Should You Be a Dog-Whistle Copyeditor?
After creating the Copyeditor’s Typographic Oath over a year ago, I thought I had a finished document. Then I added a new commandment to it earlier this month: Read the entire manuscript first. It’s done now, right?
The dust hasn’t even settle on the new commandment (it’s not one every copyeditor can follow and I have my reservations about it), but here I am, adding to the list again:
Match the editing to the project. Match the precision of your editing with the needs of the project, text, audience, and publisher.
John McIntyre introduced me to the concept of a dog-whistle copyeditor during last week’s audio conference (if you missed it, you can purchase the audio CD and accompanying PDF). A dog-whistle copyeditor takes the time to edit the copy to such a fine degree that few people will notice the differences. Those that do, of course, will appreciate the work and are the readers we’re looking to impress: discriminating readers who recognize the slight difference between convince and persuade.
For the most part, we’re talking about rules that are in flux. Distinctions that are observed only in the higher reaches of the language tower: our more formal texts.
It’s editing done to an extremely high level of precision.
There are two problems with being a dog-whistle editor:
- Copyeditors are shorter on time than ever before. These finer points are wonderful, but when we have such limited time to edit, they take our attention away from more serious problems.
- Unless your audience is discriminating, no one will notice these changes but you.
It’s OK to let these finer points go and get on with the job at hand. In fact, you should let them go unless one or more of the following is true:
- You have time. Editors blessed with more than enough time to edit a manuscript can take the time to ponder whether the sentence requires compared to or compared with.
- Your audience en masse will notice these edits. Copyediting’s audience is a stellar example of this. You notice these details, and we try to follow as many of them as are practical and reasonable.
- He Who Writes the Checks wants you to follow them. Whoever is paying your salary or invoice has the right to dictate the rules. Just make sure you lobby for enough time to edit so precisely.
You have to match the precision of your editing to the needs of the text, the audience, and the publisher. If you have five minutes to edit 500 words, you should forgo the niceties.
Our new oath, then (for the moment, at least):
- Do no harm. Correct what is wrong without introducing any errors.
- Respect the writer. Only make changes that are necessary.
- Respect the reader. Ensure the writing will be understood by the reader.
- Read the entire manuscript first. Avoid re-editing by getting to know the manuscript first.
- Don’t be a search-and-replace editor. Don’t automatically make changes. Think things through first.
- Match the editing to the project. Match the precision of your editing with the needs of the project, text, audience, and publisher.
- Look it up. If a rule gives you pause, look it up. If you’re sure you know the rule, look it up.
- Enforce consistency. Ensure the meaning shines through the language mechanics.
- He who pays makes the rules. Publishing is a business. The publisher gets to make the rules.
The Copyeditor’s Typographic Oath should be a set of rules we can all follow for every project, every time. Could you follow the standards here? Let me know what you think needs revising in the comments section below.