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The Craft of Editing: A Guide for Managers, Scientists, and Engineers.

Michael Alley. 2000. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag. [ISBN 0-387-98964-1. 159 pages, including index. $19.95 USD (softcover).]

This is a tough book to review. As an introduction to editing the writing of others, it is just that: The very beginning steps of the process are outlined, an overview of the author's perspective on editing is pro vided, and some specifics on punctuation, grammar, word choice, and so forth are provided. How much value this book will have for a non-editor who has to temporarily take up an editor's pen is difficult to decide.

The book contains six chapters, an appendix of 100 common style problems, and a glossary. Chapter 1 introduces the goals and constraints of editing, explaining briefly edits for technical content, style (of prose, for example, as well as the use of illustrations, transitions, and emphasis) and form (grammar and format). Also discussed are editorial constraints, which include how important and time-consuming a needed change is in light of a deadline. Chapter 2 devotes a few pages to each of the three types of editing. In the sole section of the book devoted to content editing, Alley suggests a structure for a content critique. His points of making sure that the overall assessment is unambiguous and showing the relative importance of criticisms would be useful to the technical and managerial audience this book is aimed at. The sections on style and form editing are more general and convey (in checklist form) some of the many individual points to be considered in these types of edit. These two types of edit form the basis for most of the rest of the book.

Chapter 3 briefly discusses the ambiguity of editorial rules and the changing basis of language, and adds a few items from Alley's personal list of pet peeves. Although career editors can fill out this chapter with a host of examples from their own experience, I'm not sure that many of those in the target audience for this book will gain much from this short chapter. Indeed, I fear that what they will take away is the faulty concept that editing decisions are subjective, which all too many already have firmly implanted in their mind view of editing. Chapter 4 is titled "Common editing situations," but it seems to cover miscellaneous topics rather than editing "situations" specifically. Writing a review of a journal submission, the marks used for editing on hardcopy, copyediting online, and proofreading are the topics covered.

Alley uses a fictional scenario in Chapter 5 to discuss how to edit for different types of authors and how to take into account the individual author's reaction to editing changes. Alley here pro vides some good insights and advice for both career and ad hoc editors: for example, that every author secretly hopes an editor's response to a document will be "Don't change a word" and that it's crucial that the editor and the author be working under a mutually recognized set of goals and constraints. His suggestions on keeping the discussion of editorial points from descending into quarreling are also useful.

Chapter 6 provides an overview of two ways in which a document might wend its way through an editorial and sign-off process in an organization. The appendix of 100 style problems provides a mixture of commonly con fused or misused words, grammar terms, format items such as headings and reference citations, and punctuation marks. This appendix plus the glossary of editing terms make up al most half of the book's pages.

The book's size limits the time needed to read it thoroughly--this likely being a necessary constraint for the intended audience-but it also may be the reason that some of the explanations in the appendix and glossary are so terse that even scientists, engineers, and managers who write well may have difficulty with them. The prose in the chapters is generally easy to read, but a few strange word choices early on made me initially wonder how seriously I could take this book ("Although the goal is clear, obtaining the goal poses a challenge" and "A second perspective is style, or how well the message is said," both on p. 2).

Chapters 2 and 5 seem to pro vide the most useful information to the intended audience of technical experts and managers. Whether a scientist or manager is already a good writer or not, there are suggestions here that will help in providing an edit that the author can use to make a document better. For the temporary engineer/manager-as-editor who writes well, many of the specifics in other parts of this book will be already understood. Unfortunately, for those temporary editors who have their own serious problems with writing, there is only the barest beginning here of what they need. Perhaps for the latter this book should come paired with Claire Kehrwald Cook's Line by line: How to edit your own writing (Modern Language Association of America, 1985)--which Alley includes in his reference list--to give those novice editors more detail on the nitty-gritty of good prose.

DAVID E. NADZIEJKA is editorial manager at the W. E. Upjohn Institute in Kalamazoo, MI. He has been a technical editor, writer, and teacher for the past 18 years, and he helped write Scientific style and format, the Council of Biology Editors style manual. He is an associate fellow of STC.
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Author:Nadziejka, David E.
Publication:Technical Communication
Date:May 1, 2001
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