Lowering the Bar in Editing?


It’s the way of the publishing world, I hear. Not only for smaller publishers, but also for venerated ones.

Never mind the rules: if the author is consistent, then follow the author’s lead.

I want to scream.

I have worked so hard through the years to attain a high level of editing knowledge and expertise, in a variety of styles (Chicago, Oxford, MLA, APA, AP, etc.), and now so many of the rules of style are being ignored.

I don’t know why, but we editors are being told to “follow the author’s lead,” even if not strictly correct. I’m currently editing a book written using UK spelling, but U.S. punctuation. What the heck? Why the combination?

I’m not sure if this is a matter of convenience (most publishers don’t have a large in-house editorial staff any more), or lack of knowledge. All I know for certain is that the editors I worked with early in my freelance editing career were task masters who demanded that I know the rules of style inside and out. Today, those editors are being told by their publishers that such adherence isn’t necessary.


This wouldn’t affect me so strongly, I suspect, if I weren’t so aware of how pathetic writing skills have become, particularly in journalism. Only today I came across the line, “A person may have ran through the school slashing or puncturing students with a knife or other sharp object, according to early reports cited by The Associated Press.” 

“May have ran”? Where is this reporter’s editor? And this isn’t an isolated incident. Daily, I read news items with rampant spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors. These aren’t just symptomatic of online journalism, either. I believe that people simply don’t know the rules, and don’t care.


I’ve heard the argument that language is a living entity, and must change with the times. Baloney. Why are the rules now no longer sufficient or important? What has changed in the past few decades, besides less-knowledgeable editors and/or teachers/professors?

What gripes me is the change in long-standing rules: it is apparently okay to start a sentence with “And” now (CMOS says so; see my sentence in the paragraph above), and end any sentence a preposition with. As far as parallel construction and noun/verb agreement, well, and then who care?

My poor friend Meg Gardiner listens to my rants on a daily basis when we IM. She’s long suffering, and regularly advises me to breathe deeply or take a long walk when my blood pressure goes up. I love writing! I admire good writing. There are guidelines for powerful writing that should be followed. (As shown here, the rules from Elmore Leonard):


I’m not just being a fuddy-duddy about this. Yes, I love the rules of the language, and think English is perhaps the perfect language, with its incredible pedigree derived from other languages. But it’s more than that.

As an editor, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what is right. It was hard enough to decide whether I was wearing my US or UK English hat, but now I have to decide whether I’m wearing my by-the-rules hat or off-the-cuff hat. It’s my job to make the reader’s experience as enjoyable as possible, by making the writing as clear as possible. This is becoming increasingly more difficult.

As Freddie Mercury so famously sang: I think I’m going slightly mad!



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