To Edit or Not to Edit

Thoughts on Publishing in 2020

Part of good writing is learning how to edit and craft your words effectively and efficiently. I find that some of the pieces I write just flow and end up being published much like they evolved in the first draft. But much more often, I re-read and tweak a piece numerous times before it seems finished. Eventually, of course I hit the Publish button and who’s to say whether the piece is really finished? The other day I was reviewing an earlier article I wrote and a really glaring awkward sentence jumped out at me as if someone had scratched their nails on the blackboard. In the space of one measly little sentence I managed to use the word “remark” three separate times. Ouch. It’s not that I couldn’t think of a another word to use and even if I did have trouble, Bill Gates is always hiding out just under the pull-down window, a mere right click away for PC users, ready with no less than eight suggested synonyms. In less than 30 seconds the tired, egregious repetitive phrasing which struck out first time around was replaced with a couple of fresh young pinch hitters that managed to successfully keep the ball in play. Even though most readers had to suffer through the original version, the new and improved model is now on the shelf. But that got me thinking about the ethics involved in such tinkering. Now that electronic communication is on the verge of surpassing print media (I don’t own a Kindle yet, but suspect we all will have such devices within a short time) we have a whole new Pandora’s Box to think about. Should documents be preserved “as is”, warts and all once published? Or should the author retain the right to modify his work so that it is a dynamic piece of art rather than a static one? I’m not suggesting a kind of Wikipedia protocol – clearly no one but the original author should amend a publication. But if we “allow” authors to update their work at will, should the original be left intact for comparison, i.e., should documents that are modified after the fact be made to use something like Microsoft Word Track Changes so all can see what was modified? Or are we redefining publications as living documents that, like their authors change over time? Granted, for the minor grammatical change or stylistic improvement this is much ado about nothing, but the broader question is I think, an interesting one to ponder.

Published in: on February 5, 2010 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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