Week Fourteen: Guest Editors

The introductory slide used in one of our guest editor's presentations.

The introductory slide used in one of our guest editor’s presentations.

A teacher’s advice can go far, but sometimes it has a stopping point. In past classes I’ve taught, I’ve felt like students have heard but not always listened to my advice.

What drives the point home is an outside, credible second opinion from another expert.

This week we sought such an opinion. Twice. Our experts were two editors with two very different backgrounds. We have a third expert coming next Wednesday.

Expert one came on Monday, Mrs. Jamie Birdwell Branson, content copyeditor at Thomson-Reuters.

To start, we went around the room and had each student tell Jamie the most significant editing lesson she or he has learned thus far. Favorite lessons included “look everything up,” avoid “indulg[ing] the desire to change someone’s style,” and “make a style sheet and follow a style sheet.”

Then Jamie told us more about her work. At present, she’s copyediting a lot of tax law documents, showing us example edits she’s made recently, which required different software than the Microsoft Word track changes our students are familiar with using. She also gave a friendly face to editing and a sense of levity to editing info-heavy documents. For example, she laughed about a recent word issue she came across “non cash, which is not a word,” she said, but she explained that the term was being used and she had to look it up. Her laughing about this oddity and all the other odd tasks she takes on as an editor made the work sound more approachable, I think. Or at least, we saw the students laughing enough to suggest so.

Jamie impressed on our students that editing can be “a fulfilling career,” one that’s “tedious, but rewarding.” As a teacher, I related to one interesting comment she made: “I get to celebrate my job in increments.” Personally, I’ve never heard an editor say this, and I’d be curious to ask Jamie if this is because she works on one project at a time or if the sort of editing she does is so intensive and involved that every finished manuscript feels like a victory. Either way, it showed our student that if you enjoy work that has an end point and enjoy celebrating your accomplishments (and who doesn’t?), editing may be the profession for you. Editing can be enjoyable.

That’s not to say that it isn’t hard work that requires learning all along the way. Jamie impressed our students with her extensive resume of work and encouraged students to learn editing software. She’s using XML now, but she said “I wish someone would have told me to learn editing software, like Adobe InDesign.” This remark was helpful because it expresses to students that learning will continue outside the classroom. It will come later in their careers and it can’t be avoided. She added that the best copy editors are flexible,” saying descriptivist editors have a much easier time collaborating than prescriptivist editors.

Finally, I’m glad she stressed the point that “copyeditors are needed everywhere.” From carpet cleaning content writing, which Jamie once did, to tax law documents, anything and everything can be edited and your work trajectory can be for any entity and every experience helps.

Expert two, Joanna Schmidt, is a PhD student in TCU’s English Department with a past life in editing. She has editing degrees and started by introducing our students to her equally interesting work trajectory. She talked about how she looked for internships, took jobs that required her to exercise her editorial authority before she thought she was ready to, and the “quirkiness of working with writers who write about everything you can think of, plus dog biscuits.”

For the most part, she gave our students a lot of practical advice about entering the workforce, where to look for jobs, what types of jobs to look for (developmental vs. managerial copyediting, for instance), and how different companies will pay differently. I’d never thought about why a fiction press might pay less than the far less interesting work required of editing insurance manuals for the Oregon Insurance Licensing Exams, but it’s also not surprising. Perhaps now I’ll be more hesitant to encourage an editing student to pursue a secondary passion for creative writing, especially if she or he is better suited for editing information-heavy documents.

One of the interesting points Joanna ended on was: “Books are not dead; they’re just mutating in form.” She insisted that book publishing has been changing since the beginning of time, and “now we’re in another era of change.” She also had our students read the 2013 Publisher’s Report to get a better sense of just how well print books are selling, albeit with the caveat that e-books are selling well, too.

