Editing Beyond the Rules of Language

“We edit your words, your writing, your sentences and paragraphs… but never your voice.” – ― Rogena Mitchell-Jones

If you are an editor or if your friend is the one, you will often hear them saying, “it is so hard to truly appreciate and enjoy someone’s writing, as the editor in me takes over and I start reviewing.” When we read an article simply as a reader, we are more forgiving and accepting towards the writer’s individual sense of writing unless the writing is too complicated to comprehend.

Let me draw your attention to a very simple differentiation between a reader and an editor. When we are reading an article, our concentration is more towards understanding the article. It’s only when we find it hard to follow the text written that we start reading and re-reading the text until we find the possible loophole. Whereas, an editor from the first word of the article would scrutinise the article to check how effectively it has been written. To tell you in simple words, we all enjoy morning sun as bright and warm; although every day the sun is different – its warmth and brightness is different – but we appreciate the sun every day. However, when the weather people (meteorologists) look at the sun, they see the difference. They are able to differentiate which day the sun was brighter or which day the warmth was more.

It’s not wrong on the editor’s part to scrutinise the article as it is not wrong on the part of weather people to measure the warmth of the sun. They are simply trying to look a bit deeper to understand what’s beneath the surface. Their review/analysis helps us in deriving points or data that can be used to enhance the writing skills of the writers or to better assess the weather.

“The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.” ― Michael Lee

It’s not easy to give feedback to someone on their writing – mainly for two reasons – 1. Writing is very personal and 2. Each writing bears the individual signature of the writer. Therefore, many a times, commenting on anyone’s writing may be akin to commenting on that person’s dressing sense, which again could be very personal and individualistic.

In this article, I will touch upon two points any reviewer/editor should consider even before considering to apply the rules of language or grammar.

Read it first as it is and not as it should be

We are used to writing, talking and understanding a language in a certain way.  As an editor or reviewer, you should first try to get used to the writer’s style of writing and thinking. Many language reviewers tend to force their style on other person’s writing and it’s not deliberate. For example, if I am used to forming the sentences a particular way and when I read the phrase, “By when will you be arriving tonight”, I would find it hard to go beyond these words without commenting and correcting them as “What time you will be back tonight.” Many language rules may agree with me but what the writer has written can be understood clearly and there are bright chances that the style of the writer goes very well with the entire “personality” of the document. Sometimes, in our pursuit to correct the language, we pull the language out of its roots and make it the User Manual.

Try to get the central idea of the document before reviewing line by line

Many editors make this mistake of starting their review as soon as they open the document. As a best practice, try to get the central idea of the document from the writer in a separate mail or in the beginning of the document. In case, approaching the writer is not possible, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the document. Through this document, you are meeting the writer face to face. While giving cursory look to the document and trying to relate with the writer, you will be surprised to realise how close you are getting to know the person who has written it. Many seasoned readers and editors gradually develop this knack of accurately assessing the age, gender, and experience of the writer just by looking at the document written by them. And once you know the writer, reviewing their document become much easier and more enjoyable.

Please note that the mention of ‘editor’ in this blog is more in the sphere of technical writing/instructional designing.

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