There is precious little standardization in the editing profession; we don’t even have consistency in what each phase of editing is called. Ironic, for an industry tasked with delivering clear and consistent communication. Only two or three professional organizations have even undertaken to detail the tasks that editors do at various stages of the editorial process. Editors Canada has had a Professional Editorial Standards (PES) document since 1991, back when they were the Freelance Editors Association of Canada (FEAC). They’ve just made the third update to it, to reflect digital and accessibility issues.
This is not a major overhaul, this is a minor update to keep up with the digital and moral reality of editing today. Most of the changes smooth wording and give occasional reorganization. They’ve added reference to PDF and specific software, as well as to digital requirements such as XML tagging and alt text, and more attention to audio and visual content. There are 8 entirely new standards: A11.1, B3, B4, C1, C4, D6, E6, E7 (see below).
Editors will continue to find that realities are more fluid than these standards, with a proofread often dipping into copyediting territory and a copyedit diving into stylistic standards. The PES still don’t address the concept of the “developmental edit” that is pervasive in the book industry. It sticks instead with the substantive and stylistic titles it has always used.
These standards are still not universally accepted. They’re not even commonly accepted in a single niche. What the PES give us is a detailed starting point. And for clients, they help to enumerate the many and varied concerns of the editor that go well beyond grammar and typos. In fact, only 4 of the 99 standards have to do with grammar or punctuation.
New phrases you’ll see in the 2017 PES:
- “need to respect confidentiality and privacy”
- “improve accessibility in print and electronic media”
- reference specifically to Acrobat, InDesign, and LaTeX software
- “Use editorial judgment when deciding whether to intervene, leave as is, query, change, or recommend a change.”
- “Edit according to established editing conventions and style, as well as any organizational editorial practices and standards (e.g., controlled language specifications).”
- “ethical problems (e.g., breaches of the requirements for confidentiality and privacy)”
- “A11.1 Ensure everyone on the team is aware of the appropriate level of intervention for the edit.”
- “B3 If necessary, recommend headings and navigation aids to clarify or highlight organization of material.”
- “B4 Recommend or implement the most effective positioning of auxiliary textual material (e.g., sidebars and pull quotes).”
- recognize and recast “lack of focus”
- “C1 Improve paragraph construction to more effectively convey meaning (e.g., divide long or complicated paragraphs into simpler ones, adjust paragraph length for the medium and audience, establish clear topic sentences).”
- “C6 Revise sentences, paragraphs, and passages to resolve ambiguities, ensure logical connections, and clarify the meaning or intention, as appropriate to the material.”
- “to ensure readability, flow, and variety or consistency, as appropriate to the audience and medium”
- maintain or enhance “purpose (e.g., making text more engaging or entertaining)”
- “Know when exceptions [to standard punctuation] can be made (e.g., in fiction or advertising copy).”
- “correct or query general information that should be checked for accuracy (e.g., historical details, narrative timelines, calculations, quotations, URLs) using standard research methods and tools (e.g., dictionaries, atlases, calculator, search engines).”
- “D6 Review visual material (e.g., labels, cross-references, callouts on illustrations) and organizational information (e.g., table of contents, menus and links in online documents) to ensure they are accurate and correct, or query as required.”
- “query or correct arbitrary and confusing shifts and variations in terminology, logic, and mechanics (e.g., metaphors, characterization, spelling, numbers, abbreviations).”
- “E6 Whenever possible, proofread the material in its intended medium.”
- “E7 Understand English spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and correct errors (e.g., lack of subject–verb agreement, misplaced modifiers, incorrect pronoun case) within the limits of the proofreading role.”
- Ensure proofs contain “audio elements, additional textual elements such as captions or acknowledgements).”
- Flag “wrong font, widows and orphans, ill-fitting text, page breaks, rivers and lakes, non-English words”
- When choosing the least costly changes, “inconsistent capitalization might be left as is).”
The PES is available free on the Editors Canada website.