Daily Archives: February 5, 2003


You know, the problem with editing is that it�s someone else�s work.

As an editor, your goal is to make the story or the abstract of the text more accessible to future readers. You have a double responsibility: to the story or abstract itself, and to the author.

Where do you draw the line? When do you cross a word out, or move it elsewhere, or leave it as an example of the author�s style? When do you take the responsibility of taking that away from the author and doing it differently for the good of the story, or the text?

Presumably the author has given this work to you because s/he trusts you to help make it better. (Or you�re being paid to do it, which means that people trust you enough to remunerate you for your skills!) As an editor, you�ve been given a certain authority. Maybe I�m just authority-shy, but with every change I make I have to stop from second-guessing myself. I know I�m making the sentence easier to read, but am I taking away from the author�s personal style?

Trust me, if I wanted to rewrite a text and remove all trace of an author�s style, I could. So I know that I�m holding back; I know that I�m not obliterating the original author�s presence. A good editor shouldn�t be noticeable when you read the finished text. There should be a single voice apparent.

I suppose it�s just a degree of interpreting personal space. You know � how close you stand to someone at a bus stop, or on the metro. I want to give the author their room. It�s their work, after all. If I change a sentence, or the order of a set of words, or substitute another term for something that is unclear � how close can I get before I�m standing on top of them?

Of course, even just being aware of the potential for overstepping my mandate and questioning every edit that I make means that I�ll probably never have to really be concerned about suffocating the author. Which is sort of consoling, in the general overview of things, but not enough when you�re picking up the correction tape to correct your own edit.