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A week in the life of an academic editor

broken-pencilsBy Kerry Fast

I get odd responses when I say I’m an academic editor—from fellow editors, that is. Everyone else I say that to seems vaguely impressed, though not quite sure how to carry on the conversation from there. But other editors, even those who edit academic writing, seem to think that academics enjoy nothing more than deliberately obfuscating meaning on a topic they’re valiantly trying to sound as if they know everything about.

The truth of the matter is that academics who write well know how to construct complex sentences that convey meaning beautifully. It’s the ones who don’t know how to write that hire editors. And it is in this bunch that I find clients who make editing academic writing stimulating and enjoyable for me.

I spent hours this week removing italics from a thesis proposal and then when I had finished that job, I started all over again with removing italics, this time from a thesis chapter by Annabelle, a PhD student. I do not enjoy this part! But I did enjoy the work I did for Annabelle in other ways — hers was a challenging piece of work. Her ideas were sophisticated, but poorly expressed because English is not her first language.

Editing can be a delicate business of not putting words into someone’s mouth, but making sure that the complexity of the ideas is adequately communicated. In a phone conversation, she wanted to know why I had removed all the italics. She also wanted clarification of my comments about jargon. A half-hour later we both had a better understanding of what jargon was and how and when to use it. I appreciated the way she ended the conversation: “We’re a team now.” The hour-long conversation had been hard work on my part, but deeply meaningful.