Need to edit
December 14, 2009 9:24 AM   Subscribe

What are the best online and print/book resources for English language editors? Also, any current or past editors, do you have any knowledge, wisdom, tricks, hacks, for an editing newbie, which you would like to share? Thanks.
posted by barrakuda to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Well, something that would be good to know for giving you advice is what you edit. Articles? Books? Stories? Poetry?
posted by ocherdraco at 9:31 AM on December 14, 2009

But, to begin with, here are several that I found helpful as I began my career as a book editor (excerpted from a guide I wrote for people looking to get into book publishing):

Books: The Commerce and Culture of Publishing by Coser, Kadushin, and Powell
A great overview of the whole industry. Though it was written twenty years ago, the essentials haven’t changed (one major difference: publishing was still a boys’ club to an extent when Books was written, and now it is dominated by women).

At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf
Cerf (one of the founders of Random House, which is today the Bertelsmann Behemoth of Broadway) sprinkles nuggets of publishing wisdom throughout this memoir, and they’re damned useful. One of my favorites is this: “Every publisher worth his salt has to publish poetry, even some that he knows he’s going to lose money on.” A publisher who does poetry is in it for art and culture, and not just to make a buck.

Editing Fact and Fiction by Sharpe, Gunther, and Marek
A guide to the different kinds of editing, and how they are done.

Bookmaking by Marshall Lee
How books are made—this bible of publishing covers editing, design, and production. I love this book. It takes you from words to bound object, and leaves no stone unturned in between.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:35 AM on December 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Chicago Manual of Style, for a *lot* of nuts-and-bolts, and an overview of the publishing process, from a primarily book-publishing perspective. Access to the really good stuff online requires a subscription.

For the more esoteric side, Editors on Editing can be illuminating to the prospective editor.

I've found the Purdue Online Writer's Lab to be a good online resource on the mechanics of writing.
posted by drlith at 9:49 AM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I would recommend Garner's Modern American Usage and The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus.
posted by mattbucher at 10:04 AM on December 14, 2009

I will be working for a corporate magazine and editing articles.
posted by barrakuda at 11:13 AM on December 14, 2009

I'll second Garner. Also, I don't know if you'll be proofing, but proof letter by letter and use a ruler (it isolates the line you're working on and prevents distraction).

Other tips that may be obvious:
-Read the corporate style guide. Actually, memorize the corporate style guide and create a cheat sheet or checklist you can review after every assignment for the first few months.
-Look for passive sentences and make them active.
-Learn how to use dashes, particularly em dashes, and semicolons properly. Some people will disagree with me, but I think dashes and semicolons are your friends.
-Use Track Changes in MS Word. Editing on hard copy sucks, and no one understands proofreading marks outside of publishing, anyway.
-Make a note of why you change things. Sometimes I forget why I change things, and then I'm screwed when the author or managing editor wants to argue about it.
-Make a note of what you change if it's not covered by the style guide. If you decide, for example, to capitalize job titles or spell worksite as one word, you'll need to remember to do that throughout an article and for every article in the magazine.
-Never apologize for your edits. You're there to help the writers make their articles the best they can be.
-Unless the company you're working for is very technical, aim for an 8th grade reading level (8-10 words for most sentences; avoid jargon).
posted by lunalaguna at 3:00 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The hands-down best place to get editing answers and tips online is the Copyediting-L mailing list. There's a vast wealth of wisdom and experience there that you will likely find extremely helpful. It does have fairly high traffic, so you'll probably want to either subscribe to the digest version, or subscribe but only read through the website.
posted by Stacey at 5:35 PM on December 14, 2009

When in doubt (e.g., if you're wondering whether a compound is closed or hyphenated, or whether that's the correct spelling of that foreign word or phrase, or whether your dictionary prefers that that foreign word or phrase be italicized), look it up.

Even if your publication uses a dictionary that's only available in printed form, rather than online...even if you've looked up that same word three times already that week or day and have papercuts all over your hands...even if you're "pretty sure"...when in doubt, look it up.

