcing photographs. These are the sites that I use most—Pexels, Unsplash and Pixabay—and they have a lot of free images that you can get hold of. And, I think, probably, working as an editor, you need to be able to handle WordPress and some of the other sites like that as well, so you are not limited to just working on a document but you can do the production side of online publishing.

Skills in business

In business skills—and this is mainly for people who are working for themselves—I think you have to be willing to work quite hard sometimes when the work is available and you can slacken off when it is not—administrative skills, management skills and the ability to plan and monitor what you are doing and adapt to the circumstances.

Obviously you need to be able to say ‘yes’ and I think it is also really important to say ‘no’ when you are asked to do a bit of work that either doesn’t suit or—as has happened with me sometimes—you are going along and working with somebody, editing their work, and you just realise that you really are taking a different perspective to them and you can’t get there to do what you would like to be able to do; so, I have a few times said to people, ‘Thanks very much; here is your money back; find somebody else’. You need to be able to manage your client because I think the way most freelancers get work is by finding somebody and maintaining your relationship with them over time. That can take a bit of work, and it can take you having to hold your breath sometimes and not necessarily say what you think at every moment, but it is well worth it.

I think it also really helps to treat things as a business properly—so, a business plan, a marketing plan, a communications plan, a plan for professional development—and, if you are by yourself, treat yourself as large a business as you really are.

I think it also helps to have a few [different contacts]; use your network of people. There is the sort of formal network, like this society. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance [MEAA] has a freelance section; join that, if that is the sort of work you do. I think you need a public profile in some way, whether that is through mainstream media—TV, radio, newspapers—or on social media—on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on Facebook – people need to be able to see you to remind themselves that you exist—and they might see you, they might see the work you are doing or not, but at least you are there in their minds at one time. You need to have a good flow of information coming through, so keep in touch with the media and keep in touch with your networks because you need to be able to see when possibilities arise and how things have changed from what you are used to doing.

I think it also helps to have credentials, whether that is through the society, accreditation, degree courses, short courses. In health, it does help if your clients trust you more if you have a clinical health background; I don’t think it necessarily helps with your work, but it helps them trust you more.

Skills as a human being

And, as a human being, I mentioned empathy before, and I think respect is very important, because you are dealing with someone’s work and with something that they may have invested a lot of time and effort in. Treat it with care, even in the way that you make comments, that they can make changes and discuss the work that needs to be done. At one stage my business was doing a lot of work with a government agency and had about 10 to 15 editors contracting to them—contracting them to do the editing work. I would get the work in, they would do it and we would feed it back, and most were very good, but a couple just found it hard not to be harsh and critical of the work that was being given to us. That sort of stuff shows through and, over time, I think sours relationships.

Benefits and pitfalls of specialisation

One of the things that comes up quite a bit, I think, is the idea of specialisation. There are real benefits to being a specialist in some way. You do really develop a skill set, you develop a set of contacts, you develop a reputation, and you can get a better quality of work coming to you as the larger organisations need to draw on those specific skills, and when you are in a role the work really does flow. I have had times in my career when I have worked with particular organisations for five years or more with a steady flow of work coming through and that has been the equivalent of what a lot of people do, is have two or three days work somewhere—or one or two days somewhere—so that has really been a good thing.

But it also has a downside. in that that work can dry up and if that work is what you are known for and it is seen that that is all you can do, then the stuff can disappear. I have found quite often too that some of those relationships are very contact-dependent; so, you have worked for someone in that organisation for quite a while, then they move on somewhere else and the new person who is assigning the work either brings in someone who they know separately, or they take a different view of the quality of your work, and a change in staffing at the agency you are working for can make a big difference.

How you can add value

Adding value to the editing process

So, what I want to talk about is what I see as the solution to that, which is being able to add value to the standard work of an editor. In my mind this is how most things go with the editing process [Mark referred to a diagram of a publication workflow]: someone comes to work an idea or has a strategy and builds ideas into that strategy. Some content gets written, it gets edited, it gets illustrated, produced in some way—and we can be talking about online stuff, print stuff, podcasts, whatever—and then distributed and sent round to the audience. When things have gone well with my career, with my work, it is because I have been able to come in at one point and move or shift along that line somewhere. So, starting off editing and then going back to writing the material in the first place and having someone else edit it, and then going back further and coming up with the ideas that need to be developed. In other cases, coming in as a writer and editor, and working with designers who can do the illustrations, working with photographers. I do not mean you need to be able to do all of this stuff, but workingsome of it yourself, some of it with your network of people, some deliberately going out and sourcing designers, graphic artists, photographers to say ‘I would like to work with you sometime. Can I keep you in mind? How do you work?’ and having those discussions beforehand so that if an opportunity comes up you can just grab them and work together.

