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Defining editing and the top five rules

by Geoff Hart

Previously published, in a different form, as: Hart, G.J. 1999. Defining editing and the top five rules. The Technical Editors' Eyrie Newsletter, Issue No. 27, 19 November 1999.

In response to a question from someone about what it is to be an editor, I wrote: "I coined the phrase professional idiot some time back. The explanation is that as a substantive editor, the idiot part of my job is to trip over anything any reader, including me, could potentially trip over (even if they could eventually figure it out); in effect, that means you need to adopt a certain naivete towards the writing so that even if you're an expert in the subject, you can empathize with readers who aren't. The professional part of the phrase means that I have to do more than trip; I have to figure out why I tripped, and how to fix the problem. (It also refers to the fact that I'm good at this, and get paid to do it, rather than doing it solely for the love of the job.)"

Another question was "what are your top five cardinal rules of editing". I replied:

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