Editing in the Digital Age


I have been editing papers for ESL students for about three years now, and I have learned a few things about the process that I had never considered prior to my foray into this process. One lesson that I have learned is that a second set of eyes is valuable in the process of polishing a paper. But, no matter how many times you re-read your work, you can always miss something. There comes a point where you need to be willing to accept minor errors and submit your paper. Another lesson, which mostly applies to those of us not weaned on Microsoft and Apple, is that some mistakes come about as a result of digital technology.

The Internet, laptops, and word processing programs have made the process of sending, receiving, and editing papers much simpler than it was in the days of typewriters and red pencils. Today, a client could be across town, or in another country. Papers can be sent in an email and the editor can simply download a copy to his laptop and begin work. When he is done, He can email a sample back to show that the work is done, and bill the client. The digital age has an impact on this stage of the process as well. Services such as PayPal, or e-transfers through a bank can facilitate easy payment, and client and editor may never even meet in real time and space.

Although editing a paper in the digital age is still a matter of checking for errors in spelling, grammar, syntax, and the like, the kind of mistakes you may encounter have changed a bit. Spelling errors are much rarer in the digital age because of spell checking tools available with word processing programs. However these tools are, like any other tool, are only as good as the person using them. Spell checking tools with an auto correct feature may make decisions based on its own logic, without considering the context. It is easy to imagine a computer program looking at a misspelling of “mountain”, and inserting “fountain”, for example. These programs cannot tell if the proper homonym is being used either. ESL writers can often misuse such words as “root” for “route”, or “base” for “bass”, and if the editor is too complacent, relying on the squiggly red line to find spelling errors, these mistakes can be overlooked.

At one time, back in the dark ages of typewriters and other dinosaurs, pages with errors on them would need to be completely rewritten. The option of moving a word, phrase or sentence around a page did not exist as it does today. Copy, (or cut), and paste is a very helpful feature in todays word processing programs, but it presents some unique problems of its own.

I edited a research paper for a client one time, and received a very positive response. I was paid, and moved on to other things. Some time later, the client contacted me to edit their PhD Proposal, and they asked me to include some excerpts from the aforementioned research paper. I was surprised, and then slightly embarrassed to find a glaring error that looked something like -” by designing a daily or or weekly-basis questionnaire that students can fill out…” Apparently, I had cut a section out, to move to another place, and was left with a double word. This mistake is easy enough to make when trying to meet a deadline, but not very professional if your being paid to find mistakes. I have since learned that if you leave the paper for a day or two, (if time permits), and then re-read it before sending it off, you can often pick up these little errors; editing your editing, as it were.

Finding errors on a paper is a simple enough process if you are aware of the rules, but correcting them properly can have its own challenges. Re-reading your work and having someone else read it before submitting is probably your best policy whether you are using a modern word processor, a typewriter or a quill.