Eye for Editing: Do Not Edit …

by Paula Robertson on 26 August 2014

Just because you can. Please, do not mark something for an author to change just to prove your superior knowledge of seldom-used symbols.

You think I’m kidding? Good, because you wouldn’t do something like this, would you? In the throes of final review to meet a draft document deadline, please don’t waste the author’s time—the author who is already stressed and has worked many overtime hours to meet the deadline—by demanding revisions that no one but you will notice. Resist the urge to point out every tiny flaw that presents itself.

Because it’s just not important.

If you recall the work-related scenario that I described in my last post (Eye for Editing: Caught Between Two Edits), this scenario takes editing comments to a new extreme. In a situation last week, among many other things the team lead mentioned during two days of group review sessions, she pointed out that I had used quotation marks instead of inch symbols when I brought content into the master document. I was expected to change them on the spot while she and my colleague watched. Excuse me? How is this minutia the least bit relevant at this point? It’s as if someone was trying to prove something.

I get that when you’re reading through content you haven’t read as a whole before and it’s about to go out the door with your name (the lead’s) on it, the tendency might be to fix everything you find, because you’re afraid you’ll forget it later; the fact that the change in this example is particularly “forgettable” notwithstanding. But really? This request and other similar ones seemed entirely unreasonable and only added to my stress and frustration. Perhaps the editor/lead was so caught up in her own stress of meeting this important deadline that she lost sight of the best way for the team to accomplish it.

I am the first to admit that I struggle with “levels of edit” and knowing where to draw the line between them. Oh, I do have detailed descriptions to distinguish the different levels of edit that I offer to my freelance clients. But in practice, it’s so hard to confine my comments, within my own definition of a copyedit, for example.

Because hey! I have so many insights I can impart to you free of charge, if only you will indulge me! I am guilty of being overly generous with my editing expertise, even when to do so may cause the client or author more work or stress to determine which of my suggestions they actually need to implement to meet their original purpose for my edit.

Whether you edit for freelance clients or for authors within your corporate structure, I suggest that you find a way to allocate your comments into the levels of edit that you’ve defined and deliver only those that align to the immediate requirement. It can be difficult to do. But I believe editors have a responsibility to manage their own enthusiasm for editing.

If you—and the project—can afford the time, mark the heck out of the thing. But then take the time to do triage of your own comments before you deliver them. Providing a brain dump of comments indicates a lack of sensitivity to time management. For future reference, please do record everything you notice, but be sure to categorize them for the current or a later implementation cycle. This kind of restraint is the hallmark of a senior editor, who knows how to wait, who has no need to show superiority in minutia, who knows how to be a team player in the last inning.

When it comes to providing edit comments, especially in critical path mode, manage your enthusiasm and your ego. Document your genuinely superior knowledge for use at a more appropriate time. But exercise restraint in the moment.

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