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Jennifer Borgioli Binis

Book Review: The Art of Academic Editing

Illustration of one person sitting on a stack of oversized books while another walks along the top of an oversized book. Gears, a light bulb and a globe appear in the background.

People find their way to developmental editing down any number of paths, and mine was paved by years as a professional development provider for K–12 teachers. I worked for a small consulting firm, and we regularly met to compare notes and collaborate. Over the years, we developed protocols, rules of thumb and even sentence starters for negotiating the trickiest of feedback situations. 

When I stepped away to become a full-time freelance editor and fact-checker for those writing about education, I carried those skills with me. But, alas, my team wasn’t as fungible.

Finding a new team

Cara M. Jordan and Leslie Castro-Woodhouse, the editors of The Art of Academic Editing: A Guide for Authors and Editors, have assembled a group of freelancers that acts as a proxy team supporting your academic editing skills. 

Each chapter is structured as a conversation between the author-editor and the reader. This approach provides enough breathing room for each author-editor to answer questions that editors have at all stages while demonstrating the skills and habits they’ve developed through experience.

As a writer, I appreciated that every chapter ended with the question, Do you have any caveats or words of advice? This allowed each author-editor a chance to share their unique expertise and speak to an as-yet-unaddressed aspect of their work. 

As a reader, I was struck by the way the editors made sure each author-editor used plain language and clarified terms when needed. I especially valued this in Maria Snyder’s chapter on editing for international authors, a topic that was new to me. 

Refining the art of academic editing

Jordan and Castro-Woodhouse have also provided a collection of resources, including, much to my delight, a glossary. One of the tensions in K–12 education and academia writ large is the lack of systemic formalized vocabulary. The Art of Academic Editing let me feel that particular relief of realizing my understanding of a word matched the definition they provided. It also closed a gap in my background knowledge regarding the different kinds of university presses. 

I appreciated how each chapter starts with the big ideas of academic editing and then explores the smaller, more mundane, details of doing the work. The level of fine-grained detail offers value to editors all along the professional continuum. 

Key takeaways

Caroline Malloy’s chapter on book coaching and Nancy Burkhalter’s chapter on editing for graduate students have different starting points, but both speak to the interpersonal dynamics of working with academics and considering how their needs are different from non-fiction authors in general. 

When I talk with my clients about cycles of editing, I use the analogy of boulders, rocks and pebbles. Leslie Castro-Woodhouse’s overview chapter on developmental editing, Pamela Haag’s chapter on online editing and Elizabeth Stern’s on copy editing fit well with my mental model. Tess Rankin’s chapter on proofreading helped me think about extending my analogy to include sand, the final polishing stage. 

Finally, I’ve studiously avoided indexing, but Cameron Duder’s chapter helped me see indexing as a useful part of the editorial process. I’d been thinking of it as something done after the client and I parted ways, but I will likely start recommending that my clients think about their index earlier in the writing. 

Learning from the authors

The Academic Editing special interest group (AE Chapter) is hosting a book club meeting and Q&A with co-editors Cara Jordan and Leslie Castro-Woodhouse on June 7, 2024 at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET. Book club meetings, like all the AE Chapter events, are free to join; anyone can RSVP to get the Zoom URL. I’m looking forward to asking about the process of writing a book about academic editing with a group of academic editors, as well as hearing their thoughts about gathering together this particular collection of talented editors and writers. 

When I look at my bookcase, I see several resources on the work of being a developmental editor. I’ve cracked the spine of handbooks about managing finances, networking and the philosophy — or subversion — of editing. And they’ve all been helpful in terms of the science, as it were, of the work. 

What makes The Art of Academic Editing: A Guide for Authors and Editors a powerful entry into the library of professional development resources is that it’s centred on the art and the specifics, of helping academics put their best words out into the world. 

Being a freelancer can be lonely, but books like this — and the AE Chapter’s upcoming book club Q&A — give us an opportunity to grow our community as we help our clients contribute to theirs.


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