I know I am a little late in reacting to this – my excuse is that I’ve been on holiday – but I did like the way that Vanity Fair magazine got its editors to review and mark-up Sarah Palin’s resignation speech last month.
I’m not going to comment on Ms. Palin or her resignation, as this is a blog about writing and editing, not politics. What the Vanity Fair analysis showed is that everyone can benefit from an editor – and that there are various different functions that an editor can perform. In fact, Vanity Fair asked three different editors with three different functions to review Ms. Palin’s speech.
Many people think that all an editor needs to do is to proofread their otherwise perfect prose. This sort of work, checking spelling and punctuation, and checking that a manuscript conforms to house styles and conventions, is the work of the copy-editor. A different function is performed by a researcher or fact-checker. In the Vanity Fair example, someone has checked which President had said, or not said, something memorable, which clearly hadn’t been done by Ms. Palin or her staff. Not checking facts can get writers into serious trouble, particularly if they mis-quote someone, give an incorrect attribution, or get facts wrong.
The most obvious corrections in the Vanity Fair are not copy-editing or fact checking, but are more substantive edits. Someone has taken the trouble to improve the style, clarity and vocabulary of the original speech while doing their best to maintain the meaning and intention of the original author. This is the most difficult and perhaps the most important type of editing, which helps an author express their ideas in a clear and unambiguous way. The editor can also ensure that the resulting article is written in a way that is most suitable for the intended audience.
As well as being a technical writer I have done my fair share of editing, including straightforward copy-editing and fact checking, as well as more substantive editing. My aim is always to improve the quality of the original while maintaining the original meaning that the author intended. I have often needed to cope with limitations of space as well as of time, making editing sometimes even more difficult than writing technical material from scratch. If you or your business have any documents that might be improved by editorial revision, I hope you will use the contact form to get in touch.