How do we edit?


If you translate, write, or are a copy editor, part of your job is editing, whether your own material or that of others. This is a very sensitive operation, as you know all too well if your writing has ever been poorly edited, making your blood pressure shoot up as you discover the editor’s flawed revisions.

As we often find ourselves editing our own work (Francesca edits Alessandra’s translations or writings and vice versa) and being edited by publishers, we have thought a lot about the rules to follow for “ecological” editing.

First off: editing is a difficult task because it involves respect;

  • for the text (if it’s a translation, we have to give the best rendering of the piece that we can find in our language) and
  • for the colleague who translated or wrote it (we have to make changes when needed and hold back from making unnecessary ones).


So how should it be done?

We’ve adopted guidelines suggested by Carol Fisher Saller, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online.
(Though she talks about editing copy in general rather than translations specifically, we think the same criteria apply to both).

Before beginning “surgery,” as she terms it, you should look at the manuscript and ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is it wrong?
  2. Is it confusing?
  3. Is it ugly?

If the translation is wrong, there’s no question. We must intervene to make it a correct translation.

If it is confusing, there is likewise no question (unless of course, the writer made it confusing on purpose). We intervene to clarify.

But if it’s ugly, we have to be ready to stop our itchy fingers hovering over the keyboard. We have to figure out if the passage is universally ugly or just to us. For instance, Alessandra’s pet peeve is the Italian word “qualsiasi” (“any” or “whatsoever”), and she’ll bend over backward to avoid it. I’m sure you’ve got your own pet peeves, even for words that are perfectly correct.
So when we see something “ugly,” we have to take a deep breath and decide to call off the surgery…
….as any reader “whatsoever” knows!

Do you agree?

We would like to thank Taccuino di traduzione 2.0 for having first led us to Carol Fisher Saller’s piece! 

The photo After the Edit is by Laura Ritchie, released under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.


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