Text editing? What for? What does it even mean? Isn’t it what proofreaders do? These are questions the publisher can expect from the author. Whether it’s an article about the Viking conquest or advise for serama chicken breeders, there is one rule of thumb: although both the author and the proofreader are crucial links in the text creation process, they are not the only one.
Whenever you read something you hardly ever wonder why the text is comprehensible and interesting. Even if you do, you probably just praise the author for his or her writing skills. I have no intention to derogate the latter’s artistry as a writer, but we tend to forget (or even fail to realize) about the long way the text has made before becoming this piece of jewel. It had to go through the editor’s hands first. What did the editor had to go through?
Editor as a carver
We publish a magazine. The authors send in their texts. We don’t know what to expect, some of them are better, other… well. Like a carver we reach for a chisel (usually in the form of Word) and we trim the bulk, giving it its initial shape. We verify, check relevancy, separate chaff from the grain, i.e. irrelevant information and repeated content. We choose a catchy beginning, extract the most important information, put it into a logical whole. We introduce a layout that is reader-friendly. As a result we get: the title, lead, subheadings, frames, subtitles. The bulk is ready for further processing.
Editor as an analyst
At the same time, we need to be able to estimate whether the text is interesting enough to keep the readers’ attention. Will they understand it? For this reason we need to know who those readers are. If they’re lawyers, financiers or engineers – we can use technical language without fear nobody will understand it. But what if we’re publishing for average mr. Smith? We musn’t treat him with a portion of incomprehensible terminology, complicated comparisons and meaningless paragraphs. The message must be clear and simple, because hermetic language would bring more loss than benefits. And all this time we have to think about making the text magnetic and memorable. For this, we use the infographic – a potent weapon in the fight for message clarity.
Editor as an advisor
We share our observations and ideas with the client. Together we decide what’s worth changing or supplementing. We talk and listen. We share our experience. We advise. If the magazine is intended for employees, our goal is to make them identify with the company they work at. For this reason we need to use a wider perspective, instead of looking solely at the text.
Editor as a bridge
Text editing is not the end of our work, we need to take care of the layout too. We cooperate with the graphic designer. We forward what the client said, discuss about the text, point to the most crucial issues. The result is a piece that we still need to examine carefully and analyze in details. We address the client’s remarks. And we’re slowly getting to the point where another expert can step in.
The proofreader’s function is extremely important (and I can’t see why it is underestimated nowadays). As editors we are fully aware of it, so we try to prepare the text to proofreading as best as we can. Editor and proofreader are an inseparable duet, we have much in common, so we need to understand each other very well. One of my colleagues has already covered the subject of proofreader’s responsibility and how tricky this role can be in the article Proofreader’s fate.