Improving your editing

Subject: Improving your editing
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Fri, 30 Aug 1996 14:23:10 -0500

USDA offers some well-respected courses for editors, and
many large universities or colleges do likewise. Ask around
and you'll find some good resources.

It's pretty much a given that you can't edit your own work
very well. Good editors don't just spot typos, we also look
for incorrect assumptions or errors of ignorance that
you've made in writing something, and fix them for you.
Since most of us are blind to our own assumptions,
self-editing isn't a job you can do well. (This is equally
true for me, an experienced editor, and all of my
colleagues concur.) If you don't have a peer review process
in place, set one up and make it part of your standard
operating procedures... any review is better than none.

If you _must_ edit your own writing, the only thing that
works reasonably well is to let your text sit for a week or
so, then revisit it. A weekend will do in a pinch, but a
week is better. Over that time period, your state of mind
changes sufficiently that you're working with a different
set of assumptions, and can approach your writing from a
fresh perspective. I call this the "compost pile" approach:
what starts out as raw fecal material often becomes good
fertilizer after it's sat and fermented for a while.

Someone suggested that teaching editing at a local college
would help you. It's certainly true that you can't teach
someone something that you don't understand well yourself,
but the corollary that you could learn editing by teaching
it is flawed. If you aren't an editor, simply studying a
textbook won't make you one; editors and writers have very
different mental approaches to the job, and I have to make
a conscious effort to switch roles. I'm not just being
professionally conservative here: no family doctor would
say that his surgical skills are rusty, so he should go
teach surgery at the local med. school. A bit of an
exaggerated comparison, perhaps, but it makes the point
quite eloquently.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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