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Soooo, it has been a long couple of weeks–fraught with some big decisions and some awful realizations and some editing surprises and some amazing help from above. Suffice it to say, I’m getting myself back in the saddle, so to speak, when it comes to blogging. My Editing class is right now in the middle of learning the art of copyediting, and so this post is extremely helpful in letting them know that, yes, their humble teacher does indeed know whereof she speaks. This, my friends, is what copy-editors do.

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Did you see what I did there . . . in the title? Used lots of punctuation?

Trying to add a little humor to what appears to be an overwhelming next few months. One final semester where I play two main roles–I’m a student and I’m a teacher.

As a student, I am working to finish my master’s degree in December. I’m taking a class in research where I can finally officially learn how to navigate all of the electronic sources online. I learned a little along the way to get through some of my other courses, but I’m thrilled to get some real training (my last big research paper would have been written on an electric typewriter after doing research in the card catalog).

My second class is on Shakespeare, and here’s my reading pile for this class:

shakespeare

AND, I’m finishing my research paper where I’m working to prove the importance of Literary Citizenship in university creative writing programs.

Then, I’m also teaching my Editing class at Taylor U. This is the first time I’ve had the class twice a week, so that meant revamping my syllabus. There’s so much I want to teach . . . and I soon found myself frustrated trying to lay out all of the pieces in logical order to fill all the class periods. I kept crossing out and erasing on my notepad, and then I remembered that we had a whiteboard in our basement. I pulled it out from behind some boxes, located dry erase pens and an eraser, and set about writing up my syllabus. Here’s what it looked like:

White board 1

Green for class activities, red for papers that need to be prepped and photocopied, black for homework and notes to myself. Basically we’re doing content editing in September, copyediting in October, and proofreading in November.

So the middle of October we work on proofreader marks (which certainly come in handy in copyediting), and they get a chance to learn about the Chicago Manual of Style and house style guides (I know–this is beyond exciting for you).

white board 2

And I show them this clip of “phonetic punctuation” by the amazing Victor Borge, a pianist who was also a comedian. We lost him in 2000, but his brilliance lives on.

You see, punctuation can be fun! And that’s just what I hope I can teach my students!

(Now if only Victor had done something on library research . . . )

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I’ve still got my editing cap on this week. After my tiny proofreading tantrum a couple of weeks ago and completing those two jobs for the client–who now has books way more clean than they were before–I now turn to other editing endeavors.

Namely, revising my syllabus for my editing class over at Taylor U. This year the class will be twice a week instead of once a week, which has meant major revisions to the syllabus. And since this is the fourth time teaching this class, I’m getting a good feel for what works and what doesn’t.

Over the course of the semester, I want my students to try the three main forms of editing: content editing, copyediting, and proofreading–spending roughly a month on each. (Most of them come to class not understanding the differences between these roles, the different points in the book-making process when they happen, and the different skills required to do each job well. I describe the different roles in this blog post.)

I also try to give them “real world” experience. When we edit, I obtain a real manuscript from someone who willingly allows students to give feedback. When we proofread, I show them real pages that I’ve had to work on (“This really did almost go to print, guys, until I helped save it!”).

proofreading

The one difficult part is helping them realize the tools they need to sharpen in their editing toolbox–namely, grammar. When I have mentioned that part of the syllabus in previous classes, there is an ever-so-slight collective groan. Then I assure them of two things: (1) we aren’t diagramming sentences, we’re just reviewing what they probably already know instinctively or helping them be sure of things they don’t know, and (2) I will give them candy. (It’s amazing what joy mini-candy bars bring when I toss them out for getting the correct answer. And the big bags are always available in October before Halloween when I usually hit this part of the syllabus. It’s a little Pavlovian, I admit. . . .)

The students are already pretty sharp, but I still need to at least show them the rules behind some general punctuation issues. I key in on:

  • quotations marks (single vs. double–and punctuation in and around)
  • parentheses and brackets (and punctuation in and around)
  • commas, colons, semi-colons
  • hyphens, en-dashes, em-dashes
  • capitalizations

Then, I give them copyediting practice on:

  • discerning active vs. passive voice
  • omitting needless words
  • making items parallel
  • using correct tenses
  • using correct modifiers
  • smoothing awkward sentences

I’m digging through some resources in order to create some good worksheet practice for each of these categories. While I train them to work on screen, I also teach them proofreading symbols and have them do some copyediting on hard copy as well.

