Aug 182013

I tell students and clients they shouldn’t take feedback on their work as personal critiques. “You are not the words on the paper on which your reports are printed.” This seems like a straight-forward point, but even seasoned editors tend to forget it on occasion, so I tend to make it a lot. “What we have in common is our concern for the usefulness of this prose here, this separate and individual bit of existence that is neither you nor me.” skatepark

The battery of revision tasks mentioned in the post below illustrates this latter point beautifully.


The word “revision” comes from Latin word revisionem, meaning “to see again.” While an author and an editor might look at a single work of prose more than once, often the work itself needs to be seen, amended, and fixed by other stakeholders and document contributors as well (lawyers, accountants, scientists, project managers, executive assistants), folk who will look at this work of prose just once. What these latter individuals are doing is not, strictly speaking, “seeing again.”

So, perhaps we need a new word to explain what our written works really and more precisely need, over and above “revision.” I suggest heterovision – meaning “seen by others” (hetero coming from the Greek for “other” or “different”). This neologism conveys the collaborative aspect of editing better than the word “revision” does. (Analogous expressions would be heterodoxy and heteronym.)

In sum: While the work itself is looked at again (“revised”), the people who do the fixing, who proffer their critiques, are usually heterovising.

(Could our nifty neologism catch on? I am not betting on it. The prefix “hetero” seems rather charged in our language at the moment, connoting culturally normative and uniform values, I think, rather than what’s inclusive, alternative and welcoming. And editing’s nothing if not “welcoming.”)

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Photo of Leeside Skatepark, in Vancouver, by Bob Basil

Aug 172013


Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) is the nation’s official publisher and our largest translation organization. It also publishes a wonderful online style guide and a collection of writing and editing tools that will handily assist students and teachers, authors and editors, and managers and professionals of any stripe. I dare say that creating this guide must have been a labour of love for a number of people. Every section into which I have dipped is utterly clear and helpful, and often illuminating as well.

From the website: The Canadian Style gives concise answers to questions concerning written English in the Canadian context. It covers such topics as the decimal point, abbreviations, capital letters, punctuation marks, hyphenation, spelling, frequently misused or confused words and Canadian geographical names. It also includes useful advice for drafting letters, memos, reports, indexes and bibliographies. In addition, The Canadian Style includes techniques for writing clearly and concisely, editing documents, and avoiding stereotyping in communications.”

The style guide is searchable by chapter as well as by index. (Everything you need to know about the semicolon is here.)

I will be recommending several sections of the style guide to my students this fall, in particular those on the topics of revision and plain language.


Addendum: The PWGSC homepage also links you to the delightful “Language Portal of Canada.” There you will find all manner of language and writing resources. You will also be tempted by its huge collection of quizzes, one or two of which I have already found more humbling than I would have hoped.