When you've done an edit of any complexity, it may be wise to write an edit summary, in which you summarize certain editorial recommendations. Which ones? The complicated ones—the ones in which you must do some explaining. Here are some examples:
- You recommend that the writer do some reorganizing of content. Just explaining what you recommend takes some effort, but so does your rationale for the organizational change, and so does your discussion of the problems with the current organization.
- You recommend some tricky use of bold and italics. While these seem like routine changes, they are so pervasive across the document and they seem so contradictory on the surface, you feel compelled to explain them.
You don't put anything in your edit summary about routine copyedit changes—only things that need explaining.
An edit summary is a good thing because it gets in writing—on paper or electronically—your complex editorial recommendations. It gives you the opportunity to elaborate fully, whereas you cannot in the margins of the edited document itself. Having your editorial recommendations in writing enables the writer to consider them fully, whereas in a face-to-face conference those recommendations might not be fully considered, understood, or remembered. And the edit summary is a record for future reference in case questions come up about the quality of the document you edited.
When you deliver your edit to the writer, you attach the edit summary to the top of the document if it's in hardcopy or copy it into the e-mail to which you attach the edited document if it's an electronic edit.
After the writer has had a chance to consider your edit and the edit summary, you meet to discuss. This is your chance and the writer's chance to explain things. The writer may not be able to use some of your recommendations and will explain why. Ideally, you take notes on all this and add these notes to your edit summary, indicating which recommendations the writer agrees to and which ones that she or he cannot use and why. This is good information, some of which you can add to your house style guide.
Here's an example of an edit summary:
Dear Mr. Smith:
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to work with you on your proposal. I certainly want to support you in your efforts to get this contract. While this draft has plenty of good information and includes most of the expected components, I do have some suggestions that would improve your proposal.
- Organization. You discuss additional problems that the handbook would help solve in the benefits section. Shouldn't this be moved up to the problems section?
- Lack of background in the introduction. From what I have read about proposals, it's standard to refer to your source of information about the project. You might include this information in the introduction.
- Unnecessary information. In the needs section, you discuss basic industry concepts which I would imagine your potential already client knows. I've marked this material as possibly something you can delete.
- Lack of emphasis on specific problems and benefits. I think the problems and benefits section could be more effective, if you formatted the specific problems and benefits into bulleted lists. This would alleviate the big long paragraph and make your text more scannable.
- Audience detail. You have extra information about the intended readers of the handbook in sections after the audience section. In my markup, I've suggested consolidating this information.
- Outline: location and contents. I think including the outline in the body of the proposal disrupts the flow. I recommend that you make it an attachment to the proposal. Be sure and refer to that attachment. As for the contents, you state that there are three types, but the outline is unclear. It gives a lot of detail about two types but nothing about two other.
- Qualifications section. First of all, you do not mention any prior writing experience; this is a project in which writing is essential. If you don't have directly relevant items, consider listing samples of your academic writing and ACC course lectures. Second, you do not list any details of your education or how you've been keeping up with the rapidly changing industry . Finally, it would help to make bullets of these individual items of experience to increase readability.
- Estimated hours for writing. You specify 13 hours to write the handbook. While I don't know how long the handbook will be, this sounds like way too little amount of time. Some industry standards suggest as many as 6 hours per page.
- Bibliography. I'm not sure that you need this section at all, but if you keep it, shouldn't you include more up-to-date sources?
- Closing. Because this is a business letter, you really a closing paragraph. In it you would include contact information and some encouragement to get in touch with you.
- Copyedit. Attached is my codyedit of your draft proposal. If you can't interpret any of the symbols or marks, don't hesitate to contact me.
Mr. Smith, I want to meet with you to discuss my recommendations and corrections. In the meantime, I hope you will look carefully at my markup. When we do get together, you may want to consider having me do the revision of your proposal. Obviously, I've made a lot of comments and it could be overwhelming. I would like to support you in this effort to get this contract and am ready to work with you on the handbook itself.
Call me at 334456 to arrange a meeting time.
David McMurrey, Ph.D.
Attachment: copyedited proposal
Notice the following:
- cordial beginning—try to find something positive to say.
- use of bullets and italicized labels.
- helpful, supportive, nonaccusatory tone.
- editorial recommendations based on what the editor considers to be general practice or to be better for the audience.
- polite but forceful request to meet to discuss the edit and the edit summary.
It's important for you as editor to make sure the writer considers and uses your edit. It's easy for writers to think they are too busy, have too many more pressing issues to deal with. As editor, you have to make sure your hard work does not get ignored!
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