I have always been interested in the creation of new knowledge that occurs between authors and editors when they discuss and explore the author's written ideas during the editorial process. Academics talk about the process of writing as encouraging an author to work with ideas, synthesizing, reshaping, and coming up with what academics term epistemic, or newly created knowledge.
It has always seemed to me that editors, if allowed to interact with authors on a level above the comma, could often help authors negotiate new meaning as authors struggle to translate their ideas into writing. In practice, however, editing is often confined to fairly low level tasks.
I addressed the author-editor issue in the following 1991 article in Technical Communication, the journal of the Society for Technical Communication. That was, of course, eons ago from a technology viewpoint. At that time many people were just beginning to discuss collaborative writing and design software for tracking multi-author changes to text.
While my focus was the editor-author relationship, the process I was describing has become commonplace on the internet, where not only colleagues and editors interact with authors to create new texts, but also the readers. My personal feeling is that the blurring of the lines between author and reader might be a little less mysterious if we took a look at internet publishing from the knowledge-making perspective.
The following article has been used with permission from the Society for Technical Communication. Technical Communication is published by the Society for Technical Communication, Arlington, VA.
A review of the research literature shows that academics and practicing editors do not share the same view of the editing process; the academics emphasize "intentional diagnoses," and the practitioners perform "rule based" editing. However, the differences conceal similarities, and practicing editors could profit from what academics have learned about the writing process: the editor can be of most service to the author by becoming involved in the writing process itself.
Editors often have a difficult time describing just exactly what it is that they do. Asked to define their job, most editors will talk about the document production process, explaining the scheduling of the various tasks, and probably will refer to their house style sheets which standardize company format and usage. They may also tell you whether they use Chicago or GPO. The striking element of these descriptions is the apparent reliance upon rules to define their profession. Someone who didn't know better might conclude that "Writer's Workbench" could do the same thing editors do for a lot less money.
The difficulty editors have in describing what they do may be a contributing factor in the low opinion writing sometimes merits in the work place. Paradis, Dobrin, and Miller  report that even though employees in an R&D environment spent from one-third to one-half of their time writing and editing, they often considered these activities nonproductive. Redish, Battison, and Gold  report that in the workplace, there is little experimental evidence showing the value of reorganizing and rewriting documents. These authors attribute this lack of evidence to the general feeling that once the new document exists, "everyone thinks it's wonderful" and there is little inclination to revise it.
Despite the apparent undercurrent of disdain for writing and editing tasks in the workplace, Hairston  reports that the business community still reacts very strongly to certain kinds of grammatical errors. Likewise, Kantrowitz  demonstrated that readers of technical documents react negatively to prose which is hard to comprehend. He found that it took readers more time to plow through unedited documents than edited ones and that readers comprehended less of the unedited material because they simply would not work to understand what they found unfathomable. There is definitely a conundrum here: there is little respect for the work of bringing clarity and understanding to text alongside an intolerance for the lack of it.
In marked contrast to the perception of editing and writing reported by Paradis, Dobrin, and Miller  and Redish, Battison, and Gold , writing in the academic community has generally been valued and considered worthy of research . The efforts of academic researchers  to study how students actually produce themes have provided some valuable insights into how people write and revise, perspectives that might provide professional editors and writers with some of the consistency and precision they need to describe their profession.
However, there appears to be a very real lack of awareness between the two groups of each other's work. Perhaps part of the problem may be one of terminology. Academic researchers studying student writing usually speak in terms of writing and revising. Revision implies change in meaning. Since the editor's worst nightmare usually consists of correcting a mistake which at the same time inadvertently changes the meaning of a vitally important point, the term revision carries some very negative connotations to practicing editors.
In fact, the editor's almost pathological fear of changing the meaning of the text has led Bates [7, 12] to make some unfortunate extrapolations about editing:
As an editor, your job is to improve the clarity, accuracy, and effectiveness -- the precision, if you will -- of any manuscript lacking any of these qualities. It is emphatically NOT your responsibility to make changes for the sake of changes, or because of your own personal preferences (or prejudices).
It would appear that the editor's overriding concern for leaving meaning intact, in Bates' mind, has somehow become synonymous with what is really another issue entirely -- avoiding personal prejudices or whims. Van Buren and Buehler [8, 1] report a similar attitude in authors, some of whom believe that despite good intentions, editors only distort "the carefully constructed technical message."
If practicing editors can overlook the negative implications they associate with the term revision and take a close look at what the academic researchers have discovered about the revision processes of student and expert writers, they will find that academic researchers describe many of the tasks editors perform. The question addressed in this paper is whether the academic research on revision could provide some useful tools to practicing editors in describing the higher level processes they know they perform, but are at a loss to describe consistently and adequately.
