Student guest post: An education in editing and style

by andybechtel

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the sixth of those posts. Jordan Moses is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in editing and graphic design. She recently returned from Australia and plans on writing and editing for a travel magazine.

“Oh, and by the way, leave the commas outside the quotation marks; the Jamaicans are using a British style.”

I admit, it wasn’t something I expected to hear that morning, but my internship has taught me to be prepared for anything. I recently undertook working with Technical Information Publishing Solutions, or TIPS, a small publishing company that I learned about through The Editor’s Desk.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to understand a great deal about what it means to be a copy editor. As editors, there are a lot of forces that draw our attention. After all, we must choose who to serve and how.

The first rule I learned about editing is that a copy editor only exists through whatever stylebook they’re using; everything else is superfluous.

TIPS uses the Chicago Manual of Style since they primarily deal with e-books. However, many journalists favor the Associated Press Stylebook, including UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school.

Having to jump between my Advanced Editing class and my internship, I’ve stumbled across several inconsistencies. An apostrophe s at the end of duchess might have been welcomed in class, but it shouldn’t have existed at work. And I would have received an actual timeout had I put the dash in “time-out” during class.

However, from working with both styles I’ve come to appreciate the differences between the two handbooks, and more importantly that copy editors cannot be expected to edit if the rules that need to be conformed to are not established. In this instance, I had to know who my audience was and what style the writer wanted to use to best reach them.

So it was with no great peril that I seamlessly transitioned into inversing first authors’ names, but not second authors, rid references of serial commas and struck out Jamaica every time it appeared beside Kingston. Two hours later, when I would sit in front of an Apple computer in class, my brain would once again switch to AP mode.

Once a style is chosen, we then come to a thin line of distinction that rarely any copy editor gets right the first time. It is the line between editing for style use and maintaining the author’s voice. There are certain turns of phrase or colloquialisms that writers insist upon using without which their writing would cease to be their own (at least that’s what I’m told.) Striking through every “out of this world” when you know the writer is going to return a paper full of angry red STATs is probably not the best approach. An agreement has to be made between the author and editor to do what’s best for the reader.

Carol Saller, who works as a manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press, has an insightful book called “The Subversive Copy Editor” that can help you deal with those authors who just won’t budge. From what I’ve experienced, I think Saller is on to something.

The most important thing I’ve learned both in class and at my internship it is that the goal of any copy editor should be to know how to balance using a style manual and making compromises with the author to present the best package for the reader. The audience is who we should be serving.

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