Eye for Editing: Caught Between Two Edits

by Paula Robertson on 11 June 2014

I apologize for my recent hiatus from blogging about editing! But I assure you, I’ve not taken a hiatus from editing.

The week after the Summit, I found myself in an interesting position. I have a freelance client for which I do editing exclusively. I also have a full-time contract gig where my job descriptors are writer, editor, designer, trainer, developer, project manager… But primarily, my deliverables are original content as a writer and editorial reviews of the original content of my writer-peers on a team of 2.5 persons.

In my evening hours that week, I worked on the freelance client’s latest requirements for content editing. This client is an education nonprofit that develops K–12 curricula in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Perhaps you’ve heard of STEM lately? Because of STEM’s obvious importance to U.S. students, who will in turn determine the future of our national economy, I am proud to be associated with the front-runner in STEM education, Project Lead The Way (PLTW).

As I reviewed the content they submitted to provide my best suggestions for improvement based on the target audience and purpose, I experienced the sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that is common when I do this type of work. No secret here. I just plain enjoy editing. It’s fun! Especially when I know I’m making a positive difference.

By contrast, in my day job, I finally broached the handwritten comments that my team lead had given me for a section I’d been assigned to write. When I first saw the markup before the Summit, I was immediately put off by the look of it. Indeed I put off reading it until several days after I was back at work. One comment that I took particular exception to seemed to challenge the fact that I had incorporated content that we, as a team, had identified for inclusion. “Known issue: xxx does not use YYY software for ZZZ. So why are we including it in our documentation?”

How would you interpret such a comment? Because the markup was specific to content I had worked on, I took it to mean that I had knowingly and stupidly included content that was not valid, never mind that the team had laboriously scoped and defined all topics for inclusion in the draft deliverable. I had adhered to that roadmap. So where was the disconnect?

This comment made it hard even for this seasoned writer/editor to accept the rest of the lead’s comments about the content. Yet, I had to recognize the other, less confrontational comments that sought to steer my sometimes verbose style into conciseness. This second pair of eyes had the time and fresh perspective to consider reorganization of content that I had not had. And the result is likely what often develops from a collaborative effort—two perspectives equal a cohesive whole for the benefit of the target audience.

Still, I had to question that uncomfortable comment. Turns out that it was not directed at me! The unexplained intent was for me to insert it as a comment in the text, so we would make sure to get clarification from the technical reviewers. The fact that the intent was not clear says two things to me.

  • Don’t necessarily take an editor’s comments at face value. Ask for clarification.
  • Though their intentions are genuine, editors don’t always say it that way.

You might say, a good way for an editor to get a refresher on her own skills is to be edited.

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