Nor does expert knowledge of the topic guarantee the ability to manage this complexity [10-12]. In fact, authors with expert technical knowledge of their subject can be very poor writers. Even though they understand the technical material, they may lack the rhetorical knowledge to manage the complexities of the writing task. In addition, they seem to be hampered by a familiarity with the technical content of the message that prevents them from perceiving the difficulties their audience may have in comprehending their text.
This situation seems to have a parallel in terms of expert rhetorical knowledge. Hull  demonstrated that the ability of experienced editors to detect and correct errors decreases significantly when they work on their own writing -- a well-known phenomenon among practicing editors.
In the earlier work of Flower and Hayes , editing (final touching up to a draft) was distinguished from revising (rewriting parts of the document). In their later research, as they more clearly distinguished between the types of moves novice writers made as opposed to those of expert writers, these researchers dropped the term editing and redefined re revision to include the whole process by which writers attempt to improve a text [12, 15-17]. In these papers, they discuss several processes of revision: task definition, evaluation, problem representation, detection, diagnosis, and strategy selection. (See Table 1 for descriptions of these activities.)
Revisers need to decide what information to attend to, set goals for revising, figure out how to manage attentional capacities, and attend to the underlying purpose of the text (p. 199). Creates and stores metacognitive, or regulatory, knowledge (things one has to know in order to make use of other kinds of knowledge) (p. 190).
Evaluation: Attempts to construct a satisfactory internal representation of the text's meaning (p. 202). Applies the goals and criteria relevant to the task definition to texts and plans. An extension of reading for comprehension (p. 187).
Problem Representation: Focuses on some particular difficulty in the text (p. 191). Determines what the problems with the text are, varying from vague awareness that something is wrong, to specific rules for correction.
Detection: Identities that a problem exists, but provides little or no information about how to fix it.
Diagnosis: Unlike detections, which contain scant information, diagnoses categorize problems as rule based, maxim-based, and intentional (p. 214) and access appropriate procedures for correction (p. 233).
Strategy Selection: The critical decisions about what action to take after the task is defined, the text evaluated, and the problems represented (p. 223). Besides the obvious choice of modifying the text, the reviser may decide to ignore the problem, delay acting on the problem, or search for more information to clarify the problem representation.
These researchers consider revision to be more than detecting and repairing errors. Revisers, to be effective, must be able to construct a goal, to know where they are going, so they can test and retest their attempts to get there. Depending upon the expertise of the writer, revisions move back and forth between local, well-defined problems with explicit procedures for repair to high-level diagnoses which involve ill-defined problems for which there are no clearly stated ways to proceed in the revision process.
These researchers have described the kinds of changes revisers make as falling on a continuum of rule-based, maxim-based, and intentional diagnoses. Rule-based revisions are the simplest, falling in the continuum at the lowest level of complexity. What needs correction can be stated as a rule which also indicates how the error is to be fixed. For example, "i before e except after c" indicates both what is wrong and how to fix it. The house rules for formatting a document would be considered rule-based: "all level one headings will be in 12 pt. courier, all caps." Detection of an error and the proper corrective procedure are closely allied here. Rule-based changes, often limited to the confines of a sentence, take up relatively little of the expert writer's time. On the other hand, novice writers spend most of their time making rule-based changes.
Maxim-based changes fall in the middle of the continuum of complexity. These revisions are governed by a particular rule, but there is no single method of correcting the problem. For example, if the reviser detects that coherence is a problem, there may be a number of methods of improving it, such as checking that all pronoun references are correct or that transitions are logical. These moves may require the reviser to make changes in more than a single sentence.
With the highest level of revision, intentional diagnoses, there is no stated rule describing the problem and no particular correction strategy. Many times writing problems have no obvious solutions, but the experienced writer has the advantage of being able to search through his or her past experiences at dealing with hard-to-name situations to come up with solutions to present difficulties. The reviser, then, must construct a revision strategy based upon his or her wide range of experiences dealing with similar, hard-to-define text problems .
While organization cannot really be separated from developing purpose and considering audience, Frey nonetheless seems to indicate that there is an awakening to the importance in editing of what academic researchers call task representation -- deciding what information to attend to and when, while keeping in mind the purpose of the document
However, a look at some of the actual articles cited reveals that the definition of audience often be comes a concern for "user-friendly" documentation. Soderston  even suggests adding a "usability" level of edit to Van Buren and Buehler's  hierarchy. Frey reports that Rathjens [20, 5] suggests that editing does not consist of only the manipulation of words and sentences, advising readers that much of the task arises as a "function of the target audience."
However, in the article itself, Rathjens discusses target audience in terms of components of clarity, brevity, accuracy, completeness, order, emphasis, consistency, and objectivity. While these terms may at first sound like the high-level, intentional diagnoses studied by Flower and Hayes, they often are not. These terms are catchall phrases which lead to what are largely maxim-based corrections.
