Issue 10, 27 May 1999
In this issue...
Putting marks on paper (or into a file) is the most basic task that an editor does. More complex is the range of interpersonal and technical skills that an effective editor uses to help writers and publishing teams manage a project and reach their goal.
The editor's role in relation to other members of an organisation can vary greatly. In some cases, a team of people -- including one or more editors -- is assigned to a particular project; in other cases, work arriving at an editorial department is assigned to the next available editor, and there may be no ongoing relationship between the editor and other people working on a project.
Even in an ongoing relationship, the editor's role can vary considerably, depending on the working methods of the group, the editor's skills and responsibilities, and management's view of the editor's level of authority.
The editor's status and degree of authority depends on the culture of the organisation. Even though editorial activities may be similar, editors may be given either high or low authority within their organisations.
If editing is valued by the organisation, the editor is given significant authority, for example, to participate in projects, oversee writers, make changes and even create an organisational style. Status goes with this authority. (If editing is not valued or understood, the editor may be regarded as a glorified spelling-checker or "the person who gets our documents printed".)
Too often the editor's role is:
- Poorly defined
- Not always explained to the people the editor will be working with
- Not seen as needing management support
- Not seen as requiring authority appropriate to the responsibility
The individual editor needs to be involved in negotiating an appropriate role within a given organisation. At a minimum, this negotiation needs to cover:
- Management issues - responsibility and authority
- Ensuring writers know what the editor's role is
- Determining the timing and type of editorial involvement
- Setting priorities on the editor's time
- Setting editorial policy
This is covered on another page.
What's the best way to organise the division and flow of writing and editing work? I am familiar with several possibilities, depending on the individuals involved, the project, and the organisation.
Some questions to consider:
- How many people are involved in the project?
- What are their skills levels?
- What are the time constraints?
- How much other work does each person have to do?
- How well do team members get along with each other? Do they respect and value each other's work (both methods and results)?
Some typical scenarios for electronic editors are:
- Editor types in changes; result goes directly to layout and production
- Best when writer is not available (for example, has left the company)
or fast turnaround is required (for example, news); may be used in any situation
where the editor has the final say
- Editor types in changes and questions; file goes to writer to accept or reject changes or to request clarification
- Best when writers are experienced or will have their names on the resulting
document, or when writers are inexperienced and markup will assist in their
education; equivalent to markup on paper
- Editor types in changes and questions and discusses with author
- Best when training inexperienced writers (or those new to the company
style), or in the case of many questions that are best resolved through
- Editor provides comments in a separate file and writer or layout person inserts them
- Best when editor doesn't have appropriate software to edit the file directly and/or layout is most important (for example, in brochures)
Most of the problems I have seen with any of these scenarios has more to do with conflicts between the writer and the editor, rather than any technical problem. Some writers want nothing to do with electronic editing, even if the original files are not touched; such writers typically do not want to deal with anything other than marks on paper.
If a new way of working is being imposed on an existing writer or group, management needs to (but all too often doesn't) treat the situation with tact and consideration. New hires (staff or contract) can reasonably be required to do it the new way without any discussion, but hiring managers should ensure that candidates are aware of the working arrangements, whatever they are. Remember that the word "teamwork" means different things to different people.
EscapeArtist is "the website for anyone moving to another country: escaping Americans, expatriates, overseas job seekers, tax exiles, adventurers and freedom seekers". Some of it assumes the reader is an escaping American, but much of it is useful for anyone, including intending telecommuters. For example, there's a page of links to online telephone directories of the world: http://www.escapeartist.com/global1/directories.htm.
Among other things, there's a section on Internet commerce, including telecommuting, web communications, the net office (for road warriors), and web phones for expatriates; and a section with a collection of links to information on emigrating to various parts of the world, if you have an interest in physically relocating. Those who want to telecommute from a boat or a recreational vehicle might find much of interest here as well.
My only complaint with the site is that some of it is such a collection of links that it's a bit tedious to wade through them to get to any real content. But I find it sufficiently interesting to go back occasionally for another look. (I particularly enjoy some of the personal "escape" stories -- one of my favourites is the couple who set off to tour America: she drove and he kept up his technical writing career on a desk in the back. Their tales of finding a place to upload his work to his employer -- and their travelogue to their Web site -- made fascinating reading. If you're interested, check out Extreme Telecommuting -- An Office Odyssey with Sid and Kristanne, at http://www.officeodyssey.com/.)
© Copyright 1999, Jean Hollis Weber. All rights reserved.
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