Loaded Language: Writing and Editing Controversial Content for Professional or Scholarly Publication
It’s been a tough year. Civic and political unrest in the United States, Brexit, a worldwide pandemic, military rule in Myanmar, religious and political extremism, among others. While you may wish to express your opinion on such issues in personal social media accounts, examining both current and historical issues in a professional or scholarly context intended for publication requires a different approach.
How do you get your message across in a way that will convince your readers and not set them on edge? This question is particularly pertinent in academic and scholarly nonfiction, in which the writer is seen as the expert imparting important information to the audience. Your job as an authority is to present your research and draw conclusions in such a way that your readers follow along with you and then draw their own conclusions based on your evidence—without being told how to feel about it. That is something that should be left up to readers to discover for themselves, when faced with the evidence presented. Otherwise, a writer risks possibly alienating readers or making them feel manipulated by the text.
This week I began a lengthy editing project, copyediting a critical edition of a medieval Latin text, accompanied by its English translation—a completely satisfying, challenging, and enjoyable job that is reminding me of my previous experience with medieval manuscripts (see my previous blog) and writing my own critical edition. This work makes me ponder, once again, the connections between copyediting and manuscript editing, which consists of transcribing the ancient script; choosing, eliminating, or editing the readings of various manuscript witnesses; and finding the sources on which the text may have drawn, in order to bring the text into readable form for the modern reader. What are some of the skills necessary for editing medieval Latin manuscripts and how have they informed what I do today when copyediting academic materials and bringing these texts into more readable form for my clients?
Photo: Carla DeSantis
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter came home with a less-than-stellar grade on her history test. When I asked about it, her reply came as a shock to me: “Why do we even need to learn history? We need to look to the future instead of the past.”
Now, I am all for forward thinking, but as someone who has spent most of her life thinking and learning about what past cultures have done, thought, and written – mainly in the context of language and literature – and how this has impacted and influenced modern thought, language, and literature, I had to stop and really think about what her reply means.
What is your style guide? Armani? American Eagle? Ralph Lauren?
Maybe when it comes to your fashion choices, but when writing for publication, business, or academic purposes, you need a set of guiding standards to ensure that your important work is presented in a consistent way, so that your reader can focus on your crucial message and is not distracted by the fact that “New York Times” appears within quotation marks on page 4 and in italics as New York Times on page 120. (Are you referring to two different publications, the reader may ask herself?) If you cite (Brown 2001, 120) on page 45 and (Brown, 66) on page 56, is it the same reference? And minor variations like “the United States Government” in one place and “the US government” in another will simply irritate your reader.
"Click. Add note to replace text. Add text box with notation for typesetting. Strike through text. Insert correct source at cursor." I am working in Adobe Acrobat on page proofs, preparing them for publication with a university press. I have been invested in this project from:
A Different Kind of Manuscript
Twenty years ago, however, you would have found me in the venerable Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan or Biblioteca Statale of Cremona in Italy, perusing a different kind of manuscript – ones written by hand on vellum or parchment paper in the late Middle Ages. I imagined a life of research, studying the written treasures hidden within the pages of such medieval manuscripts – accessible only to those trained to read the cryptic script and qualified to handle the fragile pages – and teaching Latin to university students. How did I end up working on modern books, on digital platforms, for other scholars?
I am Carla DeSantis, and welcome to my blog! I love language and words and books, and have turned this love into a business, helping others to perfect their written message.