English 507. Technical Editing
Three hours lecture (3).
Prepares students to edit technical documents (e.g., instructions, user manuals, abstracts, proposals), addressing correctness, consistency, clarity, organization and rhetorical effectiveness, and layout. Weekly assignments include editing excerpts from technical manuals, insurance and government documents, instructions and reports.
Approved for Graduate Credit: appropriate requirements for students taking this course for graduate credit will be established by the instructor.
Detailed Description of Content of Course
The course emphasizes audience and purpose in determining the verbal and visual characteristics of a text. Students examine the rhetorical situation of writer, subject, audience, and purpose in a number of documents, and practice editing for multiple audiences (technician, management, consumer, etc.). Students review correct usage, grammar, and mechanics; consider the relationship of correctness to the rhetorical situation; and practice editing for correctness, using copyediting and proofreading marks. Students practice this kind of mechanical editing in numerous assignments throughout the term in order to strengthen their editing skills.
Students learn the different degrees and types of editing, including mechanical, substantive, and consistency/format, and the use of each level. Students introduced to the concepts of readability and language processing to learn how to make information more accessible to a reader. They analyze documents for verbal, organizational, and visual characteristics that affect readability, and they learn editing strategies to enhance readability. They are introduced to popular formulas used to measure readability, learning the xtent of their usefulness. They examine and experiment with the stylistic qualities that affect readability and effective communication, such as diction, syntax, tone, and emphasis. Students evaluate the editor's function in relation to computerized word processing and text editing. Also they gain experience with the design and production of documents by observing layout, design, and printing processes by learning basic publishing terminology.
Textbooks such as Carolyn Rude's Technical Editing (Wadsworth, 1991) give students exposure to most of the principles involved in the field of technical editing. VanBuren and Buehler's Levels of Edit, 2nd ed. (Government Printing Office) acquaints students with a classification of types of editing that is commonly used in the profession, and The Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press, 1982) includes extensive coverage of the mechanical aspects of editing.
Detailed Description of Conduct of Course
Through their reading of the literature, through their completion and discussion of class assignments, and through their work on independent editing projects, students will discover certain semantic, syntactic, and rhetorical principles that apply to any text, whether a memo, letter, news release, technical report, proposal, or user manual. Through frequent editing assignments students will perform different levels of editing, from mechanical to substantive, and will identify reasons for their editorial changes. They will edit many different documents of varying lengths drawn from many professional contexts--business, health and social services, science, government, academics, and technology.
Supplementary assignments could include marking up a document for a typesetter, evaluating computer-assisted editing, analyzing document design, condensing a text, experiencing and evaluating the editor/author relationship, and deciding priorities for editing a text in a limited time. The format of the course will include lecture and discussion, discussion of assigned reading, in-class peer-group and workshop activities, outside speakers, and field trips to area print shops and the university's public information office.
Writing requirements will include daily editing exercises (sentence, paragraph, whole-text) to be completed in an error-free manner; students must be ready to justify all editing changes. Students will also complete major projects which involve their securing real editing jobs to work on throughout the semester. Such projects could take the following shapes:
1) A manuscript from the student's own discipline. The student will negotiate with the author the kind(s) of editing the student will do and the deadline for submitting the edited manuscript. The student and the author will sign a contract that defines these matters and obligates the student to treat the manuscript confidentially.
2) A document intended for wide distribution either within the university or in the business community. The student will see this document through the editing, layout, and printing processes as much as is possible during the semester. The student will develop and give the "client" a detailed proposal early in the term and a progress report halfway through the term.
Goals and Objectives of the Course
The primary goal of this course is to develop students' ability to edit a writer's technical document to increase clarity, accuracy, readability, appropriateness for the audience, and consistency on both the verbal and visual levels. The course gives students extensive experience performing different levels of editing, from mechanical to substantive, and develops their ability to judge when the levels are appropriate within the constraints of time, priority, efficiency, and writer/editor agreement. Students learn to identify reasons for editorial changes and to make such changes objectively rather than arbitrarily. Students' understanding of grammar, mechanics, and style will be increased, particularly in such matters as parallelism, emphasis, and tone. In order to enhance the visual dimension of documents students will learn basic principles for editing graphics and designing documents.
Students' understanding of editing principles and processes will be measured by their level of performance on daily editing exercises, on the major projects, and on examinations. Grading of writing and editing assignments will become more stringent as the course progresses and students have been instructed in more sophisticated editing techniques. Correctness of grammar, usage, and mechanics is always expected. Beyond the minimal standard of correctness, assignments will be evaluated for their stylistic, visual, and rhetorical effectiveness, based on classroom instruction in these more abstract matters.
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