At the end of Joanna’s presentation, Dr. Leverenz pointed out that both of our two guest speakers from different editorial experiences offered two similar pieces of advice. First, editing students need to advocate for themselves when looking for career opportunities, and to fully embrace the entrepreneurial spirit within (or if it doesn’t exist, to create it). Second, good editors can enact every day, real-world skills on the fly, using good judgment to make smart editorial decisions with as much confidence as possible.

The final incentive for listening to our speaker’s advice? It’s all game for the final quiz, which takes place during their final exam time.

For any interested readers, my next post in a few weeks will be my final reflection on the semester, so stay tuned!

 

Week Thirteen: Grading’s Never Easy

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Happy weekend to you, editing teacher!

During our weekly chat a few weeks back, Dr. Leverenz was telling how her grading was going on our students’ second projects. It was weekend two of grading for her and given the time and attention it takes to grade editing accurately, it seemed that a third weekend of grading was inevitable.

For many professors, weekends spent grading are to be expected. But what should you expect when your grading takes three weekends? What’s more disconcerting than surrendering your well-earned free time after a long week, during which you probably worked overtime anyway, to more overtime on the weekend, for several weekends in a row? An exhausting crash on Monday comes, just when you need to be refreshed and at your best.

This approach to work is not sustainable, and yet teaching editing necessarily invites it. Editing as a practice requires careful, focused attention to detail, many details. It requires multiple “passes” or readings for error. It’s an intensive effort on the part of the editor, and the reader who receives the edited piece may never be able to appreciate all the work that goes into the piece’s preparation, nor may a critic of a missed error be able to appreciate all the other changes made in the editing process. The work is invisible.

The work of grading of the editing, I’d argue, is equally invisible. The marks are on the page, the queries answered or occasional justifications made, but the time and effort that goes into grading something that required just as much time and effort means we’re giving multiple passes to a piece. We’re doing the same work as our students, plus thinking about grading, and this makes for a lot of work.

That’s not to say that grading composition papers or pieces of that sort doesn’t require intensive effort, but consider once again the attention to detail required of editors and how every error comes with greater consequences, an open invitation to criticism that a more low-stakes, freshman or sophomore composition paper may not. Because editing students work hard to learn the in’s and out’s of grammar and punctuation, it’s reasonable to expect that the one’s grading them work just as hard.

Or is it? We do, after all, have more students in an editing class than teachers. My point in all this pedagogical searching is to understand why this workload is so daunting and how we might alleviate some of it without sacrificing the quality of grading we do.

Cheryl Ball, professor at Illinois State University and editor of the online journal Kairos, said plainly, “Editing is the class that trumps all my rules for easy grading.” That comment was made in reply to a Facebook post Dr. Leverenz made on this topic. Dr. Ball quickly followed up with the only solution she could offer: “Although I did turn back a whole pile of reports to my editing students once, if I found more than four errors on the front page.”

Some editing teachers might appreciate that solution; others may have a hard time with setting the bar at four errors, arguing that it should be lower or higher. Regardless, it’s a strategy to consider. A few other possible strategies follow:

Partner up: Contact a graduate student interested in teaching an editing course or simply learning more about editing. That’s how I came to Dr. Leverenz this semester. Even though I never took a class on editing (not counting internships for credit), my past experiences in editing and writing for newspapers made the opportunity appealing to me and I was able to receive course credit for studying both Dr. Leverenz’s pedagogical methods and assisting with her teaching, i.e. grading exercises and quizzes when possible.

Save answer keys: Whether you’ve taught an editing class once or ten times, saving some of the manuscripts you grade as exercises and projects can alleviate the grading load in future semesters. Of course, these manuscripts should be replaced if they become outdated, circulated within a campus community, or prove to be not challenging enough for your students. Even so, having taught and graded the same manuscript before makes you a bit more familiar with it, and therefore, the load a little lighter.

Read first: Do you have students that consistently turn out good work? Consider reading their submissions first. Reading lets you get a better sense of the errors that even the best students will miss. Knowing the benefit of reading fist means you’ll have a better sense of what to expect from the whole class. It also means that you won’t be so harsh on that improperly linked URL because no one else in the class caught that note on the style sheet, so perhaps it needed to be highlighted in class.

