Slightly off-topic but, I hope, not unwelcome? (Editors)

Subject: Slightly off-topic but, I hope, not unwelcome? (Editors)
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 9 Apr 2003 16:03:47 -0400

Beth Brooks wonders: <<If you are an editor or have had the fortune (mis- or
good) to work with one, what have you determined to be the qualities of a
good editor?>>

Therein lies the topic of a long book. Until I have time to write that book,
a few brief thoughts:

A good editor starts by figuring out what the author wants to say, then
helps them to say it (in the author's own way, and in their own voice) in a
manner that the audience will comprehend. Where the author's voice or
approach simply won't work, the editor helps the author find a better way of
doing things that still, as much as possible, honors the author's original
goal and style.

In terms of style issues, a good editor recognizes that it's far more
important to communicate clearly than it is to rigorously adhere to a
particular style manual, and that consistency with the practices of others,
while important, is far less important than self-consistency. (In the
latter, I include consistency with other authors in a collaborative project
such as software documentation when referring to the same thing.) When under
deadline, good editors understand triage (fix the things that will kill or
inconvenience readers first) and forget about the small details (spelling
"color" as "colour" won't harm anyone or stop them from understanding). Fix
the small points when and if time permits.

Where the author insists on something and the editor can't persuade them to
change (or lacks the authority to insist on a change), a good editor repeats
the mantra "it's not my book/article/Web page/whatever" and leaves the final
choice to the author. Even the good editors occasionally feel a bit of
guilty pleasure when such authors shoot themselves in the collective foot,
but we try not to let the author know. Gloating is unprofessional. <g>

A small plug: Our very own Deb Ray is a wonderful editor to work with, as is
Intercom's Ed Rutkowski.

<<A poor one?>>

A bad editor, apart from failing at any of the above goals and simply being
incapable of doing the nuts and bolts of the job (correcting grammar,
spelling, etc.), tries to impose their own stylistic preferences on the
author from a position of presumed superiority. They forget that the
author-editor relationship must be a partnership. They often change words or
phrases simply to correspond with the way they would have said something,
and often change the meaning or introduce errors in so doing. Bad editors
often can't justify their changes better than "I'm paid by the gallon of
ink" or "I'm the editor so don't question my judgment", and aren't willing
to work with the author to come up with a mutually satisfactory compromise.

<<Also, are there any editing related "quirks" that you may have noticed?>>

Well, for one thing, the first thing we all do whenever we get together for
dinner is to see who's the first to spot a typo on the menu. <g> A certain
measure of compulsiveness tends to be part of the editorial personality.

<<I find it difficult to read my local newspaper without the judicious use
of painkillers>>

Ditto. I've pretty much given up on the local rags for any purpose other
than starting fires in the fireplace.

<<I find the news tickers along the bottom of the screen on many news
programs to be extraordinarily distracting, as they almost always contain at
least one typo or error in phrasing that distorts the message and results in
either hilarity or stomach cramps.>>

My personal solution is to avoid looking at the screen and just listen to
the talking heads. I can usually get the dishes done, the jeans stitched up,
the cats pampered, or a crossword puzzle done while listening to the news.
If something important comes on, then I'll stop and pay attention.

<<I fear revealing too much of my character will put me at risk of being
drummed out of the tech writing community as "just too weird.">>

Actually, you sound pretty normal for an editor--assuming you'll concede our
right to call ourselves normal. <g>

<<I also hope to use the more humorous responses to this post as fodder for
tongue-in-cheek articles on the craft of writing and editing.>>

My favorite editorial comment, bar none, was on an author's manuscript I
received from our research director. At the top of the page (this was before
onscreen editing, you understand) was scrawled the cryptic message "Have you
read your own manuscript?" When I began the edit, the answer quickly became
apparent. I did once return a manuscript to the author using Word's revision
tracking, having done "Select All--Delete", then followed up with a hasty
"Just kidding!" (I'm not usually that cruel. <g>)

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada

"Wisdom is one of the few things that look bigger the further away it
is."--Terry Pratchett

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