On being an effective editor…

I was going to just retweet this tweet from @ArrantPedantry about the latest blog post from @johnemcintyre:

However, the conclusion of the blog post (“It’s a crotchet, it’s a superstition, it’s a shibboleth, it’s a fetish“) warrants me writing a blog post of my own. The title alone intrigued me as he played with words, with words to describe an editor’s emotional attachment to certain style rules. Before I go any further with my own musings, please go read his blog post, all the way to the end (skim some of the middle, if you have to), and then come back here for my thoughts on it all.

First, let me embed in a block quote his amazing conclusion:

But being an effective editor, establishing clarity and precision instead of mechanically applying rules, some of them imaginary, means examining authorities, examining evidence, examining oneself.

I’d like to explore the three examinations he calls for to be an effective editor:

  • Examine authorities: Who is mandating the style rule? Who is stating that it is a rule to be followed in the first place? For me, the ultimate authority is the reader (the user), and style rules will be broken in the name of clarity and precision for that reader.
  • Examine evidence: What precedence is there for having this style rule? What is the history behind the usage or guidance for that rule? For me, this means being more of a linguist, more of a descriptivist, and letting the history and evidence of use guide my decision to follow or not follow a style rule.
  • Examine oneself: How many editors can step outside of their personal pet peeves, or personal preferences, to recognize their own role in applying style rules to a text? We must take our own emotions out of it. We must take our own egos out of it. As Socrates said “an unexamined life is not worth living.”
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