Re: Editing comments too harsh?

Subject: Re: Editing comments too harsh?
From: Rebecca Phillips <rebecca -at- QRONUS -dot- CO -dot- IL>
Date: Sun, 8 Sep 1996 18:07:46 +-200

This thread has provided a lot of excellent practical suggestions on how to soften the blow of editing comments. I would also recommend on this subject Tarutz, Judith A. Technical Editing-The Practical Guide for Editors and Writers ISBN 0-201-56356-8. Addison-Wesley/Hewlett-Packard Press, 1992. Fourth printing April 1994. She made the comment that lots of red marks are good; if there are no red marks, that means there is no hope for the manuscript.

One of the big issues discussed in this thread is ego. Ahem. Some of the mails in this thread make it is clear that SMEs are not the only ones who have big egos. We technical writers know we are _the_ authorities on technical manuscripts at our company. This knowledge can affect the tone we use when we edit the "garbage" written by engineers. Before I pick up that purple pen, I take the chip off my shoulder. This is the first and most important step in communication. Just as I don't write a manual as if the user is an idiot, I don't write any editing comments as if the writer is an idiot, even if I know for a fact that (s)he is. This goes hand in hand with talking to the writer or enclosing a cover letter to establish basic rules for interpreting editing comments.

Just as I edit others' work, sometimes others edit my work. Even when the comments are totally legit, sometimes I find my ego whining a little. Haven't you ever read the comments of another writer or an engineer and thought to yourself "how dare they..." before you calmed yourself down and realized that they were correct, or that they meant it only as a suggestion? Maybe I am being too honest, but I know I frequently find myself battling my own ego when reading those pencil marks in the margins of text I wrote. If you find yourself in this situation, you may also have the corresponding problem; not of being "too harsh", but of being too glib in your editing comments. Sometimes just stating glibly that x is a mistake can seem self-righteous to a sensitive author.

The problem probably isn't what you are correcting, but how. In some rare situations you may find yourself having to compromise on quality to keep yourself on decent terms with other people at the company. However, in most cases good communication will take care of the problem. If more than one person has complained that the comments are harsh, the problem may be that your standards are very high; but more likely it is the way you phrase the comments.

Finally the most trivial issue. I would like to say that this whole discussion just proves my theory that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who like purple and those who like green. The purple-green division probably because of connotations of red discussed. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I just can't bring myself to use turquoise, or, as we used to say, non-repro blue. I edit on screen using revision marks _only_ for short documents (<5 pages). I read somewhere that studies show that results of on-screen vs. on-paper proofreading showed that on-paper was much more effective. I know it's true for me.

Rebecca M. Phillips
Documentation Manager
Qronus Interactive Ltd.
14 Shabazi Street
Yahud 56231 Israel

rebecca -at- qronus -dot- co -dot- il

Phone: 972-3-5392207
Fax: 972-3-5368290

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