Monday, September 28, 2009

Don't Hold Back

The verb "to edit" is a back formation from "editor". Editing is what an editor does. Merriam-Webster offers "to prepare (as literary material) for publication or public presentation" as the primary sense. Senses that suggest making changes to a text ("to assemble by cutting or rearranging" or "to alter, adapt, or refine") are listed afterwards. The word "editor", meanwhile, comes from the Latin e ditus, meaning "to put foward". Let this remind you that editing is not merely a matter of moving words around on a page. It is the act of putting them forward.

You put words forward to a particular end and in a particular context. It is impossible to edit a text for publication "as such". You must decide where you want to put your ideas forward and why you want to do so. What effect do you want to have? What are you trying to say? And to whom are you trying to say it? In academic writing, both of these questions can be answered concretely. Your literature review, for example, should tell you who is interested in your ideas. Your after-the-fact outline and your abstract can help you to identify your main points.

Editing gives your text direction. And that direction, like I say, is forward. When editing, then, you are reading your text to discover what is holding it back. What makes it unpublishable? What makes it unsuitable for public presentation. Errors of spelling, punctuation, and basic grammar are certainly among the things you are looking for. But those are only minimal barriers to publication. When editing you are not just trying to get your ideas out of your own office; you are trying to get them into the ongoing research of your peers.

No comments: