Editor Interview #7 – Mark AllenPosted: March 14, 2011
Mark Allen is a freelancer who writes and edits for a financial services company and for a variety of other clients, mostly in academia. He spent most of his career reporting, editing and leading special projects in Michigan, and he now lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his wife and two children. He answers questions and posts daily editing tips on Twitter as EditorMark and blogs at editormark.wordpress.com.
- What is it about editing that drew you to it?
I was interested in reporting before editing. I’m a journalist, and I believe strongly in the importance of information and conversation. Others tapped me as an editor, and I went along because it involved a nice title and, at first, better hours. If I weren’t editing, I’d be involved in disseminating information in some other fashion.
- What character/personality trait, if any, do you believe is necessary to edit well?
I keep going back to a piece of advice I got when I was a high school journalist. I’m probably stretching it, but I find it applicable beyond its intended message. The advice was that there is rarely any reason for a print journalist to ask a question at a press conference. Radio and television reporters ask questions so they can record themselves. Print journalists are too busy catching up on their notes. All the important questions are going to get asked, so let someone else do it.
This applies, I think, because the message is: It’s not about you. It’s about the information. The key to good editing is to not feel the need to put yourself into the story. A good editor can make a story more clear and more compelling, but only by first respecting the information and respecting the reader. Oh, and respecting the reporter. Usually.
All this takes humility.
- What’s the most common mistake you find when you edit?
As a freelancer I edit many nonwriters, though I hate to use that term because everybody is a writer. I mean people who don’t consider writing their focus. So, I see a lot of basic mistakes with comma usage and run-on sentences. I also see a lot of jargon and wordiness. That’s also true with academic editing. I guess the single biggest mistake I see involves comma usage. That’s surprising because it’s so basic, but people love to add commas.
- What advice would you give aspiring editors or beginning writers?
There is no training as good as the careful reading of good writers. We can learn some rules and basic structure, but writing and editing are both very practical tasks. If you are aware and honest when it comes to your writing, you will continue to improve. Likewise, the more you edit the better you get. So, start by doing. And remember that empathy thing. It’s easy to think it’s about you. Know that you don’t know it all, and that what you think you know doesn’t always apply. Our language peccadilloes should not obstruct a well-formed idea.
- Would you share your favorite editing resources with us (books, web sites, conferences, etc.)?
I wrote a column for the American Copy Editors Society newsletter listing some of the electronic resources I rely on, and there are many good places for an editor to turn. The column is here http://editormark.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/copy-editors-no-longer-need-to-keep-paper-books-on-hand/. There are some great lists of lists, including the Journalists Toolbox (http://www.journaliststoolbox.org/) and Katharine O’Moore-Klopf’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base: http://www.kokedit.com/library_CE4.shtml. For usage issues, a great site is Paul Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage list at http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html. I archive daily grammar, usage and style tips at http://www.markallenediting.com/allen/Twitter_archives.html.
I keep a copy of Garner’s Modern American Usage by my desk at home and on my iPhone. I also use Merriam–Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage and the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage notes, along with several online usage resources. I subscribe to the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style. Several free online style books are searchable at http://onlinestylebooks.com/, but it’s important to remember that style guides by their nature are going to differ. I converse with many editors and linguists on Twitter and I maintain lists of some of them at twitter.com/EditorMark.
And I attend the American Copy Editor Society conference each year. That does wonders for recharging my editing skills.
- Anything else you’d like to add regarding editing?
No, but thank you.
Mark, thank you for doing this interview. I’m a big fan of your twitter archive. Thanks for compiling that.