The client is often, as you all know, hurried—they are rushed, they are trying to get a lot of things done—and they are outsourcing work because they do not have the time or the skills to do it themselves; so if you can take on more steps along the process, then that really solves a lot of problems for you. I have had quite some success at times with starting with one thing and being able to, in the end, contribute to ideas and getting to the point where I take back a finished product. We keep in touch all the way along; I work with a number of different people along the way to get there. If you can manage that then you have a whole lot more work than just dealing with the bit in the middle.

Here is another way of looking at it—and these elements are particular to my work and the skills that I have and the way I have developed things; other people have different skills and would be able to put different elements in the pile—but with editing in the middle (and sometimes editing can attract the work to you), I have done a fair bit of work in strategic planning and strategic communications, and I have done writing (to go back earlier on).

Adding value to your business

Editing documents that have come from research organisations has led in the long run—quite a long run—to research collaborations, so now I spend part of my time setting up with people that I did other work for and doing the research with them, and then writing and editing the documents afterwards. And also, production of materials—so you can work with designers, work with artists—and offer a package like that.

Opportunities for work

The opportunities for work are enormous, I think. I am not finding them right at the moment but I think they are enormous and this is the way I have tried to break it down in the past. You can look at the fields of work—and this is just sticking with health and medical—by topic: so, smoking, women’s health, kidney transplants (the donor side or the recipient side), and you could really come up with a thousand of those topics in the one field of health and medicine. I know some people have a few different specialties—someone I have worked with does stuff in health and in environment, so that doubles her stack of work.

You can break up the sort of work you can do by audience. So, you can specialise in producing materials for the public, or low-literacy materials, plain English, or for professional audiences or educational material—there is quite a bit of work in writing online courses. You can break it up by clients, by the age of your audience (young adults, seniors). Again, this is a way of just opening your mind to the opportunities available.

You can look at them by channel, whether it is online, in print, audio stuff (radio, podcasts), video, social media (for those with teenagers, TikTok—I cannot quite believe still, I talk to my kids sometimes and they say ‘Oh yeah, I heard that on Snapchat’, which I would not have thought was the way to get the news, but all those things are possible).

You can look at it as well by employers, whether it is by media (mainstream media, niche media, specialist international media), by government (different levels of government and, within that, different states—it is quite easy to work interstate; it is a bit harder to work internationally but you can), government agencies, academia (it will not surprise you, but there are a lot of academics who cannot write, or who feel they need a bit of help, and more and more they acknowledge that and look for support), different health services (whether state or national or community-based).

You can look at it by types of funding.

You can look at it by different professions (medical profession, nursing profession, allied health, social work) and look at those professional associations by profession, by specialty. If someone really made a list, there are probably 5000 or 10,000 organisations out there that use writers and editors at some time, and the trick is finding out how to contact them and make yourself seem valuable to them.

Then there will also be opportunities that just sort of come out of nowhere. I spent the end of last year working for the Special Commission of Inquiry into [the Drug] ‘Ice’, which was a fascinating thing to be involved in, and a lot of work in a short period. It was a state government inquiry that was held over too short a time and was not particularly well organised so there was a lot of work for editors to do in a short space of time. Editing reports for the Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission, which I did not even know existed, public lectures—these things have come about through networks, through friends, through someone who I used to work for knowing somebody else. The value of networks is enormous.

Looking behind and looking ahead

Looking behind

Part of this is being able to look behind and look back at what you have been able to do, keeping good records of your work so that you know where your income has come from each year. If most of it has come from one client, that is fantastic—and it is dangerous. You should be able to track how your income changes each week, each month, each quarter, by year and build those patterns year on year. I know—and most people would find the same—that April and May are quite busy, and June is quite busy as people try to spend the budget. It is pretty busy again in December as people try to wrap things up before Christmas, quiet in January—I am sure most people have the same sort of patterns.

I think it is also worth knowing where your contacts are. If you have worked for someone for some time and they move on, keep track of where they go to, so you can find them. If they do not tell you, you can ask them or find them through LinkedIn and things like that to find out where they are because you might want to get in contact with them again sometime.

