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blog, Books, copyediting, Uncategorized

What’s So Scary about Scare Quotes and Italics

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Welcome to the latest edition of “copyediting adventures!” I had the pleasure of editing a great book with some really interesting content. But there was one tiny flaw. Rather, it was a tiny flaw that turned into a big annoyance: the overuse of emphasis in the manuscript. There were scare quotes and italics everywhere. Multiple words were italicized in a sentence. Some times, one sentence had a combination of italics and quotation marks. There were even words that were italicized, quoted, and underlined simultaneously. This, my friends, is what we call overkill.

As a copyeditor, my job is to make the texts readable while respecting the voice of the writer. But in my experience, some writers don’t understand the power of their own voice. So they try to make the reader see that power. This is a mistake. The fact of your written words is already important enough. To say it another way, if the words are not already important, they should not be in your book.

Sure, writing is a process, and each word should be carefully chosen for clarity, comprehension, and impact. And of course, there are moments when some words need to be emphasized over others. However, if you use too much emphasis, you actually de-emphasize the entire sentence or paragraph.

Everything in the book is already important. But if a reader has to pay attention to every emphasized adverb, preposition, concept, or phrase, then readers will forget to pay attention to the big picture of the book.

So, this is my public service announcement: Too many scare quotes are scary. Excessive use of italics is irrational. Every word in the manuscript should be significant on its own. Just keep writing and let the reader decide their own experience.

—KRW

copyediting, proofreading, teaching, Writing

Proofreading and Copyediting Dilemma: The Art of Reading

I find myself in a bit of a dilemma, one that should be easily avoidable for someone like me. Copyediting and proofreading is a skill that is a combination of the art of reading and the art of writing. As a teacher, I spend a lot of time pouring over the details of my young writers’ work; I want them to be correct and creative. But first, I have to teach them to write. This, of course, requires a certain attention to grammar for the sake of readability.

A fundamental problem that happens with young writers is that they don’t understand the power of punctuation. There are either too many commas or no commas at all. And don’t even get me started on semi-colons; it’s too much to bear to think about. There are usually always periods, but usually after a long, rambling run-on sentence. Did I mention the commas?

Don’t get me wrong; I understand why the problem exists. My students are all writers in their own way, but social media writing does not translate well in any setting other than social media writing. And generally speaking, excellent grammar is not always the marker of a great writer (this is why copyeditors exist). Nevertheless, I have to hammer on the grammar to make the writings readable, then hammer on the art to make the writings creative.

Sometimes creativity necessitates the breaking of certain grammar rules. It’s a necessary sacrifice. One that I see all the time as a professional copyeditor and proofreader, and this is where my dilemma comes in.

Proofreading Code of Conduct

I had to do a proofreading job recently, and I was in full teacher mode because, well, there were dangling and misplaced modifiers every where. Every description of every place, person, or thing included a dangling modifier. Of course my instinct was to fix all of the dangling because in a sea of nouns, I couldn’t tell what was being modified.

I wanted to correct these dangly bits. But then I noticed that the color begin to drain from the text. That’s a problem. A book without a voice is a terrible thing. So, I contacted my editor to get some parameters, and she told me that some of those dangling bits are literary. And she was right. And so I let the modifiers dangle, cringing a little in the process.

This led me to reconsider the work of the proofreader versus the copy editor. Proofreaders generally check for grammar, mechanics, punctuation, and syntax. Copy editors check for some of those things plus accuracy, mechanics, consistency, organization, clarity, and more. In some of those sentences, I thought the meaning was confusing. However, this meant that a copy editor didn’t think so, and likely signed off on those sentences. If I were to proceed with too many changes, I would be overstepping my proofreader role.

So I deleted some of my suggestions, probably a bit too much. But the writer’s poetic style remained intact. I guess we can call that a win, and I had to remind myself about the limits of proofreading. Here is the capital-T-truth: while proofreading is less work, copyediting is much easier. Go figure.

Reading is Art

While I sit here stressing over whether I did an adequate job on the project, I am reminded of this simple principle: reading is art. Copyediting and proofreading are artistic endeavors that facilitate the reading experience, an experience that can rise to the level of art if the writing is good.

I have to remind my professional self that what I do in the class room can actually limit me as a copyeditor. I also have to remind myself to allow my students to be creative and not just correct. Sometimes, breaking the rules of grammar is necessary for the sake of capturing experience. Knowing when to do that—or better, when to allow that—is the major dilemma of copyediting and proofreading.

teaching, Uncategorized

Happy Halloween: It’s Job Market Season

Happy Halloween: It’s time to find that job! Isn’t this just great.

Unfortunately, it’s been some time since I’ve updated this blog. Fortunately, it’s because I have been extraordinarily busy with teaching, researching, writing, and, of course, copyediting!

Now I have entered the time of year where I have to do the job market dance. In academia, the job market is, well, it generally feels like an ongoing hazing ritual that may or may not end with a beneficial outcome (a positive outcome is too much to hope for). So we dance.

We work through the endless personal statements, teaching statements, research statements, curriculum vitae updates, evaluations, interviews, and more. My experience so far, after sending out upwards of 40 applications last year, is that while there are jobs, there is no money. One interviewer for a job I was offered, in a very expensive city, told me that I may have to get a second job to make ends meet. Yeah, I didn’t take that job.

