Re: Editing comments too harsh?

Subject: Re: Editing comments too harsh?
From: "Kim L. Shaw" <103205 -dot- 402 -at- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 6 Sep 1996 12:10:58 EDT

Vanessa Wilburn asked how to avoid treading too heavily engineers' egos. I
think all editiors face this problem, no matter who our authors are. Writing
is a personal act, whether the product is a technical document, a journal
article, or a novel. It helps to keep this thought uppermost in mind when
giving authors feedback. These are some other techniques that have worked for

If at all possible, meet with the author BEFORE you edit his/her document.
Establish rapport and try to discover the person's concerns. Be enthusiastic --
I find interest and enthusiasm go a long way toward breaking down that
author-editor barrier. Discuss your approach to editing so the author knows
what to expect. When time allows, I like to edit a short passage and get
feedback before editing the entire document. In other words, work as a team
and let the author know your goal is to make the document the best it can be.

If you aren't able to meet the author, consider attaching a cover letter to the
edited manuscript that generally explains what you did. Offer to talk with/meet
with the author to answer questions or discuss your edits. Don't get offended
if an author questions your edits -- be able to give straightforward,
undefensive explanations for your changes and revisions. I even cite references
sometimes. If appropriate, a little humor can diffuse tension. Let the author
win some arguments. I hold the line on correct mechanics and usage, but
sometimes let authors retain their preferences even when I think my edits are

Use a pencil or a color other than red (I like green) to mark up the manuscript.
Some authors aren't sensitive, but others feel like they're being graded when
they see red marks all over their document.

It's important -- though I admit, not always easy -- to have support for your
editing approach within the organization. Support could be in the form of a
company style guide (approved by management) or concurrence from the head of the
engineering department or another senior person. I once was the only
editor/writer in a dental school and had great support from the dean, who
actually sent faculty to me to get their papers edited. Of course, I still had
to use tact and diplomacy once I got them in my office!

IMO, the most important thing overall is to treat your authors as you'd want to
be treated. It's not so easy to let someone else edit your writing, and if you
approach your authors in a very human way it can lead to a good collaboration
rather than a clash of egos.

Kim Shaw
Words & Graphics Inc.

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