Consider an overview of your career. This is an example of, I think, one of the issues editors face and why I have talked in this way. I left university in 1984 and started working in clinical medicine, did that for a while part-time; but then worked on newspapers in a few different spells for a while on staff; and was a contributor to medical magazines; and did a lot of work for a short period—for a few years—working for NSW Health as editor on some of their strategic communications documents and policy documents; and then that sort of fell apart. I left the newspaper and I started working as a contributor to The Lancet; and some of the earlier work as an editor changed into consultancy work with NSW Health and projects, and I started working with medical colleges. That came to an end, and for about five or six or seven years I did a lot of work on clinical practice guidelines when they were fairly new, and I probably earned most of my income from them for a period of years, and then they just stopped. More recently I did a lot of work with Healthdirect Australia—and that was my main income for a five-year period—and then it stopped quite suddenly. I worked for the Agency for Clinical Innovation and now, more recently, I have been working in Indigenous health and wellbeing, working with Croakey, which some of you would know, and doing some evaluation work. The point is that I think things keep shifting, whether you want them to or not, and I cannot say much of that is planned. I might have had a plan for how things started but I certainly did not plan for most of them to finish, and when they finish you need to be able to draw on something else and have a number of different streams of work going at the one time because, as you all know, it can all stop. You do something either the client does not like or someone just moves on or they have an internal change of direction, and the thing you have most relied on for the previous few years can suddenly disappear.

Looking ahead

Which is why I think it is important to look ahead as well. Manage your skills; keep your skills up to date, whether that is in plain English writing, technical language or can you do promotional writing (which I am no good at), the basic technical stuff.

Social media: I have realised for some time that I need a better drawing tool than I have had, so I am going to try Visio, spend some time over the next month or two to try and build up my skills there so I can offer that or use it in my work.

Professional development: go to talks, courses, higher education.

Think of the clients you want to work for. So, for me at the moment, I am working a lot in Indigenous health and wellbeing, and would like to keep doing that—it is really fascinating and useful and I feel like it is a good thing to do—so I am trying to develop my knowledge there. Follow people on Twitter. I have learnt a lot just through reading what a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had to say about the way the world operates and getting a perspective and being able to draw that into your work.

Think of clients you do not want to work for and people who have given you a hard time, or where it just has not seemed worth the effort. If you are going along well enough, then just write them a polite note and say ‘thank you’ and move on, because with some people it is just too much hard work.

The final thing I think—I am sure everyone knows this clearly—is that you need a low-cost operation because the world of freelance work is uncertain at the best of times, and right at the moment it is even more dire than usual, in terms of just being able to know what is ahead in the next six months. So, I think having a low-cost operation, balancing that with the need for skills development—your capacity to develop your technological skills and continuing professional development—that is one of the keys to surviving work as a freelancer, to be able to keep costs low.


Q. As an editor with a clinical background, do you ever receive content that you believe may be incorrect and, if so, how do you transmit that to the client to avoid offence or conflict?

A. Well, I do it. Likely gently, but absolutely correct anything that you think is wrong. Now, in clinical things there are often lots of different ways you could put something but it is important to be accurate. Most of the battles I have had with clients have not been over things like that. Most have been happy to accept clinical advice, or advice that ‘Here, this is a better way of putting it’, and if you need to attach a reference or explain why, do so. The sort of battles I have had have been over ‘Can’t you fit more information into fewer words?’ and things like that. I haven’t generally found a problem with that; most people have been happy to say ‘Oh, okay; thanks.’

Q. What do you see as the current growth areas regarding medical writing and editing: social media, journals, government?

A. I think, over the next six months, government and government agencies are going to be probably the most significant source of work. I think that a lot of publications will suffer because their advertising and usual source of revenue will be drying up. I have serious concerns myself about where the work will come from over the next six months and how I will support my family. I can tell you, from the research side of things, that the sorts of work I do there—the requests for tenders and notices for grant applications and things like that—have kept coming from government in the last few weeks, even though I thought they might not, and I think it is just the general approach of governments that to support us through the next six months, or whatever the time may be, they have to spend whatever money they’ve got on maintaining ‘business as usual’ as much as possible. So, we’re being asked to be isolated, but governments are continuing to spend money. While I think that a lot of smaller private organisations might fold or close down for a while, I don’t know how the medical magazines and trade publications are going to go. I know that News Limited has closed down 60 or so community newspapers for a time. Organisations like Crikey and The Guardian have seen their advertising dry up. So, it is going to be a tight time for general media. Social media I have only ever used as an adjunct to the other work, rather than as a source of work, and as a way of promoting work, so I cannot really answer on that, but I think journals will fall into the category of trade publications and may well suffer. With less movement of people, there is just going to be less income for most people and less advertising. I think governments are going to be the main ones to be able to keep up employing people to do work.

Q. I recently did some medical writing and a medical writer edited what I wrote. I tried to use plain English but had to give up on that because she was wedded to non-plain English. How would you manage that?

