Advice for Editors: Starting Out or Upping Your Game
Editors have a long tradition of mentoring and sharing advice among colleagues, including those starting out (a.k.a. “newbies”). I suggest the following for editors who are starting out or those wanting to improve their skills or business. (For other advice by subject, such as for editing visuals, please see my other blogs.)
- Join a professional organization (or two) in your region and/or specialty, and figure out how to get the most out of your membership. This means finding out all that is offered to you and giving back, which is a sure way to show off your skills, make connections, and learn new skills. In my case, I choose to focus on two organizations: Editors Canada and PLAIN. I volunteer for Editors Canada and a federal government plain language committee.
- Join the editing groups on Facebook that are frequented by professionals (and I might see you there) to lurk, learn, and contribute in a business-like, professional manner. In general, do at least basic research before posting a question. For context, note your location or those of the target readers (because these are international groups, and English and editing vary around the world). Play nice and behave professionally at all times.
- Read up on your subject and any specialty (through your public library and online, and with purchased materials). For example, the Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base (created by Katharine O’Moore-Klopf of KOK Editing) and the Editing Podcast (by Louise Harnby and Denise Cowle) are both great online resources that are free.
- Be prepared to invest in key tools and references that you will use regularly in your business. For example, a laptop computer, key dictionaries and style guides (such as the Chicago Manual of Style, as an online subscription or in print form), and the industry standard computer program (Microsoft Word) are minimum starting points. (Editors who are working and learning on staff, as employees, are the only exception as their employers will provide tools and references.)
- Contribute to the community, thank others, and give credit where it is due. An example of this is noting your sources on a style sheet or when referring to a lesson learned by and from a colleague.
Once you gather all your resources, get ready for ongoing professional development. I mean lifelong learning. Formal training (whether in a certificate or degree program, such as at Simon Fraser University or Centennial College) and formal workshops and seminars along the way (for example, from Editors Canada, ACES, or CIEP) are grand, but learning on the job from experienced colleagues and mentors, from precedents, and using industrial standards and best practices will help an editor become professional, knowledgeable, confident, and flexible. Everyone benefits from such editors—readers, authors, clients, employers, coworkers, colleagues, and the editors themselves. And these editors thrive.
Plain Language & Clear Communications Resources—Updated 2021
In 2015, I wrote about re-energizing my interest in and focus on plain language & clear communications. This is still true: I love this work.
For fellow writers and editors, here are some of the resources I find useful. I will add to this list and tweak it regularly. And if you have any suggestions, please contact me with them. Thanks!
- Plain Language Association International (PLAIN) http://plainlanguagenetwork.org
- the definition for plain language from the International Plain Language Federation, as quoted at <https://plainlanguagenetwork.org/plain-language/what-is-plain-language/> : A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.
- Oxford Guide to Plain English, by Martin Cutts—now in the 2020, 5th edition
- about upcoming ISO standards for plain language: <https://www.iso.org/news/ref2566.html>
- Plain Language in Plain English, edited by Cheryl Stephens and other work by Cheryl Stephens
- Plain Language: Clear and Simple, a Canadian government publication now available via Iva Cheung’s blog < http://www.ivacheung.com/2014/03/plain-language-clear-and-simple/>
- How to Write Clearly, available as a pdf from the European Commission at < http://ec.europa.eu/translation/writing/clear_writing/how_to_write_clearly_en.pdf>
- Claire’s Clear Writing Tips—an expansion on the above, also available as a pdf from the European Commission at <https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/clear_writing_tips_en.pdf>
- United States government plainlanguage.gov “Checklists and handouts” listing at <https://www.plainlanguage.gov/resources/checklists/>
Editing Tables: How-To Steps, Troubleshooting, and Tips
A well-edited table can add a lot to many publications, but editing tabular materials can be labour-intensive and frustrating. What I’ve learned is to look at the big picture, drill down into the details, then review against the context, and finally review against like elements. Here are some steps, trouble spots to watch for, and tips—for fellow editors and for authors (because authors sometimes wonder what the heck is happening and why):
- First skim the content to get an overview. What does the table present? Does the title of the table match the content of the table? Is any heading ambiguous? Does any content raise questions? Is the content of any cell incongruous? (For example, do all columns have numbers 0 to 99 except the third last, which has text?)
- What style for tables is to be applied? Whether you are working with the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition), another established style, or creating your own, see how table titles, any table numbers, column heads (headings over each column), stub entries (in the stub or lefthand column, the entries for each row), columns, and rows are to be styled. Are there any spanner heads (headings that span 2 or more columns—also called decked heads)? Should the headings be sentence style (initial capital, as though for a sentence)? Within columns, should the cell contents be flush left, centred, or aligned on the decimal? If there is a unit of measurement (e.g., $ or %), is it given for each cell or given in the column head?
- Drill down into the details. Does the table add up? If there’s math involved, do the math. Check it again. If there are percentages, should the columns or rows add up to 100%? Do they? If there are totals, are they correct? If numbers are rounded, has that been noted? If the tabular material is not numerical, does the content make sense within the table? Is the meaning clear? Is it consistently presented?
- Are explanatory notes required below the table? Will the readership understand all the terms given? What style for notes is required—for example, superscript a, b, c, or asterisk, dagger, etc.?
- Is there a source given for the content and if not, should there be? Note also, if a source is given whether permission has been gained, if the material is adapted, and so on.
- Is the material focused and organized in a logical fashion? Does the table show only the subject described in the title or does it add extra information from a larger source table? For example, a table title is “Life expectancy for selected countries.” Does the table give this data only or did the author inadvertently add infant mortality rates as well? Are the selected countries organized by highest expectancy to lowest, alphabetical by country name, or grouped by continent? What organization does the author intend? What serves the reader?
- Review the content against the context. How does it relate to the text content nearby? Should the table appear where it does? Is it summarized or referred to in the text nearby and should it be? If it is summarized, does the summary match the table? Are the references to this table correct? For example, the data was updated recently, but does the text give the new year for the data and reflect the changed data?
- How does this table compare with others in the publication? In one additional pass, check the style and content of all like elements. It’s the easiest way to catch inconsistencies and overlap. For example, do the titles in Chapter 1 tables give as much information as those in Chapter 2? If there are two or more authors, have they unknowingly inserted the same (or similar) data in two different chapters?