Week Three: Editing as Process Learning

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Image 1: CMOS Proofreading Marks

In last week’s post, “Week Two: Editing for Evaluation,” I was beginning to think about how to grade editing. I was sure I wouldn’t use red ink. I was sure that traditional Chicago Manual of Style proofreading marks were in order, and I was sure that the feedback needed to be realistic. In other words, I didn’t want the feedback to feel artificial or unlike a real exchange with a senior editor.

The difference, I soon realized, was that the intention in grading for evaluation is to develop the writer, or in this case the aspiring editor, and the intention in editing for publication is to develop the final product. This difference sounds oddly akin to the process vs. product pedagogical debate scholars in rhetoric and composition once had. Yes, I say “had” because it’s in the past and most scholars would agree that developing the writer through process is a more effective approach to teaching.

There’s more than one way to define these pedagogical approaches and The Dartmouth Institute for Writing and Rhetoric’s website compares them well:

“While these distinctions may not hold up under deep scrutiny, they were useful in the early years of Composition Studies as a way of talking not only about what students write, but also about how they write.   James McCrimmon, for instance, understood this distinction as the difference between writing as a way of knowing (process) and writing as a way of telling (product). Donald Murray defined it as the difference between internal and external revision (revising in order to clarify meaning for oneself vs. revising in order to clarify meaning for the reader). Linda Flower framed it as the difference between writer-based and reader-based prose. Though these theorists differ in their definitions of the distinction between process- and product-oriented writing, they do agree on one point: good product depends on good process.”

Rubric categories created by Dr. Carrie Leverenz.

Image 2: Rubric categories created by Dr. Carrie Leverenz.

Going back to the realistic editing scenario I wanted to create for students, I can see now why I felt challenged. Tensions exist between the process-style of teaching I’m used to and the product-style required in editing. I’m still not convinced that grading more like an editor, for the product, is the best way, but I am confident that a combination of traditional copyediting marks and a rubric might be a good solution. Dr. Leverenz has created a rubric for this exercise that focuses on good editorial judgment, error correction, clear editing marks, and clear querying (see Image 2). I was fortunate enough to hear back from Dr. Michael Charlton at Missouri Western State University, the same professor who wrote a course design for a technical editing course, published in Composition Studies Journal, Spring 2013. He shared with me the rubrics he referenced in that design, which were quite detailed and elaborate. I was impressed, but for the purposes of this first editing assignment I think the rubric we have now is a good one with which to start.

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Week Two: Editing for Evaluation

Editing for evaluation, as a phrase, makes for a simple alliteration. As a practice, it’s not so simple.

The first way of editing for evaluation is the intended readership, who evaluates a piece of writing based on how well it’s edited. This is the first audience, the first one that comes to mind for most writers or editors, I imagine. It’s the abstracted audience we’re trying to bring our students closer to, and as Carol Fisher Saller reminds us in The Subversive Copy Editor, our first loyalty is always to the readers (4).

In editing for reader evaluation, the goal is to gain the reader’s trust. Trust of the author’s words comes in part from accuracy of the information presented but also how it’s presented, i.e. enter the presentation’s master of ceremonies, our editor. Correct punctuation, grammar, and even visual consistency in formatting is what she’ll use to establish this trust, presenting the writer as every bit as competent as she or he is when the rules of Standard English haven’t suggested otherwise. Yet, while the editor works most closely with the author to achieve a perfect presentation, the editor is often invisible to readers. This third-party presenter goes unnoticed by most, or at least, that’s the unstated outcome.

I wonder how many readers actually notice an error and linger over it, wondering whether the writer intended it, the editor noticed it, or if a conversation was held in regards to that error. In regards to the last wondering: probably not. I’ve told students in the past that “Readersre lazy…” for lack of a more articulate way of conveying that readers usually don’t invest much time in reading. Fascinating testimony to decreased reading attention online is Farhad Manjoo’s “You Won’t Finish This Article,” which draws on statistics from a recent study on just how far down the page an online reader is willing to go—not to mention the frequency at which a story is shared even though it hasn’t been fully read. The modern audience wants information fast, and if an appears, it probably isn’t going to be pondered. The nature of the error and the editor tied to it won’t be considered. Rather, it will be added to the tally of reasons to trust or not trust what the writer is saying. Save for that residual impression, it is long forgotten.

The second audience evaluating edits is the writer. Considerations of this audience consumed much of our class discussion today as we followed up on the “Characteristics of an Editor” assignment from last week, juxtaposing student observations with an impromptu discussion of the “Characteristics of a Writer.” That conversation related the the two ways of evaluating editing—how the characteristics of both editor and writer needed to be in order to complement one another. A good writer, for example, will be open-minded to feedback, and in turn a good editor will be transparent in her editing. A symbiotic relationship such as this one is ideal, but oftentimes when egos take to the page, the symbiosis becomes problematic. That’s another post entirely, so let’s continue on with our evaluating audiences.

The third audience worth addressing, and the one I’m most interested in at present, is the editor. Editors within a publication interact. Between publications, editors must interact, too, albeit in less direct ways. Today, I’m concerned with the editors in our class. When it comes time for them to be evaluated by us, what’s the most helpful way to provide feedback?

Depending on the editor and the purpose of a particular editing job, editing feedback varies. Most often it’s red ink, copyedit marks, and sometimes it’s a thoughtful letter, query, or conversation. In academia, you might have all of that, plus a letter grade. How do we grade to produce better editors?