A. I don’t know. One of the constant battles I have with some clients is where you are pitching the sort of language you are using. There is this perception that plain language is dumbing things down, which I don’t think it is. It is actually harder to write in plain English than it is to write in technical language and jargon; it takes more thought and more effort. My experience is that you keep trying and keep trying and keep trying until you get booted off, which has happened a few times. But no, it is a difficult one.

Q. Do you recommend any courses or resources in particular?

A. Courses: it really depends what you are after. At the moment I have been trying to find a graduate course in Indigenous research methodologies; there is one in Melbourne that you can do on campus, but it is not available online. I do not know. Resources: again, it depends on what in particular you are after.

Q. Have you edited many translated texts? If so, what kind of issues have you encountered that might differ from a native English speaker’s text?

A. I haven’t edited translated texts, but I have edited texts that were translated in context. I did a lot of work for Healthdirect Australia for quite a while, and initially their source material was material they bought overseas and adapted. That was semi-clinical information that was very context-specific—context of the country you are in and context as to how it was presented on the website—so there were issues I faced there that were not so much about language but about what to do in a particular situation; also material that had been used in a particular way that they wanted to use in another way, and that, of course, didn’t have required safeguards around it. So, to go back to the idea that I mentioned at the start, of knowing everything you can about the text you might be working with – what is the idea, where did it come from, how is it going to be used, how is it going to be published, how is it going to be distributed, will it be illustrated—all of those things need to be taken into account before knowing what to do. The only close thing I have had with this is that at times I have tried to edit people’s theses from non-English speakers (or non-English as a first language) studying at university here and I have found it hard, because there is another layer of trying to sort through, not just ‘What is does this sentence say?’ but working out, if the person hasn’t been able to express themselves clearly in English, then what was their original meaning? So, I found it was taking a lot of work, a lot of going backwards and forwards, just to sort out what the meaning was here.

Q. I am interested to know why you shifted your career into writing and editing and, having done so, how did you connect with designers and others that you needed to complete your work?

A. In shifting out of medicine, basically when I was in my last years as a medical student and working as an intern, I realised it didn’t really interest me. There were bits of it that were interesting but I did not care enough about the biology, the physiology, to delve into that; I was interested in the people and I was interested in making them feel better in some way, but I did not care enough about what was wrong to go into it in that level of detail. And I looked at the people around me and saw the incredible hours they were working and how unhappy they were and, really, how little else they had in their life, and I just thought ‘I’m not sure that this is for me’. So I went and started an Arts degree and studied art and literature and Italian and thought, ‘Yep, this sort of world is more me’ so, to put it very simplistically, humanities versus science, and so I shifted that way. I got a very lucky break early on, getting a job as a journalist with no experience and a significant Mohawk, which should have counted against me but luckily did not.

The second part of it is, how did you connect with people in editing and publishing: When I am working with other people, I like to know why they are doing things in the way they are. So, early on, I was editing publications and I was dropping photos in or the designer was taking the photos in, so I got talking to the photographer and teamed up with them on work, and then got talking with the designer and learnt a little bit of what she was doing and teamed up with her on work. You do find generally, in this sort of work, you work with them in some way, so just take those connections further. For example, last year I had someone redo my website and he did a good job and I liked working with him; so now that we have had a discussion about that, I can offer his services as part of a package of the work I do. So, if someone says, ‘I need a website’ I can say ‘I can do that’, which is not true but I know someone who can build it, so I can work with them. It is that sort of thing, of making connections to the people that you are bumping into. You can go out and hunt people down as well. If you see a photographer’s work that you like, get in touch with them and ask ‘Who designed this? Who built the website? Who did the publication that you like the look of?’—and go back and sound them out. So it is a fluid thing where the more you bump into people whose work you like and who you enjoy working with, the greater opportunity you have to bring them along with you and to offer more to the client; and occasionally they will bring you into their work.

Q. Are you finding an information/copy shift towards infographics?

A. Yes, definitely. More and more people are wanting things expressed clearly, and organisations that I used to work for, where it might be standard to edit a 40- or 50-page report, are now saying ‘Yes, we will have that report edited but we are not going to print that; we will do a two-page summary that we might or might not print and hand out, and we want some infographics to put on social media’. This shift towards plain language and this shift towards shorter content and visual content is really strong. Now, my personal perspective is that a lot of the infographics that are put up are not very good, in that they are still really dense and they don’t tell a story. To me an illustration needs to tell you a story in and of itself; so if you do a graph it should tell you what you want it to say and someone should be able to look at it for just a moment—glance at it—and take in the main point. I think there is still too much where people who are not fantastic at communication are taking the raw material that was too complex and just bunging it into an infographic and not really sifting it through to present something very good, but yes, one of the skills you have to have as an editor is to be able to present things simply and in different ways, using the same bit of information in multiple ways.

