Friday, July 25, 2014

Who needs an editor?

Or: how your friendly local editor can help you!

While this blog is mostly an online recipe collection, from time to time I feel the urge to write about something else. Today it is editing. Why? Because I work as an editor, and have felt a little overwhelmed by the number of language errors and typos I've spotted in books and on signs lately. There's no need to be afraid of editors. Most of us are gentle, friendly souls who just want to help others communicate more effectively. Someone once described editors as ‘invisible menders’, and that describes my role quite well.

So, why do I have a bee in my bonnet?

It’s been a long time since I've read a book from cover to cover without spotting any mistakes. Sometimes I notice inconsistencies (e.g. a word or character name written in two different ways, or with and without a hyphen), sometimes it is typos or transposed characters, or weird mixtures of past, present, future and conditional tenses. Sometimes there are inconsistencies in the story or narrative. For example, my partner recently bought a book about the construction of a major rail line, and the text darted back and forth between saying it hadn't been completed yet and saying it had. There had been multiple editions of the book, and it seems nobody checked whether material brought forward from previous editions was still correct. In another example, we read a book where the author appeared to have done a global 'find and replace' process where certain letter combinations occurred, resulting in absolute nonsense. Clearly no human eyes had read through the book between writing and publication.

Types of editing

 Substantive editing – concentrates on the content, structure, language and style of a document
– Copyediting – removes mistakes, inconsistencies, ambiguities and possible embarrassments from a document (most of my work tends to fall into this category)
– Proofreading – final checking and correction procedures before a document is signed off for publication.

Things a copyeditor might look out for

– Layout
– Punctuation
– Forms of words (e.g. with or without spaces or hyphens)
– Capitalisation
– Spelling (in accordance with agreed version of English, or publication’s style requirements)
– Typos. 

These types of errors are my bread and butter! You wouldn't believe how often I see them …

chaise longue/lounge

... and of course, apostrophes in plurals and scare quotes.

Ahhh, scare quotes!

How to get the most out of your editor

– Allow enough time for the task
Factor editing into projects from the start, rather than as an afterthought
– Be clear about what you need … a quick check for typos, or more thorough grammar and fact checking?
– If there are rules your document needs to follow, let the editor know. For example, does the publisher have a style sheet or guide? What version of English is required?

So … who needs an editor?

Anyone who publishes. Whether you’re writing a novel or a thesis, a journal paper or a restaurant menu, a museum sign or a sandwich board, it is a good idea to ask someone else to read through your material to check it makes sense and point out any embarrassing bloopers. It is also a good idea to use an actual editor rather than just a pedantic friend. Qualified editors tend to have tools and checklists they can use to ensure fewer errors make it into print. We're also remarkably good value. My hourly rate is about half as much as I pay my electrician or car mechanic, and about one-sixth what I pay my dentist! Don't think of editing as an additional expense. Think of it as an investment in making your book, thesis, report or website a pleasure to read.

Sign-writers need editors too ...

Parking for David Tennant, perhaps? Oh, they mean tenants

Such a professional looking sign. What a shame no-one ran it past someone who could spell

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