politicians and stage managers
—Editors in academia
takes a text from one language and transforms it into another,
in a manner sympathetic with the author's original intention,
so that another audience, one that doesn't know that language
can understand it. Editing tightens, renovates, smoothes over
the rough patches in a text so that it reads well, flows logically
and makes sense. Like translation, it is a tool that aids communication,
one, which, if done well, remains hidden from view.
edit as defined by Webster's Dictionary is "to prepare
or revise (written material) for publication or presentation,
as by correcting, revising, or adapting." In the Encarta
World English Dictionary one meaning of "editor" is
"text corrector" — somebody who prepares a text
for publication by correcting errors and improving the flow
of words and improve clarity. But the etymology of the word
"edit", from the Latin edare, to bring forth, has
a wider definition of editing than that, which is confined to
writing. It also implies that the person doing the editing is
concerned with anything to bring the writing to publication
translation pioneer Yan Fu's criteria for translation: namely,
the principles of faithfulness, expressiveness and gracefulness,
can also serve as general guidelines for the editorial process.
Take faithfulness for example. One of the most importance tasks
of an editor is to leave in the author's voice, so that is their
own unique style emerges from the text. Expressiveness and gracefulness
is involved when correcting errors and clarifying ambiguities.
The editor, using subtlety and little tricks, attempts to enhance
the natural qualities of the work. Knowing where to stop and
avoiding the temptation to rewrite is a skill that not everybody
are often very protective of their words, like children. They
nurture them, see them to maturity and watch them leave home
where they acquire a life of their own. In the university setting,
they keep them particularly well protected, which is natural
since their academic reputation rests on them. Editing in such
a situation is particularly fraught with difficulty in a non-English
speaking country like Hong Kong, because material often arrives
in a less-than-perfect state exhibiting rather interesting use
of the English language. English that is heavily influenced
by the syntax of the local language, with words being used in
wrong contexts. In a heavy-duty theoretical article, it is quite
difficult to work out how to edit for clarity and still keep
the intended meaning. This is also why it is important to liase
with the author as much as possible. Therefore, academic editors
have to go about stroking egos and need grow a thick skin in
order to do their job properly. They have to be diplomats, politicians
and stage managers.
also helps to have a good understanding of the subject of the
work. Reading up about the subject, knowing the jargon and looking
at how other publications handle the subject are all useful
practices. Some problems are unique to a Chinese-speaking society:
how to handle Chinese names and characters in the text (they
differ in Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan), consistency
of translated titles and so on. Usually style and usage guides
help solve most problems, but new problems frequently crop up
requiring creative solutions.
editors prefer to read quickly through a text before they begin
editing it. The kind and amount of editing to be done depend
on the nature of the material (is it an academic piece, book
review or conference speech?), the audience for whom it is intended
(academics or the educated layperson), and the author's skill
in preparing the manuscript — all factors that can be
determined by a first reading or sampling. The first process
is mechanical editing. This involves a close reading of the
manuscript, consistency of spelling, capitalisation. Then there
is substantive editing, rewriting, reorganizing or suggesting
ways to present material. Wordy expressions, redundant or inappropriate
expressions, clichés, and overused phrases are all noted.
Scholarly articles are often quite complex documents, with extensive
bibliographies, footnotes, appendixes and heavy theoretical
content. These all have to be checked to see that they match
articles submitted to academic journals usually have to be anonymously
reviewed by suitable academics in a related field. Then the
accepted articles have to be edited and formatted to fit the
house style, typeset and the proofs sent out to the author.
In subsequent proofs, the editor goes through the text with
a fine-tooth comb looking for errors. We check to see if there
is correct pagination, that the table of contents fit the titles
of articles, that running heads match up, that text has dropped
or duplicated, or widows and orphans (stranded lines of text
at the top of a page) and ladders (hyphens that line up in several
rows) are present. Hopefully, this weeds out all the inconsistencies.
From there it goes to the printer for blueprinting, then more
checking and then the printing of the finished product.
You can surmise from all this that the act of editing in the
academic setting is indeed an interesting and challenging pursuit.
article was adapted from a piece that appeared in a recent publication
celebrating 30 years of the Department of Translation, The Chinese
University of Hong Kong.