Author Topic: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks  (Read 4655 times)

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AuntyEm

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Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« on: October 28, 2012, 03:56:55 AM »
I have been asked a few times since starting work with my new company to edit "spelling and grammar" on proposals going out to prospective clients.  The issue for me is that the proposals are so badly written that I feel they need major rewrites before they go out and I'm not sure how to broach this with the person sending the proposal and the president of the company (who is not a native speaker) who has written the "Executive Summary" portion. Both of these people are very smart and quite good at what they do but I think that the proposals are so badly written that prospective clients may not think so. (Examples: using "equipment's" as the plural for equipment; writing "locate" when they mean "allocate".) This whole issue is further complicated by the fact that I do not understand what they are doing technically and don't want to change wording and inadvertently change the meaning.

Both of these people are my bosses and have been sending these things out long before I got here.  Should I talk to them about it or just continue to make changes when asked and hope for the best?


snugasabug

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2012, 05:49:27 AM »
Oh wow!  That's tricky for sure.  Is it a lot of work for you too rewrite what they are saying?

Maybe, if this is within your role expectations, your Boss is really asking you to edit as necessary, but include somehow the same info/theme to what was originally written.  I would likely edit to my standard, and resend back a good copy for a "final approval."


Good luck!  I don't envy your delicate position at all!

cicero

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2012, 09:04:56 AM »
is this your job? are you the editor? is this a job you *could* do (e.g,. you have the experience/qualifications to *be* the editor?)

I am asking because I sort of fell into this kind of position myself. I started out here as an admin/project coordinator, but as time went by they realized (thanks to excellent work i've done and some self-promoting) that i am *really* good at this. I work for an international non profit organization and not everyone speaks the same language (even those who speak English as a first language -we have americans, brits, aussies, etc).

I started by making suggestions, using track changes so that they could see what I am doing. suggesting things like "This sentence comes across as ambiguous. I think using 'We all believe' instead of 'some of us may think' sends a stronger message", or "biennial is every two years; bi-annual is twice a year". I've said things like "that's a common error - even i used to say 'comprises of 1200 communities...' but the correct form is 'comprises 1200 communities'". Of course our all-time favorites were the it's vs. its fiascoes...

As time went on, it was clear to everyone that i know what i'm talking about, and now it's just natural for me to do the editing. and yes, i've had to tell extremely highly educated, high ranking officials, how to write. you do it in a nice-but-firm way. I've re-done our web site - made suggestions and ran with them.

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jpcher

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2012, 03:40:43 PM »
I think that you are in a position to make yourself a valuable part of the team.

You should definitely talk to them. As in the next time they ask you edit (or proofread) something you could say "This part doesn't make sense to me. Would you please tell me the major point you're trying to get across?" Plus, asking for explanations will help you understand the technology.

I really like cicero's post.



Just because "Both of these people are very smart and quite good at what they do" doesn't mean that they know how to write.

They are good at what they do (technological aspects) and you are good at what you do (writing) . . . That's what makes a team.

Slartibartfast

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #4 on: October 28, 2012, 03:59:14 PM »
You need to start by getting a clear picture of their expectations.  "Boss, I can fix the grammar and punctuation, but there will still be some syntax issues.  Would you like me to just do the basics, or would you prefer me to fix the syntax also?  I would have to bring it back to you for a final review just to double-check that I didn't inadvertently change anything technical."

It's also worth pointing out, if your job description doesn't include editing, that being an editor is a specific skill set.  It's not something you can just dump on support staff and expect to have done at the same level a professional editor with years of experience would do.  (I don't know where you fall on that scale, so you can tailor that point to fit yourself.)  People often assume that any native English speaker with decent spelling skills can do professional editing - and while it's true that most people can catch at least basic errors and many people can do more than that, it's not something to be taken for granted.

AuntyEm

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2012, 09:30:32 PM »
Thanks all!

My official position is office manager but my background and emphasis is on the financial aspects of the business.

I have no official credentials as an editor but I consider myself a pretty good writer, am well-read and worked for many years at a great law firm and learned a lot about good writing and editing there.  I know that I probably don't catch errors that an experienced editor would catch in a second and perhaps make some myself when I rewrite. However, the writing that I see at this place is so bad that any kind of editing would be an improvement.

I like Slartibartfast's suggestion of getting a clear picture of their expectations.  I also have to make it clear that after I do a rewrite, they will have to do a final review of the technicals-I'm not sure that they are bothering to do that and are just sending out whatever I give them.
 

jeni

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2012, 07:03:05 AM »
They probably recognise this is an area of weakness and that they need someone with your skills to ensure that such issues are picked up.  They may say 'spelling and grammar' but mean much more than just that.

