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Sharon Skage

Editing at the Legislature: A Look Inside the Hansard Office

Copyright: jewhyte / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: jewhyte / 123RF Stock Photo

Ever wondered what it’s like to work as an editor at Hansard? Well, given that there are 15 Hansards published across the country, it depends on who you ask. The staffing, production processes and timelines vary from one jurisdiction to another, but here’s a quick snapshot of what it’s like in Alberta.

Our production team consists of a managing editor, three senior editors, an operations assistant, an indexer and 25 sessional staff. The sessional staff are made up of input editors and copy editors/proofreaders, two of whom are also editorial assistants. While the first six individuals work full-time, sessional staff work during sittings of the legislature and when there are intersessional meetings of all-party legislative committees. There is some summer project work available to sessional staff; for example, we’ve digitized all of the Assembly transcripts going back to when Alberta Hansard started in 1972.

In our first stage of production, input editors work on five-minute portions (takes) of digital audio to produce a draft known as the Blues. In addition to transcribing the audio, input editors are responsible for knowing and applying Hansard style and format rules and for researching any items that come up in their take. Blues are made available digitally and in hard copy to MLAs and the press gallery, but the Blues are unofficial and may not be quoted as the official record.

In the next stage copy editors combine three consecutive takes and listen to the audio while making any necessary corrections to style, format, research or mishearings. Hansard is substantially verbatim, so copy editors need to use a light hand while still ensuring stylistic consistency.

Copy editors are also trained in proofreading, which is the third stage of production. Proofreaders don’t listen to the audio unless they have reason to believe it wasn’t accurately transcribed, and they don’t work on the same portions they copy edited.

When all portions have been proofread, a senior editor combines them into one document and typesets it. Final checks and adjustments take place at this stage. The transcript is then posted to the assembly website and, in the case of legislature sittings, sent to a commercial printer.

We invest a great deal into training our staff. Input editors, for example, train full-time for four weeks. That training is supplemented by detailed instructions and resource materials. The Alberta Hansard style guide is 453 pages and includes a style section (capitalization, numbers, punctuation, etc.), a format section (how to treat procedural matters like opening and adjournment of sittings, emergency debate and points of order), a 64-page glossary and a 152-page list of research items such as names of organizations, titles of commissions and reports, and other frequently mentioned items. The Hansard manual is the primary reference for our staff; it was developed over many years and is continually updated and revised.

After the manual, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary is our go-to resource for spelling, capitalization and verification of entities. Every desk has a copy of the Hansard manual and COD, as it’s affectionately known, and there is a large collection of materials in our resource centre to consult for more elusive items.

To see a larger picture of provincial, territorial and federal Hansards, visit the Hansard Association of Canada website.

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The Editors’ Weekly is the official blog of Editors Canada. Contact us.


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6 Comments on “Editing at the Legislature: A Look Inside the Hansard Office”

  • Claudine

    says:

    Interesting work! Thanks for sharing.

  • Frances Peck

    says:

    I cut my teeth back in the 1990s as a sessional copyeditor for the House of Commons’ Committee Reporting Service (sister organization to Hansard), where we edited the proceedings of standing and legislative committees. Those lessons in minimal editing were invaluable, as was the chance to have my work reviewed by senior editors (and corrected; I’ll never forget the difference between «block» and «bloc»!). It’s great to hear that Alberta Hansard still has a full cadre of staff, especially nowadays, when editorial teams and on-the-job supervision, both of which contribute immensely to sound training and high standards, are increasingly rare.

  • Virginia Durksen

    says:

    Thanks for this, Sharon. Hansard always strikes me as the ultimate editing, where words meet democracy. It’s the coolest editing job there is. I would love to hear Hansard colleagues across Canada compare notes with the Alberta experience.

  • I was an input editor, copy editor and then proofreader for the NWT Hansard a few years ago. We did it all remotely, with a team across Canada working on digital recordings via FTP, coordinated by a former Alberta Hansard production manager, and it was fascinating, elucidating and invigorating (or terrifying, depending on your level of Zen). Our training period to learn Hansard style and the mechanics of the remote system was quite short — perhaps a few days compared to the four weeks Sharon references — that’s where the terror came in. But it all gelled beautifully, and I virtually «met» other editors whom I still see and occasionally interact with on Facebook as Editors Canada members. I loved this experience, mostly for the opportunity to learn more about «real» politics and the issues that face residents of the Northwest Territories, and it really strengthened my core editing skills and adaptability. Thanks for this peek into the on-the-ground process, Sharon.

  • Kim

    says:

    As a former government communications worker, I always wondered what it would be like to work on Hansard – now I know it’s something I would love to try my hand at.

    Are sessional positions posted each Legislative session, or are the same people automatically rehired for each sitting?

    • Sharon Skage

      says:

      Hi, Kim. The sessional staff continue working from one sitting to another and on committee meetings between sittings, but there are usually at least a couple of positions that open up each year. They’re fairly widely advertised, and you can keep an eye on the Legislative Assembly job openings site here: http://www.assembly.ab.ca/lao/hr/index.htm. Thanks for your interest!

      Sharon

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