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One could argue that an editor’s job is entirely about the conscious use of language. That is, conscious in the senses of: being aware of and responsive to words and their meaning; having knowledge of the topic; having and raising a concern where necessary; being intentional in the choice of vocabulary when suggesting change.
In today’s world, where rapid and easy communication is exposing the unconscious use of language, ‘conscious language’ has become a technical term related to sensitivity and awareness. This interpretation is explored on the forums as members question the use and validity of words and phrases that, up until now, have been employed without thought or a broader understanding.
Resources for fiction editors
The specialist Fiction forum’s invaluable EDI Resources for Editors helps its members to ‘answer questions like “Is this insensitive?” and “How do I phrase this query?” as well as presenting solutions or giving advice for how to approach problematic texts’. There are over 50 links and references to books, websites, organisations, courses and guides that will help you develop your awareness of what conscious language is and how it is developing. The good news for those who aren’t yet on the Fiction forum is that many of these resources also appear on our dedicated EDI webpage.
Maintaining a safe space
While the overarching principle on the forums is that anything is up for reasoned discussion, questioning and point-making, threads can get heated at times. Usually, forum users keep the space constructive and supportive by acknowledging the many facets of different individual experiences. On the rare occasions that the tone gets too personal or aggressive, then the thread is either closed (so no further comments can be posted but all the interesting points can still be seen) or (even more rarely, if the argument is becoming harmful) removed to maintain the forums as a safe space. If you want to see the rationale then please visit section 2 of the CIEP’s Dignity Policy, ‘Statement of expectations’.
A common editorial trait is a consciousness of the gaps in our knowledge and the desire to learn from change and from those who do know.
On SfEPLine, Helen Stevens said ‘I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s never considered the connotations of the word “aid”’ when she started Conscious language: the word ‘aid’ to share information about a campaign by organisations in global justice. This did lead to some political discussion, but even more importantly it uncovered useful links and different perspectives on one of the smallest words in the dictionary. Also on SfEPLine is ‘Patient’ as unwanted label: no discussion, just a link to an interesting article.
It’s no surprise that LGBTQ terminology is often discussed on SfEPLine; but that a linguistics gem – and a global language lesson – appears in Off topic is a surprise. Or perhaps not. Are editors ever really off-topic?
The newer Events forum is becoming a source of resources. The number of events that discuss EDI and conscious language is testament to a growing awareness of the importance of being careful about the words used in many situations. Why not add new events postings to your email receipts so you don’t miss out on adding to your skills, knowledge – and CPD for upgrading?
From the macro of Using ‘man’ for ‘humankind’ to the micro of Conscious language, ‘to dwarf’ (v.), from the general of Use of the term ‘Caucasian’ in SfEPLine to the specific of A character with Down’s syndrome in MG fiction – question in the Fiction forum, members are using the forums to clarify language for themselves, their clients and readers.
Discussions are also helping members develop their business through sensitivity or authenticity reading. Authenticity reading – how to charge is practical while White author writing about Black women’s hair is more wide-ranging, and Non-English dialogue in an English context in the Fiction forum places the reader firmly at the centre.
We hope you enjoy developing your knowledge in the safe space of the forums and that you also contribute, as every individual experience casts light on our conscious use of language.
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
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Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.