So you copy editors and proofreaders out there–what are the most common errors you see? Pet peeves? What do I need to make sure my budding editors have in their toolboxes before they head out into the publishing world?

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I have a guest post today from a fellow laborer in the salt mines of proofreading. Good thing she made these saves before the books went to print! It’s people like Stephanie who help keep me from getting angry, because she keeps those horrendous errors from ending up in the final product. Enjoy!

Stephanie Rische

I’m not quite sure how I blinked and 10 years passed, but last month I woke up and realized it had been a whole decade since I jumped into the world of editing and publishing. It has been a good decade, and in honor of the mile marker, I thought I’d share with you 10 of the errors I’ve stopped from going into print over the past 10 years.

 

{Note: I have omitted the authors and titles of these books to protect the relevant parties, but rest assured, these are all real quotes from real books.}

grammar3

 

10. My daddy was a steal worker, and my granddaddy was a steal worker.

[Sounds like a kind of shady business to me.]

 

9. Gelatins 2:16 clearly states that human deeds can never save us.

[Shockingly, the book of Gelatins made it through spell-check but not canonization.]

 

8…

View original post 280 more words

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I spent this past weekend being an academic.

While I’ve presented at plenty of writers conferences, this past weekend I gave a paper (oooo, that sounds so academic) at the SUNY Council on Writing held in Buffalo, New York.

Buffalo

At the conference, I heard professors share teaching strategies to help their students engage better in a research paper and how to navigate different rhetorical situations required by different pieces of writing. One professor described working with students from one semester to the next to improve in areas where they need improvement. Another spoke during lunch about how he encourages his students to use all the technological resources at their disposal so that a paper is no longer just a Microsoft Word document but something full of visuals and hyperlinks.

The world is indeed changing, but some things are still the same.

That final product needs to be clean, perfect, polished.

My presentation was about the value of proofreading (big surprise). After decades in publishing, it’s been difficult for me to let go of the “perfection” level and understand that students need to be given freedom during the writing process. Two particular researchers in the field (for anyone who cares, it’s David Bartholomae in “Inventing the University” and Mike Rose in “The Language of Exclusion: Writing Instruction at the University”) helped me get my head around how to help writers and yet deal with my own requirement of final polish on papers. They explain that students new to academia are learning to write in a whole new way. They have to try on the language of academia. They have to take on the role of “authority” in their papers even though they’re writing to profs who are authorities. They have to think critically and not reach for the easy answer. They have to put together a coherent paper. And I would add that after writing it, they need to revise, copyedit, and proofread.

That’s a lot to ask. In a publishing house, different people do all those roles. And we’re asking students to do it all. Other research has shown that if students try to revise as they write, they end up bogging down in their own process, getting frustrated, and producing something maybe with fewer sentence-level errors but way less coherent.Frustrated student

“So Linda,” I said to myself, “let the proofreading go, would ya?”

“But I can’t,” I said back to myself, “because it’s important.”

And indeed it is. But it depends on what part of the process students are in and the rhetorical situation. I’ve learned that in initial drafts, I should work with students on the big picture. Let them get their thoughts together. Let the paper be full of comma errors and run-on sentences because this is still in process.

I should know this, for that’s just what an editor in a publishing house does. The big picture is what matters at that point.

From there, students can be helped to copyedit and then to proofread. I have for too long jumped right in with my red pen which focuses on the wrong thing too early. In reality, a student may have a lot of errors but also the beginnings of a well-reasoned argument or an amazing creative story. How much better to offer encouragement and queries at that level and leave the rest for later in the process.

Yet we still owe it to students to help them understand how to polish their papers. After all that work, we should help them deliver a piece that is indeed free of glaring errors (and that was the point of my presentation at the conference). And in a rhetorical situation like a resume or cover letter (which my Writing for Business students are doing this week), they have to understand how to create something that is indeed error free.

So what that means for us writers is that, during the process of writing, we need to just write. Get it down. Write as fast as we need to in order to keep up with our characters or our thoughts. Don’t stop to revise, at least not until the day’s writing is finished. Don’t get bogged down in the details during that first creative part of the process.