Also, beyond reading and memorizing the style guide, I'd suggest just keeping it easily accessible, and rereading it every so often. If it's in PDF or Word doc form, so much the better—keep a shortcut to it (on a Mac) in your Dock.

lunalaguna's advice is spot on. When you're copy-editing, Track Changes is so much easier than editing hard copy—unless, that is, the editor you're turning your copy in to doesn't know how to use it. (Changes need to be checked in, for instance, not just hidden by choosing "Final" rather than "Final Showing Markup," before a story's imported into, say, InDesign.)

Having a checklist of things you must check on every document that crosses your desk can be helpful, especially if you see a given document more than once throughout the production cycle. For instance, I see some documents in four rounds: copy-edit, typescript, layout, and final PDF. Each one of those rounds has its own set of things to look for.

In copy-edit, I'm looking for anything and everything that's off, including grammar, the spelling of words, and even the formatting of the Word document itself, so it'll import smoothly into layout later. In typescript, I'm looking for things I missed in copy-edit, as well as checking whether any of the changes I requested were disputed or rejected, or whether there's anything that needs to be clarified. In layout, I'm looking for a new set of things: widows (single words forced onto their own line at the end of paragraphs), significant leading and tracking differences between lines, that any italic or bold or otherwise specially formatted text was properly imported, that any glyphs that need to be added (e.g., symbols for 1/2, or certain diacritical marks) were in fact added, that our signature dot is present at the end of each story that needs it, that all captions are in place (and copy-edited, since I usually don't see those before layout), that each folio (including the page number, issue date, and the publication's website) is present and correct on all counts, that any ad pages are correct and accounted for, that any changes to the text suggested in the typescript round were in fact made...

One of the most important things is coming up with a system that lets you sleep at night. For instance, I put a checkmark by every folio I've checked, and mark on the layout folder which version of the layout those page numbers were checked against. Once that's done, if I see those checkmarks, I know I've taken care of it. Similarly, every time I make a change to a story's text in layout in InCopy, I put a big black checkmark on the story's printout by any change I made, and a big black X (sometimes with a brief accompanying explanation) through any change I rejected.

lunalaguna's right on again with the advice to make a note of any decisions that are made off–style guide. For the last two years, I've been keeping a list of those things that's generally viewable by everyone at my publication via a Basecamp writeboard. The entries on that writeboard now number in the hundreds. It's amazing, the way those little day-to-day calls on things add up.

Like lunalaguna said, don't apologize for your edits—you're there to help—but do acknowledge the subjective nature of the English language. Some things are calls, or hedges, and you'll need your fellow editors' goodwill and support to make it all come together.

Oh, and on a practical note: Learn how to use Firefox's search bookmarks, then create a set of them for yourself for any resource you regularly use that includes the search text in the URL. This one I've found especially useful. The search bookmarks I use the most: Google, Google Image Search, Google Maps, Google Translate, and Merriam-Webster.

Hope that helps!
posted by limeonaire at 5:38 PM on December 14, 2009

Excellent advice here; I'll just add that Garner is an extremely conservative usage guide (and idiosyncratic as well), and I wouldn't recommend using it unless it's specifically called for. (Garner also did the usage/style section in the latest edition of Chicago, which to me is the worst aspect of that otherwise excellent revision.)

Also, Amy Einsohn's The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications is a sensible introduction with lots of good advice.
posted by languagehat at 6:22 AM on December 15, 2009

Oh, right—definitely buy a copy of whichever external style guide you use (AP, Chicago, etc.) If AP, buy the yearly online subscription, rather than a hard copy; it'll always be up-to-date, and it's sooooo much faster to search. With Chicago, you have the option of getting the CD version, and given the chance to do it again, I might've gone that direction. Then again, the print edition is rather nice and imposing on one's bookshelf...
posted by limeonaire at 7:29 AM on December 15, 2009

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