Summarizing edits?

Subject: Summarizing edits?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, ekarenski-techwrl -at- yahoo -dot- com
Date: Mon, 05 Dec 2005 17:13:53 -0500

Karen wondered: <<I'm working in an office where the majority of the personnel do not speak English as their first language. I am editing highly technical reports (scientific/academic writing) that will be distributed to the clients.>>

Sounds a lot like what I do for a living, only I'm working on journal articles and never get to meet my authors, who are scatterd around most of the inhabited world. Truly fun stuff, but I miss working directly with the authors. E-mail just isn't the same thing.

<<My co-worker received the document with the tracking left on in order to see where all of the edits occurred. I would also like to summarize the edits to give him a list of issues to work on for the next report. (My boss does not want to see me correcting the same mistakes and wants to see the co-worker learn from this experience.)>>

Best of luck--and I'm not saying that dismissively, because it can be a very difficult job. Many people who aren't professional writers are quite set in their ways and have a hard time changing. Doubly so if they're not really interested in becoming professional writers; many would rather just tinker with their science or their technology.

Best bet might be to sit down with the person and ask them how you could help them learn. For some things, you can create simple Word macros that automatically search for and fix specific problems. For other things, you can help them customize their grammar checker (a lousy tool overall, but it has useful settings you can leave on to help find the problems). Checklists help if they're engineer-types.

Challenging them to solve the problem so you'll stop teasing them about a repeated error can also work. (I learned to edit by busting my nut to get just one edited manuscript--just one!--past my mentor without her spotting a single mistake. Took damn near 3 years, but you can imagine how pumped I was. <g>) This approach works best if you can make this a friendly rivalry rather than dismissive criticism--a difficult balance to strike across cultural barriers.

The most effective approach might be to pick one problem per week or month and work with them intensively until they "get it" and stop making that mistake. Practice makes perfect, as they say. But you may not have the time to invest in this. On the plus side, you build really good relationships with authors who want to work with you in this way.

<<Also, any PC term to use to convey sloppy or careless work? (The language barrier really wasn't an issue in this work, but there were a lot of careless mistakes.)>>

This is by no means limited to ESL authors--trust me on this one. Many years of experience talking. There is no PC term you can use to communicate this concept: the authors will get the message quite clearly based on the number of errors you correct on their behalf. But never draw attention to an error by blaming the author--no matter how tempting this may be--they know perfectly well they were careless. Simply point out the problem, explain (if necessary) why it's a problem, and help them to correct it. Be a helper, not a critic.

If the problem is serious and the author isn't interested in solving it, then you may need to enlist their supervisor's help. Some people need both a stick (the supervisor) and a carrot (your help) to want to change. For more on this topic, see my article in Intercom: Hart, G. 2005. Softening the blow: taking the sting out of editorial and other reviews. Intercom September/October:25–27. Plus other good stuff on my Web site, or "coming soon".

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
www.geoff-hart.com
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References:
Summarizing Edits: From: Karen

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