Re: Editing comments too harsh?

Subject: Re: Editing comments too harsh?
From: KNOXML1 <KnoxML1 -at- TEOMAIL -dot- JHUAPL -dot- EDU>
Date: Fri, 6 Sep 1996 13:30:48 EST

I have a couple of simple rules that have helped me avoid ruffling many
authorial feathers during my twenty years editing the writing of engineers and
scientists:

1. Never, ever use an exclamation point in an editorial comment. An exclamation
point sends the message "you should have know this." Even if the author *should*
have known it, reminding him or her of that fact is a subtle insult, and can
arouse defensiveness.

2. Never, ever use a question mark in the margin without a phrase or sentence
that askes the question in words. The author understood the writing and thought
it clear; otherwise he would have written it some other way. A naked question
mark in edited copy invariably causes the author to wonder what the question is.
However, he may be too embarrassed to ask (so as not to appear stupid) and ends
up irritated by the implication that "anybody" would understand.

A corrolary to rule 2: If a passage is unclear, point out various alternative
interpretations and then suggest revision instead of simply pronouncing the
passage unclear. (Again, if the author hadn't understood it & understood it only
one way, he would have written it some other way.) Showing how another reader's
approach could yield a different meaning is much more effective than simply
asking for clarity or pronouncing something ambiguous.

Good luck

Margaret Knox Morris
margaret -dot- knox -at- jhualp -dot- edu

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