Archive for January, 2015

The 9 C’s of Editing


You cannot edit yourself any more than you can tickle yourself, and for the same reasons, the wonderful professor and biographer Diane Middlebrook once told me. Better writers understand this.


Here are the 9 C’s I use as an editor of other writers’ work:

1. Completeness

2. Conciseness

3. Clarity

4. Convincingness

5. Currency

6. Correctness

7. Consistency

8. Congruency

9. Courtesy

Almost all writers need a second set of eyes to assess and improve the first four qualities in a document they compose, because they typically *already believe* they’ve been concise, complete, clear, and convincing enough. To assess and improve the rest often requires that second set of eyes, too.

I believe that *courtesy* comprises all the other qualities, as the basis of successful communication, of fostering and maintaining relationships.

Thank you, Bob Crockett, for suggesting numbers 7 and 8 (though I’m embarrassed I hadn’t already placed “consistency” on the list).

[Note: My list overlaps a lot with this one but was put together independently. It’s not surprising its author and I reached similar conclusions, of course.]

An earlier version of this post appears in

Revision : Heterovision

I tell students and clients they shouldn’t take feedback on their work as personal critiques. “You are not the words on the paper on which your reports are printed.” This seems like a straight-forward point, but even seasoned editors tend to forget it on occasion, so I tend to make it a lot. “What we have in common is our concern for the usefulness of this prose here, this separate and individual bit of existence that is neither you nor me.”


The word “revision” comes from Latin word revisionem, meaning “to see again.” While an author and an editor might look at a single work of prose more than once, often the work itself needs to be seen, amended, and fixed by other stakeholders and document contributors as well (lawyers, accountants, scientists, project managers, executive assistants), folk who will look at this work of prose just once. What these latter individuals are doing is not, strictly speaking, “seeing again.”

So, perhaps we need a new word to explain what our written works really and more precisely need, over and above “revision.” I suggest heterovision – meaning “seen by others” (hetero- coming from the Greek for “other” or “different”). This neologism conveys the collaborative aspect of editing better than the word “revision” does. (Analogous expressions would be heterodoxy and heteronym.)

In sum: While the work itself is looked at again (“revised”), the people who do the fixing, who proffer their critiques, are usually heterovising.

(Could our nifty neologism catch on? I am not betting on it. The prefix “hetero” seems rather charged in our language at the moment, connoting culturally normative and uniform values, I think, rather than what’s inclusive, alternative and welcoming. And editing’s nothing if not “welcoming.”)



Note: An earlier version of this post appears in

The missing colleague

In the faculty copier- and mail-room on Kwantlen Polytechnic University‘s Richmond campus last semester, there was a small poster that read: “Where is Russel Ogden?” Ogden is a Kwantlen professor who has not taught at the university since 2008 yet who still receives a full-time salary. His research expertise is suicide. According to a recent Globe and Mail profile:

In 2005, the university’s research ethics board approved his proposal to attend assisted suicides.

But, he said by 2007, the university’s administration was starting to get nervous about his work, and in 2008 he signed an agreement with the university to begin a two-year “research leave” on Jan. 1, 2009.

He was unable to resume teaching in 2011, and he cannot discuss the reason because of the confidentiality agreement he signed the day before he was due to return.

John Lowman, an SFU criminology professor and expert on academic freedom, said Kwantlen’s actions “have implications for the academic freedom of every other researcher in this country.”

It is a baffling story.