If you’re on a deadline, be sure to schedule in time for revision so you don’t feel rushed. Gone are the days of pulling all-nighters and turning in our assignment–our reputations are on the line, maybe even a paycheck.

To do it well, we need the time to revise and proofread (or have others help us–who also need to have time). But when we don’t get bogged down in the creative part of the process, we’ll feel much better about that final product.

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What a busy week! We had National Grammar Day on Monday, and today, March 8, is National Proofreading Day. For someone like me who lives this stuff on a daily basis, it’s downright exciting!

The day is devoted to “mistake-free writing” and projecting “a professional image with well-written documents that are 100 percent accurate.” Started by Judy Beaver at The Office Pro, this day is designated because it was her mother’s birthday—and her mother loved to correct errors.

As I noted on Monday, I’m not a total grammar geek but I do care about the correct usage of our language, and I’ve made a living for many years honing this skill. Lots of times I still CMShave to look things up in a dictionary or my Chicago Manual of Style (the style manual for much of the book publishing industry). All manuscripts go through several phases of editing, and I’ve done them all. Generally, if I do one phase on a particular manuscript, I make sure that other people do the other two phases–there’s a different focus that has to take place at each phase.

Editing—I call this the 10,000-foot view. I look at the big picture. I’m reading the fiction story and checking the plot, the pacing and flow, the characterization. In a non-fiction manuscript, I’m seeing if the organization works and makes sense. Any changes I suggest at this point are on the macro level—moving chapter 3 to become chapter 1, for instance. Or looking for that loose end in the mystery that the writer forgot to tie up (“What happened to so-and-so?”). The author makes changes (or not) based on my suggestions, and then the manuscript goes to a copyeditor.

Copyediting—This is more like the 1,000-foot view. Now that the editor has put the manuscript in good shape, if I’m in this role, I’m reading closely for sentence construction—dangling modifiers, run-ons, and inconsistencies. I fact check. I query if something doesn’t make sense, if a transition is needed, if a character’s way of speaking doesn’t sound real based on how he or she has been described by the author (“Would he really say this in this way?”).

Proofreading—This is the 10-foot view. If I’m in this role, sometimes I’m working on a manuscript, but often at this phase I’m looking at a pdf of typeset pages—which means I have to check the table of contents to make sure the titles and page numbers are correct, I check all the folios and running heads, I check the look of each page—marking widows and orphans (those random one or two words at the top of a page, or the lone line at the bottom—these just look awkward). Then I read every word. Even a clean manuscript can have random errors show up when the document is flowed into the typesetting program (a hidden tab in a Word document can suddenly rear its ugly head and space words far apart when typeset).

I love it.

Proofreading is probably my favorite. It’s that red pen mentality. I’m looking for errors only because I want the book, the author, and the publisher to put their best foot (feet?) forward.

The three types of editing take different skills. In my Editing class, I give my students practice in all of these areas, telling them that they will probably find an affinity for one and not like the others so much. But I also tell those who want to become editors that they should hone their grammar and punctuation knowledge anyway, because the copyediting and proofreading jobs are often the entry level positions in publishing companies. From there, they can move up, since often editors and acquisitions editors are hired from within, from people who have been with the company and understand the ethos there.

proofreading

As I noted in my post earlier this week, proofreading skills are vitally important, especially on the job market. To have a clean paper, I suggest the following:

(1) Don’t trust the spell check program on your computer. (Judy has some tips on her blog about this.)

(2) If you’re not absolutely sure of the spelling of a word, don’t guess. Look it up. Dictionary.com is your best friend.

(3) Go back and read your letter, paper, email, memo, whatever, aloud slowly to yourself. This will help you notice if words are missing or if a sentence runs on and on. (It’s best to do this on hard copy. Trust me, you’ll see things differently than on screen. A friend of one of my students writes about that on his blog.)

(4) Then, read it again starting from the bottom paragraph backward, a paragraph at a time. This helps you get outside your own flow and see errors you might skip over otherwise.

(5) Electronically, go back and do a search for an open parenthesis (to make sure that you always have a matching close parenthesis), an open quotation mark (to make sure you always have a the appropriate closing quotation mark and to make sure any inner quotation marks are single and that they are both there). And get rid of those double spaces between sentences!

