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.