Last year, I created a series of copyeditor commandments called the Typographic Oath. The commandments are designed to help copyeditors juggle the many demands of editing while doing the best job possible. In brief, they are:
- Do no harm.
- Respect the writer.
- Respect the reader.
- Don’t be a search-and-replace editor.
- Look it up.
- Enforce consistency.
- He who pays makes the rules.
As I noted then, this list is open to changes. (We are talking about editing, after all.) Regular reader Doug Starr suggested a new rule:
- Read the entire manuscript first.
The reason for this rule is simple: it’s tempting to just start editing a document, but doing so is akin to hiking off trail while blindfolded.
When you hike off trail, there’s no path to follow; you have to create your own. Smart hikers do this in a way that’s safe and enjoyable for them and respectful of the environment they travel through. Experienced hiker Erich Unterberger offers these tips for off-trail hiking:
- Check for any hazard above, like loose boulders, cornices, etc.
- Avoid sensitive areas, like marshy places or heather slopes.
- Pick your line from a distance — almost any [piece] of terrain has a path of least resistance through it.
- When crossing talus or scree slopes, you need to look a few steps ahead.
- Take small steps.
Reading through a manuscript first will help you:
- Identify potential hazards and sensitive areas in the writing
- Allow you to pick a path through the text from a distance
- Familiarize yourself with the text just ahead
- Help you decide how to break the editing into small steps
A manuscript may be uncharted territory, but reading through it first allows a copyeditor to plan a safe trip that improves the territory rather than destroying it. And because planning your trip is so important, I’d put this new commandment right after Do no harm.
Do you read through a manuscript before editing? Why or why not? Leave your comments below!