Ask the Editor Series, Q5
Q: Do Editors Have Different Styles?
A1: Contrary to popular belief, editors have an amazing sense of style! It’s not all pursed lips and cat-eye glasses, you know.
A2: Ohhh, that. This is every bit as complicated as you’d think, but the answer is “sort-of-yes,” and here’s some reassurance for you.
The joke among professional editors is that if you ask ten of them a style question, you’ll receive twelve answers—and they’ll all probably be correct.
There are rules to be followed in the writing world, and those rules help readers in their understanding of what the writer is trying to convey. When punctuation rules aren’t followed, confusion ensues. The reader isn’t quite sure how to read the sentence. When dialogue rules aren’t followed, it’s tough to know who’s talking, or when they stopped and started. When a writer indiscriminately uses their personal favorite version of any homophone, the entire meaning of a sentence can be changed.
[Side note: I actually saw a writer defend her use of “no” instead of “know” on a social media post, stating that she hates “those extra letters” and “people should know what I mean.” I wish I were kidding, and “no,” we didn’t “know” what she meant at all.]
So there’s the obvious: rules are rules. But styles . . . oh, there are styles and there are STYLES. Businesses often have style guides of their own, and we follow those when they vary from the standards set out by The Chicago Manual of Style.
But just as every writer has a personal style, every editor has a personal style within the boundaries of the actual rules. Some editors like to read flowing, descriptive phrases and will think nothing of purple prose and Howard Pyle-esque passages. Other editors might be used to working with ad copy and prefer the “get to the point” style instead.
The great thing about editing style is that we editors, as a group, are pretty flexible when it all comes down to it. Professional editors are used to the language being a fluid thing, constantly evolving as society grows and changes. This is what allows us to work with a variety of authors and still retain the individual voice of each project.
An example of style choices while maintaining correctness can come in with the use of commas. When there’s an overabundance of commas, I typically suggest using a dash to break things up (closed em dash for US English, en dash with spaces on each side for UK English). Other editors may love the commas or prefer an ellipsis, or even a semicolon when the mood and structure of the sentence calls for it.
Example 1: In a sentence with a lot of commas, you can keep them as is, peppering your structure with something familiar and easy, or you can change things up a bit, enabling the reader to read more smoothly.
Example 2: In a sentence with a lot of commas, you can keep them as is—peppering your structure with something familiar and easy—or you can change things up a bit, enabling the reader to read more smoothly.
Example 3: In a sentence with a lot of commas, you can keep them as is, peppering your structure with something familiar and easy . . . or you can change things up a bit, enabling the reader to read more smoothly.
Example 4: In a sentence with a lot of commas, you can keep them as is, peppering your structure with something familiar and easy; you can also change things up a bit, enabling the reader to read more smoothly.
Each of the examples is correct. One may look more appealing than another, depending on the writer’s preference.
This is yet another reason why it’s a good idea to shop around when looking for an editor. If you submit the same portion of your manuscript to a handful of editors, you’ll be better able to determine if an editing style is to your liking before paying a significant sum of money. Nobody (writer OR editor) wants to find out they’re not compatible in the middle of a project.
If you have any questions, don’t forget to
Ask Lynda the Awesomest Editor™
All the answers . . . according to me!