The Editor’s Companion from Writer’s Digest Books (December 2014) is a friendly, helpful guide to the principles of editing. I hope it will be useful to journalism students, novice editors, and those who have editing thrust upon them—volunteers editing organizations’ newsletters and websites, or people whose employers have assigned them editing responsibility because they are good with English—as well as lone editors in an alligator pond of co-workers and bosses who have their own ideas about how to punctuate and capitalize things.
Read a review of The Editors Companion by Boris Segel on the Worlds of R. A. Hortz website.
Read Liz Dexters interview with Steve (on her blog).
Read Sue Archer’s review of The Editor’s Companion in Editors’ Weekly.
Read Liz Dexter’s review of The Editor’s Companion.
Editing—who needs it?
Editors help writers to get their work published, to communicate
with their readers, and to do the best they can.
Chapter 1: Marks of Good Writing
- Good Content
- The writing must achieve a link between author and reader.
- Focusing on one idea at a time makes for clear, direct communication.
- Precise Language
- Editors must be alert to misused words.
- Good Grammar
- Good grammar helps communication.
Chapter 2: Editing for Content
- Writing for the Reader
- Know your readers, present the information they want, and make reading easy for them.
- Plain Language
- The Plain Language Action and Information Network tells how to write reader-friendly documents.
- Editors help produce a product that readers will desire.
- The Right Structure and Length for Your Market
- What is the author trying to convey, and is the reader getting all the necessary information?
- The Right Level of Detail for Your Market
- Is there too much information, or too little, or is it in the wrong place?
- The Right Material for Your Market
- Choosing material for publication is something of an art.
Chapter 3: Editing for Focus
- Beginning With a Strong Opening
- The first words of any piece of writing reveal its focus (or lack of it).
- Sticking to One Subject
- Identifying the theme or focus helps guide the editing.
- Closing the Circle
- The ending must relate to what has gone before and complete the piece of writing.
Chapter 4: Editing for Precise Language
- The Right Words
- The editor never should let poorly chosen words remain.
- The Right Voice
- Active voice is generally preferable, but there are times when passive voice is best.
- The Right Tense
- Editors must keep tenses consistent.
- Editors should demand accuracy.
Chapter 5: Editing for Grammar
- Parts of Speech
- Editors must distinguish parts of speech and make sure they’re used properly.
- Parts of Sentences
- Editors need to identify subjects, objects, and predicates and sometimes untangle them.
- Correct punctuation enhances communication.
- A style guide answers questions so they don’t need to be answered again and again.
Chapter 6: Typography
- Breaking Words
- Where is it OK to break words?
- Keeping Certain Words Together
- Words can lose their meaning when separated.
- Type and Layout
- Editors can get help with typesetting and layout.
Chapter 7: A Few Tips
- Misused Words
- Some errors turn up often and confuse the meaning.
- Homophones and Other Words That Get Mixed Up
- Searching for common mistakes takes only a minute and can prevent embarrassment.
- Acronym Soup
- Acronyms and other abbreviations have a purpose: communication.
- Initially Redundant
- Carelessly using initials of phrases can add words without adding meaning.
- More Steps to Better Writing
- Be on guard for clichés, empty words, vague phrases, and things that just sound silly.
Chapter 8: Editorial Relationships
- Working With Authors
- Editors should be patient, generous, and encouraging.
- Working With Publishers
- A good publisher will give you room to be a professional while necessarily imposing restrictions to accommodate competing concerns.
- Working With Artists
- Artists as part of the publication team are a great help to editors.
- Working With Readers
- Readers provided criticism, corrections, and questions, which we should be glad to get.
- Managing Expectations
- Get things clarified so that both writer and editor know what’s expected.
Chapter 9: The Editor’s Tools
- Use style sheets, checklists, and spell-checkers.
- Editing on Paper or On-Screen?
- Both methods have their advantages.
- Here are some basic editorial tasks.
- How Long Does Editing Take?
- Editors can estimate how long a job will take.
- Cheap, Quick Quality
- Can we produce quality documents quickly and cheaply?
- Read for Sense
- Read documents before and after editing.
- Read Everything Twice
- It’s rarely possible to catch every error by reading something only once.
- Compare Repeated Quotations
- It’s not unusual to find that an author has quoted something twice but differently.
- Write Neatly
- Make sure that written marks on proof copies are clear.
- Office Tips
- There are times to use snail mail.
- Books, websites, and blogs are a great help.
Chapter 10: Samples of Editing
Here are some before-and-after examples, including a few that didn’t work.
Chapter 11: Ones That Got Away
Some ridiculous things that got published, and how they could have been avoided.
Appendix: Questions and Answers
Questions from writers and from a technical editing class.
Oh, How We Trip Over Our Own English Language
Laura Moyer’s blog post about Steve Dunham’s editing humor.