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Subject:Re: Pulling my hair out From:"Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM> Date:Tue, 16 Aug 1994 08:39:53 -0500
A few thoughts on editing the work of non-writers, inspired by Shelley's
post on editing troubles with her boyfriend:
Among the writers I've known, editing is a blood sport. Not that people go
out of their way to slam one another, it's just that getting the document
"right" is so much more important than the tender feelings of the author,
and there's only so much time. Journalists are especially ruthless (I was
originally trained as a journalist) because you're always dealing with very
tight deadlines and fairly rigid formatting conventions. (I think it also
has to do with the hard-drinking, cigar-chomping, high-testoserone,
tough-as-nails image newspaper people like to project, even though most of
that has long since fallen by the wayside in real newsrooms.)
Non-writers, as a rule, do not understand this. When I first worked as a
technical writer, salespeople would frequently ask me to edit letters and
other customer communications. I edited them the same way my journalism
instructors edited me--riding through the document like the Mongol Horde;
hacking out unecessary words, re-arranging paragraphs and whole documents
for clarity, retooling sentences, etc. I routinely returned stuff covered
with dense pencil notation, editing marks, etc.
Finally, one of the salesmen commented that while they felt I improved
their work "...it's sure a good thing we don't have any pride when we come
back here (to my cube) because we sure don't have any when we leave."
After that, I started making fewer unexplained marks, and usually sat down
and discussed each document with the author. This actually turned out to
be a time-saver for me in the end, since in the course of these
discussions I was able to teach the principles I was using to edit and
stuff eventually started arriving in better shape.