The Art of Querying

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The Art of Querying course page

Who is this course suitable for?

This course is intended for anyone whose work involves editing, proofreading, indexing, dealing with writers or managing a publishing project. You will probably get most out of the course if you already have a little experience.

Course description

The course aims to:

  • define what, when and how to ask and what not to ask
  • offer guidance on procedure, timing and technical issues
  • show you what to look for in narrative, tables, graphs and pictures
  • provide a decision tool, standard questions and effective wording
  • show you how to build a good working relationship and a reputation.

Whatever you edit, your major task is to help the writer get their message across. You also want to ensure that the reader will find the content engaging, convincing and reliable. As you work through it, you will meet anomalies or things that just don’t make sense. What do you do then? Knowing what to query, when and how to do it, and what not to ask, can be tricky. It’s hard to know what matters and it’s easy to annoy the writer.

You also need to draw attention to decisions you have taken, gaps you have filled and problems that you couldn’t resolve. All of these, along with the answers to your queries, are copied to the client in your notes and queries. As well as people skills, you need skills in thinking and wording.

Doing all this successfully without misunderstandings or ruffled feelings requires insights, skills and an awareness of the pitfalls, knowledge that you can acquire gradually by painful experience. This course aims to save you the pain. Using lots of examples based on real editing jobs, it shows you how to communicate efficiently, how many questions to ask, how to decide whether you need to ask at all, the main causes of queries, what to look out for and how to build a good working relationship with your author/client. To help you further, we give you some boilerplate text, a decision tool, guidelines, standard questions to ask and more.

What you should know after the course

By the end of the course you will understand:

  • what to query and how to do it tactfully – and what not to query
  • how to communicate efficiently
  • how many questions to ask
  • how to decide whether you need to ask at all
  • the main causes of queries and what to look out for.

Availability, prices and upgrade points

Price (members)  
Price (non-members)  
CIEP upgrade points 3
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Other price discounts are available. See the fees page.

Online courses take between 10 and 45 hours to complete, depending on the course, but you have access to the course materials for 6 months.

Online course structure

Time allowed for access: 6 months CIEP upgrade points: 3
Approximate study time needed to complete the course: 25–30 hours

This is a self-assessed course. You will be assigned a tutor who will be available for up to one hour of support (usually by email), but the tutor does not mark any of your work. When you have finished, you can download and print a certificate which states that you have completed the course.


The course is divided into four units:

Unit 1 looks at the questions you need to ask about any new project and the answers you need from your client and the author.

  • Sections 1.1 and 1.2 cover what you need to ask yourself and what you should ask the person who gave you the job.
  • Section 1.3 looks at the practicalities of presenting queries and contacting the author whose work you are copyediting or proofreading.

Unit 2 looks at how we can start by approaching the author with respect and then at ways to approach their material, and introduces a decision tool. We cover:

  • the CIEP Code of Practice
  • wording the first email
  • formulating notes and queries
  • following-up unresolved anomalies and recording answers.

Unit 3 looks at the problems caused by inconsistency, ambiguity and omission, and how to deal with them with the author’s help. It also looks at a less common but more sensitive problem, that of error.

Unit 4 covers content and how to improve it sensitively, looking in more details at different parts of a publication and what to look for in each one. We cover:

  • preliminary pages
  • narrative and argument
  • vocabulary and terminology
  • references
  • tables
  • artwork

Each unit is divided into sections:

  1. Questions and answers
    1.1 Questions (what you need to ask yourself)
    1.2 Before you start (what you need to ask the person who gave you the job)
    1.3 Practicalities (how best to present queries and contact the author)
  2. Approaches
    2.1 How to start (developing and maintaining a good working relationship)
    2.2 It looks funny (introducing the decision tool – what to query and how to decide)
    2.3 Formulating queries (effective and ineffective questions)
    2.4 Formulating notes (to the author)
    2.5 Six rules (guidance on what to query)
  1. Topics
    3.1 Inconsistency (of content and style)
    3.2 Ambiguity (and how to help the writer clarify it)
    3.3 Omission (what’s not there that should be)
    3.4 Error – what error? (how to point out errors tactfully)
  2. Content
    4.1 Prelims (what might go wrong in the preliminary pages)
    4.2 Narrative and argument (what goes wrong with the content)
    4.3 Vocabulary and terminology (using language to good effect)
    4.4 References (essential queries for the reference list)
    4.5 Tables (what to query in a table)
    4.6 Artwork (what to query in any illustration)
    4.7 Six last things (a roundup of the art of querying)

Each section includes study notes and a commentary on the exercises, with examples and model answers where appropriate. There are 19 exercises throughout the course, giving you plenty of practice at honing your skills. At the end of each unit there is a quiz to test your knowledge.

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