I have a few ideas. Personally, I dislike red ink. I’ll talk to Dr. Leverenz about this more; I know some think it trivial, but to me it’s always been important to grade in a traditionally less aggressive ink color. For this first editing exercise, queries and feedback probably aren’t necessary, but a rubric might be. For every opinion I have on rubrics—some favorable, some hardly polite—there’s a student with a different opinion and a different need. I wonder what an editing rubric might look like. How might it be arranged or scaled differently? What are its categories? In rhetoric and composition studies, editing and publishing classes aren’t a frequent point of discussion. Michael Charlton at Missouri Western University shared his course design for 408/508 Technical Editing, and it mirrors a lot of our curricula in this course. From what’s shared, Charlton does in fact use rubrics, but the write-up doesn’t provide any sample rubrics for us to peruse.

I emailed Dr. Charlton, and I certainly hope to receive a response. But at the end of a long search yielding no fruitful results, I’m questioning whether one is needed? Do other editing teachers forego the editing rubric because it’s not used in the real world? Might it set up unrealistic expectations for future feedback? In other words, would I be coddling my students, a group of professionals I want to take seriously, especially since a majority of them are about to graduate and enter the workforce? I’m not sure. I’ll table the discussion until Monday, but I want to continue to think about this question, and this is precisely my reason for creating this site. Not only do I hope to help editors with a repository of references and links, but I want to create a discussion about teaching editing. If we can teach it more effectively, maybe our students can be more effective in the workplace. Good evaluation practices will perpetuate good editing practices.

The First Week: Let’s Discuss

Our first week of Editing and Publishing complete, my mind is brimming with ideas for discussion. I expect nothing less given the fact that 15 weeks remain, but I wonder if the nature of editing processes has something to do with it as well. To be more explicit, in editing there’s often a desire to discuss. We discuss with our colleagues mechanical edits when we’re unsure or when an error is situational enough to entertain the possibility of being an exception to the rule, and we even discuss the lore of different styles.

Case in point, today I told a group of students what a former editor once told me: “In shortening numerical decades, always replace the missing numbers with an apostrophe. For example, 1970s becomes ’70s, 1960s becomes ’60s…” He went on. I still remember.

When I shared that quick anecdote with a group of students, theyt face value and we moved on. When we came together as a class and discussed that particular edit, Dr. Leverenz said that no apostrophe is necessary, i.e. 70s, not ’70s. Naturally, I was embarrassed. I looked it up and I found both. MLA uses the apostrophe, as I have learned, whereas Chicago, the style we’re using for the class, does not.

Returning to this idea of discussion, I explained the difference to a few of the students with whom I discussed the rule. I also discussed it with Dr. Leverenz. Had I been working as a freelance editor, I probably would have discussed the difference with a more senior editor. My point is that discussion is an integral part of effective editing, and yet a secondary, more contradictory point is that it’s not always characteristic of editors to discuss. Thisnnects to one of the discussion questions we posed for next Wednesday’s class. Dr. Leverenz asked, “Based on your reading of The Subversive Copyeditor, what are the traits of a copyeditor?”

Students thought about this as they read the first half of The Subversive Copyeditor by Carol Fisher Saller. She defines the copyeditor stereotype for new or prospective copyeditors, saying: “Our propensity for meticulousness and perfectionism, traits that are important to us… draw us to careers in manuscript editing in the first place. The problem is that there’s no end to the amount of fussing you can do with a manuscript, whereas there’s a limit to the amount of money someone will pay you to do it” (Fisher Saller 112).

I’m in agreement with Fisher Saller, who follows this definition with a series of advisements on how to disengage from editing, how to have a life, and how to leave work at work. From these suggestions, I might argue that copyeditors show Type A or workaholic characteristics, both of which I identify with, for better or worse.

All of these observations remind me of a conversation I once had with an assistant editor at the creative writing journal with which I interned my last semester of undergrad study. We were discussing the obsessive tendencies of editors in general, and she showed me a quick read on the correlation between editors and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) diagnoses. I can’t find the article now, but Fisher Saller mentions in her book. In searching for it online, I came across this Twitter post:

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From @PeterSokolwski on Twitter.com.

I include this example either to make light of a serious condition nor to reinforce a reductive, negative view of the copyediting profession. My purpose is to reflect on what it means for students in Editing and Publishing. Personal experience tells me that most copyeditors aren’t diagnosed with OCD, although some joke about claiming those traits. Certainly, though, the stereotype of the Type-A, brilliant but intense editor looms in our minds for good reason. Do most copyeditors need such traits? Do most feel as though they can’t reach out to others to discuss copyediting issues? And if so, does that inability stem from this negative stereotype that projects a need for perfection?

I’ll be interested to hear what the students have to say next week. I suspect there will be some glorification of the stereotype and some skepticism. What I’m counting on is that they’ll want to discuss this stereotype just as extensively as they seem to want to discuss all the practice edits we’ve been working on in class. Their eagerness to discuss speaks volumes toscussion in editing, I think. I hope the openness of the course and our stress on subjectivity and acknowledgment of variation resonates with our students. Finally, I hope this approach to teaching publishing ripples out to the profession. If we teach our students that subjectivity is okay, that most edits are debatable, and that making time for thoughtful discussion is often in their best interest, I think we can have an influence on the field. The connection between the classroom and the field is in the forefront of my interests right now. We’ll see if it maintains that position next week.