The call for consistency, for example, means an editor checks for a variety of text characteristics, much on the order of checking a text for coherence. Calls for clarity, brevity, accuracy, completeness, etc., generally refer to sentence-level concerns which elicit rule-based or maxim-based moves to correct the problem. Rathjens' article and many which have appeared in the Transactions [21-23] smack much more of Warriner's handbook  than the academic research on revision discussed previously.
From the academic side of writing research, there also appears to be a growing awareness of some of the issues in the technical communications community. In College English Rutter [26, 706], discussing technical writing and editing, notes that insights of literary study are central to the teaching of technical and scientific writing. After all, "the faculty of imposing a plan on the disparate facts of experience is not unique to the scientist or the poet. Rather, it is unique to the person thinking...."
This hierarchy of editing tasks certainly lists a lot of different activities, but a closer look at each element indicates that even though these authors indicate that technical editing involves deep, probing, and thorough review of a document, the great majority of the tasks they describe are rule-based. It should be noted that Van Buren and Buehler's hierarchy of editorial tasks was devised to provide the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's documentation department with a systematic means of estimating the cost of the services provided to authors.
Although the intent was not to define editing for the profession, in practice, the Levels of Edit has become a sort of standard, nonetheless. The unfortunate reality, however, is that Van Buren and Buehler's levels rely heavily upon rule-based tasks, so the levels of edit tend to narrow the conception of editing to largely rule-based activities.
A look at the descriptions of Van Buren and Buehler's nine levels of edit (see Table 2) reveals that the first seven levels consist entirely of rule-based revision processes. Levels eight and nine consist of basically rule-based revision moves, but also include some maxim-based revision moves. It would appear, then, that even the level nine edit, called substantive by Van Buren and Buehler, consists of a preponderance of rule-based activities, with the addition of a few maxim-based tasks.
Primarily involves attending planning meetings, gathering cost data, preparing estimates, and developing job specifications.
Verifies that required parts such as table of contents, page numbers, and figure captions are there, that any comments which might be construed as derogatory or endorsements for products are brought to the attention of the authors.
Ensures that parts of publication match, such as the table of contents and headings and that there are no gaps or repetitions in numbering.
Identifies and corrects aspects of text such as grammar, misspellings, or missing text, verifies that subjects and verbs agree, that incomprehensible statements caused by dropped copy or typos are clarified, and that graphics are complete and camera-ready.
5. Copy Clarification:
Clarifies illegible material, marks manuscript for typesetting or photocomposition.
Ensures conformity to appropriate format, including marking typography, layout, and figures.
7. Mechanical Style:
Brings capitalization, abbreviations, use of numbers and different type faces, captions and sequencing into consistency.
Reviews in depth the way ideas are expressed. Notes that all changes are made on basis of "specific and identifiable reasons rather than the personal preferences of the editor." Includes spelling, grammar, syntax, usage, parallelism, conciseness, and inconsistent use of terminology.
Deals with meaningful content of the publication, including but not limited to coherence of the individual parts and checking that the title and abstract accurately reflect the content. Weight and subordination of ideas are logical, apparent discrepancies in textual meaning are resolved; irrelevant or inappropriate material is identified and recommended for deletion to the author; and material is grouped and subdivided in a rational manner.
The only editing tasks which approach the intentional diagnosis level would be the level nine task of checking to be sure that the title and abstract accurately reflect the content of the publication. And it should be noted that the editor's task is evidently detecting the accurate reflection -- no mention is made of fixing it.
Actually, the best example of editing tasks requiring intentional diagnoses are those described by Van Buren and Buehler as extraordinary -- activities they consider outside the normal editing operations. These tasks include:
...there is a fundamental difference between parallelism of language as discussed in item (6) above [language parallelism, such as parallel wording in headings] and the concepts of parallelism and subordination discussed under Substantive Edit. Parallelism of language is concerned primarily with the order and sequencing of symbols, words, and phrases, as distinct from the underlying ideas to which they relate [8, 22].
Yet the authors seem concerned that what they are saying will be construed as merely the application of rules:
Language Edit goes beyond the mere application of grammatical or syntactical rules. We think that an editor should never ignore the spirit of the language, should never sacrifice the essence of the communication to a convenient application of prefabricated rules, methods, procedures, or conditions. A Language Edit requires a sense of balance, of appropriateness. A heavy-handed editor, for instance, in an attempt to eliminate wordiness, may completely excise the rhetorical effectiveness of an author's prose; a timid editor, by allowing inappropriate or unbridled rhetoric, may allow the language to obscure the meaning. And although rhetoric and literary style are not specifically mentioned here as components of a Language Edit, they should, we think, be ever present in the minds of editors [8, 23].
