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Tilman Lewis

Professional Editorial Standards: What Does an Editor Do Today?

Editors Canada’s Professional Editorial Standards (PES) describe the responsibilities of an editor. The scope of PES is broad; this series explores how the standards apply to a variety of editing contexts.

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I’ve always found the granularity of PES daunting; I’m more inclined to “find the voice and let it sing.” But comparing the 2016 revision with the 2009 version shows a lot about how we editors perceive ourselves today.

Additions to Fundamentals of Editing reflect a changing environment. Knowledge of legal and ethical requirements (standard A5) now includes “licensing” as a copyright issue. Design and production basics (A6) include “accessibility”; “Acrobat, InDesign, [and] LaTeX” are commonly used software; and editing resources include “databases” (A10). One mentor of mine, Riça Night, told me that when she was starting out the only technology she needed was a table, a pencil and some sticky notes!

To reflect changing practices, the standard on keeping successive versions is prefaced with “As the task requires” (A11.4). Similarly, an editor now checks against previous stages only “to the extent possible” (A11.5).

Under Structural Editing, new standards show that editors “recommend headings and navigation aids” (B3) and address the “positioning of auxiliary textual material (e.g., sidebars and pull quotes)” (B4). We should be conversant in “infographic[s]” (B9) and “alt text” (B10), and examples of supplemental material include “audio and video, [and] pop-ups” (B12).

The Stylistic Editing standards acknowledge that this step “is often done as part of a structural edit or copy edit.” That’s important; copy editors should often cover the stylistic standards as well.

This section originally started at the sentence level; it now backs up to “improv[ing] paragraph construction” (C1). And the standard on reordering sentences has been broadened to reordering “elements… (e.g., sentences in a paragraph, bullets in a list, components of a web page)” (C8).

In addition to considering the intended audience and medium, the editor should also consider “purpose (e.g., making text more engaging or entertaining)” (C11). I like that image; it counters the stereotype of the editor as a dour monitor of the rules.

Under Copy Editing is my favourite addition: An editor should “know when exceptions can be made (e.g., in fiction or advertising copy)” (D2). Cautiously, that proviso is applied only to punctuation, not to the neighbouring standards on grammar, spelling and usage. Still, it’s a foot in the door for non-prescriptivists.

Expansions regarding accuracy (D5 and D6) include URLs, menus and links. Online media also affect documentation styles (D10).

Shifting sands are also evident in Proofreading, previously described as “examining material after layout.” Now it’s “after layout or in its final format.” “Rounds of proofreading” are referred to rather than proofs, and “visual elements” rather than art.

Although proofreaders should refrain from structural, stylistic and copy editing, E5 now specifies that they should “flag or correct egregious errors” (expanded on in E7.)

A new standard encourages “proofread[ing] the material in its intended medium” (E6). That is, click through a website — or put a poster up on the wall.

Some of these changes are subtle, but they feel like significant nuances in our association’s self-talk. And they illustrate the evolution of the editor’s role amid ongoing shifts in publishing technology and practices.

Do you use the PES? Give us your thoughts on these revisions!

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Previous post on the PES: Standards at Work: Technical Editing.

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