Only as good as my editor

Thank god for editors.

In our research shop, the editor helps faculty researchers package their proposals to funding agencies. That requires knowing the APA style manual inside out, whipping into shape chapter-length text narratives, checking complex budgets, gathering dozens of resumes, cleaning up lists of scholarly publications, and having official permission documents signed and stamped by people at many levels of the university hierarchy.

Everything in these proposal packages must be exactly in the right place. Funding agencies are extremely picky about such things. I suppose I would be too, if I were granting hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes multiple millions, to a research team who was competing against dozens of other research teams for the same pot of funding.

This work takes 95% of the editor’s day. When time permits, the editor processes drafts of research summaries I produce. They’re eventually distributed via our web site, an electronic newsletter, and a quarterly print piece.

If I want to be honest, I don’t refer to myself as a writer. My work amounts to re-writing material someone else has written; usually journal articles intended for an audience of researchers and other educators. For human beings (like myself) to understand what the heck they’re talking about, these articles need to be restructured and simplified.

I try to be the ‘general reader.’ My goal is to faithfully communicate the researcher’s point, without relying on the paraphernalia of tables, statistical formulae, lists of citations, literature reviews, and details about process.

I walk a communication tightrope. If I lean in one direction, I fail my readers. If I lean in the other direction, I fail the researchers whose work I supposedly represent.

My balancing pole, so to speak, is the help I get from my team. Having another set of eyes look at my work is critical;  having four sets of eyes is even better.

I would not want to see the ‘final’ drafts of my work go out into the public before getting a good workover.

Our proposal editor checks my drafts for logical flow and unnecessary use of jargon.  The research faculty make sure I’m communicating the main point of their work. The director of our unit reads from the perspective of a faculty member, researcher, and assistant dean of our School of Education.  Administrative assistants check for typos on final page proofs. The end product is so much better than the drafts I submit.

We’re going through a transition here at WCER. Our editor just retired after ten years with us, and we have all benefited from her consistently meticulous work. (A former student assistant referred to her as ‘neurotic.’ That didn’t go over too well.)

Our national search for a replacement was successful. We have brought on someone who seems equally capable and just as pleasant to work with.

We’re in good hands, again, and my job is safe, for now.


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