Five different kinds of editing

I’ve been editing things for a very long time now, and long ago stopped thinking consciously about any of it.

But an upcoming workshop I will be offering at Cape Town’s Bergvliet High School on how to edit your own writing meant that I had to go back to basics and deconstruct a little.

It occurred to me that the list I made for that workshop, looking at what I see as the different kinds of editing might be useful to writers and people who are starting out as editors, so here it is (with examples where needed):

Proofreading – correcting basic errors like spelling, grammar, formatting and applying house style


This sentence has a grammar mistake:

Other musicians followed, though their music didn’t reach as bigger an audience as they would have liked.

Corrected to:

Other musicians followed, though their music didn’t reach as big an audience as they would have liked. Continue reading

What it means to be a copy editor

Marooned boat in a drought

The worst drought in living memory? Picture: Luis Paredes,

Copy editors have many things to worry about (think commas). And making sure that language is used with precision is one of those things.
In a recent a television programme, the presenter said that a particular place was experiencing the wettest winter “in living memory”.
Since such declarations about the weather happen often, and because there is, these days, always a hidden sub-text about how the observed phenomenon proves or disproves climate change theory, I started to ponder: what does “living memory” mean exactly?
The online Collins Dictionary says:

“If you say that something is, for example, the best, worst, or first thing of its kind in living memory, you are emphasizing that it is the only thing of that kind that people can remember.”

But which people? To a ten-year-old child, memory only goes back seven or eight years to when he or she is two or three. And for someone who has reached the age of 90, memory goes back many decades.
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How to curate content (aka be an editor)

Trash Icon

File photo: Ivo Ruijters

The recent furore surrounding the publication of a hoax blog post at Huffington Post SA has had me thinking – about hate speech (which I wrote about here), and about the process by which decisions are made about publication or non-publication of a particular piece of writing.
In years of experience at IOL, I had more unsolicited pieces of writing cross my email inbox than I care to think about now. Over time, I learned how to make fast choices about whether I wanted to use the content or not.
I thought it might be useful to write down that mental process, for the benefit of younger people wondering how this is done. I’ll take you through my own personal checklist (note – this was never a formalised policy at IOL, and I no longer work there and can’t comment on how things might now be done at that website).
The steps below relate to online publishing, rather than print. And there are factors in the process that would probably shock print journalists of the old school (especially the focus on “hits”). But I want to paint the picture as it happens in the real world.

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House style… just a waste of time?

In America, they are called copy editors. In South Africa, they are called sub-editors. They form a vanishingly small percentage of the world population, and yet they are somewhat powerful. Because much of the text disseminated by the world’s media passes before their eyes and gets fixed, or changed, or mutilated, or left alone. They correct grammar and spelling, they rewrite clumsy phrases, they cut copy to fit an allocated space and in most publications they write headlines. So far, so familiar – most people who read newspapers or news websites or magazines are aware that such people exist and have a vague idea of what they do.
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Editors make mistakes, too

I mis-spelt a word on Twitter today – conumdrum, instead of conundrum. Not the end of the world, and in the Twitter flow no one but me noticed (I hope). But it makes me unhappy when I  get things wrong (especially when I do know the right spelling). And that is one of the foundations of editing, I guess: the striving to make things right.