Create a feedback list: As you grade, pay attention to what most students are missing. I keep a running list and then use that list as good material for discussion. In hindsight, I wish I had kept each list for each graded exercise so that we could have more closely tracked what was giving students a hard time and what improved by addressing it in class. Still, the list has helped us target specific, frequent errors and fix them. If students miss number consistency in exercise one, for example, then it should be addressed to ensure that it doesn’t continue to crop up in exercise two. Following up on the most pressing feedback points helps not only the student, but the teacher, too: fewer repeated errors to grade.

I’m sure there’s much, much more in the way of strategies. These are the ones I have relied on or learned from Dr. Leverenz. My hope is that it helps someone who stumbles across it. More selfishly, I also hope it helps me identify other strategies I can discuss in my final reflection letter on the class and makes grading editing just a little easier in the future.

 

Week Twelve: The New Readers

“I’m going to keep this brief, because you’re not going to stick around for long. I’ve already lost a bunch of you. For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone. You “bounced” in Web traffic jargon, meaning you spent no time “engaging” with this page at all.” https://editingforall.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/screen-shot-2014-04-02-at-11-20-01-am.png

Engaging readers by challenging their disengagement, the writer who wrote that hook, Farhad Manjoo, wrote “You won’t finish this article,” a feature in Slate last summer, in which he takes on the issue of web reading. Some of his most interesting claims, for our purposes, include the following:

  • Most readers who tweet out a link will do so before they read the entire article.
  • Readers don’t like to see double spaces after periods.
  • Readers don’t like to scroll. Scroll depth is usually less than halfway down the first page of an article.
  • “Most visitors read about 60%” of article content.
  • “Most visitors see all content on video and photo [galleries].”

Nota bene: all of this information was based on research reported by data scientist for Chartbeat Josh Schwartz.

Manjoo mixes two parts of frustration and disappointment with three parts data for one tall career conundrum that’s hard to digest. Still, for all his unabashed ranting, he concludes with some humility even the most traditional-print lovers might identify with:

“Maybe this is just our cultural lot: We live in the age of skimming. I want to finish the whole thing, I really do. I wish you would, too. Really—stop quitting! But who am I kidding. I’m busy. You’re busy. There’s always something else to read, watch, play, or eat.”

Like it or not, how we read is changing. Mashable made headlines in 2011 by publishing research from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, which found that “more people get their news from the Internet than from newspapers — and more ad dollars went to online outlets than to newspapers, too.” Most of the study respondents were aged 18-29, and this group, we know, is the next generation of readers editors will serve. Our logic follows as such: if how we read is changing, how we write will change next, followed by how we edit.

We’re now encouraging our students to think through these issues as editors. In the third unit, they are to edit writing for the web. Some of the exercises in this unit involve analyzing web pages for visual design, layout, and formatting. Some of these differences are out of their control. In other words, cascading style sheets or existing house style stipulations will determine how they edit. But when such constraints aren’t in play, experience critiquing and knowledge of who to change these editorial considerations will come in handy.

In prepping for the new readers, our students will also need to learn how to form new partnerships; namely, they should start thinking about partnerships with designers. On Wednesday of this week, Dr. Leverenz told our class: “There were once these very clear lines distinguishing writers [from] designers… those relationships are now fluid and people are relying very heavily on collaboration.” The lines that divide writers from designers are now blurred, and consequently, the lines that distinguish editorial work will necessarily change, too. These blurred lines challenge us to build new relationships based on new responsibilities.

I wonder, though, for any reader out there: Were you prepared to write/edit/design for new readers?

In class, we’re analyzing the changes. In the coming weeks, we will have editors visiting our class to talk about their current practices and how they see editing changing. Are other editing classes analyzing, discussing, or bringing in third-party speakers? If not, what are others doing differently? What would you do (or would have done) differently?

I’d love to hear more ideas. Lurkers, consider my warm and sincere interest in your experiences and feel free to comment below.