Yes, editing can be taught

Today, Rich Adin (An American Editor) asserted that editing is an art and cannot be taught. Well, Rich, I heartily disagree. Even art can be taught, and if you apply the principles simply by rote, you will achieve some measure of success.

cityofbostonarchives_CCBY2-0Artists study the skills, practice the skills, and take master classes. Musicians, painters, and dancers all demonstrate practices that support the notion that an art can be taught and learned. They are even better than most editors at seeking out that learning and mentorship, returning to the classroom throughout their careers to find out what new thing they are ready to learn.

I agree with Erin Brenner’s comment on the site and heartily disagree with Rich. There certainly are aspects of editing that can and should be taught; just like there are skills and sequences that doctors need to learn, but you can still end up with varying degrees in doctors’ capabilities (especially in their bedside manners).

Mentoring would be a great addition, perhaps an essential one. But there are principles and sequences and checklists that must be learned and followed to edit adequately. There are many courses that teach these things with varying approaches. There are seminars and books and full diploma offerings at colleges and universities. Some of these (such as the now-defunct Copyediting and are even offered online for access world-wide.

Three of my favourite workbooks for teaching editing:

  1. Meeting Professional Editorial Standards
  2. Quick Fixes for Business Writing: An Eight-Step Editing Process to Find and Correct Common Readability Problems (which is the print version of a highly successful and influential workshop offered by the Editors’ Association of Canada)
  3. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: ?A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, with Exercises and Answer Keys

Find my full list of recommendations for equipment, training, and resources in the Starter Kit for Editors.

There is also certification available to editors from more than a couple of places, including EAC, which aims to identify exceptional skill, and ACES, which aims to identify competent skill.

I would argue that repeat clients and strength/length of career are the best testament to an editor’s skill. Trying an editor out on a small job or looking at her portfolio are decent ways to assess her “fit” for your project. But, I increasingly give weight to evidence of an editor’s ongoing professional development.

Judging from so much of the content on Rich’s blog, I would hazard to guess that he will agree when I say that editors also need to learn how to boss Word around and make it do their bidding. There are courses in that, too.

Where there is room for error is in the execution of and attention to said checklists. But there is an editor for every client and a client for every editor. I wouldn’t presume to judge editors unworthy simply because their approach is different than mine.

I will end by thanking Rich for sparking important debate and asking (in a roundabout way perhaps) important questions. I think we could have a great dustup in a bar sometime, talking these things over, and leave great friends who love to disagree. You’re on for the next conference. Olé!

UPDATE: Here is a brief post about the new editing course offered by Queen’s University (online).

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