Editing Guest Blogger

Eye for Editing: Do Not Edit …

Just because you can. Please, do not mark something for an author to change just to prove your superior knowledge of seldom-used symbols.

You think I’m kidding? Good, because you wouldn’t do something like this, would you? In the throes of final review to meet a draft document deadline, please don’t waste the author’s time—the author who is already stressed and has worked many overtime hours to meet the deadline—by demanding revisions that no one but you will notice. Resist the urge to point out every tiny flaw that presents itself.

Because it’s just not important.

If you recall the work-related scenario that I described in my last post (Eye for Editing: Caught Between Two Edits), this scenario takes editing comments to a new extreme. In a situation last week, among many other things the team lead mentioned during two days of group review sessions, she pointed out that I had used quotation marks instead of inch symbols when I brought content into the master document. I was expected to change them on the spot while she and my colleague watched. Excuse me? How is this minutia the least bit relevant at this point? It’s as if someone was trying to prove something.

I get that when you’re reading through content you haven’t read as a whole before and it’s about to go out the door with your name (the lead’s) on it, the tendency might be to fix everything you find, because you’re afraid you’ll forget it later; the fact that the change in this example is particularly “forgettable” notwithstanding. But really? This request and other similar ones seemed entirely unreasonable and only added to my stress and frustration. Perhaps the editor/lead was so caught up in her own stress of meeting this important deadline that she lost sight of the best way for the team to accomplish it.

I am the first to admit that I struggle with “levels of edit” and knowing where to draw the line between them. Oh, I do have detailed descriptions to distinguish the different levels of edit that I offer to my freelance clients. But in practice, it’s so hard to confine my comments, within my own definition of a copyedit, for example.

Because hey! I have so many insights I can impart to you free of charge, if only you will indulge me! I am guilty of being overly generous with my editing expertise, even when to do so may cause the client or author more work or stress to determine which of my suggestions they actually need to implement to meet their original purpose for my edit.

Whether you edit for freelance clients or for authors within your corporate structure, I suggest that you find a way to allocate your comments into the levels of edit that you’ve defined and deliver only those that align to the immediate requirement. It can be difficult to do. But I believe editors have a responsibility to manage their own enthusiasm for editing.

If you—and the project—can afford the time, mark the heck out of the thing. But then take the time to do triage of your own comments before you deliver them. Providing a brain dump of comments indicates a lack of sensitivity to time management. For future reference, please do record everything you notice, but be sure to categorize them for the current or a later implementation cycle. This kind of restraint is the hallmark of a senior editor, who knows how to wait, who has no need to show superiority in minutia, who knows how to be a team player in the last inning.

When it comes to providing edit comments, especially in critical path mode, manage your enthusiasm and your ego. Document your genuinely superior knowledge for use at a more appropriate time. But exercise restraint in the moment.


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  • I think we can create a classification for editing trolls. I participate in a lot of political conversation on web sites and I find it ridiculous when people go off topic to remark on the wrong use of “there” (for example). On the other hand it is hard to take someone’s opinion seriously when they can barely write. Also, when I reread my own work and find an error, I am annoyed that someone didn’t tell me, especially when it has been before many eyes. I am kind of insulted they didn’t pay closer attention.

  • I agree with all of this, but I also think that you need to keep in mind the platform that your document might be created for; if, for example, the document is going to be put into an HTML document for online publishing or even if it is going to be stored as content for multiple reuse, each little discrete symbol has a different way of rendering it in code on the web.

    If you notice that a symbol is not exactly right, there is nothing wrong with jotting the incidence down on a list and having it fixed. Isn’t that what editors are supposed to do, notice what is not correct according to a predetermined and prescribed format? Follow the predetermined parameters of the editing project, so if you are not supposed to be that detailed, then don’t worry about it.

    But the problem as discussed above seems more to do with the way that the editor presents the error and the prioritization in importance of minutia, rather than the fact that the editor noticed something that can, and really should, be corrected. I like the idea of a prioritized list and maybe notating at the side (i.e., “N.B. The symbol used here for inch is really a quotation mark; the way to make an “inch” symbol is …”) the “whys” of the detail being on the list in the first place

    • Thanks for your comments. My point is that timing is everything. There’s a time and place to be picky and a time to hold back in favor and consideration of the deliverable and circumstances at hand.

  • Paula,

    I agree wholeheartedly! Great post! Thank you…I’ll certainly refer to it when discussing levels of edit and preferential editing to my students and peers.

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