Workshop 4: John Linnegar

It needs only a 'light' edit: Negotiating the differences between light, medium and heavy editing

Summary: Authors with a reputation for submitting well-prepared manuscripts (MSS), or who are likely to be hostile or hypersensitive to more major changes, will often request only a light edit (whatever that means), and the text editor’s billable hours will be expected to reflect this. Medium editing is naturally the norm to which most MSS conform (Merriam-Webster 2001: 235), and usually comprises two passes (Einsohn 2000: 16; Mackenzie 2011: 168). Heavy editing conveys broad latitude to shape the MS’s language and content components (and a little structural editing) (Davies & Balkwill 2011: 170; Einsohn 2000: 12; Mackenzie 2011: 169). It is used if a work is in need of significant improvement, usually in the opinion of either the commissioning editor or sometimes of the text editor (Davies & Balkwill 2011: 170). When this decision is taken, the next question that arises is: Will the author be capable of making the book acceptable to its target audience or should a detached professional text editor be asked to undertake the necessary improvements? (But how often don’t clients expect to get away with a ‘light’ edit on a dog of a text!)

Purpose: To reduce the amount of uncertainty, guesswork and/or thumbsucking that goes into deciding the appropriate level of editing required on a document. From this workshop, editors and translators (as revisors) will take away a set of criteria and a formula that will help them distinguish the different levels, especially when having to justify the level of editing or revising required – and its related fee and deadline – to clients.

Description: Through being exposed to two or three interpretations of levels of editing put forward by leading practitioner-authors in the field (PowerPoint presentation and handout containing excerpts from the authors’ books), the participants will hear and see what experts have to say about gauging the level of editing required. What they will do during the workshop is obtain a closer idea of how to assess the level of editing by engaging with eight short passages and comparing their assessments with those of others.

Although the session will be English-language based, the guidance from the editing gurus cited applies to all languages, writers and writing. 

Structure: First, the different levels of editing or revision – light, medium and heavy/extreme, and excessive, as described or labelled by leading authors on the subject – will be explained. Then, by examining the extent of the errors that need correcting in eight brief texts, participants in this workshop will gain a more informed, hands-on idea of how to distinguish between the different levels of editing or revision and, consequently, begin to do so with greater confidence. The facilitator will also share his technique for quantifying the level of editing involved, based on the number and nature of the corrections performed on a sample of a text.

Who should attend? Any editor or translator who is in the position of having to determine and evaluate the nature and extent of the improvements that have to be made to a text, to attach a fair value to their editorial intervention.

Outcome skills: On the basis of error detection, labelling and assessment, and by employing a simple formula, participants will more closely and confidently be able to determine the level of editing required. Based on that, they will also be better equipped to determine whether the proposed fee for an editing job and the deadline are reasonable/fair.

Pre-workshop information: If you have access to Davies & Balkwill (2011); Einsohn (2000, 2010), Mackenzie (2011) or Van de Poel & Linnegar (2012), read up on the subject of levels of editing. Otherwise, simply think deeply about the problems you have encountered trying to determine the level of editing and the commensurate fee for the job.


  About the facilitator

John Linnegar 2Until 2010, like many other editors, John Linnegar had little idea of how to distinguish between the nuanced three levels of editing (and that after 30 years in the game!). Then he began researching the subject, only to find that less than a handful of authors had written about it! It’s their ideas – plus his own guide to how possibly to quantify the levels in specific editing tasks – that he will be sharing and workshopping, using a set of real texts.

John has been a text editor, proofreader and indexer of school and academic textbooks, reports and journal articles since the 1970s. For almost 20 years he has trained generations of editors (including authors’ editors and academic editing skills), proofreaders and indexers. During this time he has published several books on aspects of language usage and editing, including Text Editing: A handbook for students and practitioners (UPA, Brussels, 2012). Now based in Antwerp, Belgium, he is a member of a number of professional associations, including SENSE, MET and Australian and South African societies. 

To register for this pre-conference workshop click here.