Issue 39, 26 August 2000
In this issue...
Why this issue is so late
Contributions (articles and money) wanted
Feature article: Management issues for editors
Grammar and punctuation for the Web: What's proper?
A conversation with a Web style guide expert
Question time: A listserv/support group for editors?
Advertisement: Electronic editing book
As many of you know, I have been planning to travel around Australia in a motorhome, writing newsletters for my travel Web site, Avalook at Australia. Well, it's finally all happening. I'm writing this issue in a small Aboriginal community in northern Australia, where we're visiting a doctor friend (who runs the local hospital) and his wife, a nurse at the hospital. I didn't get an issue of this newsletter ready to go before we left on the trip, and we've been 19 days without e-mail--as well as being rather busy enjoying ourselves seeing all sorts of interesting stuff. If you're interested, the first instalment is at http://www.avalook.com.au/newsletr/oznews17.htm.
This issue is also late because I'm working on the final draft of my new book, Editing Online Help, which will be available in late October. Some of you have been reviewing early drafts of some chapters; if you haven't returned your comments to me yet, please do so as soon as possible. Thank you!
To make up for the lateness, this issue is bigger than usual.
I'm looking for people to contribute some articles, or tips, or short notes about almost anything related to editing. If you have something relevant to share, please send it to me! I'm sure the readers would appreciate some contributions about different working styles, materials and clients.
In addition, I'm looking for donations to keep this Web site alive. Now that I've retired from the paid workforce, I need some assistance to pay for the out-of-pocket expenses -- mainly the site hosting fee. If everybody who appreciates this site gave just one dollar, that would be enough for a year's site hosting.
If you've bought a copy of my book, or plan to buy the next one when it comes out, you've contributed your share. If not, and you'd like to contribute, please let me know. Processing small amounts of money, especially in foreign currencies, can cost more than it's worth, so I'm looking into cost-effective ways of doing this. Meanwhile, I can accept cash (almost any currency), US$ checks, or A$ cheques in my name.
By far most of the editorial questions I'm asked are about interpersonal issues, which are really management issues. They are also the hardest to answer, because solutions to management problems depend so much on the situation. I wrote a bit about this in issue 6, but perhaps it's time to revisit the question.
Managers can be part of a problem either actively (by opposing some of your role), or passively (by agreeing with you but not doing whatever needs to be done to improve a situation). If you can't win active management support, you really have two choices: leave, or shrug and say "it's a paycheck; who cares?" and stop fighting the situation.
Here's a typical scenario from provided by a reader:
What do you do if company management is not really interested in establishing processes and structure to ensure quality or support an editor?
I am a "lone editor" and the first at a 300-employee software company... There is no institutional support for the position. From what I can gather after 10 months, the manager wanted an editor to take over some of the training and oversight of the other writers, so he could continue to be a "working manager" and do some writing. Unfortunately, he is the worst writer in the group and isn't too good at managing either.
What comes out of our department looks like it was never edited, even after I provided (in one particular case) a full JPL Level 2 edit (mechanical style) two times on the same document. Nothing was applied and the document has technically inaccurate information, wrong addresses and company names and improper use of third-party trademarks (wrong name) in a header! Some manuals and readme files have gone out without any editing and the writers got our company name wrong!
The edits that are applied are applied haphazardly and the end product looks like it needs a serious production edit. The mistakes look terrible -- misspellings in headlines, misuse and misspelling of our own company trademarks and other company trademarks, obviously bad page breaks that cut tables and figures from titles... you name it! Management resists my efforts to establish any process that requires things to be submitted to me or that allows time in the whole cycle for editing. I am a "resource" to help people with "language." But our problems are really more major than that -- I can't see worrying about passive voice problems (I was told to talk to a writer about this) when so many bigger usability and accuracy problems persist.
I established a series of seminars one day a week for writers to come to, hoping this might proactively solve some problems, but I can't make it mandatory and no one came this week. The manager said he would definitely be there, but didn't come to either of the two sessions. The seminars are to teach what the Microsoft Manual of Style has in it. It's what I was told they used when I was hired; everyone has a copy, but no one follows it. I decided the problem was that the MS Manual of Style is organized like a dictionary, so it's been hard for the writers to quickly summarize what to do with it. I put together a syllabus with 7 topical lectures that I could cover in 30 minutes each. I sent out a list with references to the appropriate page numbers in the style manual. The list/syllabus itself could save a writer weeks of bumbling and is a good self-teaching tool. But that isn't happening.
I'm still learning a lot and I'm not ready to leave the company. Is there something more I could be doing or should I be looking for another job? One hope is the marketing department, which seems to use my comments and appreciate them more (I am a "resource" for all departments, but there's no requirement to follow what I suggest. I had to push marketing to get in touch with the lawyers and find out what our trademarks are instead of making them up and using different ones in different documents. My insistence made my manager upset. But the manager insists I'm doing a wonderful job and am a valuable employee and that I make all the other employees more productive. I also seem to have a lot of respect from colleagues and even the marketing department, despite a little hostility and some refusal to send things to me for editing at all.
My other idea was to approach the QA department about a transfer. Our QA department does enter typos and language edits as bugs, so there is some overlap in our duties. I've uncovered way too many factual errors and omissions for an editor. I was also thinking I could submit my edits secretly to QA to be submitted into the TRACK system. (I was told not to use TRACK.) Drafts go to QA before they ever go to me, sometimes without ever going to me, and I do know that the writers complain about the high number of language "bugs."
What would you do in this situation?
Your situation sounds all too familiar to me, and I think it is very relevant to many of the readers.
