During my post-graduate days, when I was interning at a leading daily, I got my first shot at editing. The articles were teleprinter printouts coming in from news agencies. Senior editors would choose a few small articles that they found interesting enough to appear in the paper and give them to us for ‘editing’. What I was doing then was more of proof reading! We used our pens. # in those days meant insert a space between words. Inserting a period (full stop) had its own symbol ʘ. And a simple underline in dashes meant ‘stet’ — ignore the correction and let it stand.
Today, as I edit WPs (Whitepapers) and PoVs (Point of Views) for a leading software company, I realize that the tools of editing have changed with technology. Our documents are now in soft copies, and our proof reading and editing are done with clicks — typing on corrections with ‘track changes’ enabled and putting in ‘comments’… However, I notice that over the years the basic role of editing has remained the same — check and prepare a document for others to read.
The basic function of an editor therefore, is to see if an article communicates to the reader, what it sets out to say, in clear, unambiguous language. A read through of the entire document in the beginning gives the editor an overall understanding of the entire contents and the flow. This is especially important for long and/or technical papers.
Then comes the nitty gritty of editing — the job of scrutinizing (not just reading) to check for errors. Errors may be basic language errors, non-compliance with a set of standards, or even factual errors. A list of things to look out for would include:
- Content: Does the document deliver what is promised in the headline? Check if it gives right at the start, a clear summary of what follows. This will be the factor that will help readers decide whether to continue/stop reading the document.Ensure that the document flows well, progressing logically without jumping. The conclusion should sum up the document and offer a solution/comprehensive statement based on the content of the paper.
- Tone: Is the tone of the document right for the target audience and consistent? Check that the document is not over-explaining or ‘talking down’ to the target audience. For instance, if there are technical terms in a document meant for persons with the technical know how, there is no need to explain certain abbreviations/complex terms. However, if the document is meant for general consumption, like blogs or marketing communication, the document will have to expand/explain technical terms.
- Spelling: Is the document going to use UK or US spelling?
- Grammar: Is the entire document right grammatically? Under this, check for swings in voice, tense, pronoun use. Check use of punctuation, symbols, parentheses, abbreviations, and other elements.
- Typography: Are the fonts consistent in style and size? Any spacing errors? Unnecessary capitalization?
- Structure: Is the structure of the document clearly defined and consistent? Is the document in its entirety consistent with similar communications from the same source? Check if the presentation of the entire document and its components (text, headlines and subheads, figures, captions, highlights boxes, tables etc.) are alike in presentation across the document, and across similar documents from the source organization.Corporates now have style guidelines for their communications.Ensure that the document complies with all these guidelines and put in comments, if any, for the design team.
- Veracity and Originality: Are the statements made by the document true? Original?What would have been decisions of a senior editor then are now front-level editing requisites. Run a quick check online to check if figures stated/words quoted are true. Also, check for copyright violations. Plagiarism has erupted along with the explosion of online content. If in doubt, flag the same for the author to confirm and the organization to decide whether to keep/discard.
- All done: Is the document ready to go? Run through the document one last time and check that all doubtful areas are flagged for review,and all the changes that have been made actually help the text convey the intended meaning – clearly and concisely. If there is a contents page, take care to ensure that changes made to the text are reflected there.
Once these are elements are checked, the work of an editor is done. Happy reading everyone!