How to avoid ‘author query rage’

Post by Stephen Cashmore

There is plenty of advice in the textbooks and elsewhere about how to deal with queries you have for the author. Most of it is common sense:
  • Don’t write, ‘Dear author. This sentence is gobbledygook. Please supply something that is comprehensible,’ no matter how tempted you might be to do so.
  • Do write, ‘Dear author. I don’t quite follow [insert sentence here]. Can you clarify it for me?’

Oh yes, a copy-editor or proofreader’s shoulders need to be broad. (That’s not in the job description, is it?)

What else do the textbooks say?

Give an alternative where you can. Don’t just say, ‘I’m not sure that “serendipity” is quite the right word here,’ but add, ‘What about “luck”?’ More common sense, and often tedious to put into practice, but authors will thank you for anything that saves them some work.

Make sure they know where to look. ‘Dear author. I don’t think you can start this sentence with “Therefore” as there is no causality implied,’ might just get you the response, ‘Where is this?’ Much better to put a detailed reference in the query [‘Dear author: p6 l5’] or make inline queries in the document itself, depending on your preferred style.

You’ve heard all this before, and even if you haven’t seen it set out explicitly, you’d have the common sense to do all these things anyway, wouldn’t you?

But one piece of advice I don’t often see in print is to make sure that the query is actually a query, and that it is as closed as possible:

  • ‘Dear author. Should there be a sentence in between “… Armageddon.” and “The next day…”?’ Answer: ‘Yes.’
  • ‘Dear author. Is the Bloggs (forthcoming) reference still forthcoming?’ Answer: ‘No, it was published last year.’
  • Or even, ‘Dear author. Shall we use “serendipity” or “luck” here?’ Answer: ‘OK.’ Urgh.

There’s nothing worse than having to go back to clarify one of your own queries. Even if you are actually conveying more of a decision than a query, make sure the author can make a simple response:

  • ‘Dear author. I notice you capitalise Gamma more often than not, so I propose to standardise on Gamma rather than gamma. OK?’

Adding that simple ‘OK?’ can save you a lot of grief.

So next time you write out your author queries, by all means follow the textbook advice, but also make sure that your author knows exactly what is being asked and has a simple way to respond. If you don’t, you might find yourself subject to an intense bout of author query rage, for which there is no simple cure.

OK?

For a list of easy-to-work-with editors and proofreaders, head to our Directory now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephen Cashmore is an advanced member of the SfEP who lives in Ayr on the west coast of Scotland. He is an ex-teacher, ex-accountant, ex-bridge player and ex-auditor, but threw all that over to become an editor after taking early retirement. Check out cashmoreeditorial.com

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.

What’s so good about THIS blog?

post by GEN

As slaves to ‘the deadline’, we editor-types know that time is precious. And, as a result, most of us don’t have time to peruse all the editorial blogs we’d like. So we’re using this inaugural post to tell you why our blog is worth taking the time to read. Here goes …

Who writes the posts?

Members of the Glasgow Editors’ Network take it in turn to write these little gems of wisdom. This means you’ll find information and experience from an array of editorial professionals who work with a variety of clients, including authors, publishers, large companies, charities and SMEs.

Who will find this blog useful?

Lots of people! (Because we blog about a whole host of stuff that’s good to know.) But, specifically, our posts are designed to be interesting and informative for:

  1. Editorial professionals – our members are generous with their knowledge and regularly share their on-the-job experiences (& some nice handy tips) to help others in their work.
  2. Those wishing to use the services of an editorial professional – this blog is also for individuals, businesses and organisations looking to improve the quality of their online and paper publications – and, consequently, the reputation of their brand. (You’ll even glean little titbits worth knowing – the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ – before employing one!)

So, go on. Take five minutes and dive in. You never know what you might find out about Glasgow’s editors and what we can do for you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Glasgow Editors’ Network  – GEN – is a group of independent professional editors and proofreaders with a wide range of skills and extensive experience.