(6) Be aware of your own weaknesses. If you know you tend to write run-on sentences, watch for that in particular. If you know that possessives always mess you up, do a search for apostrophes and check each one for correct usage.

This will clear up a good number of your errors. It never hurts, however, to have someone else look over an especially important document—like a cover letter or resume or manuscript submission.

Let’s put our best foot forward—both of them!

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Today, March 4, is National Grammar Day.

Are you celebrating? Well, are you?

I am celebrating by finding other celebrants–people I want to add to my tribe because they care about this stuff as much as I do.

I have to confess to being a bit of a grammar geek–although not nearly at the level of Mignon Fogarty aka Grammar Girl. I know some things, but I may not know why I know them or the rule behind them. That comes from thirty years of proofreading, following publisher style sheets, painstakingly reading typeset pages and marking pdfs until my eyes blur.

I love my red pen.

Redpen

You see, I value perfection. (Oh my, I sure hope there aren’t any errors in this post when I’m finished . . . ). I’ve started grad school to learn more about teaching writing and discovered in my theory classes, much to my chagrin, that teaching grammar works against creativity and that college instructors try to steer clear in favor of the big picture, the creativity, the thought processes. I believe all of that is vital, of course. What’s the point of writing if you can’t make a clear argument or create a document that flows? But I also believe that the best argument in the world will get ignored if the writing is fraught with errors. Why do I want to take the time to read your article and consider your opinion if you can’t take the time to make sure to spell correctly and use proper punctuation?

It matters.

So I love National Grammar Day. (It’s on March 4th because apparently that’s the only date that forms a sentence, “March forth.”) I love when I find others in my tribe who care as much as I do about grammar and punctuation and a well-written sentence (they won’t be dangling any modifers in front of me, no sir!).

For one of my classes, I did a little research project. I hypothesized that writing instructors need to teach their students to proofread. We help them a lot at the contextual and sentence level in their writing, but we probably say, “And be sure to proofread your paper before turning it in,” without explaining what proofreading really involves. I think we do them a disservice. There is indeed a place for focusing on perfection. (More about this on Friday, March 8, National Proofreading Day . . . oh my, busy week!)

Take, for example, business writing. I start filling in for the instructor of a Writing for Business class this week for the rest of the semester (the regular instructor is out for shoulder surgery and rehab). I’m reading the textbooks and finding constant statements about the importance of perfection. In fact, one book quotes a website that keeps a collection of “cover letters from hell“–cringe-worthy letters sent to them by folks hoping for a job, like the person who wrote that he/she was an English major good at grammar–and then misspelled it as “grammer.” The website then states,

Elements of Style

A word to the wise: An error-free letter is now so freakin’ rare that the minimal care required to send a letter with zero defects, combined with a few crisply written simple declarative sentences, will, alone, guarantee a respectful reading of a resume. Maybe even secure an interview. Doesn’t anybody read Strunk and White in school any more? If you haven’t, get a copy of The Elements of Style, so you can follow it all your days.

Exactly.

Now all those theorists have a point. Do your writing and don’t worry a bit about your grammar. Get your ideas down. Tell your story. Make your point. Do the best writing you can do.

But before you send the query letter, turn in that article, or send in that manuscript, do me a favor.

Make sure it’s perfect.

Now realize that if you have your own little stylistic “tics” (you want to Capitalize Certain Words for Emphasis, or do random italics), then just let your proofreader know. You can be “incorrect” if it’s part of your style. Create a style sheet that tells your proofreader this is how you want it–then he/she will make sure that you’re consistent, along with looking for any errors you may have missed.

As citizens of the literary world, let’s protect our craft, always doing our best to deliver the best quality.

And if you feel that your proofreading skills leave something to be desired, hire a professional proofreader (or get someone you trust who really knows the craft) to go over everything before you submit the story or mail the letter. Believe it or not, there are people who thrive on helping your writing be perfect. In fact, even if you are good at it, it’s difficult to proofread your own work. It’s that whole “seeing the forest for the trees” thing.

(One little additional note: I’m talking at the professional level here. Please don’t refuse to drop me a note for fear of making errors. I truly do want to keep my friends. My point is that when we’re doing professional writing, we need to be professionals. The rest of the time, my red pen is safely in the drawer.)

So celebrate National Grammar Day with me! Grammar is the toolbox of our trade. Let’s keep those tools sharp!

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