You’ve got to the end of the writing and refining. You’ve read it a thousand times and you’re certain you’ve caught every last typo. You’re almost certain. You’re fairly certain. The truth is you don’t know anymore and you’re probably the last person to make that decision.
Here’s a thought before we get into editing. Writing and editing are two different skills. Writing is creative; editing is analytical. That means you should not try to edit as you write. Just get the words down.
When the writing stage draws to end, it’s time to review, edit, proofread … whatever you want to call it. Here are my tips to help you correct, tidy, refine, move and hone your work and have your readers saying, ‘Wow! That was easy to read!’
Before we look more closely at some techniques, here’s a question.
Not proofreading can very quickly diminish your credibility and professionalism.
Proofreading gives you the confidence that your writing achieves its purpose.
Proofreading ensures that you’ve actually written what you meant to write.
Proofreading ensures your message / call to action is clearly expressed.
Did you know that professional writers spend more time editing and reviewing than they do actually writing?
But where to start? The editing process requires you to take off your writer’s hat and don your editor’s hat; to be objective about how you’ve presented your information.
Give your brain some space.
Once you’ve done all you feel you can with your writing, put your work to one side. Take up another task.
Don’t be like a terrier worrying over a bone.
It’s important to give your amazing brain time and space to ‘think’, re-order, come up with better words or constructions—all without your conscious help.
If you find ideas popping into your thoughts, try to capture them. We’ve all experienced coming up with that perfect rewording, and then lost it because we didn’t record it.
Incorporate those new ideas into your writing – and refine the sentences around it.
Trick your brain into thinking it’s never seen this before.
Print your document. Without all those spell- and grammar-check squiggles, you’ll actually see what is there. You’ll pick up that you’ve really written ‘out’ when you meant ‘our’; spell-check would not recognise it as a mistake.
Show it differently on your screen. Change to Read Mode or Multiple Pages (View menu); change the Page Colour (Design menu); change to a different font or font size (Home menu). And remember to change back to the original when you’ve finished.
See it. Hear it.
By using both auditory and visual senses, you’ll hear those awkward constructions, or realise that you’ve actually written ‘is’ rather than ‘it’. It helps you to see what is really there, not what you think you’ve written.
You’ll be more aware of its logical flow, the transitions between paragraphs or topics, and its rhythm.
And if you need to take a breath before you reach the end of a sentence, it would probably benefit from being turned into two shorter sentences.
Listen to an outsider’s comments.
Ask a trusted colleague (preferably one that’s not been involved in the writing) or outsider. They will be able to tell you if they can understand what you’ve written, and how easy it is to read.
Tip: Ask them to tell you what it’s about, what you want them to do.
Call in the pros.
No matter the size of your document, we editors and proofreaders love to bring out the very best in your writing – and it will still sound like you.
Remember: small mistakes, such as misplaced apostrophes, can have a disproportionate effect on your readers’ impression of your work.
Next up – What do you look for when you’re editing?
It was not because I didn’t want to take the client on – sometimes I’ve kicked myself because the job was right up my street. It also wasn’t due to a full calendar. It was because the timescale was so ridiculously short I wouldn’t have had time to do the job needed.
Proofreading, editing or indexing a document isn’t done by a computer program, it’s carried out by an actual human being. Asking a professional to carry out some work on a book assumes a couple of things:
The professional has enough time to read through the document
The professional has enough time to digest what has been written
The professional has enough time to carry out the task at hand.
Take for example a straightforward proofread (not an edit) of a 100,000 word document:
“Women in Quiet Study,” 1850–1920 (approximate). Courtesy of Boston Public Library on Flickr.
About a year ago, I was at a networking event when I was approached by a middle-aged man wearing a black sport coat over a lightweight periwinkle sweater. He was holding a glass of red wine in one hand, and the word “author” was written in blue Sharpie underneath the neatly printed name on his name tag. My name tag didn’t sport the word “editor,” so for the moment I was free to learn more about him before divulging my career.
We shook hands and exchanged small talk for a moment before I asked him what he was currently writing. He responded, “Oh, I’ve been working on my second novel. It’s part of a fantasy trilogy that I’ve been writing for the last few years.” I asked him about his first book and discovered that he had…
This especially quick tutorial is to clarify a single apostrophe usage that often confuses writers.
In manuscripts—and even in print—I frequently see the following:
Let’s go to the Molloy’s house.
Grammatically, this means:
Let’s go to the house of the Molloy.
Now, perhaps there is a big burly guy out there who is referred to as ‘the Molloy’, as in ‘Give that burrito to the Molloy before he chews someone’s arm.’ In that case, the above would be correct. But what the writer usually means is:
Let’s go to the Molloys’ house.
Let’s go to the house of the Molloys. [a couple, or a family, or the three banjo-playing Molloy sisters]
If, on the other hand, the writer is referring to a particular Molloy:
Let’s go to the house of Molloy. [e.g. Joe Molloy]
then it would be:
Let’s go to Molloy’s house. [singular Molloy; no definite article]
Institute of Professional Editors (Australia) conference, April 2013
Living in Queensland all my life, I’d not been to Fremantle (Western Australia) before this conference. And what a beautiful place it is – definitely a place to revisit and explore.
