Thursday, February 26, 2015

Notes on Editing

Last fall I started a certificate in editing at the UW. I've always been interested in editing, and have been a de facto editor for friends and family on everything from websites to resumes to grad school and medical residency application statements.

But working closely with editors as a writer over the past year has cemented my appreciation for editors, and knowing how much I like working with them solidified my wanting to be one.
In copy editing class, we got to learn old-school
editing marks. (This image from here.)
I told a friend that I was taking the certificate program and he said, "Oh cool, so you'll be pretty much catching typos?"

Well, that is of course one part of an editor's job, but just a tiny part. And even little typos can have devastating, expensive consequences. Check out this hilarious article on 10 Very Costly Typos.

There is a lot I want to say about the course and how much I've learned. For now though, there is one thing that stands out to me when it comes to the importance of copyediting: maintaining consistency in a document.

Often there is not one right or wrong way to do something, but rather a conscious choice decision based on designated resources, writer preference, editor decision, house style, or some combination thereof. It's about knowing what to ask up front, and then sticking to the answer. It is deliciously ordered and tidy. I am by no means a neat freak or perfectionist, but that part of me does feel very content in this kind of work. Editing is sort of like getting a really good haircut.

But why does consistency even matter? I'll let an excerpt from a class reading say it better than I could:

If misspellings occur in a book, many readers will be taken aback and are apt to lose faith in the author, even though what he has to say may be brilliant. Incorrect facts, wrongly attributed quotes, and garbled sentences have the same effect.

More obliquely, few readers will notice occasional stylistic inconsistencies: "ax" on page 12, "axe" on page 34; "traveled" on page 17, "travelled" on page 92; "thirty-three sheep" on page 21, "33 people" on page 99. But the sum total of such inconsistencies will give readers an uneasy feeling that something is wrong. They may not be able to pinpoint the irritants, but they are likely to become subconsciously upset- and may lose interest in the book.

(Passage from The Complete Guide to Editorial Freelancing, rev. ed., Carol L. O'Neill and Avima Ruder (Barnes and Noble Books, 1979)

Doesn't that just blow your mind?