Politeness in editing?

Subject: Politeness in editing?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2001 09:18:37 -0500

Edwyn Kumar opines: <<However, in dealing with edits, Jo Baer suggested
starting with or ending with a phrase or clause (I would guess to save the
writer's ego and feelings). While I applaud this gesture of etiquette, in a
massive edit of several thousand words it gets weighty and unnecessary. I
have edited manuscripts well over 80,000 words, and there is no way I would
use "A better way to do this. . ." or "Just in case you were wondering. . ."
as a precursor to the meat of the edit commentary.>>

How to express or justify an edit depends strongly on your relationship with
the author. In my day job, the authors have 8+ years of experience learning
to trust my edits, and thus, I don't have to spend a lot of time
sugarcoating things--though I did a lot more of this when I was getting
started here as part of the process of building a collaborative, mutually
respectful relationship. But in my freelance work, I'm usually editing the
writing of authors I've never met and will never meet, and may only get to
edit a couple of their papers over the course of a professional lifetime;
worse yet, they're writing in a second language (English) and are somewhat
sensitive about their skills (which are often quite good, but occasionally
appalling). That being the case, I have no pre-existing relationship with
them, and need to go the extra few steps to reduce the inevitable friction
that arises when you tell someone (however politely) that they shouldn't
quit their day job to take up a writing career. Where I must repeatedly add
a politeness phrase of some sort, I usually either invoke it <stitch> using
a macro, or simply copy and paste it from a previous comment. Saves lots of
time; soothes lots of feelings.

<<The purpose of an edit is to give the writer solid information on how to
increase the quality of their manuscript. Often, these suggestions can be
blunt, harsh, straight-forward and very hurtful from a personal standpoint,
but highly effective from a technical, grammatical and contextual

While the _editing_ may indeed be brutal (because of length constraints, I
commonly have to chop 30-50% of the words from some of the manuscripts I
edit; I often have to point out that the author's logic is sadly lacking),
there's no reason whatsoever to be brutal about how you _express_ the edits.
After all, a rigorous, demanding edit doesn't mean one that leaves the
author weeping any more than "tough love" means "child abuse". (Please note:
I'm sure that's not what you're saying, but the issue of politeness still
deserves more attention than some might believe given what you've written.)
Consider, for example, the difference between "do you mean... [proposed
rewording]? if not, please reword to clarify" and "incomprehensible;
rewrite". The first shows that you've made an attempt to understand and have
proposed a solution (which, if incorrect, at least shows the author why
their original is unclear); the second simply slaps the author's wrist and
leaves the problem in their hands.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
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