Your post made me think of a job vacancy I saw in the local newspaper just this last weekend - the advertisement stated they were seeking someone with "eligible and neat writing".  I laughed so much  ;D

Good luck.

TurtleDove

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2012, 10:56:07 AM »
I would ask for direction on what they want you to do.  Good writing is far more than a lack of spelling or grammatical errors. I liked cicero's ideas - that is generally what I do.  I imagine most professional people who are not strong writers are aware of this fact and would appreciate guidance to become better.

FlyingBaconMouse

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2012, 11:18:17 AM »
It might help to say, right off the bat, "I've found a lot more things than I expected, I'm afraid. How deeply would you like me to rework this?" That will simultaneously give them a tipoff that all is not right in Writingland and give you an idea of whether they're amenable to lots of corrections or think they are producing deathless prose that only needs a little polish.
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jaxsue

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2012, 12:39:17 PM »
I can relate, OP. I used to edit for a techie magazine. A lot of the articles were written by authors who were not native-English speakers. It could be very challenging.

Venus193

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #10 on: October 30, 2012, 01:00:37 AM »
They probably recognise this is an area of weakness and that they need someone with your skills to ensure that such issues are picked up.  They may say 'spelling and grammar' but mean much more than just that.

Your post made me think of a job vacancy I saw in the local newspaper just this last weekend - the advertisement stated they were seeking someone with "eligible and neat writing".  I laughed so much  ;D

Good luck.

I agree with this.  I worked for three Hispanic ad agencies with a lot of non-native English speakers who wouldn't write or present to clients.  Your company probably recognizes they need someone who can clean up the writing.

Ceallach

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #11 on: October 30, 2012, 01:22:06 AM »
My boss is the CEO, and is awesome at her job, but has zero attention to detail when it comes to documents!   Some of what she used to send out is shocking.  Fortunately she takes feedback well so was happy when I told her honestly that I thought we could do better.   Proofreading and editing happen to be skills of mine, so now everything comes through me.  I make minor changes but I also recommend bigger changes / rewrites as I see appropriate, and offer my services where possible to help fix things.   

As others have mentioned, it sounds as though they know that this is your strength seeing they are asking you to proofread, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend changes as appropriate.   In fact, it could be what they are actually expecting from you!   We recently hired an administrator partly for this purpose (seeing it's not really my role!), but unfortunately she doesn't seem to be stepping up and doing what we need.  Now I'm wondering if like you she is just afraid to criticise or change our work overly!    I might need to push her harder on that.  She makes minor changes etc that we request but isn't proactively identifying bigger fixes which means I end up looking them over still and fixing things.   So clarifying expectations is important.  I think typically if somebody is asking for a document to be proofread then they *know* that they need help in that area!
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sweetonsno

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #12 on: October 30, 2012, 01:43:25 AM »
Does your word processing program have the option to show markups/track changes? I use Word, and it will show what you edit. (You can also insert comments.)

That might be your best bet. You go through and make the changes, and a little bubble will appear in the margin. The person who wrote the document can go through and approve or reject your corrections. Just tell them that you've corrected for Standard Edited English and that they need to double-check to make sure you haven't made any changes that are incorrect for whatever reason (proper nouns, the company's style guide, etc).

AuntyEm

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #13 on: October 30, 2012, 07:36:01 AM »
The track changes feature is a good idea.   I wanted to use it on the last document but he was working from an already marked up proposal and when you tracked changes it was a huge can of worms.  I'll suggest that we start everything from a new edited shell and then ask the writer to look at the changes to make sure nothing significant was changed.

Yes, Ceallach, your new administrator may be holding back because she doesn't want to step on toes.  I too have considered just fixing spelling, typos and verb agreement but haven't been able to resist rewriting the really bad stuff.

hobish

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Re: Editing someone else's document/Your writing stinks
« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2012, 03:23:14 AM »
You need to start by getting a clear picture of their expectations.  "Boss, I can fix the grammar and punctuation, but there will still be some syntax issues.  Would you like me to just do the basics, or would you prefer me to fix the syntax also?  I would have to bring it back to you for a final review just to double-check that I didn't inadvertently change anything technical."

It's also worth pointing out, if your job description doesn't include editing, that being an editor is a specific skill set.  It's not something you can just dump on support staff and expect to have done at the same level a professional editor with years of experience would do.  (I don't know where you fall on that scale, so you can tailor that point to fit yourself.)  People often assume that any native English speaker with decent spelling skills can do professional editing - and while it's true that most people can catch at least basic errors and many people can do more than that, it's not something to be taken for granted.

The bolded is a good way to approach your boss about it, i would think. The second part is useful, too. A few years ago i had a supervisor who had horrible spelling and punctuation. It wasn't just careless, it was downright bad, and he was in a leadership position. That's not cool. No one wants to be given instructions from someone who sounds like an idiot in writing.

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