by Jennie Ruby
First, a point of clarification re last week's contest: we had more than two dozen entries, not just several. Second, an excellent question was raised on the blog: how much re-writing can be allowed on something like this before the meaning is changed?When I set up the contest, I did have in mind just ridding the existing text of redundancies. That is exactly what the majority of contestants did, and I categorized those entries as "editing." The other entries were complete rewrites; in other words, they were substantive edits. I rewarded those entries because they went above correcting the text and attempted to address the needs of readers in new and creative ways. However, that kind of editorial rewrite is not always welcome.
The distinction between substantive editing and copyediting is important in any kind of publishing or editing work, and it goes straight to the question of your level of authority over the text.
If you are the writer of a text, you typically have complete authority over it. That means you can do anything you want: delete words, delete entire sentences, shorten or lengthen sentences, change word choices, change the tone, make it say something entirely different from the original version, change the overall length, and so on.
If you are editing someone else's writing, your level of authority differs with the situation. Magazine or newsletter editors whose main goal is to serve the needs of their readers may have complete authority over the text writers submit for publication. Academic copyeditors, on the other hand, have little authority over the content, organization, and meaning, but have a great deal of authority over the mechanical details, such as how to define acronyms on first use, whether to italicize or underline book titles mentioned in text, whether to spell out numbers, and the like.
Level of authority is something to clarify with your supervisor, with the writer of the text, or with the client who hires you as an editor. Pinpointing your level of authority may involve factors such as whether you are the boss of the person who wrote the text, whether you are lower or higher in the organizational hierarchy than the writer, whether you are an authority on the content, and what stage of production the material is in. If the material is in its final production stages and the deadline is tomorrow, you will minimize your editorial changes regardless of your authority level.
Thanks again to everyone who participated in the contest. It was great fun to see person after person nail all of the redundancies. We'll do another one soon.
About the Author: Jennie Ruby is a veteran IconLogic trainer and author with titles such as "Editing with Word 2003 and Acrobat 7" and "Editing with MS Word 2007" to her credit. She is a publishing professional with more than 20 years of experience in writing, editing and desktop publishing.