Can You Edit Your Own Work? Part I

You can if you have a thick skin, if you’re honest with yourself, or if no one else has time to look at a document for you. However, this usually doesn’t work well for a book-length manuscript. You’ve been too close to the material for too long.

Otherwise, know that it is hard, detailed labor to edit your own material! This is especially true (and frustrating) for English because the rules of grammar are in a constant state of flux and even academics can’t agree on too much. You can also pre- or post-edit your own work if you mistrust the individual officially assigned to edit it.

Not to be paranoid there, of course. If the company has an official editor, then it is that editor’s job to look for accuracy, clarity, cohesion, style issues, or quirks the company insists on using. This happens even when the company is flat out wrong from the grammatical or even the commonsense standpoint. Document your protest, and then just let it go, if that’s the case. There’s no help for corporate leaders who don’t care if their customers think the business is run by idiots. Damage control can’t always fix that image once it’s out there among the public, though they will try when made aware.

If you’re new to technical writing or even copywriting, for example, you’ll gradually learn that the field has several of its own rules uniquely designed to make English professors cringe, such as short, sometimes choppy sentences and chunked information. The truth is people can only absorb what they need to know at that moment in time, whether Academia likes it or not.

Also, be aware that grammatically correct expressions can be a hindrance to clarity of communication. “Up with which I will not put” is the classic and deliberate example, usually attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, of why the rule about not ending sentences with a preposition is frequently ridiculous.

However, there are times when you’ll find yourself re-editing people who have changed things that shouldn’t have been changed at all. An official company editor, though overworked, generally has the last word, so will also shoulder the responsibility for any corrections not cleared with the overworked SME (Subject Matter Expert) through the overworked writer. I’ve been on both sides of that fence and it can get testy. And if the editor has ruined prime quotes from an important newspaper interviewee, you’ll never want to work as a reporter again.

Surprise: Qualify is NOT an acceptable substitution for Quantify, even if you’ve never heard of Quantify before. It doesn’t even come close in meaning.

[Runs screaming from the room but will return next week with Part II.]

Disclaimer: My blog posts are statements of opinion only. I am not in the business of giving financial, legal, medical or any other type of advice. See Terms of Use and Disclaimer for further disclaimers.

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