Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Clean Text

From now until Christmas I'm going to try to write only about matters of style and grammar. That is, I'm going to blog as a copy-editor.

Editing is probably the most rewarding and most difficult thing I do. It is especially rewarding when I am given a text (as I often am, thankfully), that the author has carefully edited, even proofread, first. This allows me to tackle substantive questions of style and argumentation, rather than superficial questions of spelling and punctuation (often resulting from typos). It is a common misconception that the more unfinished a text is the more open it is to "suggestions". In a sense, that is true, but the openness is ultimately empty. A text needs to offer real resistance to the suggestions of an editor; it needs to push back against the editor's intuitions. There needs to be some friction, and if both the editor and the author understand this from the beginning, the process of improving the text can be truly gratifying—for both parties.

Grammar Girl has a nice post on proofreading that offers some standard advice. I think the most important thing to do (which is unfortunately probably quite rare) is to read your text out loud once or twice before giving it to your editor. This not only helps you to find typos, it also gives you access to the flow and rhythm of your text. You are forced to pay attention to it as prose, one word at a time.

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