Classé dans :

Rosemary Shipton

Twelve-Step Editing

checkmarks

One project, one editor — that’s the norm in Canada today. Only a few large trade publishers and a small number of government departments still divide editing between structural/stylistic editors and copy editors, while the rapidly dwindling group of educational publishers distinguish between developmental editing and copy editing. Almost all the other publishers, institutions and clients — whether scholarly presses, corporations or self-publishing authors — hire just one editor to do the job. So what that editor delivers is the only editing that manuscript will get.

The fact you’ve been asked to “copy edit” the manuscript usually means nothing at all. That’s the only term most clients use for editing — and it simply means they want you to take charge of editing their documents. They rely on your professional judgment to decide what needs to be done — within the schedule and the budget allowed for the project, of course.

checkmarksSo, to carry on from my last column on this topic, “What Should an Editor Be?”, I’ll now suggest a checklist of the skills every professional editor should have ready to apply as needed to the task at hand. If you don’t feel confident in all areas yourself, enter into a partnership or an association with another editor who complements your strengths and weaknesses. That way, together, you’ll serve your clients well — and enhance the profession of editing.

With due respect to Jim Taylor, who presented the yardstick of Eight-Step Editing more than two decades ago now, I’ve expanded my list to 12 steps in all — to take account of the multiple demands on editors in 2014 and for the immediate future.

Structural (or Substantive) Editing

Think about the overall structure and presentation of the manuscript in terms of its intended purpose and readers:

1/ Are the organization and the presentation appropriate — allowing for the different conventions in genres such as fiction, literary non-fiction, corporate or government documents and academic, legal or medical texts?

2/ Is the title effective and, if there are also chapter titles and headings, do they operate as a matched set?

3/ Does the opening get potential readers’ attention and set the scene as it should?

4/ Is the ending effective and satisfying?

5/ Throughout the manuscript, does the author lead readers through the argument or the plot clearly and, by a well-paced narrative arc, maintain their interest? Is there repetition to eliminate or, turning to what is not there, are there gaps to fill? Would the addition of other elements, such as illustrations, maps, graphs, boxed text or lists, make the text more effective?

Stylistic Editing

As you preserve the author’s tone of voice, make sure that the text is accessible, satisfying and a pleasure to read:

6/ Check that each paragraph or paragraph sequence focuses on one topic and that its length is appropriate for the medium in which it appears — newspaper, magazine, book, report or the web.

7/ Check that sentences are structured clearly, using the active voice for the most part, placing the key words at the beginning and the end and varying effectively in length, type and tone.

8/ Check that the vocabulary is suited to the intended readers — general or expert readers, children or people new to the language, readers seeking information or entertainment, or whoever they may be.

9/ Delete unnecessary words and phrases — repetition, jargon, clichés, offensive phrases, pomposity and verbiage — and when you’ve finished your detailed work, read the text again to check on its rhythm and flow.

Copy Editing

Every text should respect the Three Cs – make it clear, correct and consistent:

10/ Make the text clear in its syntax and correct in terms of grammar, punctuation, spelling, parallelism and usage.

11/ Make the text consistent in terms of capitalization, use of numbers and dates, abbreviations, compound words and, if they exist, notes, bibliography, headings, lists, figures, captions and other elements.

Author-Editor Relations

All your work will be in vain unless you win the author over to respect your suggestions:

12/ Do excellent work, be flexible, attentive, professional and polite in all your communications, and establish a true partnership with the author in making the published text as good as it can be — within the budget and the time allowed. Remember: the author is the creator and the content specialist; you are the publishing expert.

Please join in the conversation and comment on what you think professional editors right now should have in their skill set. Let’s hear from editors not only in Canada but in other countries too. That’s a dialogue I’d love to hear.

 

Previous post: What Should an Editor Be?

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


Discover more from L'HEBDOMADAIRE DES RÉVISEURS

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

23 Comments on “Twelve-Step Editing”

  • Anita Jenkins

    says:

    Yes, we do all that! And more sometimes (photos, graphics, indexes, research, fact checking). Yet, The world out there thinks editors do only spelling, capitalization, punctuation and GRAMMAR! Or produce a newspaper. All professions are stereotyped, but perhaps editors exceptionally so.

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      And as a profession, Anita, we’ve sure got to do something to change that stereotype!

  • Claudine

    says:

    Thanks for this. A good, concise explanation of each goes a long way in explaining to clinets.

  • John Eerkes-Medrano

    says:

    Rosemary, thanks especially for #12. We’re often encouraged to master all the technical aspects of editing, but this can all come to naught if we aren’t « flexible, attentive, » and willing to « establish a true partnership with the author. » For me, this is usually the most rewarding aspect of the work.

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      For me too, John. And some of my authors go on to become good friends …

      • John Eerkes-Medrano

        says:

        … and repeat clients!

