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Whether to start a post and how to reply to posts are the first decisions CIEP members need to make when taking part in the forums, but the all-encompassing art of editorial judgement reveals itself in almost every thread.
In mid-January, a forum search on ‘editorial judgement’ brought up 15 pages and 441 threads – including on language, taking on clients and choosing tools – in just the previous six months. This highlights how editors need to use judgement in all aspects of their editing life.
A key aim of the CIEP is that its forums should be a safe space for discussion, and if anyone feels unfairly judged or affected by a post the moderators are there to help to address this. But such interventions are rarely needed.
The forums are more often a source of judicious advice for members who have been overwhelmed by circumstance (both short and long term) and who, unable to make a clear decision, are worried about making errors of judgement (see Thoughts on not coping). Responses range from sympathetic support (because although the experience is new to you, somebody else has already been there), to incisively helpful (because there is always a tool to deal with the problem and with all the years of experience among CIEP members, somebody will know what it is).
Punctuation insists on being quirky and, in a profession that strives for consistency, this can be a major irritation. In Dialogue, Kia Thomas reminds us how to deal with the quirky in fiction:
as for conforming, I suppose it all depends. Some editors prefer to bring everything in line with an external style guide, whereas others are quite happy to stick with the author’s choices if they’re used consistently (leaving aside, of course, the fact that they’re very often not). It’s a case of judgement – some style choices are so unconventional that they may be distracting, and that may not be what the author wants. For example, a lack of quote marks in literary fiction often means the author is deliberately playing with conventions for effect, and readers will tolerate or even enjoy that. In genre fiction, it may distract readers from the characters and the story.
Don’t even mention capitalisation. Actually, do mention it on the forums: you never know what the ensuing discussion will reveal. As you can see in West/west/Oriental/oriental?, not only do the replies offer practical solutions to finding a suitable answer, but we get a bit of practical philosophy as well (thanks, Luke Finley):
Often there aren’t truly definitive answers to these questions, so subjective judgement is involved. My approach is to err on the side of caution, but not to live in fear of making a mistake. Generally if people see you’ve said or written ‘the wrong thing’ inadvertently, and are open to reconsidering it rather than [being] defensive, they’re OK with that.
As Luke’s thoughts show, a key focus of the forums is language, particularly in the context of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). As Karyn Burnham said on the LGBTQ terminology thread:
we are in no position to offer judgement on any of these issues, only to respect the views of those groups affected and to strive to communicate these views effectively. Professionally, I find discussions like this in the forums extremely helpful and informative, and hopefully they will lead to an improvement in my approach to sensitive topics in the future.
Whatever your editing conundrum, you are going to have to choose the right answer by making a judgement call. The Fact checking thread is a great illustration of what you need to bear in mind.
Before you even begin editing you may need to exercise judgement about whether or not to take on a client. Anxieties about potential jobs can stem from inexperience (or the dreaded imposter syndrome), finance (whether the fee offered covers the time needed), worry about shutting off future work (if you say no this time, will they come back) or red flags (unfortunately there are people out there who want ‘owt for nowt’). All these worries often appear on the forums – see, among others, New client dilemma – advice needed.
Once you’ve taken on a job the judgement calls don’t stop. Page ranges in citations deals with a perennial problem when dealing with student papers: what is the ethical amount of editing you should do?
A wide diversity of client needs can be serviced, as you can read in editing for clients with special needs. This thread points to a variety of tools and approaches to help a partially sighted client. As Christina Petrides points out, the editor–client relationship is also crucial:
It will become easier once you’ve built up a good relationship with [the client] and they trust your judgement, so be as transparent and clear in what you are proposing as possible, and stick to it.
So, making a judgement call is a fact of life in editing and, as John Firth points out in Starting a sentence with ‘So’:
It’s tricky to decide whether something is so serious that you need to call it to [the client’s] attention, but your professional judgement is what [they’re] paying for.
In the end, apply that invaluable mantra when using your editorial judgement: context is key.
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.