Tip 10: Seeing Red
“Obsolete” is the harshest assessment an author can make about their work as a result of an editor’s feedback. It’s a signal that one or several stages in the writing process went differently than expected, and at the least need to be re-examined. It could also mean a disagreement between the author and editor as to whether the product is ready for publication or still in need of revision. In the case of the highly technical single-spaced 18-page text (plus 11 figures and four tables) I was recently assigned to edit in 2 weeks, all of the above applied.
In last month’s issue of PD Notes I introduced the potentially volatile topic of plagiarism within Extension, and heard nothing back from any of you. This time I’m forging ahead with another sensitive writing issue in the hopes of alleviating its causes. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated, as both involve large-scale communication problems that will take a concerted effort to resolve.
When I return a document to an author with my edits highlighted via Word’s “Track Changes” feature, the author often sees red no matter what font color is chosen. Some of the likely reasoning (all of which overlap and serve to reinforce each other) is that 1) I’m being disrespectful because they have a PhD and years of experience in their field and how could I as an undereducated and inexperienced outsider have the gall to question that; 2) I’ve introduced errors that require them to spend valuable time re-evaluating files they’ve already put away; and 3)—the bottom line—I’m delaying the process of getting their publication completed.
“Ouch” is my reaction. Because I want authors to be happy with the product they receive from ECES and recognize the value-added service we provide to ensure the desired impact on Washington State citizens, learning that anyone feels the time and energy they spent on a project has been made obsolete as a result of my own contribution of time and energy is truly a teamwork situation gone awry. In response, I’d like to explain that 1) ECES editors do recognize that the authors we edit for know more than we do about their topic, and as a result, emphasize that our suggestions need to be carefully reviewed for accuracy; 2) the introduction of errors is a response (albeit mistaken) to another communication problem, most likely of obscurity or verbosity, that we were trying to solve; and 3) editing does take time. It is part of the writing process, which I’ve elaborated on here before using the term “revision,” but re-emphasis seems to be in order*.
To avoid much of this frustration, please contact ECES at the planning stage and keep us involved throughout so you don’t run into problems that seem insurmountable because they are brought to your attention at a point that you feel is too late to fix. We will be happy to sit down with you to help brainstorm ideas, suggest organizational and media possibilities, and answer questions about publication guidelines. This may sound more complicated than you have time for, but it is guaranteed to yield a superior product via much less painful means than submitting what you feel is a finished project and assuming the only step left is the official WSU Extension stamp of approval.
But please send me your thoughts on the issues presented here over the past couple of months. Because change is always more effective when it comes from both sides of a relationship, and we at ECES need to hear from you to do our part.
I leave you with a more pleasant “p” word this time that I hope we can both adopt. Peace.
*For more on the definition, need, and how-tos, see http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/revision.html and http://www.esc.edu/esconline/across_esc/writerscomplex.nsf/0/cfeb45e91f1a38cd852569c3006c4335?OpenDocument.
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