Learning how to (technical) edit

One of my new favorite blogs is the language blog, “You Don’t Say,” written by John McIntyre, who is the editor for the Baltimore Sun newspaper. I think I am drawn to his blog posts out of some latent daydream of being a journalist, of being an editor for journalists. Nonetheless, I think I did right by geeky self at taking the technical editor route, as I found my niche. (Of course, now, I return to my mid-career career counseling idea and toy with becoming a dictionary editor, but I digress.)

One of his recent posts talked about how one goes about learning how to edit. It was titled “No one right way,” and he shared some fascinating quotes and thoughts that echo my own experiences in teaching the STC Technical Editing Fundamentals certificate course.

In our certificate course, we do not teach our students grammar and usage in this course; we expect the students to have that knowledge coming in. We teach them all about the process and tools and concepts involved in doing technical editing or being a technical editor, and then we have exercises and “homework” where they actual do the editing themselves. We give them “keys” or share examples of our own take on how to edit the text we use in those exercises and homework, and those keys make a point to show two different styles with two different sets of markup and comments. We ask our students to share what they have done and why they did what they did, so that others can consider adopting that in their own editing.

What I love the most about McIntyre’s blog post is his focus on reading analytically. “When you stumble over a word or phrase, you do not shrug and keep moving, like a pianist who hits a wrong note during a concert. You stop, back up, and examine why you stumbled.” You use your knowledge or understanding of grammar and your style guides to help you read analytically and to explain the change you are recommending because you stumbled.

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