There is a certain contradiction here. The levels of edit are clearly stated primarily in terms of rules, with a few maxims thrown in at levels eight and nine. Even parallelism of language as they describe it is largely a maxim-based activity. But Van Buren and Buehler feel compelled to mention that editing is more than this -- something regarded as outside the purview of the hierarchy. This "spirit of the language ," as they describe it, appears to resemble more closely the intentional diagnoses discussed by revision researchers than do the various tasks listed as substantive editing.
In practice, many of the documents an editor must work on contain the multiple, complex types of problems that require repair and revision strategies similar to those described by Flower et al.  and Hayes et al. [12, 16]. Practicing editors know that they bring a hard-to-describe perspective to their work that is not adequately covered by the levels of edit:
What makes the editorial task really complex, challenging. and interesting is the fact that most issues of editorial concern -- all of those having to do with organization, length, style, point of view, choice of word, and turn of phrase (to say nothing about basic questions of content and audience) -- are legitimately open to discussion [27, 19].
Zook [28, 8], who has had many years of editing experience, describes the tangible functional qualities of an editor, but adds that these need to be supplemented by what she calls "certain intangibles," which include a sense of order, logic, and appreciation for language, as well as what she calls "an instinct for what matters."
Today, while teachers have begun to look at what happens before the required themes are turned in, editors still look primarily at only the product. Editors may be involved in the production process as far as scheduling and putting together the document are concerned, but like the teachers of old, editors are primarily product-oriented as far as the text itself is concerned. Without looking at the process, editors, like the English teachers of old, can only pass judgment on the results and measure what they do by trying to describe the finished text.
The change in perspective from a product to a process approach on the part of editors would require nothing less than a revolution in editing as it is practiced in most businesses. On important documents, particularly ones which involve developing the ideas being presented, writers would be encouraged to involve editors in the early stages, perhaps even in the planning an author does before he or she begins writing. In practice, this would mean that the editor would discuss with an author the content and the rhetorical positioning of ideas before peer review of the document.
Once a document passes peer review, there is very little an editor can do to successfully bring about major organizational change. As Redish, Battison, and Gold  remind us, once a document is drafted, the tendency is to think it's O.K. My experience is that once a document passes peer review, authors tend to think of it as virtually finished, even if no editor has been involved in the process.
In a research project I am presently involved in, the author welcomes the help of editors at what he calls the "document design" stage -- when he is grappling with the purpose and content of a paper. He will tell you that his work is radically reshaped -- for the better -- by working with an editor at this juncture. In fact, he has recently finished a paper he believes he could not have written without this kind of guidance.
The academic research in writing supports what this engineer knows. But the structure of most organizations, with the publications department considered a service, positioned to come in and clean things up once the action is over, guarantees failure of editing as a process. And as a result, that often times guarantees the failure of its documents to be widely read and respected by the community to which they are addressed.
Management of almost any organization will assure people that they are all for "better writing." To their credit, they will often bring in specialists to help improve the writing of their employees. I believe some businesses even involve editors in the storyboard stage of a document, especially proposals. But until management can perceive editors as playing a regular, integral part in the writing process, business is only applying Bandaids to an organizational structure that is almost guaranteed to prevent editors from doing their best work.
With an organizational problem such as this one, it is difficult to tell which is the greater sin: the tremendous waste of valuable talent or the tremendous waste of corporate resources. This seems a particularly frustrating state of affairs when we are at a point in our economic history when corporate profits must increasingly come from better management of assets rather than from increased sales.
In the typical writer-editor situation, authors grapple alone with the task of shaping their ideas and concepts, a process that can be so painful that they may turn into chronic procrastinators, possibly giving up the writing effort entirely. Meanwhile, editors, working in the typical service environment, are forced to function with one hand tied behind their back, unable to bring their full range of talents to bear on the evolution of a document.
Management should review what we have learned about the writing process and consider its implications for designing a better workplace environment for authors and editors. Such an environment would bring authors and editors together early in a writing project, at a time when each could work to the greatest advantage in creating the end prod uct -- a good document which reflects well upon the sponsoring organization.
Management often considers editing to be part of the service sector of its company. This reinforces the perception that editing is low-level work which is relatively expendable, sort of like dessert in the cafeteria line.
Solution: Enlighten management with the research that shows editing to be a high-level, strategic process that requires a special kind of expertise.
Management, in its search for improved writing, often chooses technical expertise over writing expertise. Research shows that persons with technical knowledge often have difficulty writing about their ideas because they do not anticipate what their readers cannot understand. Editors, with expert knowledge of complex writing processes, can avoid these problems. Solution:
Inform management of research showing the need for this special editorial function.
Management, if it is really going to improve the writing of its employees, will need to radically restructure the way important manuscripts are produced. Research shows that writers often will not make major organizational changes to documents at the stage at which most editors are brought into the production cycle. Solution:
Present management with an alternative workplace environment which involves editors in the early stages of document design, where their expertise can effectively bring about needed change.
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