One project, one editor — that’s the norm in Canada today. Only a few large trade publishers and a small number of government departments still divide editing between structural/stylistic editors and copy editors, while the rapidly dwindling group of educational publishers distinguish between developmental editing and copy editing. Almost all the other publishers, institutions and clients — whether scholarly presses, corporations or self-publishing authors — hire just one editor to do the job. So what that editor delivers is the only editing that manuscript will get.
The fact you’ve been asked to “copy edit” the manuscript usually means nothing at all. That’s the only term most clients use for editing — and it simply means they want you to take charge of editing their documents. They rely on your professional judgment to decide what needs to be done — within the schedule and the budget allowed for the project, of course.
So, to carry on from my last column on this topic, “What Should an Editor Be?”, I’ll now suggest a checklist of the skills every professional editor should have ready to apply as needed to the task at hand. If you don’t feel confident in all areas yourself, enter into a partnership or an association with another editor who complements your strengths and weaknesses. That way, together, you’ll serve your clients well — and enhance the profession of editing.
With due respect to Jim Taylor, who presented the yardstick of Eight-Step Editing more than two decades ago now, I’ve expanded my list to 12 steps in all — to take account of the multiple demands on editors in 2014 and for the immediate future.
Structural (or Substantive) Editing
Think about the overall structure and presentation of the manuscript in terms of its intended purpose and readers:
1/ Are the organization and the presentation appropriate — allowing for the different conventions in genres such as fiction, literary non-fiction, corporate or government documents and academic, legal or medical texts?
2/ Is the title effective and, if there are also chapter titles and headings, do they operate as a matched set?
3/ Does the opening get potential readers’ attention and set the scene as it should?
4/ Is the ending effective and satisfying?
5/ Throughout the manuscript, does the author lead readers through the argument or the plot clearly and, by a well-paced narrative arc, maintain their interest? Is there repetition to eliminate or, turning to what is not there, are there gaps to fill? Would the addition of other elements, such as illustrations, maps, graphs, boxed text or lists, make the text more effective?
As you preserve the author’s tone of voice, make sure that the text is accessible, satisfying and a pleasure to read:
6/ Check that each paragraph or paragraph sequence focuses on one topic and that its length is appropriate for the medium in which it appears — newspaper, magazine, book, report or the web.
7/ Check that sentences are structured clearly, using the active voice for the most part, placing the key words at the beginning and the end and varying effectively in length, type and tone.
8/ Check that the vocabulary is suited to the intended readers — general or expert readers, children or people new to the language, readers seeking information or entertainment, or whoever they may be.
9/ Delete unnecessary words and phrases — repetition, jargon, clichés, offensive phrases, pomposity and verbiage — and when you’ve finished your detailed work, read the text again to check on its rhythm and flow.
Every text should respect the Three Cs – make it clear, correct and consistent:
10/ Make the text clear in its syntax and correct in terms of grammar, punctuation, spelling, parallelism and usage.
11/ Make the text consistent in terms of capitalization, use of numbers and dates, abbreviations, compound words and, if they exist, notes, bibliography, headings, lists, figures, captions and other elements.
All your work will be in vain unless you win the author over to respect your suggestions:
12/ Do excellent work, be flexible, attentive, professional and polite in all your communications, and establish a true partnership with the author in making the published text as good as it can be — within the budget and the time allowed. Remember: the author is the creator and the content specialist; you are the publishing expert.
Please join in the conversation and comment on what you think professional editors right now should have in their skill set. Let’s hear from editors not only in Canada but in other countries too. That’s a dialogue I’d love to hear.
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