Everyone needs an editor

Post by Chris Bryce

‘If only I hadn’t said that’ … a phrase familiar to the broken-hearted following a heated row, or the regretful employee the morning after the office party. What would the miserable lover or tipsy partygoer have given for a filter on their spoken words? The answer would probably be … anything!

Given half a chance, they would have spotted their errors, stopped the conversation, cut out the offending sections of dialogue, reformatted the chat and started again.

Luckily, it’s different for the written word, because the writer can choose to get a fresh pair of eyes to act as that filter. And if those eyes are inside the head of a professional editor, who understands exactly where and why mistakes are made, then the writer will never have the unpleasant task of trying to claw back the words they’ve put on paper.

What do editors do?

Copy-editors know how to make words work well and deal with a wide variety of text – from T-shirt slogans, website wording and marketing materials, to academic papers, technical manuals and published books.

Whatever they’re working on, the copy-editor’s aim is always to improve the wording and format. Often referred to as the seven Cs of editing, an editor’s focus is to make the text: clear, correct, coherent, complete, concise, consistent and credible.

The human brain is hard-wired to fill in the blanks as we read. This gives us the ability to speed-read or scan our eyes over text. It’s a useful skill when we want to take in lots of information quickly, but it can also lead to us skipping over some outrageous errors without seeing them.

Here’s an example of what can go wrong. A healthcare provider had thousands of flyers printed to invite the local community to a ‘Pubic Health Day’. Of course, the flyers were meant to read ‘Public’. A funny mistake? The Chief Executive wasn’t laughing. Money was wasted on printing those useless flyers.

This example also perfectly demonstrates the unreliable nature of spellcheckers. ‘Pubic’ wouldn’t have been picked up by a computer program because it is a word; just not the right word here. Involving an editor or proofreader in the process would have saved a lot of time, money and embarrassment.

Who edits the editors?

It’s amazing how often good writers develop blind spots and fail to notice clanging typos and clichéd or overused words or terms.

Mismatched images and captions are another common area for mistakes, along with wonky formatting, punctuation and grammar. A text can have too few or too many headings, a variety of fonts and a host of other issues. Even copy-editors benefit from help with their own text and regularly seek the assistance of proofreaders to pick up on the unintentional typos and grammatical slips that can plague even the most elegant writing. Proof-editing (a combination of copy-editing and proofreading) is a comprehensive way to capture all of the problems with a piece of text, and turn good writing into excellent writing.

Don’t live to regret your words

It’s an editor’s job to help you make the most of your writing. But, perhaps more importantly, an editor will also help you to keep your reputation intact, making sure any written mistakes are never made public. (Or should that be pubic?)

As far as a verbal filter is concerned … well, drop me a line if you find the answer to that one!

 

For local, qualified copy-editors and proofreaders, take a look at our Directory now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris is an editor, proofreader and copywriter, with over ten years of experience across business, organisational and creative writing areas.

 

Editors – not just a bunch of pedants?

Post by Ron Smith

When I started proofreading and copy-editing for a living in January 2011, I was searching for order in language. So, if Hart’s Rules said it should be done in a certain way, that’s what I conveyed to, and in my very early days, perhaps even imposed on, some of my customers.

Hart’s is undoubtedly a first-class guide, but it is not the God of language and, indeed, there is no body in overall control of language – a concept argued in a recent BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘The Pedant’ (an episode in the Word of Mouth series).

Instead, general usage is what the language is.

Standards are slipping!

I used to be firmly in the camp of ‘Standards are slipping’ and, according to the above programme, I was in good company since Defoe and Swift, I learned, also held that view.

Much of my work is on documents produced by students, many of whom are postgraduates. I still have difficulty understanding how anyone can complete a university education and still not know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ or ‘were’ and ‘where’, yet I come across this frequently.

So although the message from this programme is that standards of literacy have never been higher in this country, this is not a premise that I can wholeheartedly agree with. Having said that, my attitude towards, and treatment of, variations in language usage have altered over the years.

Old habits

In the past, I would:

  • always change ‘data is’ to ‘data are’
  • insist on the presence of ‘on the one hand’ before allowing ‘on the other hand’
  • make any leading capitalisation lower case if there was no grammatical justification for it
  • insert ‘that’, as a subordinating conjunction, at every opportunity
  • bar stranded prepositions (‘with’, near the end of the previous paragraph, is an example).

Current practice

Regarding the above:

  • It is perfectly acceptable to use ‘data is’, providing it is used consistently.
  • ‘On the other hand’ can be used without preceding it with ‘on the one hand’.
  • Leading capitalisation is a matter of style and, where necessary, I remark on it but do not change it.
  • Providing sense is maintained without the word ‘that’, I accept its omission.
  • There is no grammatical rule against the use of a preposition at the end of a sentence.

Pedantic rules

Before listening to this programme, I was not aware that many of the pedantic rules of language had resulted from people like Thomas Sheridan, in the 1780s, telling anyone who would listen that they were not talking elegantly or politely enough (loaded words in the 18th century). This was during the Industrial Revolution, when huge numbers of people were moving from the countryside into towns, trying to make sense and order out of the seismic changes in their lifestyle. Consequently, I can well understand how adopting such new rules was seen as part of people’s path to bettering themselves.

Language is constantly changing

Every year, the OED adds words to its dictionary and in 2014 alone that number passed 1000. Proofreaders and copy-editors are well aware that the language is constantly changing and seek to allow writers freedom of expression, while ensuring that the end product makes sense and is suited to its intended audience.

Sense, consistency and audience

Providing sense and consistency are maintained, and the writing suits the audience (another point made in the programme), I am now much more likely to accept variations in usage. Where any variation does not meet these three criteria, I will either correct any mistakes or make suitable suggestions on style, but now I will leave well alone, if at all possible.

How we can help

So all writers should rest assured that we proofreaders and copy-editors are not there to pounce gleefully on your possible stylistic infelicities but to make your document, on which you have probably spent considerable time and effort, fit to put before the specific audience you are aiming at.

To ensure your writing is fit for purpose, head to our Directory now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ron is a proofreader and copy-editor with a love of words, radio, travelling and sport, especially football (both kinds) and baseball – all of which keep him busy, as does his joint (with his wife) part-time job of looking after their new grandson.