This is the report I wrote for Offpress, the Queensland Society of Editors’ newsletter.
As I reflected on my conference experience, it wasn’t so much the content of the sessions that stood out. Rather it was a deepening of my respect for our profession, our editing elders, our language.
I had the privilege of listening to and speaking with some of those who have contributed so much to IPEd over so many years. Despite their long years of volunteering to create IPEd and the accreditation program, they remain committed to our profession, its growth, its future, its promotion. As a member of the Accreditation Board, I want to respect and honour them by making sure we give editors the best way to grow professionally – and by ensuring that we’re not undoing any of our predecessors’ wise decisions.
Keynote speakers, RolySussex, Nury Vittachi and Don Watson so brilliantly and entertainingly reminded us of how language is changing, and challenged us, as editors, to remain the ‘guardians of our language’. As Don Watson said, ‘Our brains are suffocated by today’s careless language’, so we need to help writers achieve clear writing.
Carmen Lawrence, in her keynote address, and Bev Port-Lewis, in her welcome to country speech, highlighted our connection to and respect for place. Whether that be a geographical place or an intellectual place, our sense of wholeness and our ability to move forward are damaged when we lose those contacts.
I felt almost discombobulated as I listened to those who spoke about the future of digital publishing, and who, implicitly, honoured the pioneers of the medium. And declared that there are still many opportunities for pioneers and innovators.
As for this ‘digital (r)evolution’, as Dr Agata Mrva-Montoya so elegantly describes these times of ever-changing computer technologies, just what did I learn? While I will always love reading the traditional way, and will always cherish my experiences with hold-in-my-hand books, I am excited about the possibilities offered by digital publishing.
Selena Hanet-Hutchins described the journey of ‘the book’ from marks on the ground to tell stories, to boxing stories up in a book; and how a communal exercise became a solitary activity. And now the digital age, with its possibilities for community to once again participate in story-telling.
She contends that traditional publishing focuses on retail results, where the reader is largely overlooked. Digital publishing considers readers, and welcomes feedback and interactivity. Traditional publishing plans the workflow, from the author’s concept to publication, as a straight line, with little input from readers. However, the relationships and workflows in the digital arena are far more convoluted.
Readers will increasingly become part of the workflow – and more than just Kindle or Kobo comments. We can expect to see interactions between publisher, writer, reader, marketing and social media. ‘Just like we “mash up” music, so we will “mash up” books’, Selena suggested, and described The People’s E-book software, where you can drag and drop pages to your art book.
As editors, our role in these emerging formats will include coaching writers, helping them keep their expectations realistic, and rebriefing them throughout the process. We will learn to value individuals above processes and tools. As serialisation and subscription models evolve, we will find ourselves having to edit ‘chunks’ of text, rather than the full manuscript.
Dr Angelo Loukakis, from Australian Society of Authors, asked ‘How will the rise of digital and self-publishing affect the quality of publications and reading ability?’ What a big question! Angelo assured us that ASA promotes editing as a vital part of their process, and described two of their services: manuscript development and editor-driven mentorships.
His statement that ‘editing is a craft and a human service’ is a great reminder of our editorial role.
Jasmine Leong, editor of CSIRO’s Double Helix publications, described some of the challenges she and her team meet as they bring science and maths to young people. How do you speak to children without patronising them, yet without presenting concepts that are too complex? How do they enthuse children about science topics other than animals and space? She reminded us that, although the publications are for children, the readership is much broader – parents enjoy the magazines, and teachers value the professional currency of the information.
For me, her question, ‘How can content be repurposed (making information available on many platforms)?’ raised further questions about how we, as editors, need to adapt to the requirements of these differing platforms, and how we need to help writers understand and modify their approach or style.
Staying within the digital flavour, (not surprisingly) I attended Dr Katy Mc Devitt’ssession about editors who blog. Katy recommended The Proofreaders Parlour and Chapter 3 of Yahoo! style guide: defining and developing your voice, and reminded us that we need to give our readers a reason to contact us. I was quite chuffed that Katy shared my comment that ‘not all editors are cardigan-wearing, tea-sipping, introverted pedants’, especially when it did the Twitter rounds.
As I’d been unable to attend the freelancers’ workshops, I enjoyed the Q&A session that replaced a session whose speaker was unable to speak. Some interesting questions were raised: what do I call myself? (‘editorial consultant’ as Sarah Fletcher prefers), and what does my email signature say about me? (Patrick Horneman encouraged us to use an international phone number – OK, I don’t have overseas clients just yet, but what’s wrong with suggesting that is a possibility?) Panel members reminded us of the necessity of dealing with the decision maker when setting up a project. Patrick spoke briefly about income protection and public liability insurance – yes, we should have them.
Pam Peters highlighted the importance of editors being able to ‘edit for readers anywhere and everywhere, without disengaging them’. We need to consider geographical, stylistic, age and gender preferences, as well as variations in spelling, capitalisation, word and sentence punctuation, grammar, vocabulary and collocation. She recommended the Macquarie–Australian Broadcasting Commission project Australian Word Map as an essential reference.
Our profession is alive and well, an exciting one, full of potential (regardless of the publishing mechanisms), one that will always add that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the written word.