Re. Editing gently and constructively

Subject: Re. Editing gently and constructively
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Wed, 6 Mar 1996 12:51:32 -0600

Glenda (Jeffreys) asked for tips on how to edit a new
writer constructively.

<Dons his edit-being hat> Glenda, the best approach is to
turn this into a collaboration, not a confrontation. In
each case where you detect a problem, explain the cause of
the problem, provide an example of the solution, and let
the writer either adopt your solution or understand the
solution well enough to rephrase it in his or her own
words. If there's lots to correct, discuss your corrections
gently in person (rather than anonymously in writing), and
keep it private... just between the two of you. Provide
examples of what is acceptable (e.g., based on the style
guide) and explain that unacceptable work won't get through
the approval or quality assurance process... thus, your
editing is helping the person to do their job more
efficiently. Then turn the writer loose to try again.

Many authors who I've worked with keep repeating the same
mistakes again and again and... you get the point. If
you're in the fortunate role of supervising the person, you
can "make" them learn by setting quantifiable goals. For
example, a good, quantifiable goal might be to reduce or
eliminate passive voice. Simplistically, the goal could be
expressed as "to have no more than three passive sentences
per manuscript page by the end of the week, and zero by the
end of the month". (Tweak the wording until it's clear,
quantifiable, and addresses the problem, not the symptom.)
You can take a similar strategy for each other problem.

You wondered about the need to do substantive editing. In
my opinion, you simply can't avoid this. Whether you do it
or someone else does it, the job still has to get done. If
you have lots and lots of substantive editing to do, why
not hire a good editor so that you can concentrate on your
main jobs, writing and supervising? I can point you towards
a good source of editors! <conflict of interest alert>

<doffs editor hat, dons writer hat> Speaking as a writer,
constructive criticism has been a great boon for me, but
being edited pushes certain emotional buttons. (After all,
I'm an editor, so I'm supposed to write perfectly, right?
FeFeFe) I've learned to get past the personal reaction and
look for the truth in the edit, but it took time to learn
this and it's not always easy to do even now; a new writer
will likely resent your corrections and not understand that
they reflect your intent to help. Again, the solution is to
make this a mutually supportive situation, and to show how
your edits make the author's life easier (e.g., by learning
not to make a particular type of mistake, the author can
produce drafts faster). You can also try aiming for the
"produce a better product through synergy" attitude, but
many people find this disingenuous or fake.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one of our
reports, it don't represent FERIC's opinion.

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