  • Tilman Lewis

    says:

    That’s an excellent checklist – I’m keeping a copy nearby. Number 12 (flexibility and partnership) is key, and so is the end of no. 9: reread your work! And so true – I don’t think I’ve ever been handed a manuscript to copy edit that’s first been through a structural edit and then a stylistic edit.

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      I trust you’ve had the opportunity, then, to do whatever editing you thought the manuscript needed …

  • Frances Peck

    says:

    Finally, editors have their own twelve-step program! This is such a sensible, elegant synthesis of our chief tasks, one that editors and clients alike are sure to benefit from.

    From my own experience I’d underscore that it’s vital, when you’re one editor doing everything on a project, to break the process down: your first edit focuses on structural and some stylistic matters, your second handles leftover style plus copy editing, and your third is the « reading it over » edit during which you catch anything you missed the first two times through. The more we try to apply all levels of editing in one fell swoop, cutting down the number of passes, the more we will miss.

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      I totally agree, Frances – thank you for clarifying that essential point. Yes, three passes. No wonder editing is such a labour-intensive profession when it is done well.

    • Elizabeth d'Anjou

      says:

      Rosemary, thanks for this thoughtful summary.

      And Frances, thanks for this comment. I have always taught my copyediting students that, even when they’re acting as the only editor on a project and even if they need to do content/structural work as well as copyediting, the best approach is to perform the two tasks separately. Where the in-between stylistic work goes depends on how much other editing is needed, but usually, just as you say, I find stylistic work tends to end up divided betweeen the big-picture pass and the nitty-gritty pass.

  • Arlene Prunkl

    says:

    This is fabulous, Rosemary. A great corollary to Jim Taylor’s Eight-Step Editing. As mentioned in my e-mail to you, it would be interesting if we could build a session around this for the EAC 2015 conference, in the self-publishing stream, perhaps. It fits well with the « one project, one editor » style of working with self-publishing authors. I’m not sure how the session would unfold, though. I wonder whether we could get others’ feedback on this.

    And in my mind, there’s still the issue of how to get all these tasks accomplished on a self-publishing author’s tight budget in a single editing pass plus perhaps an initial read-through. Or is that even possible? That issue has never quite been resolved for me, and I’d love to see a continuing discussion around it.

    • Arlene Prunkl

      says:

      I see now that Frances has addressed my question above, and I couldn’t agree more — three passes is optimal. But what if the author can afford only one pass? I know what I would do, but I’d like to hear others’ feedback.

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      It’s not only self-publishing authors who have tight budgets – most publishers do too. There are creative ways to get around the budget problem, depending on what needs to be done with the project under consideration. If organization and presentation are problems, for instance, the editor can write a substantive report for the author, identifying the issues and suggesting solutions for him to follow. If the manuscript is plagued by stylistic infelicities, the editor can do a fine edit of one chapter as a model, and, with some guidance from the editor, the author can try to follow through on the remaining chapters. On the revised manuscript, the editor will smooth the structural and stylistic changes as necessary while also doing the copy edit. So the ideal of three passes comes down to two – and two much quicker ones than if the editor did all the work herself. Editing is, like diplomacy, “the art of the possible.”

      • Arlene Prunkl

        says:

        Thanks for these suggestions, Rosemary. They are excellent! Another thing I offer that has worked very well is a partial second pass of editing, where the author highlights in yellow only the sections/paragraphs/sentences that have caused him or her trouble or uncertainty in the revisions that follow the first pass. With only the occasional sentence highlighted here and there, I can quickly scroll through and check those areas only, resulting in a second pass that takes only a few hours or perhaps a day a most.

  • Vivek

    says:

    Nice way to break the process down into its specifics. But I don’t see formatting (markup/attending to mechanical and stylistic matters) in the list.

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      In this post I focused on the core editorial skills. Editors do, of course, get involved in many other tasks, including formatting, managing permissions, proofreading, and indexing. We all choose the cluster of services we want to offer, depending on our own inclinations and the demands of our clients.

  • Rachel

    says:

    Thanks for this post, Rosemary!

  • Nadiya

    says:

    Bookmarked!

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      I’m glad you find the list useful, Nadiya.

  • Rosemary, this 12-step summary is excellent as is the discussion that it stimulate.

    I keep the list above my desk in an infographic–a mini-poster–that I designed with piktograph. In addition to reminding me what I need to focus on, I share it with clients who are unsure as to what a professional editor can do for them.

    I’ll share the infographic with anyone who wants a copy. vmcgowan@writeeditgroup.com
    Ginny

  • AU: Consider adding or removing a step in order to disassociate the procedure with 12-step programs addressing addiction recovery.

    I jest. You’ve outlined a great approach.

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      Nice to know that, almost two years after it was posted, this one is still getting attention! Thanks, Adrienne.

Comments are closed.

To top