I’ve just finished a long editing assignment and I’m exhausted. That’s because I’m a pedant and I can’t stop myself obsessing over every punctuation mark. By the time I finally reached the end, I was pretty much commatose. There’s a red wiggly line under the last word in that sentence, of course, and if I don’t pay attention, it will be autocorrected and my play on the word “comatose” will be lost. These days, not only do writers and editors need to deal with changing styles, we also have to contend with computers having the temerity to second-guess us as we work.
Welcome to the world of editing and proofreading. I have been working in these areas as a member of the ESRAmagazine Editorial Board for many years. The magazine is part house magazine, with its reporting on ESRA activities, and part general interest. Merle Guttmann, the editor-in-chief, rightly wants the editing to reflect this combination and our brief is to keep to the individual style and “voice” of the writers.
That said, grammar still has to be correct, and articles must engage the reader. If I have drifted off in the middle of a 2,500-word submission during the initial read at our editorial meeting, the chances are that the article won’t keep the readers’ attention. When it comes to writing articles, less is almost always more. A useful writing and editing tip is to read the articles aloud. You will often catch a typo this way, and hear if the words don’t sound right as you read.
Several Editorial Board members are writers as well, myself included. While I am attached to every word - and every comma - that I have spent untold hours perfecting, I have to accept changes that editors might make to the final article. Sometimes the changes are simply because of the limited space available, and that’s fair enough. I’m much more irritated by editors who think they know everything and insist on changing words they assume the writer must have spelt incorrectly. My work once appeared under the byline “Marion Lebor”; that particular editor obviously deciding that I didn’t know how to spell my own name.
There are grammar rules which are, or should be, sacrosanct. But emails, Facebook and Twitter encourage people to express thoughts and ideas in short, sharp bursts with random words CAPITALIZED for GREATER EFFECT and exclamation marks (my greatest bugbear) appearing all over the place, and sometimes used LIBERALLY!!!! As for emoticons, is it only a matter of time before we see a simple :-) replacing carefully thought-out words expressing happiness in feature articles? Perish the thought! (Sometimes you really do need an exclamation mark.)
Since less is more, I’ll end now by saying how much I enjoy being a part of the team that reads through the array of articles that are submitted to ESRAmagazine. I look forward to helping produce the next 200 issues ;-).