This October, Joy Burrough, an authors’ editor, gave a talk entitled ‘An Introduction to Editing’ to the humanities PhD students at Leiden University.
Aside from describing the editing process, Joy answered some specific questions regarding common issues researchers come across when writing in English, many of which touched on the differences between American and British English. Although we can commonly produce shorter or longer lists of vocabulary and spelling differences between the two varieties off the cuff, in this lecture, also formatting and punctuation differences were mentioned.
Here are some of the new things I’ve learnt:
Did you know that the adverb ‘firstly’ is more common in British and ‘first’ in American English? That when marking a word or a phrase that is being discussed, single quotation marks (‘’) are preferred in British, whereas in American English double quotation marks (“”) are more common? And that punctuation marks associated with the word(s) in quotation marks are usually placed outside the quotation marks in British, whereas the same are placed inside in American English?
Their new single is called ‘Curtain Falls’. (BrE)
Their new single is called “Curtain Falls.” (AmE)
Enforcing the consistent application of rules is the central part of editing non-native writing. Academic writing is highly standardized: journals and publishing houses often dictate their explicit rules in their style guides. The experienced editors go a step further from enforcing the rules of academic writing. The editors can help authors become aware of writing conventions and of the impact of their academic rhetoric on the readership. Correcting, modifying and organising academic texts goes only half-way. Collaborating with and informing the (non-native) authors about the conventions of writing within a certain ‘academic tribe’ and about the academic writing styles in English go the other half.
Although Joy mentioned a number of possible sources that the authors can consult in their academic writing, it was interesting to hear that experienced editors themselves hardly rely on usage (or style) guides. The expertise the editors acquire over the years surely sets them apart from the category of the ‘linguistically insecure’, who are the target readership of usage guides.