Webinar on approaches to editing for an international audience

Webinar on approaches to editing for an international audience

slide with BAMBI magazine cover

On 20 June 2020, I held my first webinar on editing! The participants were a small group of volunteer editors who help publish BAMBI News, a monthly English-language parenting magazine.

The BAMBI News editors wanted to build their skills in editing articles written by people who are not professional writers, many for whom English is a second or third language, and are written for international readers.

I wanted to share how these editors might approach these articles in a systematic manner.

Two levels of editing: structure & flow (the building blocks) and language (the words & sentences)

I covered two broad levels where we might think of editing:

  1. The building blocks: overall structure and flow.
  2. The words and sentences: plain language.

…and we practiced on a sample article.

Here are some highlights of what we talked about.

☘ The editor’s job = to help the reader

An editor has a lot of tasks to do. But I like to think that we serve the authors as an “educated/discerning reader.”

If we, as editors, don’t understand what the author is trying to say or we can’t follow the flow (the story, the logic), then it’s our job to gently help the author adjust their writing so that their message comes across clearly to the readers.

Slide titled An editor's job. The editor's tasks including checking grammar, syntax, spelling, etc., consistency, the logic/flow, facts - to generally be the "educated reader" for the author. The ultimate goal is to help the author and, most importantly, the reader.
The editor has a lot of tasks to do but the guiding principles is to “do no harm,” with the goal to help the author ultimately reach their audience.

☘ The guiding principle is to do no harm

One of guiding principles for editors is to do no harm.

The worst thing we can do is to mess up the author’s writing. Heaven forbid we should change their meaning or introduce errors!

☘ Plain language is our friend

Writing in plain language is useful no matter what but it’s particularly important when writing for international audiences — e.g., the BAMBI News readership.

So we talked about some elements of plain language, such as using short words and sentences, avoiding acronyms/initialisms, finding the verb and cutting repetition.

Slide titled cutting the clutter. Use short words, use concise words, use short sentences. Examples of using concise words: instead of prior to, use before. Instead of due to the fact that, use because, etc.
One way to cut the clutter: Use concise words. Plain English Campaign’s “The A to Z of alternative words” is a wonderful resource to figure out what complicated words you could get rid of.

Practice with examples

Thanks to BAMBI News‘s vast library of past articles, the participants could practice on a (slightly shortened) real-life draft.

Slide on practice - looking at structure. A blurred image of a Google doc and a checklist on the side: 1. What is the author’s main message? 2. Is the story/logic clear? Any spots that made you pause? 3. Is there evidence? Are the facts correct?
Some questions to ask when reviewing structural and bigger-picture issues.

We didn’t have enough time to actually polish it, but the participants identified the problem spots that didn’t quite make sense. They then thought about ways they might approach the text to give it a clearer storyline/logic.

We also practiced plain language tips with examples that are similar to what BAMBI News editors often come across.

Slide with an example edit into plain language. BEFORE: Taking a big part in the education of my daughters has always been a strong wish of mine. AFTER: I’ve always wanted to play a big part in my daughter’s education.
One practice example. Of course in the actual training, only the “before” text was visible. Everyone would then have half a minute or so to think about how they would recast it.

Feedback from the participants

This was a very small group and the first time I’ve ever held a webinar on my own, so I was happy to get some good feedback.

Great learning experience in a friendly environment – Ema generously shared her knowledge and experiences, which was very helpful for someone who is new to editing. Also the interactive hands-on session also gives more effective learning outcome and an opportunity to learn from other participants.

This seminar was easy to understand for beginners, but it covered many topics and gave me the essence of editing and writing in English, which is not my native language.

I do enjoy doing trainings and hope to do more in the future!

Resources

For more about plain language, see

Looking for a trainer to run a webinar on basic editing? Please get in touch to discuss possibilities via the contact form or email me at info@theclarityeditor.com.

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