Thursday, May 10, 2012

The 3 Types of Grammar Editing

Picking back up in the "Realities of Self-Editing" series that I interrupted in March, we've addressed multiple things you should know even before you start trying to edit your own work, along with editing your story structure, plot, characters, and setting. (We'll dig into specific techniques you'll want to apply when self-editing at another time.)

Now let's leave that "big picture" editing, the macroediting, and turn to the three types of grammar edits: line editing, copyediting, and proofreading. My specialty. ^_^

I say specialty, singular, because when you start talking about the type of edits where grammar is involved, definitions and job descriptions overlap. A line editor can resemble a copyeditor, who can resemble a proofreader. (Note that can.)

There's also some confusion because many publishers have been cutting staff for a while, so some of them rely on proofreaders to be copyeditors, too, or acquisitions editors to do line editing. (All those jobs take slightly different skill sets, and the replaced jobs get paid more than the ones expected to fill in for them.)

So, either out of concession to the general confusion about the job titles or because they're confused themselves, a fair number of professionals have effectually redefined the terms so now any one of those terms can be used to describe line editing.

Here's how I'm describing them:

Line Editing
makes sure your text flows properly and is grammatically correct (for your writing style).
makes sure your text says what you meant it to say and that its grammar and spelling matches the appropriate house style†
is the "Oops" check for grammar (and, traditionally, formatting) to make sure they match the house style†

So over the next three weeks, as I address line editing, copyediting, and proofreading, please bear my definitions in mind.

What do I mean by "house style"?

Some grammar rules and some appropriate spellings will differ depending on your grammar handbook and dictionary.

So before you attempt any type of grammar edits, you must first decide on a default grammar handbook and dictionary. (I recommend reading the grammar handbook, too.) Here in the US, the usual defaults are the Chicago Manual of Style and the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Some prefer the AP Stylebook and the American Heritage dictionary.

Oh, and if you have specific grammar rules or spellings for which you'd rather use a different source than your primary one? That's fine

But you will want to make a style sheet listing those specific exceptions, so you can be consistent. (Other things go on such a style sheet, but I'll get into what those things are, what style sheets are, and some examples on how to make them at another time.)

Most folks are a lot worse at this type of editing than they think they are.

That "a lot worse" includes English teachers. I suspect the difficulty stems from the detail that it's always easier to see someone else's errors than it is your own, because you know what you intended to say and do.

But remember that. Editing is a skill. Tricking yourself into seeing what's on the page is a skill. Learning to see what you wrote how it actually reads rather than how you intended it to read is another skill. All of them are skills with limits, because we're all human and imperfect, but they are skills. Different ones.

Don't make the mistake of assuming something's easy for you and thereby making a fool of yourself.

Do you think yourself good at any of the above forms of editing? Does grammar make you want to run screaming? What's your preferred dictionary?


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