Generally, if you can't get management to support you, your best course of action is to find another job. Before you do, you could throw what I call a "strategic tantrum" and tell your manager that if he won't support you, so the company can benefit from your expertise, then you'll leave. If you don't want to do that (either the tantrum or leaving), you'll need to go in for some guerrilla tactics.
The first thing to remember is that any of your efforts need to answer 3 questions in your manager's mind and the writers' minds:
- What's in it for me? ("Me" = manager or writer, not you the editor)
- So what?
- Who cares?
You don't want to address the questions directly, but pitch your seminars and discussions with people in such a way that you do answer those questions. You want the writers to be thinking that "what's in it for them" is your work (a) saves them time and (b) results in fewer QA "bug reports" on typos and language problems. "So what" is that they gone done faster and their work looks better -- thus they look like better, more productive writers. "Who cares" should be the writers, for those reasons!
If you can somehow get everyone thinking that your work can benefit them personally, they are much more likely to be cooperative. How you convince them of that depends, of course, on the situation and the personalities of the individuals involved.
Here are some tactics I've used successfully:
- Don't tell the writers you are "correcting" their mistakes. Tell them
you appreciate that their first priority is to get the facts right, and
you realise that trying to remember what's in the style guide is a nuisance
for them, so you're there to help by taking care of all that stuff while
they focus on what they do best.
This approach has the potential disadvantage of making them think you are only a copyeditor, or that you are their secretarial assistant, so it needs to be used carefully.
- Offer to type in your edits instead of marking them on paper, so they
don't have to take the time to change things. Assure the writers that you
won't change anything factual; you'll only change the tedious, picky stuff.
Anything else you'll mark for their attention. This should help them feel
that you won't muck up their work. Some writers will refuse to allow you
to touch their files, while others won't mind (and may be secretly happy
to have you do so).
The main problem with this approach is that you need to know what you are doing in whatever word processor or publishing program the writers are using, so you don't muck up their work accidentally. I've found that many writers aren't as good at using the tools as I am, so I can do some guerrilla fixups of the files while I'm fixing their punctuation. But even when they know as much or more about the tool, I'm confident that I won't make anything worse.
A minor problem is, again, that the writers may start looking upon you as their secretarial assistant, but I think that perception is easier to overcome than their seeing you as an opponent, or someone who makes them look bad by finding their mistakes.
- Study some books on personalities and perceptual style, so you have a better idea of the best way to negotiate with people. An approach that's good for one person may be completely wrong for another. See my book list at http://www.jeanweber.com/books/worktalk.htm for some suggestions of books to read.
My correspondent answered,
Thanks for the reminder about working with managers. My brother, who is a manager, gave me this advice and I've been trying to follow it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
I even took to analyzing my approach and got a copy of Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. I've been trying to follow it in the last 2 months. People like me but nothing changes! (His suggestions are to call attention to problems indirectly, "let people save face," motivate positively, mention my own errors first if I ever need to mention errors, ask questions instead of making suggestions, etc.)
I try to show the manager what's in it for him, but he doesn't seem to care about looking good, his external reputation, or the possibility of future problems and complaints. I think it's because his bosses and the company don't care -- there's absolutely nothing in it for him other than his professional reputation outside the company and he doesn't seem to care as far as I can tell. As far as the writers, I tell them to think about their portfolios and careers and the annual STC competition (and the possibility to submit work under their own name for this). It works to motivate them and endears them to me, but if they never submit anything (or never have time because it's not allocated for them), what can I do? Even when I do edits, they only partially make it into final products and big typos in obvious locations still go out. (No scheduled production edit.)
My final comment on this person's situation:
From her description, I'd say that leaving -- or transferring into another part of the company -- is the only answer, unless she's willing to just accept the situation.
If I worked for that company, I'd definitely throw a tantrum (if I wanted to stay but was planning to leave) -- it can be amazingly effective. (The response I typically get is "I had no idea this was so important to you," when I'm thinking, "I've only been telling you for the past year!")
If I'd decided I'd had enough and didn't want to stay even if things did change, first I'd find another job, then I'd march in to my manager and say, "I quit because I found a place that appreciates me."
Amy Gahran has an interesting article in Content Spotlight, A newsletter for online content creators and publishers, Issue 2.5, July 31, 2000. Most of us were educated to believe that there is one "correct" (and fairly formal) version of English grammar and punctuation, and any deviation from that is mere sloppiness. Not true, according to Amy.
Crawford Kilian's column in Content Spotlight is always interesting and valuable. In Issue 2.6, August 14, 2000, he interviews the creator of a new resource online, Edit-Work, to gain insight into Web writing/editing style. Edit-Work "offers clear and logical guidelines for developing Web site style guides."
Someone called "lover of words" firstname.lastname@example.org wrote to ask, "I [am] looking for any kind of listserv/support group situation -- I've had a lot of trouble since I moved from the role of writer to editor in my organization! Do you know of any such group, or of other books that address the psychology of editing in terms of nitty-gritty, everyday communications (if you phrase your comments as 'we need to...' is that more or less offensive to the writer than phrasing them as 'you need to...' etc)."
Any suggestions from readers?
Electronic editing: Editing in the computer age
by Jean Hollis Weber
Published by WeberWoman's Wrevenge
A quick start guide for editing students, experienced editors making the switch from paper to online, and anyone who needs to write or edit electronically.
Available in both downloadable electronic (PDF) and printed forms. For details
on ordering a copy, see
or send e-mail to email@example.com
If you have a product or service of interest to editors, I'll be happy to consider including a short advertisement, for a modest fee. Contact me for details.
© Copyright 2000, Jean Hollis Weber. All rights reserved.
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