Q. You mention that you don’t think it is necessary for a health and medical editor to have a background in health. What sort of background is useful?

A. The one you have. I do not think you can change it. My first job in this line of work was as a medical journalist and what I found useful was not that I knew the information they were talking about, but that I knew the way the doctors were thinking, and I knew what they said when they said something, and I knew what they did not say and I knew what they were leaving out, which helped me ask the questions that I wanted to ask. Now, if you are working in health, it is handy to have a background in health or health science in some way to give you the access to the language, but I think it is more important to understand, sometimes, the language that is not used and the gaps in the language. Probably the most important background to have is a background interest. I think it is really hard to edit something that you don’t care about, and I have done that at times and found it hard. I do have a health background and I have found editing and writing some health material really dull because the work was dull. When you work on something interesting and something that you find useful, I think that offers more than a degree or a particular background in the area.

Q. What resources do you use in your editing? Do you have any particular medical dictionaries or style preferences that you find particularly good?

A. No, not really. The old AGPS style guide [Snooks & Co, Style manual for authors, editors and printers, 6th edition, John Wiley & Sons, 2002] is still very good. It is only available in print. It was a series that ran for about 20 years. There is work going on at the moment to reproduce that online. That reference is old now and it really doesn’t touch online enough, but that has a lot of good material on the sort of things to think about in producing a publication: How do you manage ideas? How do you think about audiences? How do you think about what audiences might need? How do you plan a publication? Things like that. And then it does have a lot of questions of style answered, and most organisations that I am aware of base their style on that. They might vary from it, but certainly most government and academic organisations start with the AGPS Style manual as their basis and then shift as they want. As to medical dictionaries: Google is pretty good, but no, I don’t have any in particular.

Topic: News—good, bad, fake? What corpora can tell us about language usage
Date: Tuesday, 5 May 2020, 7.00pm AEST
Location: videoconference via Zoom 

Details: Corpora—large collections of language as it is used, marked up to support a wide range of searches—are a relatively recent addition to the toolbox of anybody working with language. Corpora can be used to check collocations, linguistic variations and concordances as well as to quickly and easily extract specialist terminology from a text or collection of texts to build up technical vocabulary. Corpora are a very useful addition to any language toolbox, and the resources used in this talk are freely available online.

Presenter: Claudia Koch-McQuillan is a translator, interpreter and former university lecturer and tutor in translation studies and technologies. She finds language fascinating and enjoys corpora as a tool that gives unique insights into our practical use of language and can provide solutions to otherwise intractable language problems.

Future events

Topic: Editor as historian
Date: Tuesday 2 June 2020, 7.00pm AEST
Location: videoconference via Zoom 

Details: Author and editor Cathy Perkins will talk about her editorial work at the State Library of New South Wales, which led to years of historical research for her new biography, The Shelf Life of Zora Cross. She will discuss accessing original documents in the library’s collection and how her background as an editor influenced her process of researching and writing the book. 

Presenter: Cathy Perkins edits the award-winning SL [State Library] magazine, other publications and exhibition text at the State Library of New South Wales, having previously worked as an editor for academic and trade publishers. She is the author of the biography The Shelf Life of Zora Cross [Monash University Publishing, 2019].

Bookings via the IPEd Events page. 
Bookings close Saturday 30 May; attendees will be sent a link for Zoom on Sunday 31 May. 
Cost: A$10 IPEd members.


Topic: Preparing for the accreditation exam (to be confirmed)
Date: Tuesday 19 May 2020 

Details: This one-day workshop is designed for people who are intending to sit the IPEd accreditation exam … or are contemplating doing it in the future. Even if you do not plan on sitting the exam, you will find that the practice exercises are relevant to everyday editing. 

Presenter: James Bean AE writes and edits in the field of English Language Teaching and has created materials for publishers around the world including Shanghai Educational Publishing House, Cambridge University Press, Seibido (Japan) and International Language Teaching Services (UK). He is the editor of Hueber Lektüren, an award-winning series of graded YA fiction for German publisher Heuber Verlag. His writing work ranges from abridged classics to the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) preparation resources. James sat the IPEd Accreditation Exam in 2011.

Because of social distancing restrictions, this workshop cannot be run in person as originally planned.

We are currently exploring whether it is feasible to deliver this workshop online and will provide an update on this as soon as we can.


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