In Parts I and II I explored some general ways to review written work and some ways to consider using the language of editors to enrich the language for this review. In this last piece, I consider some of the more over-arching concepts that could support the managers as reviewer relationship.
Let the author the hero, you be the helpmate and try to preserve the author’s voice: This is perhaps the most controversial in a government or corporate setting where documents are technically owned by corporation and accountability for delivering on a product may formally rest against performance bonuses of executives. That having been said, I like this mantra because I really do want analysts to be the heros and rework the piece themselves to the extent that they are capable. They do the research and the analysis to get policy advice into writing and though maybe I have been exceedingly fortunate, they generally put out strong first cuts or most material so why not let them feel that they are taking it across the finish line. The general rule from above stands here – instead of making changes directly, explain what you are trying to do and why. For example, you could write: “vague” in the margin and underline the passage that needs attention instead of re-writing the text. Similarly, you could underline two passages that seem to contradict and ask the author to clarify.
Always note what’s working before launching into the critique. From “Editors on Editing” praise what is “good and tight”. From “On Writing Well” adopt an overall tone of “help and interest and state continually what you like, while noting progress.” For feedback, the clearer and more specific the better. Borrowing from the various types of editing may be of use – for instance, the flow is good, the tone works well for a piece for the Minister, the level of detail is good here.
Strategize about how to stay in your reviewer role: The materials from my “Eight Step Editing” course from the Editors Association of Canada talk about the four stages of editing (this is borrowed from an article in Scholarly Editing for which there is no cite): Paralysis (either from a very strong or very weak text), Contempt, Playing God and Maturity. I think the most interesting question is how to stay in the reviewer role which in this matrix is captured by “maturity”. Some thoughts: Paralysis and contempt from weak text may mean that the text is not ready for review and you’ll need to borrow from some of the developmental editing world to avoid doing your own re-write. Surprisingly, I find that paralysis from strong text can often end badly, with the insertion of minor edits for which the most significant effect is only to tick off the author. Consider whether you can just say “looks good” instead of trying to value in a way that devalues the writer. For “Playing God” the challenge will be whether your suggestions to change words, phrases and even ideas are really necessary changes to the text or questions of style. For this one, advising the author how they might correct text will be better than changing the text itself. To end, maturity is stated as letting the author write the text in their own way to the extent possible. Works for me.