Editors should focus on the content, not the grammar

Yes, you read that title correctly. Editors should not focus on the grammar.

A copyeditor for The Daily Californian takes a hard look at copyediting and grammar’s role in the editing process. From the title of his article, I think you can see what his views on the matter are.

Near the end of the article, he got to the crux of the matter:

“…what constitutes the soul of writing is the message, not the often-tedious rules we attribute to helping us understand it.”

Focus on the content. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post stating that technical editors do not need to be grammarians, which was my polite way of saying that we don’t have to be pedants about what so many people hold near and dear to their hearts.

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3 Responses to Editors should focus on the content, not the grammar

  1. Suyog Ketkar says:

    I completely agree with you, Michelle. In my current stint, we do not stress on changing the sentence construction if there are no parallel meanings to a sentence – even though the editors may have a smaller, easier sentence. This preserves the soul of the writer’s work (and saves some time for the editor). I’ve always believed that if the writers are WHAT they write, the editors are HOW they edit.


  2. Hmmm. I don’t think she’d still be a copyeditor if she didn’t know her grammar. The pendulum doesn’t swing all the way to the right.

    As professional editors, we need to know when to let go. That’s why revision negotiations are so important. During these negotiations with the writer, you’re breaking all sorts of rules. Why? Because clarity will always trump a rule, especially zombie rules that we shouldn’t blindly and stringently enforce (e.g. ending a sentence with a preposition, split infinitives, plural they, beginning sentences with coordinating conjunctions “and” or “but”, and so on).

    I would encourage editors to read “Usage Rules: The Living, the Dead, and the Zombies” (http://www.copyediting.com/usage-rules-living-dead-and-zombies).


    • Michelle Corbin says:

      Yes, editors need to know grammar, but they don’t need to focus solely on grammar or be a grammar pedant.


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