Another job at another university had their funding pulled for new hires after they told me they would like to hire me. Fun times. Most I didn’t hear back from at all. I am not a fan of ghosting, and it is especially frustrating when you have to go through so much to apply and hear nothing back. Application packets in academia can be up to 10-15 pages long or more. It’s frustrating.

So I am, of course, considering the non-academic track because, well, I like to eat. And pay my bills. And save money. And get that oil change I so desperately need.

Witch of All Hallows Eve

Sometimes, I just want to wave a wand, do a little jig around a cauldron, and swoosh: Hello Dreams! I’ve been so eager to meet you! Where have you been? Too bad magic is not real.

But I’ve been thinking of ways to plan my job market strategy because, well, tis the season. In between Halloween candy and teaching statements, I have to find a way to maximize my time so that I can do an effective and efficient job search. Plus there is all the writing that I have to do (and the writing that I want to do, which is probably not appropriate for the academy).

This season I have been thinking about costumes, more specifically, personas. If you are the type do dress out, Halloween is all about trying on something different, exploring a side of yourself. Putting on the costumes and makeup is an aspect of the rigmarole you have to do for the job market, minus the fun. The strategy here is simple: put on the face and hope for a good outcome. Pablo Neruda said it best in his poem, “Parthenogensis”:

Well, I’ll try to change for the better:
greet them all circumspectly,
watch out for appearances, be dedicated, enthusiastic—
till I’m just what they ordered,
being and un-being at will,
till I’m totally otherwise.

And so we dance!

Figuring Things Out

Despite the web of crazy that is the job market, it is an interesting challenge because it really is about deciding not just who you want to be but also how you want to be for a period or maybe even for the rest of your life.

I know for sure what I want to be—a writer and copyeditor—but there is so much more to life than just work. That’s the other thing that Halloween represents—an opportunity to make the day something more than every other day.

Recently, a student came to me to say that his best friend was killed in a tragic auto accident. He said that he just could not bring himself to do any work at all. I understand that. This kid was 19 when he died. My student is also 19, and he said, crying at this point, that he has never had to deal with someone’s death before. He doesn’t know what to do. He kept asking me what is the correct thing to do.

It all got me thinking about Halloween and having fun and living life and personas. And I realized that my job plan has to be a life plan. Yet, life is unpredictable, so the best thing about Halloween is the energy, the spirit of fun that surrounds it. That has to be a part of the job market plan and the life plan too.

Happy Halloween, folks!

Uncategorized

Wrapping up the Spring Semester

It has been an eventful spring semester. I had the privilege of teaching three different writing classes, and they were all rewarding and fun in their own way.

My first class, Writing for Engineers, was the class that I was most familiar with although it did present some challenges. Students learned how to write the following:

  • research reports,
  • proposals
  • failure analysis reports
  • and correspondence writing

For these courses, I really tried to focus on document design for reading efficiency and conciseness in writing. I’m sure my students were tired of me saying, “get to the point,” but to me, science writing should be readable and accessible.

In any case, I believe that students learned a lot here, and their feedback has been very positive.

My other class, Strategic Communications was a blast. Strat Comm is a writing class for students in advertising, marketing, and telecommunications. It focuses on teaching students how to create content for businesses and consumers.

I completed a lot of the work in this course, and students learned how to write,

  1. Placed-based advertising campaigns
  2. Native advertisements,
  3. Long and short form product placements

We even worked on creating a complete content marketing strategy campaigns for local businesses. This class was new to me, but I worked to emphasize reader/consumer-based writing. In the truest sense of the word, this is writing for your audience. Check out our blog.

Finally, I taught a more traditional first-year writing course. These are always a challenge because students, for the most part, would rather be somewhere else. Nevertheless, it worked out great.

Now, the semester is done. I am reflecting on what I did well and what I need to improve. I need to prep more practice activities for the Strat Comms class. Also, I liked that I gave class-time to writing and revising, but I found that students, in some cases, didn’t really write or revise during those periods. I will need to make some adjustments there.

I need to be much tougher on attendance and tardiness, which is a pet-peeve of mine anyway. Finally, I want to be able to help students more with the document design aspect of writing.

However, it’s time for finals, so here is to a great semester, and good luck on finals and the end-of-the-semester scramble.

blog, Writing

Spring Semester 2019

I’ve not paid much attention to my blog of late because I’ve been paying attention to my students. We are about 5 weeks into the semester here, and I’m still trying to get my bearings. However, even though I feel like I am trying to catch a speeding train, I’m having fun.

Funny how that works.

I am teaching a Strategic Communications course, and I love it. The course is geared towards young advertisers, public relations students, and marketers, and it is about studying, pitching, and writing narratives for various products, events, or ideas. The writing style, though, is different. It’s a different kind of storytelling, one that focuses on understanding the nature of branding and people’s response to brands. I’ve never taught a class like this before, but it is shaping up to be the most fun class of the semester.

My other two classes are Technical Writing for Engineers and a general education Rhetoric and Writing course. Tech Writing is always fun and challenging to teach because how do you make writing Usability Reports fun? It’s doable. You just have to be a little crazy.

The gen ed writing course is the one that I have the most experience teaching, and it is proving to be the most challenging. The main reason is that it is a required course. Most students don’t want to be there, and it shows. Since I don’t want to be one of those teachers who lecture, oblivious to their student’s engagement, I’m having to do a bit more work to get the students involved in their own experience.

Trials of a teacher…

How is your year going so far?

-K